1924 (Loar Period) manufacture date (traditional estimates)
1924 shipment date, according to Spann's Guide to Gibson
Tenor Lute, Style TL
Factory Order number: 11177A
Well, I always think of this instrument as the mandola Gibson never made. It's a Lloyd Loar instrument, made in 1924, during his "reign" as Acoustic Engineer and chief mouthpiece of R&D. It's a mandola body, but with a tenor banjo neck. I suspect that if these were made with mandola necks, they'd be really desirable instruments.
The long tenor banjo neck and skinny tenor banjo strings give this instrument a kind of tinny sound and long sustain. That's just the opposite of the mandola's "fat" sound and short sustain.
The Tenor Lute was a real dead end. As far as I've been able to determine, they may all have been made as part of the same batch in 1924, with none before or after. I've seen three variants: four strings with the plain styling of this one, eight strings with similar styling, and eight strings with the same appointments and red sunburst finish of the A-4. This one is the most commonly seen.
With the same decorative appointments as the plain model "A" mandolin, this one is designated simply "TL" as are its eight string counterparts. The fancy sunburst instrument is labeled "TL-4" as you might predict.
The body is maple with a spruce top, and the neck (no truss rod) is blond maple, with a shaded finish at the heel, just like Gibson's "trap door" tenor banjos of the early 1920s. Compare this to a similar effort, the Paramount Tenor Harp, by one of the world's most prolific banjo makers
photos by Frank Ford
From Gryphon Strings.
Frank Ford is on of the founders of Gryphon Strings. Frank is world-renowned as a master repairman and an expert on vintage mandolins. Gryphon often carries very nice vintage mandolins. Frank is also the author of Frets.com, a website well worth the visit for instrument fans, luthiers, and repairmen