This is a rare find – a 1930’s vintage Kalamazoo flat-top mandolin, still in shape to play well. Kalamazoos were made by Gibson, so this is a chance to own a playable 85-year-old piece of history at an affordable price. Buy the Kalamazoo Flat-Top Mandolin by Gibson here.
As you can see from the photos, it has the wear and tear that you might expect of an 85-year-old instrument that’s been played rather then being kept in a museum. The shellac finish is worn and is worn through in places. Although it plays well for the first 12 frets, it has a slight ski jump at the neck joint that prevents it from playing well above the 13th fret on the G, D, and A strings. However, everything from the first to the 12th fret rings cleanly without a hint of buzz. So I’ve chosen to leave it in its current condition, highly playable for all but the demanding mandolin virtuoso, to avoid tampering with the neck of a very vintage instrument.
It has been modified a few times throughout its history. A previous owner installed a pickup; not a modern one from what I can tell, but probably not 1930’s vintage either. The pickup is loud and clean, giving you the chance to play an electrified vintage mandolin without feeling guilty about modifying it. At some point many years ago a previous owner installed additional bracing as the top was beginning to buckle. The bracing wasn’t done by a professional luthier from the looks of it, and was done with Titebond rather than hide glue, but it is functional and successfully stabilized the instrument. The sound remains quite bright and strong, despite the additional bracing.
I had to do a couple of small repairs to it to get it ready for you to play. The fretboard was separating from the neck in the upper ranges and the rosette was coming loose. I reglued both with period-correct hot hide glue, which transfers the sound better than modern glues. The bottom part of the rosewood bridge was broken when I got it, so I replaced it with an adjustable rosewood bridge modified to fit on a flat-top. Not quite period, but more functional.
It comes with a rather unique hand-built coffin case that a previous owner presumably made. It’s rather heavy and certainly not original, but since it’s been part of this mandolin’s journey, I’m including it. (If you’d rather not have the case, let me know and I can reduce the shipping cost by $15 or so; it is a heavy case).
These are very rarely seen in collector’s condition, and when they are, they’re as pricey as you might expect. This is a chance to own a piece of history in playing condition, not just a wall hanger, at an affordable price. A must for the Gibson/Kalamazoo/mandolin history buff, or for the bluegrass picker who wants an instrument his grandpappy could’ve played. Buy the Kalamazoo Flat-Top Mandolin by Gibson here on Reverb.com.