This is an extremely fine and also beautiful late example of this style, which model moniker was discontinued in 1943. Being that is made later in the timeline it has some features that the F-4s made in the teens and ‘20s don’t have: namely the color of the sunburst is more orange and less red, the fingerboard is elevated off of the top by a wooden riser underneath it; the fingerboard is inlaid with “design” inlays rather than dotmarkers and these occur in frets 3, 5, 7, 10, 12 and 15. On this example, the headstock is inlaid “Gibson” in mother of pearl script letters and thereunder is a single urn, or “torch” or “flowerpot” style inlay. Under that is a bell-shaped plastic truss rod cover held in place by two screws. Its original tuners are all metal including gears, shafts and buttons. Its top and back are bound in crème celluloid and so is the Brazilian rosewood fingerboard. The soundhole rosette is ringed in 8 layers, comprised of of checkerboard and celluloid in contiguous concentric oval circles – the first and third rings are checkerboard with alternating black and crème rectangles, while the center ring is crème celluloid. All rings are separated by black and then crème layers. The two-piece adjustable bridge is also Brazilian rosewood and has twin small metal corrugated “risers” that enable the owner to adjust the action on his or her own. Apparently, during this period, the slide-on “The Gibson” tailpiece cover was plated in chrome, earlier era tailpiece covers were nickel. The truss rod (inside the neck) has been tested for serviceability and it works fine.
Cosmetically, the mandolin, overall, is quite clean although it does show the usual array of light normal signs of use including scratches, scrapes and dings, including some on the back of the neck and string changing marks on the headplate. All this is typical. In addition we note that, as is also very common, the veneer that covers the peghead scroll was repaired (there are actually two glued areas) but these small fissures did not travel beyond the veneer. The original celluloid, tortoise-shell color elevated pickguard, with its side clamp remain in the hard shell case since the area where the side clamp is attached to the flat portion deteriorated (as celluloid does) forming a hole. If one wished to use the mandolin with a pickguard one would have to have a new celluloid pickguard made for the original side clamp.
This is one of the latest examples of the Gibson F-4 as we ever tend to see. When advised as to how many serial numbered (as opposed to Factory Order Numbered) instruments Gibson produced in the period just before and during World War II most collectors and players are shocked. For example, between January 2nd 1939 and December 31, 1939 Gibson made 700 serialized guitars and mandolins (banjos have their own numbering sequence). Between January 1940 and December 31st, 1940 they made 550; from that date to the last day of 1941 they made 800. At that point we were engaged in the war, and Gibson lost most of their experienced staff to the military effort, so from that last day in 1941 to the last day in 1942 they made only 300. In 1943 the total made with serial numbers was just 150. It is thusly logical to speculate that this may, perhaps, well be one of the last dozen or fifteen F-4 mandolins ever made. We consulted The MandolinArchive.com which shows that the adjacent serial number instrument (96390) is also an F-4 mandolin. Interestingly, they show only 9 more F-4s known to the Archive after our serial number (so our estimate of this being one of the last 12 to 15 is probably correct). They have written the following:
“96390 Gibson 1940 F-4 Mandolin. This is one of most scarce versions of a Gibson F-4. Gibson F style mandolins from the 1930's and 40's are extremely rare. By then, the mando craze from the teens and early 20's had faded away. This particular mandolin features a simple pearl Gibson logo in the unbound peghead and Nick Lucas style inlays in the fingerboard. Has a sunburst top, chocolate brown stained maple back and sides, a checkerboard pattern soundhole rosette, and a squared off fingerboard instead of the normally seen extension. The fingerboard is elevated off the top like the F-5. The condition is overall excellent. No repairs, crack or other structural issues noted. It retains all of its original hardware except the missing pickguard. The tuners, bridge, tailpiece and cover are all correct. The best thing about this mandolin is the sound!! It is really a great sounding mandolin. It has a very deep throaty bass response. The playability is great. As a general rule, the F-4/F-2s from this era are consistently good sounding. I have had lots of all of them and these are real sleepers. This is surely one that you can walk up to the guy with the super clean 1923 model that he just paid 12 grand for and absolutely blow it away.”
We can assure you that our 1940 Gibson F-4 mandolin also sounds wonderful as well – it has that deep, throaty thing going strongly and vigorously. It has the punch and presence that most associate with the F-5 model mandolin – a far different vocalize than one associates with the far more prolific F-4 mandolins of the teens. It is an incredibly good deal, quality wise and price wise, at only . . .