In the last 100 years, The Gibson Company has continued to manufacture and design a variety of Gibson mandolin models. In the early 1900s, Orville Gibson hand-built the first prototype models that were labelled "A" and "F" models to classify the two unique shapes and designs. Vintage Gibson mandolins were produced from 1900 to 1930s, when the popularity of the instrument was at its greatest. You can spot a pre-1930 Gibson mandolin simply by looking at the shape of the instrument and the serial number associated with each mandolin.
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Look for the model and serial number. All Gibson mandolins have a pen or pencil-written series of letters and numbers that help identify the year and model number that it was manufactured. Depending on the age of your vintage Gibson, the written characters may sometimes be hard to see and may need the assistance of a magnifying glass or a bright light.
Inspect the bridge of the instrument. If it was crafted out of a single piece of wood, the instrument was manufactured on or before 1921. Adjustable bridges or modifications could either mean your Gibson mandolin was manufactured after 1921 or it has been modified or upgraded in some way.
Study the features on your vintage Gibson mandolin. Many vintage Gibson mandolins have a "snakehead" peg-head design that grows from small to large starting from the top. The Gibson A models had "V" shaped backs, while more modern instruments have a "U" shaped neck that is rounder than traditional instruments.
Determine between an A or F model. All "A" models are symmetrical and have a teardrop shape design. The "F" models have a bluegrass, curlycue style on the bass portion of the neck.
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