Gibson A4
Gibson A4, 1916, acoustic. $2,500.
Here's a 1916 Gibson A4 mandolin that recently outlived its owner and is looking for a new long-term relationship. The serial number is 35067 and the factory order number is 3419. It's been through a lot in the past 102 years, but is ready to keep on ticking.
     Original purple-lined hardshell case is in reasonably good condition. However, one of the latches is missing its spring and won't stay closed (the other two work fine) and the handle has lost its original cover and has been repaired with electrical tape. As for the mandolin itself, I have many things to tell you, so read carefully.
     Original tailpiece, pickguard, 1-piece bridge, and endpin. The tuners on a 1916 A4 should be Handels, so it seems likely that these plain ivoroid Waverly tuners are replacements. And yet the previous owner's family showed me a photo from the 1930s in which this mandolin is already fitted with plain tuners—so if they're replacements, they were installed a long time ago. Otherwise, it conforms to A4 specs of the period in having a spruce top with slightly reddish sunburst finish, birch back and sides, mahogany neck, front and back binding, fancy rosette, and fleur-de-lis headstock inlay with "The Gibson" logo.
     The previous owner was not only an enthusiastic classical mandolin player, but a cabinetmaker by trade, and may have effected some of his own repairs. Here is what I can see that has been fixed or replaced: Nut is new. Two top cracks along the bass side, on the edge of the recurve, have been glued and the finish has been touched up. Binding on the treble side of the fretboard has been replaced. The two pins attaching the pickguard to the fretboard have been replaced with finish nails. It appears likely that the back was removed and reattached at some point, and it's been refinished in a not strictly professional manner, giving it a somewhat mottled appearance.
     Tonally, this is one of the good ones. It quite obviously had decades of great music played into it by an attentive musician, and has developed a voice that is sweet and light (not crude) but powerful, with much of the lyrical and only a little of the "tubby." There'a a reason people like vintage Gibsons, and that reason is ... vintage Gibsons, especially ones like this. No doubt you could find a vintage A4 in better condition, but sound is what matters, and this one has the sound. A hundred and two years is a long time to make music, but who knows? In another 102 years it might sound even better.
     See more photos, or for more information. $2,500 plus shipping.