The Gibson Style F-12 harkens back to 1931 when Gibson decided, 9 years after they debut of the famous and fancy F-5, that a less expensive alternative was needed. Early F-12s were somewhat fancy, having an ivoroid bound headstock and peninsula-extended fingerboard and the fingerboard was raised over the body as is an F-5. On the headstock at that time was a vase and curlicue inlay pattern and the tuner buttons were actually mother of pearl. We have the impression that it had the standard slide-on “The Gibson” tailpiece cover. This original version of the F-12 disappeared in 1937 and the model came back into the line in 1948 in a more simplified manner – having the simple scalloped tailpiece cover, a squared off fingerboard, the fingerboard end was glued to the top, as so many of us are.
Oddly, in 1950 they went back to the elevated fingerboard. Consequently this example was made in an 11-year window when these appointments existed. Other appointments we observe is that the headstock in this period is unbound, and it is the large version with the postwar Gibson in “block” style script inlaid in mother of pearl; the open-gear tuners are still quite shiny and have filigreed etching on the back plates; the pickguard is black and laminated in black-white-black; the side and point binding is yellowed ivoroid; the bridge is Brazilian rosewood and two-piece adjustable, and the Gibson logo engraved on the small, slightly oxidized formerly gold plated tailpiece cover is in squiggle filigree. This mandolin sports 7 mother of pearl dotmarkers in its Brazilian rosewood fingerboard.
This example is in solidly excellent condition showing far fewer signs of use and wear than one would expect for a 64 year old instrument. It does show some fret wear and the frets are a bit low. Our workshop will perform the standard “set-up” and not attempt to re-round (dress) the frets because there is less fret showing than we would prefer -- but overall who ever owned this mandolin took very good care of it. There are a few minor dings, small scratches, scuffs and scrapes, but not many. There’s a scuff, for example, on the back side of tip of headstock, a deep finish check on the lower treble side that could be an incipient crack, some dings at the scroll end of the headstock. The hard shell case is remarkably clean and inside the pocket are, in the original envelope, the case key and a small slip of paper the same size as the envelope that reads “Inspected by EU,” and Date: Feb. 14, 1949.” Who knew they had a European Union in 1949.
We think that any mandolin player would find this Gibson 1949 F-12 to be a fascinating fragment of fretted instrument folklore from the year that Arthur Godfrey & Friends premiered on WCBS-TV (but who had a TV?), that Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” opened at the Morosco Theater in New York (it won a Tony and the playwright won the Pulitzer Prize), and that Siam changed its name to Thailand.