| October 10, 2023 |

Gibson Custom Launches the 1923 F-5 Master Model Reissue and F-5G Mandolins

See Sierra Hull put the recreation of a holy grail through its paces on Gibson TV

Nothing sets the pulses of bluegrass players racing quite like a 1923 Gibson F-5 Master Model mandolin. Every bit as iconic and sought-after as the 1959 Les Paul Standard and usually priced accordingly, Lloyd Loar-signed F-5 models are the Stradivarii of the mandolin world—especially the 50 or so instruments dated July 9th, 1923.

Now, 100 years on, Gibson Custom Shop has announced the launch of the 1923 F-5 Master Model Reissue—a meticulous clone of the most legendary mandolin model of all time—alongside the F-5G, a reimagined version of the F-5, fine-tuned to the needs of modern players.

Thanks to scientific analysis, 3D scanning of original models, and Loar’s production notes from the Gibson archives, the artisans at Gibson Custom Shop have been able to recreate every contour of the original F-5. The 1923 F-5 Master Model Reissue isn’t simply a triumph of geometry, however—it also captures the sound and feel of the most-loved, most-recorded, and most-imitated mandolin model in history.

Features of the 1923 F-5 Master Model Reissue include a hand-selected red spruce top, a highly figured maple back, an authentic varnished Cremona Brown finish, and silver-plated hardware. Despite the cutting-edge technology employed in the scanning process, building these instruments is a labor of love for the luthiers of Gibson Custom Shop, and most of the work is carried out by hand.

“It’s a lot of handwork,” says Gibson Custom Master Luthier and mandolin virtuoso David Harvey. “It’s passionate people who want to do a great job to recreate something, and it is a piece of art—it’s functional art. It’s a beautiful instrument from top to bottom. We’re not copying, we’re recreating.”

Setting the industry standard for today’s mandolin players, the F-5G revisits the iconic F-5 design through a modern lens. Finished in Dark Burst gloss nitrocellulose lacquer, the F5-G’s contours and construction have been refreshed for optimal acoustic response. The neck and body are made from figured red maple and are coupled with a Sitka spruce top. Player-friendly specifications include an unbound ebony fingerboard with a 14-degree radius, no pickguard, and a short fingerboard extension.

Both the Gibson 1923 F-5 Master Model Reissue and F-5G mandolins come complete with a hardshell case and are available to buy now via Gibson.com. The 1923 F-5 Master Model Reissue also features an assortment of vintage-inspired case candy.

A Rich History  

Today, Gibson is known primarily as a guitar company. But this giant of the six-string world first found fame thanks to Orville Gibson’s revolutionary approach to mandolin design. Featuring carved tops and backs, it paved the way for the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Co. to dominate the market.

Orville Gibson had been building mandolins since 1894 or earlier, and in 1897, he placed an advert in the Kalamazoo city directory, which stated: “The Gibson Mandolin was not on exhibition at the World’s Fair, but it is a world-beater nonetheless.” He filed for a patent for his world-beater on May 11, 1895, which was finally granted on February 1, 1898.

Built with pioneering tap-tuning techniques and with no internal bracing, blocks, or supports to dampen resonance—even a hollow neck—Gibson’s mandolin design was “alive at every touch of the instrument.” In North America, at least, Italian-style bowl-back mandolins soon became a thing of the past. Orville Gibson’s Style A and more ornate Style F mandolin designs would become industry archetypes.

Fast-forward to 1922, and another genius was about to have a seismic impact on both the fretted instrument industry and the landscape of popular music itself. Lloyd Loar only worked for Gibson for five years, but in that time, his innovations paved the way for so much that followed.

Designed under Loar’s direction, the pioneering L-5 was the world’s first production guitar to feature f-holes, and the projection provided by its cello-influenced anatomy proved a boon for volume-hungry players of the big band era. Loar’s F-5 Master Model mandolin, meanwhile, remains the high-water mark for mandolin tone over 100 years after its inception.

Again, as was so often the case before electrification, the search for volume was the catalyst for innovation. Implementing violin technology in an effort to capture the power and projection of concert violins and help cut through in a mandolin orchestra, game-changing features of the F-5 included the shift from a central soundhole to f-holes, a longer neck, which repositioned the bridge further away from the tailpiece, redesigned bracing, and the fingerboard extension raised off the top so it could no longer dampen vibrations.

The result? An instrument that was louder, with more clarity and a more percussive attack—perfectly optimized for a style of music that didn’t yet exist, launched just as the mandolin boom was beginning to wane. Loar signed his final F-5 mandolin and left Gibson in December 1924, and it would be more than two decades before the model would start to get the credit and exposure it deserved.

When Bill Monroe, the ‘Father of Bluegrass,’ chanced upon an F-5 mandolin advertised for sale in the window of a Florida barbershop in 1945, it changed everything. Monroe bought the Loar-signed July 9th model, and it became his main instrument for the next 51 years, defining the sound of bluegrass for the generations that followed in his wake and elevating the 1923 F-5 to legendary status among A-list musicians and collectors alike.

What will the next evolution of bluegrass sound like? It’s hard to say, but powerhouses like Sierra Hull and emerging players such as Wyatt Ellis are already leading the vanguard with Gibson mandolins.

Find out more about the Gibson Custom Shop 1923 F-5 Master Model Reissue and F-5G mandolins.