Before venturing in the electric guitar business, Gibson was one of the main players in crafting stringed instruments. Mandolines were one of the specialities and Gibson built them exclusively for only a few short years. Not many years after they started producing the harp-guitar and eventually acoustic guitars. By the 1920s, Gibson was producing mandolins, banjos, and guitars.
Around 1900, Orville Gibson of Kalamazoo, Michigan created two new styles of mandolins. Inspired by the way violins are constructed, he made his mandolins with a carved back (much flatter than the bowl-back of the Neapolitans, but carved to shape, none the less) and, importantly, the top carved in an arched shape. The plainer of the two styles he called his "A" style - it has a simple round teardrop shape profile to the body and a simple plain peghead. His other fancier style he called his "F" - it has a fancy body profile with projecting points and scroll and the peghead is likewise of a fancy shape. [It is said that these designations were short for "Artist" and "Florentine", but the names are confusing because they have been applied by the Gibson Co. and other makers to various other styles of mandolins. The letter designations, A and F, have been more consistently applied to the styles described.
Gibson Co. used the following letter designations for its instruments:
- A plain bodied mandolins
- F scroll bodied mandolins
- H mandolas
- K mandocellos
- J mandobass
- L plain style guitars
- O fancy style guitars
These letter designations were suffixed with a number indicating the level of materials and ornamentation. No number for the plainest of a series and up to (originally) the number 4 for the most highly ornamented. So, for example, in 1916: a plain "A" was the least ornamented of the plain bodied mandolins with no inlay on the peghead; the "A1" added "The Gibson" inlayed in pearl script on the peghead. I don't know if there was any particualar year in which Gibson offered a full line of A, A1, A2, A3, A4 and F, F1, F2, F3, F4; however, the nonmenclature during this period is that the higher the number, the more highly ornamented as compared to others of similar vintage.
All Gibson mandolins had oval soundholes (and guitars too; which had either round or oval holes) until 1922. In that year, Gibson introduced a level of master-grade instruments under the watchful eye of its top engineer, Mr. Lloyd Loar. These instruments designated as the F5 mandolin, L5 guitar, H5 mandola, K5 mandocello, no mandobass and exactly one A5 mandolin; were characterized by very high quality workmanship, materials, ornamentation and f-shaped soundholes. The F5 mandolin also has a longer neck than the previous mandolins allowing easier access to the higher frets. These instruments signed by Mr. Loar have become highly prized collector items.
This F-2 mandolin is more or less in it's original state. The tuners have been replaced with Elite Tuners.
It has been used by several band and this can be seen on the case of the mandolin.