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Thread: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

  1. #1

    Default Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    Why are old Gibson snakeheads seemingly worth so much more than ones with paddle headstocks?

    I'm just curious if there's legitimate sound or playability improvements or if it's just an aesthetic thing.
    I guess I'll just stay right here, pick and sing a while...
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    As far as 'worth' goes... I'd chalk it up to basic supply and demand.

    As far as 'playability'... In general the Snakeheads came with narrower nut-widths, enabled by the new trussrod feature. Some (myself included) find the narrower nuts/neck profile preferable to the (again, generally) Paddleheads' wider necks.
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    Likes quaint instruments poul hansen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    I think it looks much better. A paddle head is really too big for that short and skinny neck aesthetically.

    Technically the strings have a better travel directly to the nut. If it affects sound? I dunno.
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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    Lloyd Loar pixie dust! He must have walked by the mandolin during its construction.

    Seriously, I prefer the narrower neck. If you can get one with good intonation, they can cover a wide variety of genres & be a life-time mandolin. Of course, the same can be said about the ore-Loar paddle heads. I love my '23 A-1, but really miss a late teens refrigerator white A-3 that I sold to finance a move many years ago.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    I now own two, my ‘23 A2 which I have owned for close to forty years and a recently acquired 24 A4 which was on my list list for sometime. I also owned a 23 A-junior which was a sweetheart of an instrument. Yes, the narrower neck but the tone is a bit different from the earlier paddle heads. However, I am also a big fan of early 1920s pre-Loars. Probably a better bargain. I paid top dollar or close for the A-4 but it is pristine and has collectible features that really have little to do with the music it makes. I do like to sit and admire it before and after playing it. Sometimes there are other aspects to consider than functionality.
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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    I've had quite a few oval hole Gibson A models in my hands.
    My experience is that their tonal characteristics can vary considerably from instrument to instrument, but I have not found any discernable connection between the tonal variations and the year of manufacture or the neck style.

    When I started playing mandolin over 40 years ago, folks were already noting the presence of a snakehead neck, but I believe that a lot of the reason for that was because of the look, the slimmer neck profile, the presence of a truss rod, and the smaller production numbers rather than any consistent difference in tone.

    I'll note that I've owned 3 A-4's, one from 1916 or 17, one from 1920, and one from 1932 or so. The tone of the '32 was quite similar to the one from 1916, while the tone of the 1920 mandolin was quite different from the others. I'll note that the factory fret placement on the '32 was so far off that I had to replace the fingerboard to allow the instrument to play in tune.

    Since some players are now developing a preference for wide fretboards, I wonder whether there is going to be a decrease in demand for snakeheads. Maybe yes, maybe no. Lots of folks like the look of the snakeheads, and fewer were made.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Market trends for old instruments are not necessarily determined by logic, rarity, or even tone. An interesting peghead logo or a celebrity connection can have far more effect on the market value than what the instrument sounds like. One example of this is Gibson J-45 guitars made between 1942 and 1954. Internally, they were built and braced the same, except for sporadic wood substitutions due to wartime materials shortages. But the early 40's models with a "banner" peghead logo will bring far more than the block logo models from the early 50's. And I've played some 50's J-45's that sounded much stronger than some of the banner head models.

    An extreme example of how factors other than tone can affect market value are the skyrocketing prices of what was perhaps Martin's biggest mistake-- their D-18E acoustic-electric guitars. For over 30 years no one wanted them because they just didn't sound very good. But a fellow by the name of Kurt Cobain who had a couple of hit records bought one and used it on a famous video concert, and then suffered an early demise. As a result, original D-18E's now sell for around $20,000, if you can find one. It is said that his personal D-18E sold for $6 million at auction a couple of years ago, the highest price ever paid for any guitar.

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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    Andy Statman

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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    They get 'talked up' but I think every one is slightly different so there will be some great paddle heads and some poor snakeheads. I do think the paddle head is too wide as the strings touch each other on the way to the machine heads and the nut should be slotted ever so slightly different and may not always be. I think the snakehead looks better but a headstock in between paddlehead and snakehead and narrowing like a snakehead at the top would, IMHO, be better still.

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    perpetual beginner... jmagill's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    Quote Originally Posted by milli857 View Post
    Why are old Gibson snakeheads seemingly worth so much more than ones with paddle headstocks?
    They cost more for reasons presented here, but whether they're worth more is up to the buyer.

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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    Everyone's dancing around it but not coming right out and saying it, so I will - they're worth more and they cost more because they're better. That's it. End of story.

    OK, I'm kidding, of course. But there have been a lot of people around here over the years who've been saying they've got mojo, or style, or just are aesthetically more pleasing. And if you've been following Jim Garber's thread about his newly purchased 1924 A-4 and seen the pictures, that presents that point of view in an abundantly clear manner. I've seen plenty of opinions on both sides of the question about whether they sound better, enough so I deduce it can't be - or hasn't yet been, which after all this time is virtually the same - empirically determined this is so. So it comes down to aesthetics, and IMO snakeheads look pretty darned cool, though that is a secondary consideration to their sound. I resist the term "paddlehead" for the standard headstock shape, though I suppose it's better than "blockhead" or some such. Yes, it looks a bit clunky, especially in comparison to snakeheads, but I don't think it matters. The most important part of the instrument is the body, from which the sound emanates. Next is the neck, which determines the playability and the accuracy of the sound production. The headstock is the third and by far least important part of the body. IMO, natch, and YMMV. Good morning!
    Last edited by journeybear; Dec-01-2022 at 10:53am. Reason: upon further thought ...
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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    So it comes down to aesthetics, and IMO snakeheads look pretty darned cool, though that is a secondary consideration to their sound. I resist the term "paddlehead" for the standard headstock shape, though I suppose it's better than "blockhead" or some such. Yes, it looks a bit clunky, especially in comparison to snakeheads, but I don't think it matters. The most important part of the instrument is the body, from which the sound emanates. Next is the neck, which determines the playability and the accuracy of the sound production. The headstock is the third and by far least important part of the body.
    I think it comes down to playability, and the snakehead shape is just a visual cue indicating the mandolin has a number of changes (adjustable bridge, adjustable truss rod, smaller neck profile, etc.) that might keep a vintage instrument playing comfortably for some pickers.
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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    I have a '22 with a truss rod, paddle headstock and wide (1 1/4") nut. It sounds great. I actually prefer the look of the paddle headstock to the snake, it looks more like it should to me.
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  19. #13

    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    I hadn't realized that snakeheads had truss rods while paddleheads did not, or that the nut width was significantly different.

    I actually quite like the look of paddleheads, which I guess will be nice for my wallet if I ever want to buy a vintage Gibson! A teens Gibson A on my long-term 'I want one but really don't need one' wish list.

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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    Mostly fashion. De gustibus non est disputandum.

    Still, there remains the possibility that the mass of the headstock acts as a sort of comb filter, suppressing some frequencies. This concept has also been put forward regarding violin bows, with he added variables of the composition of the wood (or alternative material) of the bow itself.

    Variation instrument-to0instrument cannot be denied, but there's a qualitative difference between the thicker non-trussrodded necked instruments, and those with the trussrods, which cannot be denied.

    Ultimately, they cost more because people are willing to pay more for them.

  21. #15

    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    Quote Originally Posted by milli857 View Post
    I hadn't realized that snakeheads had truss rods while paddleheads did not, or that the nut width was significantly different.
    Well... that's where things get a little fuzzy. Paddleheads existed before the Snakeheads came along (during the "Loar Era"). Those pre-Loar Paddleheads did not have truss rods. Truss rods were phased into the Paddlehead models during L.L's tenure. Take a look at this one from 1923.
    https://www.gbase.com/gear/gibson-a-4-1923Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    I went on a hunt for a Gibson A oval a few months ago. Since I couldn't compare or play one, I bought a '25 snakehead and a '21 paddlehead. Spent a long weekend playing them both side by side and the paddlehead was a better sounding instrument, so I sent the snakehead on its way. The neck shape and size doesn't bother me at all. The paddlehead neck was very similar to a vintage Kamaka uke I use to own. I'm not saying a snake is better than a paddle but in my comparison the paddle was superior. The snake was considerably more expensive (and in better condition), I wouldn't of had a problem paying more for it if it had sounded better but it didn't. I love the paddlehead and have had more positive compliments on the sound and volume from the folks I jam with.

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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    Quote Originally Posted by milli857 View Post
    I hadn't realized that snakeheads had truss rods while paddleheads did not, or that the nut width was significantly different.
    Truss rods started in late '21 and early '22. All the Loar improvements except the headstock and nut width were the same. An adjustable bridge was also on these early mandolins along with a truss rod.
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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    And the snakeheads were only made from 1923 to 1927 or so. After that, they went back to the paddle head. Those later paddle heads had truss rods and tended to have a slimmer profile than the 1910's models.

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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    As fussy as I might be, when I play my '23 A2 paddlehead wide neck I forget all about what I think I MUST have to be happy and revel in the sound, clarity, volume, precision and power that this mandolin oozes at the slightest provocation. Every single person who has played it has marveled at its wonderful eminence. It is quite modest in appearance but what a sound. Not a hint of tubbiness ether.

    IK,Ik I'm bragging unabashedly but so be it. The coolness of the snakehead is a cosmetic thing while the wholeness of the instrument is what matters to me.

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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    Everyone's dancing around it but not coming right out and saying it, so I will ...
    ... the paddleheads' introduction, if you squint just right, more or less lines up with the F-5's, thus benefitting from ...

    Quote Originally Posted by John Soper View Post
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    As journeybear noted I recently acquired a 1924 A-4 snakehead in pristine condition with a Virzi for what that is worth. I paid the retail price because the stars had lined up and I had the funds. It was the most money I have paid for a mandolin but I was glad to do so. To my old ears it sounds different from other mandolins I have owned plus it looks to me that the Gibson team put a little extra into this one. I have tried quite a few A-4 snakeheads and don’t recall ever being disappointed in their tone and playability. I called Elderly immediately after I saw it.

    That doesn’t mean that I could have gotten a non-snakehead with a similar sound. In fact I played a 1920 A at RetroFret that I loved but at less than half the price of this one but I didn’t have the cash nor did I really need it. And I didn’t need this A-4 either but it had the aesthetic features and the look that I just love to look at. My other favorite mandolin is its twin. Here they are:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    So, to boil it down:

    Snakeheads are more worth more because more people want them.

    More people want them because they are so cool!


    Next question.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    All right, here’s the story of my first snakehead. IIRC this a was before I was even aware of the difference. I was at a vintage store in Amherst, MA and whe. I walked in on the wall was to be my black 23 A2. It was hangin on the center of a wall and I saw it immediatly., I picked it up and heard sounds that I loved. At that time my main and only mandolin was a white-faced A3 which I loved. For some reason this A2 had everything I wanted. Coincidently it was a snakehead.So I do believe there is something to the tone for some reason. IIRC the price was not much more than most other Gibson As.
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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    it's easier to capo a snakehead.

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    Default Re: Why are old Gibson snakeheads worth so much more?

    According to Gibson records.. my Snake Head Jr. was made Dec 22, 1922.

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