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NMM 10855.  Guitar by Orville Gibson, Kalamazoo, 1902.  Style 03 (18″).
Ex coll.:  Thomas G. Comeaux, Lafayette, Louisiana.
Tony and Bonnie Vinatieri Family Trust, 2005.

 NMM 10855.  Guitar by Orville Gibson, Kalamazoo, 1902

In 1898, Orville Gibson was awarded the patent for an "Improved Mandolin," using principles that could be applied also to "guitars, mandolas, and lutes." The invention was that of a back, neck, and ribs structure carved from one piece of wood, with an arched soundboard and slightly hollowed neck. Gibson believed that standard construction hindered the acoustical capacities of plucked stringed instruments, as he stated in his patent: "Heretofore mandolins and like instruments have been constructed of too many separate parts bent or carved and glued or veneered and provided with internal braces, bridges, and splices to that extent that they have not possessed that degree of sensitive resonance and vibratory action necessary to produce the power and quality of tone and melody found in the use of the instrument below described . . . .  The front or sounding-board and the back board are carved in a somewhat convex form to give them the proper stiffness and are preferably the thickest at and near the center. They are attached to the rim by gluing and form an upper and lower closure to the hollow body of the instrument. It will be observed that with the parts thus constructed and put together no braces, splices, blocks, or bridges are necessary in the interior of the body of the instrument, which, if employed, would rob the instrument of much of its volume of tone and the peculiar excellency thereof." This archtop guitar design, influenced by violin construction, marked the beginning of a significant development in American guitar making.


Front of Gibson Style O3 Treble side of Gibson Style O3 Bass side of Gibson Style O3 Back of Gibson Style O3

NMM 10855 is built using the principles described in Gibson's patent, with no internal bracing or blocks. Though carved from exceptionally large pieces of walnut, it is lightly constructed and resonant. The instrument features Gibsonís signature star and crescent inlay on the paddle-shaped peghead, oval soundhole, dark finish, and abalone binding. On November 11, 1902, soon after NMM 10855 was made, the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co. was founded in Kalamazoo. Though he was never an owner, Gibson received royalties and consulting fees from the company. However, due to the demands of mass-production, Gibsonís integral body and neck construction was abandoned in favor of more traditional methods, although the distinctive arched tops and decorative features were retained.

Inscriptions:  Printed in navy blue ink on paper label with cut corners, the dates and last digit of year written in black ink:  [Orville Gibson photo on lyre mandolin trademark on left side of label with text TRADE MARK / lyre mandolin.]  Office of ______ / O. H. GIBSON / Inventor and Manufacturer of the / FAMOUS / Gibson Mandolins and Guitars, / SUPERIOR TO ALL OTHERS. / 104 East Main Street. / May 25 [May 25 written in black ink with unstable hand—probably added after label was inside instrument] Kalamazoo, Mich., __May 17th1902.   Stamped on tension tuner hardware: PAT MAY8.88

Left side of label Right side of label

Left and right sides of the maker's label (seen through soundhole)
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Front and Back of Body

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Front of Gibson Style O3 Back of Gibson Style 03

Body:  Stringing:  six steel strings. Soundboard:  arched, two-piece, quarter-cut spruce: wide grain. Back:  one-piece, slab-cut walnut carved with rounded edges. Ribs:  walnut, built up from two layers over back and carved; upper rib layer integral with neck. Head:  walnut "paddle-head" inlaid with white abalone crescent, second piece of wood grafted on end; black lacquer on face. Neck:  walnut; integral with head and upper rib layer; hollowed with round hole in base.


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Front of peghead Back of peghead

Soundhole and Binding

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Soundhole Edging

Inlay: Binding:  alternating blocks of white and dark abalone on top only. Rosette:  oval soundhole with rosette set in 1/4" from edge; rosette comprised of white abalone strips surrounded on each side by strips of angled, alternating light and dark hardwood, which in turn are surrounded on each side by smaller strips of angled, alternating light and dark hardwood.


Fretboard, Neck Heel, Back of Neck, and Bridge

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Neck heel

Back of neck


Trim: Heel cap:  none; back comes to point at neck heel. Fingerboard:  ebony; 20 nickel-silver frets; single mother-of-pearl dots behind 5th, 7th, 10th, 15th, and 17th frets; double mother-of-pearl dots behind 12th and 20th frets. Nut:  bone. Bridge:  ebony with chamfered, raised squares at each end with mother-of-pearl eyes (probably added later to cover screws); bone saddle; ebony bridge pins with mother-of-pearl eyes. Pegs:  six nickel-silver tension pegs with ivoroid heads. Endpin:  black celluloid. Lacquer:  black on top and on headstock; clear on back, ribs, and neck; later.

Interior: Linings:  none. Neck block:  none. End block:  none. Top bracing:  none. Back braces:  none.

Measurements: Total guitar length:  1038 mm (40-7/8″)
Back length:  543 mm (21-3/8″)
Upper bout width:  314 mm (12-3/8″)
Waist width:  260 mm (10-1/4″)
Lower bout width:  457 mm (18″)
Rib height (including edging) at heel:  59 mm (2-5/16″)
Rib height, at waist:  58 mm (2-9/32″)
Rib height, at endpin:  58 mm (2-9/32″)
Head length:  176 mm (6-15/16″)
Head width, top:  91 mm (3-9/16″)
Head width, bottom:  65 mm (2-9/16″)
Neck length (nut to ribs):  317 mm (12-1/2″)
Neck width, nut:  41 mm (1-5/8″)
Neck width, heel:  64 mm (2-1/2″)
Soundhole height:  80 mm (3-5/32″)
Soundhole width:  145 mm (5-21/32″)
Vibrating string length (nut to bridge edge):  652 mm (25-21/32″)

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