Signed by Lloyd Loar, 7/9/23
The Gibson F-5

© Frank Ford, 1999; Photos by FF

The "Lloyd Loar" Gibson F-5 has a unique place in fretted instrument history, thanks to its current popularity among bluegrass musicians. It was the brainchild of Lloyd Loar, who persuaded the brass at Gibson to make a massive change in the quality of their mandolin line in an effort to recapture a dying mandolin market. He promised that with his guidance they'd make the best mandolins ever, and that the business would get back on track as a result.

The project succeeded but the plan failed. Gibson's instruments improved* dramatically in playability and tone, but the public wasn't all that interested. Banjos and guitars, and Jazz music were taking over. There was nothing that Gibson could do about that! So they fired Loar and moved on to other things, eventually setting the pace for Jazz Age archtop guitar and tenor banjos, ultimately moving on to modern electric instruments.

The flagship of Loar's fleet was the new F-5 mandolin, which embodied all the improvements they could muster: long thin neck with adjustable truss rod, adjustable bridge; f-hole design for more power. They also sported the new brown and yellow sunburst finish (previous sunbursts were always red) and silver plated metal hardware.

Please click the small image

There were tiny differences in some "batches" of these mandolins. This particular one is the most commonly seen variation, with black and white purfling around the face and back, and around the sides of the neck and peghead.

Only a couple hundred of these instruments survive today, and considering the high original list price ($250.00) that may be a majority of those produced in the "Loar years" from December 1922 through December, 1924. Right after Loar's departure, the mandolins were shunted to the back of the catalog, and sales dropped like a stone.

Since there are essentially no other models of original Gibson f-hole mandolins, and so few were mandolins produced during the dark years following Loar, and the quality of those is so uneven, the Loar F-5 has a special place in the history of bluegrass instruments. Players can argue about which models and years of banjos or guitars sound and play the best. Not so with mandolins. Essentially every bluegrass musician agrees that the Loar F-5 is "it."

*The f-hole design allowed a longer more accessible neck, and produced a fuller sound especially in the bass range. Later bluegrass musicians would prize these features, but not all musicians consider them improvements. Some players prefer the earlier oval hole instruments and their "sweeter" sound. Clearly, Loar, who was a classical musician, also enjoyed the f-hole design.

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