It’s been ten years since the Sam Bush model Gibson mandolin was introduced to market.
During that time, it has been a strong seller for Gibson, and the impetus for them to create limited edition artist models for a number of other prominent bluegrass mandolinists, Alan Bibey, Wayne Benson, Doyle Lawson and Adam Steffey among them. The Bush, however, has been the only artist model to remain as a stock item in the catalog.
Reflecting on this ten year run, Sam and Gibson have created a new, limited edition model, inspired by a drawing in a 1934 Gibson catalog. It will called the Sam Bush Limited Edition Inspired By ’34 Fern, with only 25 made before the model is retired.
Sam tells us how it came to be…
“It is a collaboration between David Harvey at Gibson and me, to revive interest in the Bush model after ten years time.
I’ve always been fascinated by that 1934 Gibson catalog, especially the way the Fern F-5 was drawn. This catalog didn’t have photos – it was artist renderings of the instruments – and the headstock on this Fern must have come from the artist’s imagination.
The logo was shown at an odd angle, with large script lettering, and there was no ‘The’ – just ‘Gibson.’
I always thought it was the neatest looking mandolin, and I had never seen one built that way.”
Research by Gibson verifies Sam’s recollection. They have no records of a mandolin built with this headstock design.
Other appointments also mimic the ’34 catalog drawing. The mandolin has pearl block inlays in the radiused, ebony fingerboard and a lighter finish, which Gibson describes as an Iced Tea burst.
“The block inlay was a tie in with the existing Bush model. We rounded off the fingerboard extension like an L-5, like John Monteleone did on the board for Hoss, my old mandolin. Can you believe I’m on my 4th fingerboard now!
I had asked for a lighter sunburst – finishes will often darken over the years, so we wanted one that looked different from a regular F-5.”
Like all F-5s, the Bush Fern is made with figured maple back and sides, and a red spruce top. It uses white/black/white binding, and the tuners and tailpiece are gold plated. The neck is slightly wider than a standard F-5, as is Bush’s preference.
Sam has been playing prototypes for about a year and a half, and is satisfied that Gibson has come up with something special.
“We’re paying special attention to the size of the tone bars. It has a good throaty chop without losing anything in the high end. I played a dozen of them last week and they all sounded great.
I’m signing each label and the back of the headstock. The mandolins ship in an oblong case with a Case Notes diary, and I’m writing the initial entry for each one.
I think about my old F5 I got in 1972… If I had made notes each time I changed tuners or fingerboard, it would make for really cool reading 20-30 years later.”
The Sam Bush Limited Edition Inspired By ’34 Fern can be ordered from any authorized Gibson Original Acoustic Instruments dealer. The retail price is listed as $11,110, which includes a certificate of authenticity.
In the course of our conversation, Bush also mentioned that he is currently at work on a new CD for Sugar Hill. They are still tracking, so he has no idea when it might be released, but he thinks it will be one that his long time bluegrass fans will appreciate.
“We have 13 rhythm tracks cut, and this project is much more acoustic in nature. I’m not playing any electric instruments, and it’s sort of a return to my roots in newgrass and bluegrass music.
The guys in my band – Scott Vestal, Stephen Mougin and Byron House – are all such great bluegrass players, and we all love to play bluegrass! I’m pretty much just playing mandolin.”
Well, that’s one I’ll certainly be eager to hear.