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Thread: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

  1. #1
    Registered User Pappyrich's Avatar
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    Default What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    I would appreciate any thoughts about things to look for when buying a vintage mandolin. I will be looking at a 1919 The Gibson A1 next week.

    The pictures, and the description, make it sound like it is in pretty good shape. No visible cracks, partial refret, straight neck, solid neck joint, modern adjustable bridge, no pick guard and Golden Age relic tuners. (it is listed in the MC classifieds). There is apparently a small separation between the top or back and the sides. It doesn't show in any of the pictures I feel confident I can re-glue that if needed.

    My concerns lie more with what's on the inside and other hidden or hard to see possible defects, and any other common issues with this type of vintage instrument.

    Thanks,
    Richard

    Eastman 305
    Gibson A1 (1919)
    Martin D16 guitar
    Great Divide Guitar (Two-Old-Hippies)
    OME 11" banjo (1973)
    Pisgah 12" banjo

  2. #2
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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    Things to check:

    1. Make sure there are no irregular dips in the top.
    2. Check the brace behind the sound hole to make sure it is not loose. If it is, it is a fairly easy fix for a competent professional; but I do not recommend a do-it-yourself repair for a loose brace. The old Gibson A's have only the one brace.
    3. Make double-sure the neck is straight.
    4. Fixing an open seam near the tail of the mandolin is usually a straight forward job. But an open seam near the neck can be a very difficult fix because the sides sometimes become loose at the neck block. A special jig may be needed, and in extreme cases it may be necessary to loosen the back for several inches to make it possible to pull the instrument back into shape. I don't see this often, but I have seen it several times.

    Many modern players will find these mandolins to be much friendlier with modern frets. I have found the best choices to be frets with crown dimensions of either .080" wide x .040" high, or for those who want something smaller, .053" wide by .037" high.

    The right old Gibson, well set up, can be a lot of fun.

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  4. #3
    Registered User Pappyrich's Avatar
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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    The seller sent me some additional pictures that were not posted in the original ad here on MC. I'll try to attach a couple. If anyone sees something of concern I would appreciate their opinion. I think the close up image of the neck joint is also intended to show the slight separation, but it is hard for me to tell.
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    Richard

    Eastman 305
    Gibson A1 (1919)
    Martin D16 guitar
    Great Divide Guitar (Two-Old-Hippies)
    OME 11" banjo (1973)
    Pisgah 12" banjo

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    To me, it looks like it has been stripped and refinished. Red flag. Others may chime in.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    ..

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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    The photos are not sufficient to judge most of the finish, but the neck and probably the top look ok to me. The best picture is the peghead face, and it looks very "right" to me. The seller believes the finish to be original. I would have to see the instrument to be sure about the rest, but I don't see obvious signs of extensive refinishing.

    -But-

    Pictures of the both sides in full would be helpful in evaluating the originality of their finish. Both sides should match in color.
    And a clearer picture of the back would be necessary to evaluate its finish. The color is ok for the period. It does look a bit glossy, but that might be the angle, lighting, and reflections.

    It appears that picture 5 shows a repair of an open back seam. I believe I see some light tool marks which might indicate that there may have been an attempt to repair some minor separation between the rib and the neck block. Or, I might be seeing a scratch, or a minor repaired crack that was not touched up. I would have to have the instrument in hand to say anything for certain.

    This instrument is within an hour's drive from here. If the seller is willing to pay me a visit, I could look it over after the weekend. One of you can PM me if you wish.
    Last edited by rcc56; Jun-10-2022 at 8:44pm.

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  9. #7

    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    Judging if an instrument has been refinished can be tricky. My luthier when he looked at my 1923 A2 pronounced that he did not think it had been refinished but he was not 100% certain. He thought the top may have been sprayed with some lacquer at some point but he was reasonably confident that the finish was original but may the top- which shows clear play wear may have had that small "enhancement" at some time. If someone that experienced has difficulty being totally certain while inspecting the instrument then photos are always going to leave some room for conjecture unless of course, the instrument is horribly battered. That's the issue- is its good appearance because it was looked after and possibly recently cosseted or is it a refinish?

  10. #8
    Registered User Pappyrich's Avatar
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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    Thanks everyone for your insights. rcc56 I appreciate your offer to take a look at it, but I will be travelling through Alabama next Wednesday and will have the opportunity to look it over myself before I decide if I want to purchase it. I value all your comments and will take them into consideration. I am not looking for an original vintage instrument, rather a good "player" that is structurally solid. I like the patina of this particular instrument, and would only be concerned with the finish condition if it was covering structural defects. I play mostly old time fiddle tunes, and just think it would be kinda cool to have an old Gibson.

    Please feel free to continue commenting on this thread.
    Richard

    Eastman 305
    Gibson A1 (1919)
    Martin D16 guitar
    Great Divide Guitar (Two-Old-Hippies)
    OME 11" banjo (1973)
    Pisgah 12" banjo

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    To me, it looks like it has been stripped and refinished. Red flag. Others may chime in.
    I am sorry I was too quick to judgement with my remark. The top and back look pretty good, what was concerning me was the peghead and the side shots. If it sounds and plays good and you get a fair price then it could be the mandolin for you.

    Hope it works out for you.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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  13. #10
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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    Well, the only thing I can say for sure about evaluating a finish from pictures is that you can never tell anything for sure from pictures.

    Well, not always true, because sometimes refinish work is really obvious in a picture if the color or texture is really off or the work is really sloppy. But most of the time, you can only make your best guess.

    And sometimes, when you get one in hand, what looked right in a picture is not, and what looked wrong turns out to be right.

    Anyway, Pappyrich, I hope the instrument and you take a liking to each other. Good Gibson oval holes are great mandolins for tunes. I hope this is a good one.

  14. #11
    Registered User Pappyrich's Avatar
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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    Well rcc56, I'll know in a couple more days if this is the one for me. I feel pretty good about it so far. Judging from the pics it looks OK, and the seller seems OK, too.

    I am hopeful, and glad that I have the opportunity to look at it and play it before I buy. I have been looking for one for awhile now, but was uneasy buying something sight unseen. I was surprised when this one came up for sale and my travel plans had me driving through the sellers home town a week later. Seems like divine intervention at work.

    I'll let you all know my final decision. Thanks for your comments and suggestions.
    Richard

    Eastman 305
    Gibson A1 (1919)
    Martin D16 guitar
    Great Divide Guitar (Two-Old-Hippies)
    OME 11" banjo (1973)
    Pisgah 12" banjo

  15. #12

    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    Kind of following.

    It does look like it's been "gussied up" a bit, which is fine if that hasn't involved an undisclosed overspray, or something like that. Since the tuners were replaced and the headstock, esp. The Gibson inlay, looks a bit bright (to me, in pics), I'd guess a little polish (compound) and/or maybe even a French Polish or something like Qualasole; but, I'm more of a suspicious (vs. trusting) type, and so always pleased when proven wrong .
    2009 Eastman MD815/V
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  17. #13
    Registered User Pappyrich's Avatar
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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    Well, it looked pretty good in person. Not perfect, but good enough for my purpose, so I purchased it. I think that with a little tinkering with the setup, it will be fine. I do love the tone!

    Thanks again for all the advice.
    Richard

    Eastman 305
    Gibson A1 (1919)
    Martin D16 guitar
    Great Divide Guitar (Two-Old-Hippies)
    OME 11" banjo (1973)
    Pisgah 12" banjo

  18. #14

    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    Congrats Richard!! Looks like another well informed decision tempered by patience. Enjoy the vintage Gibson playing experience.

    Len B.
    Clearwater, FL

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Pappyrich View Post
    ... I do love the tone!
    That's the most important part, isn't it? Have fun with that thing!
    "To be obsessed with the destination is to remove the focus from where you are." Philip Toshio Sudo, Zen Guitar

  20. #16
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: What to look for when buying a vintage mandolin

    Those old Gibson A models can be really nice, have fun with it!
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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