The story of the Gibson ‘flowerpot’ by Paul Alcantara and Darryl Wolfe

With the help of Gibson historian Darryl Wolfe, we take a look at the evolution of Gibson’s iconic ‘flowerpot’ headstock inlay

Birth of the ‘flowerpot’ – the F-4 mandolin

The ‘flowerpot’ motif that adorns the headstock of most L-5s was also a feature of the F-5 Master Model mandolin, the launch of which predates the introduction of the L-5 by several months.

Earlier still, Gibson F-4 mandolins (built prior to the addition of an adjustable truss rod in 1922) had boasted a full-length version of the flowerpot inlay – sometimes referred to as a ‘double flowerpot’ – that extended down into the area later concealed by the truss rod cover.

The F-5 mandolin

The F-5 Master Model mandolin was equipped with an adjustable truss rod from its introduction in June 1922. “Gibson changed all of its headstock inlays to accommodate the truss rod cover,” says Darryl Wolfe. “The earlier double flower-pot inlay not only got cut in half, but the style changed to what we see on a Loar era L-5.”

The Loar Era

The ‘flowerpot’ seen on Loar-signed F-5 mandolins and L-5 guitars is distinguished by the absence of the epsilon engraving

“The Loar-era flower-pot had an area around the base of the ‘flower stem’ that comprised a separate piece of darker pearl and a dark bottom base part,” Darryl Wolfe adds.

The ‘flowerpot’ seen on Loar-signed F-5 mandolins and L-5 guitars is distinguished by the absence of the epsilon engraving. Image courtesy of Laurence Wexer Guitars, Ltd.

Late 1920s

At some point in the late 1920s, the ‘epsilon’ engraving (the motif on the main body of the vase, looking like the Greek epsilon) Gibson flowerpot was once again added to the main body of the vase, together with a small indent on its upper right-hand side. Though the ‘epsilon’ engraving now faced down, at least one L-5 guitar (see serial number 84471) featured an upwards-facing epsilon.

“It’s my opinion that in the case of the F-4 mandolins and L-5 guitars shipped in the late 1920s/early 1930s, Gibson reached back into its obsolete pre-truss rod inlays and simply cut off the bottom of the flower-pot,” Darryl Wolfe explains. “If you look closely, the area around the base of the ‘flower stem’ is not a separate piece of pearl as it was during the Loar era. However, all photos that I have of later 1920s F-4s have the down-facing epsilon. It’s pretty clear that the inlay is the same, so perhaps the epsilon was engraved later? Around the same time, Gibson also began fitting the nicer ‘The Gibson’ scripts of the pre-truss rod era in order to use them up.”

The Flowerpot Evolves

At some point in the late 1920s, the diagonal ‘The Gibson’ logo was replaced by a horizontal logo. Gibson continued to use this style of logo for several years on both Type Two (post-Loar dot neck) L-5s and Type Three (block neck) L-5s. In the early 1930s, this in turn was phased out in favour of a script logo that simply read ‘Gibson’ (no ‘The’).

At some point in the late 1920s, the diagonal ‘The Gibson’ logo was replaced by a horizontal logo. Images courtesy of Arlan Ettinger of Guernsey Auctions

Initially, the new logo looked much the same as its predecessor but at some point in the mid 1930s the script became noticeably thicker. L-5s displaying both styles of logo were shipped concurrently through 1936, after which virtually all examples have the thick script logo.

Thin Gibson script logo on the left, thick script logo on the right.

Around the same time, the flowerpot inlay took on a chunkier look. It still featured the down-facing epsilon engraving but the whole thing had a cruder, less detailed appearance. It remained much the same through the early 1950s but by mid-decade it had been further simplified, in the process losing much of the elegance that characterised the original design.

By the late 1940s, the Pre-War script logo had been replaced by Gibson’s ‘modernised’ logo. The image above is from a 1956 L-5 CN. Image courtesy of  Norman’s Rare Guitars.

In the early 1970s both the logo and flowerpot inlay were pre-sunk into a fibre headstock veneer with three upward facing lines replacing the epsilon engraving.

This example dates to 1976. Note the three lines on the vase, which hark back to the pre-truss rod F-4 mandolin headstock inlay. Image Courtesy of Rudy’s Music
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