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Thread: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    Hi all, I'm new here.

    I'm a beginner/intermediate guitar player, but when I expressed interest in a family member's mandolin, was given it as a gift. It's a 1906 "The Gibson" A4.

    My plan is to take it to a professional luthier in town who I trust, but is there anything specific I might need to tell them? I don't plan on selling ever but I would like for the mandolin to maintain its value as much as possible. Besides needing new strings, the only thing that really stood out to me is that the pick guard is mostly broken off of the instrument (it's screwed into the side of the instrument, but is detached where it attaches close to the sound hole)

    Is there anything specific I should mention to the luthier? I already did confirm that they work on mandolins, but is there anything else I should ask?

    Also, any recommendations for string type/guages for a beginner player? I'm really not into the styles of music you see with mandolins most often- I'd probably be trying to do mandolin covers of rock/pop songs just for fun.

    Thanks for the help! And I don't have the mandolin on me at the moment but can take pics tonight if needed.

  2. #2
    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    Congratulations! I'm sure you understand what a wonderful gift you've received. That was top of the line for that body shape.

    Other people hereabouts will be able to advise you better than I about questions for the luthier. Photos will help them immensely.

    But I might be able to give you some ideas about what songs in your preferred genre will work well with the instrument and some tips about how to play them. My tastes run along similar lines, and I've been at it for a looong time.

    And welcome to the Café! That is a fine howdy-do, for sure!
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    Check the brace (there's only one, running crosswise just inside the sound hole) to be sure that both ends are securely glued, check for loose seams everywhere, check the frets and the bow in the neck. If all of that is good, just go over the set up (string height at nut (might be pearl on an A4), action height, all other controllable things.)

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  5. #4
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    Default Re: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    Sunburst's post covers just about everything.

    If the pickguard is not inlaid into the top, the mandolin was made a bit later than 1906, which is not a bad thing. The serial number, if readable, would be informative. If not, a picture would be useful.

    A set of D'Addario EJ73 or EJ62 light gauge strings [10-14-24-34 or 36] would be my suggestion for a comfortable string for your purposes. The mandolin should respond well to them, and they will be friendlier than the heavier sets that most bluegrass players prefer.

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

    If you get very serious about the instrument, you might eventually want to install a set of modern size frets. Many of us find modern frets to be more comfortable to play than the original tiny Gibson frets. But that can come later.

    One other thing you might want to check: One of the reasons I'm trying to confirm the year the instrument was made is that some of the very earliest A-4's had fingerboards made of dyed "mystery" hardwood rather than ebony, and sometimes these mystery wood fingerboards deteriorate and can't be re-fretted. If the mandolin was indeed made in 1906, it might have one of the mystery wood boards. If it does, it would be better to leave it alone.

    But the vast majority had ebony boards, and those can be re-fretted without any problem.

  6. #5

    Default Re: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    Here are some photos

    Sorry for the late response. Upon closer inspection, it looks like the patent is 1906, so I'm not sure what year the mandolin is actually from. Serial # is visible in one of the pics if that helps.

    It does look like one of the seams is separating. Is that an easy fix?

    There are also a lot of dings/scratches. Can those be buffed out? Should I have them left alone? I don't mind the instrument having some character but I also think it would be cool to have it restored to its former glory haha

    Can that same pickguard be reattached or would it need a new one?

    Is it possible to have the metallic thing covering the bottom (tailpiece cover?) polished to its original appearance?

    Is there anything else I should make sure a luthier does NOT mess with, in order for the mandolin to keep its value, or something like that?

    I have a luthier that I went to and liked for my guitar. The website mainly advertises guitars but I did call and they said they work on mandolins as well. Is that a red flag? If there are any mandolin luthier recommendations in central/south Austin, I'd love to hear them.

    Thanks for the help everyone!

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    Default Re: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    It dates from 1930. The pickguard fixing doesn’t look right to me but I’m no expert in what they were using then. Many people simply tak ethem off anyway!

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    Registered User Martin Jonas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    Very nice! I'm sure somebody will correct me if I'm wrong, but on my reading serial number 85694 is around 1927/28. The closest A4 mandolins in the archives to your number are #85197 and #86106, both of which look pretty similar to yours:

    http://www.mandolinarchive.com/gibson/serial/85197
    http://www.mandolinarchive.com/gibson/serial/86106

    Martin

    Edit: Sorry, my post crossed with Ray's. The discrepancy in dates between his and mine is because there are two different systems of estimating dates of Gibsons...

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    Default Re: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    The seam shouldn't be a hard fix, and the pickguard simply has a piece underneath that has deteriorated, you didn't show the rest of the guard, so I can't comment there. I would have that deteriorated piece replaced to make the pickguard solid. I would watch the pickguard for deterioration, the more it is out being played the less chance of deterioration. I would leave the marks, they are few from what I can see and they are the character of the mandolin's life.
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  10. #9

    Default Re: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    Thanks pops1. The rest of the pickguard seemed fine. I didn't notice any issues.

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    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    That 1906 patent date is misleading you a bit. All it means as far as dating is that it was produced after 1906. I got 1928 too, from looking through the archives.

    I would remove that screw-on bracket immediately if not sooner. It is not attached to the pickguard, so not performing any useful function, being loose, it has scratched up the finish there. As suggested, you can take the pickguard off, at least until you get it sorted out. Or you may want to wad up a little bit of well-washed rag to stick under it so it woun't flop around any. If it were mine, I'd just take it off for the time being, and just try not to play too wild.

    I'm not 100% on the tailpiece cover. I've cleaned them before on my own instruments, but I'm not sure whether doing so would negatively impact collector or resale value. But the way it looks right now, it's just crying out for cleaning. I'm sure someone here will suggest the best method for that. And the scratches and other dings - leave them. Yes, they're character, and each has a story to tell if it could. I'll bet polish will darken them somewhat.

    All in all, it looks pretty darn nice. And you can't beat the price. Enjoy!
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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  12. #11
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    Default Re: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    That's a nice A-4, and a generous gift. I had one from the same period go through my shop a few years back, and it was quite a good mandolin.

    According to Spann's Guide to Gibson, serial number 85694 would be 1930.
    Our available serial number charts from different sources don't always exactly agree with each other, so take your choice.

    The open back seam near the neck is a reasonably easy fix for a "real" luthier. I wouldn't take it to a shade tree fix it man, though. To do it right, hot hide glue should be used, and a clamping caul will have to be made. If your luthier doesn't want to use hide glue, you would be better off taking it to someone else who does.

    The deteriorating plastic support that holds the metal pickguard rod should be removed and replaced immediately, or the deterioration will spread to rest of the pickguard, and gas emitted from the deterioration may damage the instrument's finish. If the rest of the pickguard seems intact, you can leave it alone. If it too is starting to deteriorate, it will have to be replaced also.

    These days, it's generally considered better not to buff the finish on antique instruments. A cleaning with a high-grade violin polish is about as far as you should go.

    You can remove the tailpiece cover, spray some WD40 on a piece of rag, and see if that will clean it up some. If that doesn't take care of it, abrasive polishes and compounds are not a good idea. If your luthier works on violins, he can probably clean it up reasonably well with rottenstone and oil.

    Have your luthier check the intonation on the instrument before he does any major work. Some Gibsons from this period are fine, but some have poorly located frets.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Was just gifted a 1906 mandolin

    My date of 1930 came from Spann. The “Mandolin Archive” contains dates from Spann and “traditional dates” which people tended to use before Spann came along.

    There should also be a “Factory Order Number” stamped inside - somewhere near the neck block - which will confirm the date when construction started (the serial number is generally accepted as the date the manolin shipped from the factory).

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