Gibson A Junior
Gibson A Junior, 1927, acoustic. $1,600.
Here's a 1927 Gibson A Junior mandolin with the coveted "snakehead" tapered headstock. The serial number is 82316 and the factory order number is 8800—although it looks like someone had a hard day with the ink stamp, because the FON is stamped twice on the neck block, once with the first digit missing.
     The A Junior was an entry-level, no-frills instrument with no binding or decoration, but many of them sound lovely, regardless. This one has what appear to be the original Waverly cloud tailpiece, pickguard, 1-piece bridge, and tuners. Like fancier Gibson mandolins, it has an endpin, which is not normal for Juniors—it's been added to facilitate playing with a strap. The top is spruce; the 1-piece back and sides are birch. Headplate, fretboard, nut, bridge and endpin are ebony; neck is mahogany. It resides in a chipboard case that is likely not original, yet appears to be almost as old as the instrument.
     This mandolin has been around the block and has a lot of scratches. My luthier has repaired a top crack, glued up some open seams, dressed the frets, adjusted the action, and lubricated the tuners, so it's ready to get back to making music. Juniors deliver a lot of bang for the buck in terms of tone, and are sometimes reputed to sound "bassier" or "warmer" than a typical snakehead. That may well be the case here too—at any rate, it remains the most affordable way to get into a vintage snakehead.
     Keep in mind: one of the most important classical mandolin albums of the previous century, Howard Frye's Gypsy Mandolin, was recorded with an A Junior snakehead. And so was a lot of other great music. Add a strap, see more photos, call 425/772-0231, or for more information. $1,600 plus shipping.