Inthe pickers are asked to guess the first instrument produced by Gibson. In this post, appraiser explores the world of Gibson collectibles:
If you love vintage acoustic instruments, and want to know where the best values are — if your motivation is to have and play something that you love — then you may want to consider vintage Gibson instruments. Gibson is known for constantly coming up with new designs and clever marketing, which has resulted in big hits and misses, along with some variation in quality of construction. Through all that restless experimentation, they have produced some of the highest priced instruments in history, as well as some sleepers that can bring you lots of satisfaction for the money. To protect your investment, choose “collectible” instruments, meaning instruments that have been proven to hold their value or appreciate if you ever plan to sell or trade up.
Collectible Gibson instruments include banjos, mandolins and guitars from the 1920s through the 1950s. Some of these instruments achieve prices in excess of $200,000, but you can find collectible and very playable instruments for anywhere from $1,800–$7,000. The price will depend on the size, condition, quality of materials, and level of ornamentation.
For those interested in a guitar they can fall in love with for a low price, take a look at Gibson flat-top models like the L and LG series. These smaller guitars have an even, balanced tone and ease-of-playing that is ideal for the finger picking style or a vintage, funky blues sound. Delta Blues artists like Robert Johnson, Skip James, and Lonnie Johnson used smaller Gibsons.
The Gibson J and SJ series are their “Jumbo” guitars, developed in the pre-war years for County and Western styles that called for a bigger sound with the use of a flat pick. These instruments get into the highly collectible category and can run from about $7,000 and up. They are the loudest and most collectible of Gibson guitars.
Banjos were Gibson’s domain through the 1930s, and the company constantly updated its designs. The tenor banjos have been priced very reasonably, from a few hundred dollars to about $2,000. Though they were designed for classic Dixieland and early jazz rhythm styles, these banjos have recently inspired a renaissance in many alternate playing styles. Demand has increased for four-string tenor banjos with the “Mastertone” designation, largely because they can be converted to the more expensive five-string versions. Five-string Gibson banjoes from the 1930s are excellent instruments and sell from about $2,000.
Gibson mandolins have been the unchallenged leader in quality and popularity since the late 1890s, when Orville Gibson created innovative mandolins that, with flatter backs and slightly arched tops, borrowed many design elements from their violin counterparts. These were an improvement over the round-back, Neapolitan-style mandolins (called “’tater bugs” here in the US). Look for any models with the A or F prefix, followed by a style number — the higher the number, the fancier the mandolin. Anything from 1920 through 1930 will be a great instrument for bluegrass, folk, or any hybrid jazz style. Prices range from about $600 for a basic A-model, to over $4,000 for a beautiful F-4.
The very highest priced and most collectible of all Gibson acoustic instruments is the legendary F-5 Master Model Mandolin, signed by acoustic engineer Lloyd Loar. Produced between 1922 and 1924, about 200 of these have surfaced, and there may be up to another 100 yet undiscovered. A fine Gibson F5 from 1923 recently brought
Today’s market is a good one for buyers, due to several recent “corrections” in the market for some of the most expensive models. As the recession slowly improves, prices will again start to rise. Be on the lookout for condition as well as price, and buy what you love — that way you won’t ever go wrong.
Watch David Bonsey appraise Gibson instruments on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW: