From the Grave to the Cradle: The Orville Mandolin
Gibson founder Orville Gibson invented the archtop guitar in the 1890s, but in the Victorian era the bigger six-string was but a minor player in a music world far more enamored with a smaller stringed instrument: the mandolin. Given the guitar’s immense and worldwide popularity today, it’s easy to forget how thoroughly Orville Gibson revolutionized mandolin design and construction — but now a stunning new model from Gibson Original Acoustic Instruments is here to bear testament to one man’s massive impact on this diminutive but toneful creation. The Orville Mandolin — an exclusive one-off creation, never seen before and never to be produced again — is constructed with an elegance and artistry befitting Orville Gibson’s legacy. It’s even topped with a soundboard of solid black spruce cut from a tree that grew in the cemetery where this great originator is buried.
Having evolved into existence as the fretted sibling of the violin, but with four pairs of strings to help it produce adequate volume and a chiming, choral tone, the mandolin of the 1800s was nevertheless a bowl-backed instrument based on the traditional European model, and lacked the graceful top arch and svelte dimensions of its fretless, bowed sister. Orville Gibson changed all that forever, and applied many of the crucial elements of violin construction to his new mandolins, whilst giving them a look all their own. Aside from the tuning and string complement, the Gibson Mandolin was essentially an entirely new instrument. Its carved top and back enhanced resonance as much as strength, its comfortable neck and elongated fingerboard optimized speed and playability, and its lines exhibited a graceful new standard for the industry, one that is echoed in the vast majority of mandolins manufactured to this day.
Orville’s mandolins settled into two main styles, the A-Style and the F-Style (for Florentine), both of which are still with us. The former has a simpler teardrop-shaped body, although one that still possesses all the tonal enhancements of the Gibson design, while the latter is the more “deluxe” rendering of the form, with a scrolled body carve and other graceful touches.
In honor of one of Orville Gibson’s finest achievements, The Orville Mandolin has been made in the F-Style, and brought into being by the artisans at Gibson’s Original Acoustic Instruments Division with the utmost skill and attention to detail. Partnering the solid black spruce top carved from an old-growth tree from Morningside Cemetery in Malone, NY, about 30 miles from Orville’s birthplace in Chateaugay, NY, are a solid one-piece stunningly quilted maple back and figured maple sides (rim), all constructed using hot hide glue. The figured maple neck wears an ebony fingerboard with 29 frets (including extension), topped with a pearl nut. Beyond the beauty of its construction, however, The Orville Mandolin’s dress and decoration elevate it to the truly sublime.
While they echo traditional work on high-end Gibson instruments of the past, the elaborate mother of pearl inlays here are unlike anything seen before. Created by engineer Darron DuBose of the Original Acoustic Instruments Division, they include a Star and Floral Vine inlay on the peghead, new pattern “vine” inlay (with Orvillesque Star and Crescent) on the fingerboard, and floral inlay with Orville portrait and signature on the bound, three-ply tortoise pickguard. Gold Arrow-Point Waverly tuners with inlaid Handel buttons further grace the peghead, while an engraved gold tailpiece adorns the tail. In an extremely tasteful touch, the body itself is unadorned other than its three-ply binding (the f-holes are unbound), allowing the straight, narrow grain of the rare black spruce top to shine through a simple nitrocellulose lacquer finish in Vintage Autumn Amber. The entirety of this one-of-a-kind beauty is protected by an embossed leather Gibson hardshell case.
A stunning creation, a genuine exclusive and true “one and only”, and a collector’s piece of the highest order, The Orville Mandolin is the finest tribute ever offered to the man who revolutionized the instrument.
- Solid Black Spruce top from Morningside Cemetery where Orville Gibson is buried
- Solid one-piece quilted maple back
- Figured maple rim (sides)
- Unbound f-holes
- Tone bar bracing
- Three-ply top binding
- Three-ply back binding
- Figured maple neck with rounded profile
- “Star and Floral Vine” peghead inlay
- Single-ply peghead binding
- Single-action truss rod
- Engraved brass truss rod cover
- Ebony fingerboard with Orvillesque “Star and Crescent/Vine” inlay
- 13 29/32-inch scale length
- 29 frets, with fingerboard extension
- Single-ply binding
- Pearl nut
- 1 3/16-inch nut width
- Adjustable ebony bridge
- Gold tailpiece engraved “The Gibson”
- Gold “Arrow-Point” Waverly tuners with inlaid Handel buttons
- Three-ply bound tortoise pickguard with inlay, Orville Gibson portrait and signature
- Vintage Autumn Amber
- Nitrocellulose lacquer
Click here for a closer look at The Orville Mandolin.