When the F-5 rolled out in 1922, Lloyd Loar's new design revolutionized the mandolin, greatly expanding the instrument's role in American music. But that doesn't mean Gibson mandolins made before 1922 should be overlooked! Orville Gibson founded the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co., Ltd with a carved mandolin design, so from its outset, the Gibson brand was always ahead of the curve with mandolins.
Introduced in 1902, the F-4 was Gibson's top-of-the-line mandolin until the F-5 hit, and the F-4 certainly looks the part. Sure, the F-5 is an influential mandolin, but the F-4 looks absolutely gorgeous. The red sunburst ages beautifully over the years, and something about the color sets off the detail of the carved scroll and the figure of the one-piece Maple back so nicely. Plus, the earlier F-4s were made without metal truss rods in the neck—a subtle detail for sound, but it allows the elaborate double flowerpot inlay on the peghead.
Make no mistake, the F-4 sounds every bit as beautiful as it looks. The shorter neck positions the bridge closer to the tailpiece. Combined with the oval hole, this gives the F-4 a mellower, sweeter tone than you expect from an F-model. A natural choice for classical or old-time music, the F-4 also shines for gypsy jazz or folk music—really anything where a softer mandolin attack is desired. Nevertheless, it remains fuller than an A (as expected from an F-model)—it's just not as in your face as the Lloyd Loar design.
This 1915 Gibson F-4 is a beautiful example of the earlier pre-truss-rod spec with the double flowerpot inlay. It is a great player with warm, nuanced tone. As to be expected from a 100+ year old instrument, this F-4 shows some signs of wear and tear. There is a repaired top crack by the scroll that involved some drop-fill lacquer to mask the witness line. There are various binding repairs and breaks, and there are some lacquer overspray touchups on the top. The nut and bridge have both been replaced, and it looks like the headstock scroll was slightly reglued (luckily the peghead overlay was spared). Although it has been refretted, the frets are pretty low. At present, it plays clean and true, but if this mandolin became someone's every-day player, it will likely need new frets after a few years.
This 1915 Gibson F-4 captures the tone and feel of a bygone era of American music. It's a visually-stunning mandolin in so many ways—the finish, the Maple grain, the elaborate rosette, the engraved tuner buttons, the double flowerpot, etc. But make no mistake—it has the tone to back it up! It includes its original case, which has broken handle that has been replaced with leather straps.