Gibson K-1 Carved Top Mandocello (1912)

Gibson  K-1 Carved Top Mandocello  (1912)

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Item # 8323
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Gibson K-1 Model Carved Top Mandocello (1912), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # 15014, natural top, cherry stained back and sides finish, birch back and sides, spruce top; mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard, gig bag case.

We feel the Gibson Mandocello is one of the great under-appreciated instruments of the early 20th century. Originally designed for use in 1910s mandolin orchestras, these imposing beasts never found a home in any other style of music despite being wonderful and unique-sounding instruments.

Double-strung and tuned in fifths starting with the C below the low E on the guitar, the mandocello has an imposing tone and deep resonance quite unlike any other fretted instrument. OK, we're starting to sound like an old Gibson catalog here, but we really like these and are always happy to get one in stock!

This particular instrument is a Style K-1, the most basic of the 3 mandocello models offered but still a fairly expensive instrument when new. It is structurally the same as the fancier Model K-2 with a little less "geegaw" (decoration). The headstock face carries just a plain pearl "The Gibson" inlay while the tuners are tipped with unadorned ivoroid buttons.

The sound hole decoration is made up of two separate half-herringbone wood inlaid rings and a bound edge. The K-2 had fancier versions of these decorative touches, but the physical features and sound were the same for both models, with an oval body, bound carved spruce top, and birch back. The necks are mahogany with a bound and dot-inlaid ebony fingerboard.

This 1912 "Pumpkin top" K-1 Mandocello dates to the decade when Gibson was defining the market for these mandolin family instruments. In the 1910s-'20s these Gibsons were only available from licensed teacher-agents, and were usually purchased on time along with lessons. As part of the deal, the students would often play in the teacher's fretted orchestra, and the low-tuned mandocello was crucial to achieving a full sound in these ensembles. Far fewer were sold compared to mandolins, however, making Gibson mandocellos from any era a comparative rarity.

The mandocello with its 8 strings and "C" orchestral tuning has a totally unique sound and makes an excellent recording instrument. It can be employed for a wide range of playing styles; some still yet to be explored!
 
Overall length is 38 7/16 in. (97.6 cm.), 14 1/8 in. (35.9 cm.) width, and 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 24 5/8 in. (625 mm.). Width of nut is 1 5/8 in. (41 mm.).

This is a well-worn but good playing example of a K-1, now well over 100 years old. We would describe this as a "player grade" mandocello, but a nice one at that. There is a decent amount of play wear overall, mostly dings and scuffs, and the finish is a bit "smoked" and nicely ambered on the top. The tailpiece cover is not original and the baseplate has been modified to hold the jack for an under-the-top pickup, which is functional if a bit crude by modern standards.

There was a diagonal split to the headstock that was well-repaired long ago. The Kluson tuners are from the WWII era and it looks like the repair dates to that time. It is very solid with a varnish overcoat applied, but no obtrusive finish work. There are several small repaired grain cracks to the bass side of the body. The top is very solid with no cracks and a nicely preserved arch without the sinkage often seen on these. There is a small bulge in the side-back seam on the bass side by the tailpiece, which is very common.

The pickguard is long gone and the original bridge has a newer compensated saddle. Overall a very good playing and sounding mandocello, strung with Thomastik flatwound strings for the favored classical tone. Includes a functional, if inelegant, hard gig bag case. Very Good + Condition.