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Thread: Identification help and advice on a Gibson

  1. #1
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    Question Identification help and advice on a Gibson

    I've only played the ukulele for a little under a month thus far, but I think I've come across something quite wonderful. You see, when I mentioned to a family member my initial uke purchase she mentioned that my grandfather had one at some point! I asked if she remembered anything about it and she said it was one of the real small ones, dark-colored, and she thought it was a Gibson. I asked my grandfather about it and he said he'd dig around and see if he could find it, but confirmed it was an old Gibson soprano of some kind. He doesn't remember how the acquired it, which makes things a little tricky.

    I did a handful of searches on Google (not much success) and here (some success) and I think I have a very basic understanding of what I have here. The headstock says "The Gibson" as opposed to just "Gibson" so my model is a pre-'34 one. The fact that it's a very plain-looking dark mahogany piece has led me to believe it's a Uke-1. Am I right in assuming these two things?

    Here's two quick pictures from yesterday that show the front and the back. The back sadly has two thin cracks.

    http://i.imgur.com/vJ1PA.jpg http://i.imgur.com/Vcrd0.jpg

    My main issues at this point are as follows:

    1. Is this thing worth a lot of money, to the point where I should not do anything to it for fear of diminishing its value?
    2. If the answer to the first question is no, what can/should be done about the cracks on the back of the body?
    3. The first and last strings' tuners slip, the bottom-most string's especially. How would I go about fixing this?
    4. Once the tuner issues are sorted out, does anyone have an specific string recommendations?


    I managed to tune it up and play about fifteen seconds before the top and bottom strings detuned enough to sound silly, but those fifteen seconds sounded LOVELY, even on the strings that are likely 20 years old! If I can get this thing playable...that would be awesome!
    Last edited by The Orange Mage; 06-18-2012 at 03:10 AM.

    Uke Size...| Ukes I Play
    -----------+----------------
    Soprano....| Gibson Uke-1
    Concert....|
    Tenor......| Kala KA-TEM & KA-STG
    Baritone...| Pono MBD

  2. #2
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    Nice uke!

    1. I have seen these go for $250 - $500, depending on condition. Here's one that sold recently on EBAY to give you an idea.

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll...#ht_500wt_1413


    The worst thing you could do to it would be to have it re-finished, which it doesn't look like it requires anyway. Anything else necessary to make it playable is not only ok but desirable, within the framework of maintaining originality as much as possible.

    2. 3. A good luthier can address the cracks and the tuner issues, which will cost you, but not a fortune by any means. I had 3 cracks fixed on a vintage baritone recently and it cost me $70.

    4. Can't help you on the string choice, but I have Worth clears on my vintage Gibson tenor and like them a lot.
    Last edited by Eyeguy; 06-18-2012 at 02:56 AM.

  3. #3
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    You might need to tighten the screws on the tuners. Don't overtighten them - just enough to keep the tuners from slipping.

    The instrument needs to be humidified.

    Don't know if it worth a huge amount of money; I'd say it is worth more as an instrument to keep, and play than to sell. Especially if it sounds/feels good to you.



    -Kurt
    Banjo Ukes: Southern Cross, Firefly, Stella
    Sopranos: Donaldson, Timms, Moku, Waterman, Bugsgear, Outdoor, Waverly Street, Harmony
    Concerts:Cocobolo #412, Ohana CK450QEL, CK-65D, Rosewood Vita, Mahogany Vita,
    Donaldson Custom, Epi Les Paul, National Triolian Reso, Republic
    Tenors: Kala KA-KTG-CY, KoAloha Sceptre, Fluke, Cordoba 20TM
    Bass: Fluke Timber

    Am I done?

    ...Maybe?...

    My YouTube Channel

  4. #4
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    That's a great find! I have a Uke-3 that's about the same vintage. I'm not sure that I've seen one like yours. Most of the Uke-1 and Uke-2s I've seen do NOT have the extended, 17 fret fingerboard. Gibson seems to have been pretty inconsistent about things like that though... A while back, Elderly was selling a Uke-3 that had all the correct features but had (I think) a 12 fret fingerboard. I would consider yours to be a lot less common than the usual Uke-1.
    Having the cracks repaired and the tuners fixed will NOT lessen the value, if the cracks are repaired by a good luthier. I had some cracks repaired on my Martin Style 3, and am glad I did. Now I can play it without as much worry. Don't REPLACE the tuners though! That WOULD affect its value!
    Enjoy it! My Gibson is one of my favorite ukes. It's one of my favorite possessions PERIOD! It doesn't sound quite as good as my Martins (Gibsons tend to be a little heavily built from what I've been told), but I love it because it's just so cool! And yours, being a family piece, is even cooler!

  5. #5
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    Oh yeah! I forgot to answer the string question! I have Worth Clear Mediums on mine, and they seem to do well. I have a couple of videos on my YouTube channel where I'm playing it. I'd link a specific video, but I'm posting from my iPhone at the moment... The link to my channel is in my signature line at the bottom of my post.

  6. #6
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    Also, as for value... Based SOLELY on having watched a lot of Gibsons on eBay, I would expect one like yours to be pretty squarely in the $500 range because of the extended fingerboard. I'm certainly not a HUGE expert, and eBay prices can be all over the map, of course. But $500 seems about right to me. I got a great deal on my Uke-3 because the auction ended at noon on Christmas Day! I know of Uke-3s selling for $1400, $1750, and $2100. These are prices that I KNOW of (mine was MUCH less! Tee-hee!) Out of curiosity, does it have a case? Without an original case, it might be a bit less, but not necessarily.

  7. #7
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    IMHO it wouldn't matter how much, or how little it is worth. It was your grand father's, so to me, if I were in your shoes, it is priceless. But I think the others are on the mark, I would guess in playable condition worth about $500, maybe more if/when the vintage instrument market is up (right now, it is at a low still). I wouldn't repair the cracks to the point of being invisable, but a good Luth could repair them to be a good stable fix. I wouldn't do a total refinish on it, just make the cracks stable, and make it playable.

    As far as the tuners, a trick I use allot when dealing with original vintage friction tuners, is talcum powder. If you remove the tuners, clean them up, and put talc in the friction areas, it will give them better grip, and doesn't alter them at all. If they are more worn than Talc can remedy, I have also made friction washers from leather rawhide. You can cut small washers from rawhide, and install them in the friction area, and they work very well to hold friction on otherwise worn tuners.

    Keep us posted.
    Last edited by Tudorp; 06-18-2012 at 05:54 AM.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Tarman View Post
    That's a great find! I have a Uke-3 that's about the same vintage. I'm not sure that I've seen one like yours. Most of the Uke-1 and Uke-2s I've seen do NOT have the extended, 17 fret fingerboard. Gibson seems to have been pretty inconsistent about things like that though... A while back, Elderly was selling a Uke-3 that had all the correct features but had (I think) a 12 fret fingerboard. I would consider yours to be a lot less common than the usual Uke-1.
    I didn't even notice this when researching! Almost all the pictures I've seen of the Uke-1 are 12 or 13 fret. Makes me wonder if this was a custom order or something? I found a very very similar one at UkuZoo: http://www.ukuzoo.com/detail/0/7/gib...-soprano-uke-1 The main difference I can see between mine and the one linked is that the "The Gibson" is in a thicker typeface on mine. Same shape, just thicker.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Tarman View Post
    Oh yeah! I forgot to answer the string question! I have Worth Clear Mediums on mine, and they seem to do well. I have a couple of videos on my YouTube channel where I'm playing it. I'd link a specific video, but I'm posting from my iPhone at the moment... The link to my channel is in my signature line at the bottom of my post.
    I actually saw your video days ago while searching for info on Gibsons!

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Tarman View Post
    Out of curiosity, does it have a case? Without an original case, it might be a bit less, but not necessarily.
    I have a case with it that definitely looks old enough to be the original. It has a wobbly, rattly, unraveling leather handle and the metal hardware clasps still open and close okay. It's got a lot of character and a funky smell inside. Green felt inside. Not entirely sure if it's the original case, to be honest. The lack of a known origin story of this instrument makes it a case of having to ID the case itself. I'll snap a pic when I can.

    Uke Size...| Ukes I Play
    -----------+----------------
    Soprano....| Gibson Uke-1
    Concert....|
    Tenor......| Kala KA-TEM & KA-STG
    Baritone...| Pono MBD

  9. #9
    RyanMFT Guest

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    I have a Gibson of similar vintage but without the extended fretboard. I agree with Chris's assessment of value.

    As for the tuners, that is usually an easy fix. I have a bunch of vintage ukuleles and do the same thing for each one to make the tuners work like new.
    1) Disassemble tuners one at a time. Gently clean them with a soft cloth, I use a bit of cleaner/polish like Brasso just to make them look nice.
    2) When the screw is out, apply a bit of good lubricant to the threads, then screw it into and out of the shaft several times by hand. Don't force it, but screw it in as far as you can by hand, then very gently with a screwdriver. Again, don't force it.....
    3) Wipe the outside of the tuner down with the cloth to remove any oil as you don't want oil touching the wood.
    4) Re-install and adjust. The screw should adjust much easier now, and you will have to play with it a bit to get the tension right but should take only a couple adjustments....then they are good for another 75 years!

    I tried different strings on my Gibson, but actually landed on Aquilas, which I like the best on mine. Since it hasn't been played in a long time, it will sound better and better as you play it.

    What a great find.....as others have said, have those cracks addressed, and you are good to go!

  10. #10
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    Actually, the first Gibson I ever played (the Uke-3 that sold for $1750) had Aquilas on it, and it sounded fantastic! Better than mine. I'm not sure if that was due to the strings or the instrument though.

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