David Harvey – Gibson luthier and historian

David Harvey is Master Luthier at Gibson (head of the Gibson mandolin department), a musician/singer/songwriter, and a historian with a vast knowledge of the early history of Gibson instruments.

The musical maestro continues to give educational, interactive, visual presentations.

“It was born out of our love for vintage Gibson instruments,” Harvey explained.

“It started 15 years ago when Tim May and I did a presentation on vintage Gibson mandolins at the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

There are a total of nine videos from this presentation posted on YouTube, two of which you can view below:

Harvey is a walking/talking encyclopedia of the Gibson Instrument Company.

“Founded in 1902, Gibson is successful due to its diversity, and has a rich history. Orville Gibson applied for two patents in 1894 for the A model and F model mandolins, and was granted the patents in 1898. Orville was approached to build 100 mandolins for a mandolin orchestra, and he has been quoted to say, ‘They would be $100 per instrument and take a hundred years.’ Upon hearing this, a group of investors approached Orville about licensing his name to form the Gibson Mandolin and Guitar Company. Production started in 1902 and quickly increased in number after implementing Henry Ford’s automation and assembly line model.”

The musical educator discussed how production increased from under 500 instruments built in 1902 to 3000 per year just a few years later. 

“This was during the heyday of mandolin orchestras,” he pointed out. 

These days David offers a condensed history of the Gibson company and its products in a seminar presentation, that covers instruments from 1895 to modern times.

“We play the instruments and discuss the innovation in design, sound production, and construction. I trace the instruments back to their original owners when possible. The instruments outlive us. I try to tie the history all together with interesting stories. There is some conjecture, connecting the dots. I love seeing the faces of the people as I do these presentations.”

Harvey admits that he is a complete mando-geek, and includes personal references in his presentations.

“Take my dad’s mandolin, for instance. My grandmother bought it in 1953. He played that mandolin his entire life, and shared the stage with Red Allen, the Osborne Brothers, Frank Wakefield and many others.”

Harvey has a diverse instrument collection, ranging from 1903 to more recent days. 

“I have enough to make it interesting, and usually bring a couple dozen instruments.”

Young mando-man, Wyatt Ellis, of Maryville, TN, traveled to Cortland, Ohio, in May 2022 to attend one of Harvey’s Gibson presentations, and ultimately became a part of one held at Mitch and Cindy’s Bluegrass Jamboree. The youngest Gibson mandolin endorser and G3 Artist shared, “It was worth the drive to just be in the same room with all of those amazing instruments.”

Harvey is proud of the Gibson Company.

“One of my favorite things to do is build the instruments that are so highly regarded, and get to sign them. It is a company rich in style and incredible craftsmanship.

Through the teens and late 1920s, there were mandolin and banjo orchestras. Lloyd Loar, Acoustic Engineer for Gibson at the time, was highly respected and referred to as ‘Master Loar,’ so that is where the Master Model and Mastertone came to life.

The past remains inspiration for modern builds and we are currently launching the 100th Anniversary Master Model.   This is our tribute to the July 9, 1923, F-5 mandolin.”

Harvey truly loves his job and sharing his passion for vintage instruments with others. 

David will be presenting his collection once again on Saturday, July 29, at Preservation Hall in historic Noblesville, Indiana.  The evening show is at capacity, but a few seats remain at the 2:00 p.m. seminar. To reserve your seat, call 317-426-1672.

Harvey is looking forward to sharing Gibson’s history and handiworks with people in the Indianapolis region. “Noblesville Preservation Alliance has done a wonderful job of celebrating the history of this building, and is a wonderful setting to showcase this musical legacy.”

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.