The legacy of an iconic instrument maker

The exceptional instruments presented in Acoustic America: Iconic Guitars, Mandolins, and Banjos illustrate diverse origins, distinctive voices, and notable achievements in musical innovation. Perhaps foremost among these innovators is famed Gibson acoustic engineer Lloyd Loar, whose influential designs set the template for acoustic instruments for years to come.

Lloyd Loar, with a Gibson F-2 mandolin, c. 1911
While working for Gibson between 1918 and 1924, Loar introduced now-famous designs to Gibson’s instrument line, distinguishing the company from its competitors and creating instruments that played better, sounded clearer, and produced more volume in the era before electric amplification. Inspired by legendary luthiers such as Antonio Stradivari, Loar applied violin construction principles in refining Gibson’s premiere Master Model line of carved-top mandolins and guitars. The Master Model line influenced long-lasting genres of music and became the instruments of choice for some of the world’s best musicians, such as bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe, who is closely associated with a 1923 Gibson F-5 model mandolin.

Loar’s personal F-5 mandolin, gift of the Robert J. Ulrich and Diane Sillik Fund

Instruments signed and dated by Loar are highly sought after by collectors and musicians. Several Loar-signed instruments are on display in Acoustic America, including Loar’s personal F-5 mandolin (above) and 19th-century tenor viola, which are recent additions to MIM’s permanent collection thanks to previous owners Roger and Rosemary Siminoff, who considered MIM the perfect place for the preservation and appreciation of these historic items. The F-5 mandolin is part of a batch signed February 18, 1924—only a few instruments were signed with this date, and they are considered the best of their kind. The mandolin and viola each feature an original Virzi Tone Producer, which Loar thought enhanced each instrument’s sound. He liked the accessory so much that he recommended they be installed on all of Gibson’s Master Model mandolin-family instruments.

Lloyd Loar quartet, loan courtesy of David Grisman.

Acoustic America also features a rare complete quartet of Loar-signed Master Model instruments (above), generously on loan from mandolin virtuoso David Grisman. The quartet consists of a 1924 F-5 mandolin, a 1924 K-5 mandocello, a 1923 H-5 mandola, and a 1924 L-5 archtop guitar. A gathering of these instruments is exceedingly rare, as only 25 original H-5 mandolas and eight signed K-5 mandocellos are known to exist today.

“The Loar quartet provides a stunning illustration of Lloyd Loar’s original concept for enhancing an entire mandolin orchestra in the 1920s,” says senior curator Rich Walter, who curated Acoustic America. “These designs were radical at the time but are absolutely iconic today.”

Loar was a pioneer in acoustic engineering and changed the way that generations of luthiers crafted their instruments. The influence of Loar’s designs can be traced throughout Acoustic America. For example, the John Monteleone-made Grand Artist mandolin that greets guests as they enter the Target Gallery is a modernized expression of the F-5 mandolin, and the L-5 archtop guitar set the template for the models built by John D’Angelico, America’s greatest archtop guitar maker. And Loar’s designs are still the benchmark for instruments made today.

“Loar truly believed in creating the best-sounding acoustic instruments,” Walter says, “and, to his great credit, many players and luthiers agree the Gibson models that bear his signature remain unsurpassed a century later.”

In partnership with

Presenting sponsor U.S. Bank

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Sponsored by John & Joan D’Addario Foundation, MaryAnn & John Mangels