Gibson F-4 Carved Top Mandolin (1925)With Original Virzi Tone Producer!
Gibson F-4 Model Carved Top Mandolin (1925), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # 77537, sunburst varnish finish, maple back and sides, spruce top; mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard, original black hard shell case. Item # 7602
As Gibson mandolins go there are not many more hallowed instruments than a Style F-4 Artist model from the company's "Lloyd Loar" period. This is a spectacular example of Gibson's craftsmanship at the height of the mandolin era, just before their focus shifted to banjos and then guitars. The Mandolins from this particular time are revered for their unmatched sound quality and have all the perfected features of the era including the adjustable truss rod, raised adjustable bridge and slimmer neck profile. The F-4 Artist's model was Gibson's highest grade mandolin until the advent of the Master Model F-5 in 1922, and even after that model's introduction remained at a price of $150.00, an extremely expensive and prestigious instrument.
This F-4 features a two-piece bookmatched back and sides of nicely flamed maple; despite Gibson's catalog descriptions, only the Style 4 instruments were actually built with the specified maple body. Top, back, sides and neck feature a beautiful dark, rich sunburst finish with less red pigment than many and are bound in grained ivoroid. The headstock carries the newer "short" flowerpot inlay that clears the truss rod cover; the earliest truss-rod equipped F-4's have older precut headstock overlays that have some of the inlay hidden by the coverplate. The Waverly strip tuners have grained ivoroid buttons darker than most, but original. The pickguard is the usual elevated tortoise celluloid piece, with a transitional bracket combining the newer metal positioning rod with the old rim clamp. The previously top-of-the-line F-4 may have been overshadowed somewhat by the new F-5 in 1923-5, but the examples from those years are still absolutely the finest ever built and spectacular sounding mandolins. The tone is somewhat mellower than Gibson's f-hole instruments, but with plenty of body and "bite" when needed.
Lloyd Loar's tenure as "acoustic engineer" at Gibson has become so mythical that sometimes separating fact from fiction is difficult. Certainly the mandolin family instruments made during the period of Loar's employment are the most perfectly realized in Gibson's history, and have become the template for most similar instruments since. The mandolins of the "Loar Era" show the influence of a master player on both design and execution, although other Gibson employees (especially Thaddeus McHugh and Lewis A. Williams) actually engineered many of the technical improvements. Loar was primarily concerned with 'voicing' the instruments properly; the Master Model Style 5 line was his greatest contribution with their violin-style F-hole tops but all Gibson mandolin family instruments were refined and improved at the same time.
This F-4 also features a peculiarity of the Loar era, a Virzi Tone Producer mounted under the top. This device, produced by the Virzi Bros. violin company in New York was championed by Loar and offered by Gibson as an optional (and extra cost) feature at the time. The Virzi was usually installed in Loar's pet Master Model instruments, and it is relatively uncommon to find one in a round hole mandolin: only a fairly small number of "Virzi F-4's" are known to exist. The "Tone Producer" itself is a small spruce disk suspended beneath the top intended to add extra harmonic partials to the instrument's sound; many players have been disappointed to discover that it does not actually add volume to the instrument. What it does do is help produce a more complex sound with richer overtones…that is the theory anyway! Many Virzis have been removed from 1920's Gibsons by players who wanted a louder more driving tone, but those that remain are a fascinating part of the Loar era story. This one is noted on a separate label inside the instrument with Virzi serial #10447.
The factory order number stamped on the heelblock of this mandolin indicates it was built right at the end of 1923, the height of Loar's period of influence over Gibson's direction. The serial number-by the most recent reckonings-suggests it was not shipped out until early 1925-after Master Lloyd "left the building". This situation was not uncommon in the mid-20's-the "jazz era" was in, mandolin sales were declining rapidly and the company was about to turn mostly to banjo and then guitar production. This F-4 is a stunning example of Gibson's best traditional mandolin work, from the end of that period. It remains in absolutely lovely original condition and rates as one of the nicest and best sounding F-4 mandolins we have ever seen-or heard.
Overall length is 26 1/4 in. (66.7 cm.), 10 in. (25.4 cm.) wide, and 1 3/4 in. (4.4 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 14 in. (356 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/8 in. (29 mm.). This amazingly clean instrument came directly from the original owner's family, just out of many year's storage and back into the world. These "attic finds' are increasingly rare as time goes on, and this is one of the nicest we have seen in a while! The instrument shows some light wear overall-it was played when new but extremely well cared for. There are just some tiny dings here and there on the body and headstock, the only notable wear is to the finish on the sides and back of the neck which is down to the wood in several places. The frets show light wear but remain eminently playable. In the further interest of playability we replaced the original adjustable bridge top with the correct Siminoff reproduction as it had sagged somewhat, but the old piece is included and could be re-worked for use if desired. All other hardware is complete and original, and after a light cleaning the finish shines again like it was still 1925! This is truly one of the best sounding F-4's we have heard-bright, full and powerful with plenty of authority that never gets strident. Includes a very nice OHSC. Excellent + Condition.
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