Legendary mandolinist Sam Bush knew right away he had something special on his hands when he got his ’37 Gibson F-5 back in 1973. Previously owned by bluegrass veteran Norman Blake, the mandolin was distinguished by its larger neck, wider fingerboard, and broader spacing between the string-pairs. Two decades later Bush began talks with Gibson to produce a model based on his beloved instrument. The result—the Sam Bush Signature Mandolin—went into production in 2000. It has since earned a reputation as one of the finest instruments of its kind.

“The original idea was that as my old mandolin got more wear and tear, I would have a model that feels just like it,” says Bush. “The shape of the neck is a little different from the ’20s Lloyd Loar-style mandolins. The Sam Bush Model is a little thicker up near the nut, and then it gets a little smaller around the 5th fret, and then it gets larger again as you move up the neck. There’s a nice implied ‘V’ to the neck as well. That helps with comfort.”

Other features unique to the Sam Bush Signature Mandolin include ’30s-style inlays on the headstock, block inlays on the fingerboard, and a signature tailpiece cover. In addition to its striking aesthetics, the instrument boasts a sound all its own.

Bush explains: “A major goal was to get that classic F-5 ‘first string’ sound—the way the treble strings sound on a great F-5—while also getting a throaty rhythm chop with a good lower-mid range. I think we accomplished that very well. Some of the new Sam Bush Models are slightly louder and have more ‘low end’ than my old mandolin. They sound great.”

Bush is especially pleased that many of his peers—including Paul Williams and Sandy Cherryholmes—have made the Sam Bush Signature F-5 their instrument of choice. In addition, he and Gibson Original Acoustic Instruments have teamed up to offer players everywhere a chance to win a free Sam Bush Model. The lucky winner will also receive 10 sets of Sam Bush Signature Strings, while five runners-up will be treated to autographed copies of Bush’s forthcoming DVD, On the Road.

“Every picker I’ve met who plays the Sam Bush Model says they love it,” Bush says. “It’s very flattering. Those years we took to make the instrument a reality were well spent.”

Russell Hall, July 27, 2007

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