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Thread: My Grandfather's Mandolin

  1. #1

    Default My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Hi Everyone-

    I just cleaned up my Grandfather's mandolin (strings arriving today) and was wondering if you can tell me anything about it. It has Ward/Montgomery Ward sticker and a date stamp that I don't quite understand.

    Thank You : )

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    Greg

  2. #2

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    It is a Wards Model 1642- a version of the Gibson A-50. The big difference is no adjustable truss rod. This mandolin model is the only Gibson made instrument sold by a third party that has a carved top as far as I know. I have one and will post it up. It is date stamped by Wards but the number inside- the factory order number shows it to be made in 1936 but the Wards stamp from memory is Feb 1937.

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    Edit: If you can see a B in the number it is 1936- an A would be 1935 and a C 1937- mine has a B.

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  4. #3
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    It was made for the trade by Gibson. The Gibson built second lines didn't have a truss rod, that's what distinguished them from the Gibson branded products. Have you got the case as well?
    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
    --M. Stillion

    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
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  6. #4

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Hi Nick, thanks much. A little surreal to see someone else has the exact same mandolin! I can't make out any letter in that date code. I see - 91 0(?) and 22 in pencil. I thought it was perhaps made in 1922 because my Mother, born in 1921, remembers him playing when she was young. Are there any books/sources for more info about these? Besides the dating, how would you characterize the sound of this mandolin? Thanks again for the reply

  7. #5

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Thank you, Mike. I don't have the case, unfortunately. I had it at one time but I think it got thrown out when I was storing some things in the basement of an apartment that I lived in. If I come across one for sale, I will grab it. Nothing on Reverb at the moment. I just ordered a gig bag for it in case I take it out somewhere. It has been a wall decoration for the last 25 years.

  8. #6

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Mine has its original case- it is a fibreboard item- strong but the mandolin rattles around in it. In fact, I have had trouble getting an old hard case for mine as the pointed headstock makes it longer than its Gibson near relative and it is too tight in the cases I thought would fit it- and that is exacerbated by the cloud style tailpiece which also adds to its length a little- taking off the cover would solve the problem. I have it in a Gibson EM150 electric mandolin case- and it is a little loose in that now! I have a feeling that your 0 is really a C- that often happens with stampings of the letter C- it closes up. These mandolins were not made for long -I have checked and it was 1936 and 1937. Mine has a great tone- but it is not super loud- it won the approval of my luthier who had to repair a crack and reproduce the pickguard- it is the one in the photo and he is not easily impressed. This listing of one by Retrofret is pretty concise and the most blurb I have seen on one. They like it- and I don't assume that's entirely down to trying to sell it quickly! I think there is objectivity. Mine has a beautiful flamed back and a wonderful finish. The seller on eBay- it had been her father's was very impressed with how it looked as it was a bit of a mess when I bought it. Yours looks very good, too. https://reverb.com/item/1097060-ward...by-gibson-1936

  9. #7

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    I have looked through Spann's Guide To Gibson and no FON numbers for this model appear to be listed- it was a quick scan but 91C was shown as an L5 guitar- so that cannot be the number- I don't know if the stamp inked in all the digits but not all FON numbers by any means have been sleuthed out. As I can see a clear B in mine it was made in 1936 and I think the Wards FEB 1937 stamp may be related to a guarantee on sale- possibly dating when the instrument was shipped to a customer. One of the many mysteries out there that may never be resolved!

  10. #8

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    I didn't even notice the repro pick guard, nice job! Reverb listing is very interesting, thank you for that. I may reach out to Paul Fox who is mentioned in that ad.

  11. #9

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    The book mentioned by Paul Fox covers the whole world of instruments made by Gibson either as the company's own sub-brands starting in 1930 or for sale by third parties like Wards/Recording King beginning in the early 30s and ending with their involvement with National in 1961. On that basis, it is a very good resource but it is worth mentioning that the detail on this mandolin amounts to an old catalogue drawing and a very brief description and this is probably down to a paucity of information on this short-lived model. There may be more out there- like a better catalogue entry but that Retrofret ad is the most extensive description I have seen since I bought mine a few years ago.

  12. #10
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    That’s fantastic. Is it a good instrument? Made by Gibson so is the only issue no truss rod?
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  13. #11

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    You can see the fibreboard- one step up from chipboard case in this eBay. You can see that the pickguard had rotted and this gives off nitric acid which did some minor damage to the top which is under the pickguard.

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  14. #12
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    This one on reverb looks very nice.

    A bit of a nice surprise to me.

    One would have thought Monkey Ward would be marketing a KM-21 or at most a A-40.

    Begs the question about what were the jobber arrangements / specs made between MW and Gibson to go with such a better quality instrument.
    Kudos to both parties.

    Mick
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  15. #13

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Mick

    Wards/Recording King did do a round hole model made by Gibson- like the Kalamazoo version and likewise an f hole model like the KM-21 plus in 1940 a blond version like the Oriole Kalamazoo. Apparently, there was also a mahogany body version of the 1642 numbered the 1607 just for 1936, so they sold a reasonable range of Gibson mandolins for a few years but the hand carved models were very short-lived.

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  17. #14
    Dan Scullin dscullin's Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    I wonder if the mandolin underwent a refret at some point. The pits in the fingerboard indicates it had the dickens played out of it but the frets look pristine for a mando of this age.
    Dan Scullin
    Louisville, KY

  18. #15
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    This one on reverb looks very nice.

    A bit of a nice surprise to me.

    One would have thought Monkey Ward would be marketing a KM-21 or at most a A-40.

    Begs the question about what were the jobber arrangements / specs made between MW and Gibson to go with such a better quality instrument.
    Kudos to both parties.

    Mick
    There is a brace across the back. It's actually an A40 copy. It's a second line instrument that has a possible carved top. I'm not sure they all had it or just a few. Most of the second lines were pressed tops and backs and braced accordingly. If these had a carved top they are pretty much an A40 without a truss rod.
    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
    --M. Stillion

    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
    --J. Garber

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  20. #16
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    So if these were made with no truss rod, would light gauge strings be in order?

    Looks like a nice instrument.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  21. #17

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    I'm confused -- how come a Wards version of an A-40/A-50 gets everyone excited when the actual vintage Gibson version creates little excitement on this forum?

    That being said, I would love to inherit to a 30's Gibson-made instrument that has family history!

  22. #18
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Thanks, Mike.

    The one on Reverb doesn't have the mahogany back I associated with A-40s.

    (That might be an erroneous assumption...)

    Are you thinking its a flat back and that's maybe maple (or birch) or a faux finish?

    I always enjoyed your "Gibson made these models from parts they swept up off the floor..." line.

    Maybe this one just so.

    Mick
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  23. #19

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    The Wards 1642 is like the A-50 from its years of production in the mid-30s except for its pickguard and the absence of a truss rod and the cloud style tailpiece while the A-40 is Gibson's new lower cost model after WW2. The bodies appear to be identical to the mid-30s A5O. Here is an A-50 from roughly the same time- it had the pickguard type which is located via a pin into the neck- not a screw into the top and the Wards mandolin shares a bridge as seen on the f hole archtop Kalamazoo mandolins of that era- unlike the one on this A-50 mandolin. Spann's Guide lists this example a 1934 A-50 but the back does not look like maple to me- maybe, it is like that Wards mahogany version? As others have mentioned, staying in business led Gibson to do some odd things at times. I trust the screw into the bridge to hold that pick up does not go into the top! It was odd that the one I bought, the seller did not mention the Feb 1937 date stamp- nor the gold Wards sticker inside. One photo showed a sliver of the sticker so I then knew what the mandolin's identity to be. I got the impression from the seller that having a Wards sticker- and its rather rough look meant it was just some cheap old mandolin that her father had used and abused! She asked me why it sold for so much although from memory, I don't remember paying very much for it!
    Here is that 1934 A-50. https://www.ebay.com/itm/37406605129...wAAOSwqdFibcn0

  24. #20

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Mando View Post
    I'm confused -- how come a Wards version of an A-40/A-50 gets everyone excited when the actual vintage Gibson version creates little excitement on this forum?

    That being said, I would love to inherit to a 30's Gibson-made instrument that has family history!
    Variants are interesting for several reasons. One is to add detail to a history, which has an attraction to both academics and hobbyists who enjoy learning for its own sake. Another is that, sometimes, a variant or limited production item has enhanced market value because of rarity, although not nearly as often as expected. Then too, there’s the very well-known attraction of provenance, as ownership by a player of note changes perception of value, often massively.
    Of course, these factors could have bearing on how an instrument sounds, but this is not necessary to the attraction.
    In my other hobbies, variants and rarity often determine market value and interest: a collector will often start a description of their prizes with how rare they are, rather than how they function or even how pristine and original.
    None of this ever impressed my non-collector friends, who simply couldn’t see the attraction. I suppose someone in the psychological arena could theorize about this, and probably, someone has.

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  26. #21
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    The Wards 1642 is like the A-50 from its years of production in the mid-30s except for its pickguard and the absence of a truss rod and the cloud style tailpiece while the A-40 is Gibson's new lower cost model after WW2. The bodies appear to be identical to the mid-30s A5O. Here is an A-50 from roughly the same time- it had the pickguard type which is located via a pin into the neck- not a screw into the top and the Wards mandolin shares a bridge as seen on the f hole archtop Kalamazoo mandolins of that era- unlike the one on this A-50 mandolin. Spann's Guide lists this example a 1934 A-50 but the back does not look like maple to me- maybe, it is like that Wards mahogany version? As others have mentioned, staying in business led Gibson to do some odd things at times. I trust the screw into the bridge to hold that pick up does not go into the top! It was odd that the one I bought, the seller did not mention the Feb 1937 date stamp- nor the gold Wards sticker inside. One photo showed a sliver of the sticker so I then knew what the mandolin's identity to be. I got the impression from the seller that having a Wards sticker- and its rather rough look meant it was just some cheap old mandolin that her father had used and abused! She asked me why it sold for so much although from memory, I don't remember paying very much for it!
    Here is that 1934 A-50. https://www.ebay.com/itm/37406605129...wAAOSwqdFibcn0
    Look through the f hole on the eBay link. Do you see a back brace? Does your mandolin have a brace across the back? The reality of the Gibson second lines is that they were all fairly similar and this is more of a KM-21 type clone than an A-50. I don't think these backs were laminated like some folks think but they were pressed and if that brace is there it was pressed not carved. The A-50 was carved as far as I know and does not contain a cross brace on the back (unless they have different models within the A-50 designation that I haven't seen and that is possible) so this would be an A shaped mandolin with a possible carved top (and I think they had some) and a pressed back that is braced. Wards did some pretty neat things with the Recording King products so I could see them ordering a better model of the Gibson built mandolins. I could also see Gibson sitting with some extra carved tops and talking the Wards people into buying them on their mandolins because Gibson always used whatever they had laying around to build the second line products.
    Last edited by MikeEdgerton; Jul-01-2022 at 7:29am.
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
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  27. #22

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    There is a brace across the back, all right. I think that the suggestion that Gibson organised a deal to lower some inventory of various bits and pieces makes a lot of sense- just keeping afloat during the Depression. That 1934 A-50 I posted does not appear to have a brace on the back. One thing for sure, this Wards model is getting a good investigation into its build features which is a good thing.

  28. #23
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    There is a brace across the back, all right. I think that the suggestion that Gibson organised a deal to lower some inventory of various bits and pieces makes a lot of sense- just keeping afloat during the Depression. That 1934 A-50 I posted does not appear to have a brace on the back. One thing for sure, this Wards model is getting a good investigation into its build features which is a good thing.
    The Gibson second lines have been discussed here for years, well before the book about them. Mick makes a comment about my speculation that they swept the floor to build these. I've owned several second line instruments and they were amalgamations of parts from different years. One had a bridge that hadn't been seen since the 20's and it showed up on a mid 30's guitar. They kept Gibson alive through the lean years.
    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
    --M. Stillion

    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
    --J. Garber

  29. #24

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by David Lewis View Post
    Thatís fantastic. Is it a good instrument? Made by Gibson so is the only issue no truss rod?
    I only know what you all are telling me about these Wards mandolins, that it is similar/same to Gibson A-40 or A-50 without the truss rod. I put new strings on it, moved the bridge 1/8" towards the tail piece for correct intonation at the 12 fret. The strings are stretched out and it's in tune. I am not very familiar with mandolins but I do have a good ear and this Wards model sounds quite good to me. The sustain is really impressive. Super lively. Not easy to play, that's for sure. My fingers are taking a beating. I may need some Super Glue here soon to put on the callouses : )

  30. #25

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Very interesting. The case I used to have opened on the end and the mandolin would slide in. It also rattled around quite a bit. I have a nice new gig bag for it now. The more familiar I become with this mandolin, the more impressed I am with the condition. All original- pick guard, tuners/hardware. I don't think it's been re-fretted. No checking on the finish, just some beautiful wear marks from playing. Also some scuffing on the back from being hung up on a brick wall for the last 25 years. To me, it's really drop dead gorgeous : )

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