There is nothing more exciting that discovering an “out of the woodwork” – never on the market before – Gibson Lloyd Loar signed 1924 F-5 mandolin! It was originally felt that around 250 mandolins were shipped with Loar’s signature and that around 175 of them have been discovered so far. We have not counted all of the listings in The F-5 Journal, but the number of known Loars changes from time to time.
Lloyd A. Loar was hired around 1918 by Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was a teacher, composer and theoretician about sound and how it travels. After a while he either called himself or was assigned the title of “Acoustic Engineer” and that legend appears under his name on the second crème oval label that is positioned under the treble f-hole, affixed to the back. In full that label reads “The top, back, tone bars and air chamber of this instrument were tested, tuned and the assembled instrument tried and approved (by hand - ) February 18, 1924, And then a line “________” on which, in this instance, is found the inked signature of “Lloyd Loar.” The first label, as seen through the bas side f-hole, also oval and crème, reads “Pat. Mar. 30, 1906, Sept. 20, 1920, Jan. 18, 1921; Style (by hand) F-5, Number (by hand) 75318 is hereby guaranteed against faulty workmanship or material, with proper care and usage, go wrong (usual wear excepted), we agree to repair it free of charge at our factory, or to replace it with another instrument of the same style or value. Gibson Mandolin-Guitar, Kalamazoo, Mich, U.S.A.” Mr. Loar is not credited with any one particular invention, but, with some of Gibsons other supervisors and executives, he helped make major changes to the acoustic fretted instrument as we know it today. Among the things he is thought to have helped in the design are: the adjustable truss rod, the adjustable bridge, the slimmer, thinner neck shape, the elevated fingerboard, the building of mandolin family instruments using violin principals including that the Style F-5 mandolin (and its siblings: the H-5 mandola, K-5 mandocello and L-5 guitar), encompassed the first time that Gibson made an f-hole instrument (up until this time all of their archtop instruments had an oval soundhole or round soundhole). Loar worked for Gibson until the end of 1924, at the end of the Christmas party (“Lloyd, can I speak with you a moment. Here’s your chicken, Loar; you’re through in this town.” Thereafter he contributed to the design of other fretted instruments, none of which were as successful as the contributions he made to Gibson instruments. Toward the end of his life he taught music and acoustic theory at a college and he died in 1943. There is a wonderful biography and history of Mr. Loar by Roger Siminoff available at this link: http://www.siminoff.net/pages/loar_background.html
It goes without saying that the “Florentine” style (or F-model) Gibson mandolin, mandola and mandocello has a large and compelling body scroll on the upper bass side, and twin body points on the treble, along with a smaller headstock scroll on the upper bass side of the top of the peghead, a large headstock point and then a medium sized headstock scroll on the treble side. On this particular variation, the sides are bound in single ply crème ivoroid with no purfling line.
What we have here is an example of something we modestly call “the finest mandolin known to mankind.” It is a Gibson February 18, 1924 (signed and dated) Lloyd Loar F-5 model mandolin, #75318, made by Gibson with no Virzi Tone Producer installed. A Virzi Tone Producer is a device made of spruce, more or less round with a stalk that connects it to the underside of the top, with which Lloyd Loar became, over time, enamored. The concept of using it in his signed mandolins was sold to him by two brothers named Virzi who had been providing and installing them in violin family instruments. As we understand it, and of course this is subject to interpretation, having one is said to propel, energize and bounce the sound inside the body chamber in various directions, making the sound of the instrument more complex, with a different combination of harmonics and overtones. This is precisely why I carry a Virzi in the breast pocket of my sports jacket; I won’t leave home without it. It is thought that the ones made without the Virzi (as is this) are capable of having a punchier, more focused tone.
Other than having lost its original semi-rectangular hard shell original case (“It fell apart,” the owner told me) this mandolin is in excellent original condition. The color of Cremona brown sunburst had not officially been used before Loar assigned it to his creations. It is a sumptuous sunburst shower of visual scintillation, resembling a viscerally satisfying sunset. This mandolin was lovingly, carefully played -- the frets show normal wear (far be it from us to recommend that they be replaced), mainly in positions one through eight, the ebony board is very slightly pitted (eroded) within that space, and the back of the neck in the upper (just behind the first 4 or 5 frets) shows some loss of gloss from hand contact, especially from behind the neck above the nut down to around the fourth fret. Other than that, and several extremely light dings and cursory surface scratches, scuffs and light scrapes, plus a few finish checks, and circular scratches where the strings were, in the past, replaced during which procedure several string ends scratched the polished ebony headplate, this is a very clean and original instrument. There is finish erosion on the treble side of the neck, just below the fingerboard, between frets 8 and 10, and some finish wear on the face to the right of the tailpiece (how that area got scuffed we’ll never know). The f-holes are unbound; the fingerboard, over the body, is elevated. There is also a very small scraped area on the treble side of the instrument, just under the heel cap, adjacent to the binding, and there is wear visible on the face, under the lower treble edge of the pickguard.
SOME BACKGROUND: The owner states: “It was my grandfather’s, who lived in The Bronx. He used to play in a Philharmonic group in New York. My grandmother played classical guitar and they sometimes played together. My granddad used this instrument in the tremolo style popular in his time. He didn’t make a lot of money but when he bought something it would be “the best.” For example, he bought a Mercedes. My own mother’s guitar is said to have been made for Vincente Gómez who was a famous artist in the 1940s and ‘50s. The Gibson mandolin was passed down, first to my mom and then to me.”
This is a silver-plated component Loar, with the engraved-plate tuners, the artfully filigreed, silver "The Gibson"-engraved slide-on tailpiece, unique to the Loar period (this one shows normal oxidation), the single-ply side binding with crème-black-crème top and back border, having 3-ply bound tortoise color pickguard bearing the “Mar. 30, '09” stamp, with matching 3-ply-against-celluloid side clamp. It has solid maple neck bound in crème ivoroid with a black/crème line inlaid thereunder; and the binding of the face and back of the mandolin has the same purfling pattern. Its ebony headplate is suitably inlaid with the angled, inlaid pearl "The Gibson," and colorful single flowerpot, while its original adjustable ebony two-piece bridge has the “Pat. Jan. 18, ‘21” patent stamp on the bass back side of the base. The fingerboard, which has a long elevated extension on the treble side, has twenty full sized frets and 9 partial frets. Its back is highly figured and extremely beautiful; the sides, too, show a dramatic grain pattern in the upper portion. The back of the neck, as well, shows some nice curly grain.
Our head of repair, Rocco Monterosso, has fully examined the instrument and can attest to what is original. He says that the mandolin has its original Waverly tuners (they are stamped “Waverly” on their underside), its original nut, original frets; it never had a Virzi Tone Producer. It has its original bridge; original tailpiece, original pickguard; original finish, and original end pin. The case is, of course, not original.
What we have here is, by anybody’s standards, one of the most desirable and rare mandolins on the face of the planet, at a level of preservation that everybody who cares about these models welcomes – in other words, ultra clean, ultra-original, a one-owner instrument that has never been offered for sale before, that had been used, around 88 years ago, only for the performance of old Italian and semi-classical melodies and never for rock ‘n’ roll. We again have the notable situation of offering you a mandolin that is being put on the market only because a child has to go to college and the tuition and room and board for four years is almost identical to the price of grandfather’s prized mandolin. There is, in our opinion, certainly no higher or better reason for selling an instrument than this. We are pricing it fairly and with the notion that although it might, by some, be felt to be vastly underpriced – most of the Loar F-5s we’re seeing online at present have had full or partial refrets, significant chips of wood, chipped tuner buttons, fingerboard cracks and, also, none that we have seen for sale at other venues are stated as “one owner.” This mandolin has none of those aberrations from factory original. We are pricing it low, for quick sale, so that the poor kid can leave for college knowing that his or her expenses are covered and he won’t be in debt for the rest of his life.