Gibson K-2 Carved Top Mandocello (1911)

Gibson  K-2 Carved Top Mandocello  (1911)

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Item # 8416
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Gibson K-2 Model Carved Top Mandocello (1911), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # 12491, black top,natural back and sides finish, birch back and sides, spruce top; mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard, black hard shell case.

The Gibson Mandocello is one of the great under-appreciated instruments of the early 20th century. Originally designed for the 1910s mandolin orchestra craze, these imposing beasts never found a home in other styles 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 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 striking 1911 "black top" K-2 Mandocello dates to the decade when Gibson was defining the market for these mandolin family instruments. In the 1910s Gibsons were only available from licensed teacher-agents, and were usually purchased on a time plan 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, and Gibson mandocellos from any era are a comparative rarity.

This particular instrument is a K-2, the midline model of the three mandocello models offered but an expensive instrument when new. It is structurally the same as the basic Model K-1 with some extra "geegaw" (decoration)! The headstock face carries an inlaid Fleur-de-Lys in pearl and abalone while the tuners are tipped with the beautiful inlaid Handel buttons. The sound hole ring is embellished with extra half-herringbone rings.

The K-2 package cost around $15.00 more than the K-1 in 1912, which would have bought a pretty nice mandolin by itself from the likes of Sears. Other features were the same for both models, with a bound top, back, and fingerboard. Often under-appreciated, the mandocello with its 8 strings and "C" orchestral tuning has a totally unique sound and can be useful for a wide range of playing styles, some yet to be explored!
Overall length is 38 in. (96.5 cm.), 14 1/16 in. (35.7 cm.) width, and 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 25 in. (635 mm.). Width of nut is 1 5/8 in. (41 mm.).

This is a superbly original example of this relatively early mandocello, unusually well-preserved with only minor wear, especially considering it has been more than a century on this planet. All of the hardware is original including the inlaid tuner buttons, tailpiece and cover, and floating celluloid pickguard which in itself is a rare thing these days. There is an old and clever pin repair to the metal pickguard bracket which must have come loose ages ago. There are no other visible repairs -- no cracks, all the seams are tight...we'd assume the back edge seam has likely been resealed.

The finish has the very fine checking common to these older varnished Gibsons, most notably on the top but only very minor play wear with no serious finish loss. It is a very good player with quite a powerful sound that rings for days. This is quite the nicest early K-2 we have had, and one of the best Gibson mandocellos period. Examples of these early 20th century 'cellos are an increasingly rare find these days, especially in this unaltered state. Currently housed in a hard shell guitar case that is a functional if inexact fit. Excellent Condition.