Lloyd Loar

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Lloyd Allayre Loar (January 9, 1886 – September 14, 1943)[1] was a Gibson sound engineer and master luthier in the early part of the 20th century. He is most famous for his F5 model mandolin, L5 guitar, H5 mandola, K5 mandocello, and A5 mandolin.

Loar was also a well-regarded musician on mandolin, viola, and musical saw. He traveled the United States and Europe in several musical groups. In one group, he performed with his future wife, Fisher Shipp.[2] A surviving playbill shows that Loar performed in a chatauqua that also included a speech by William Jennings Bryan.[3] Loar performed in many other groups that promoted the Gibson company, whose products Loar endorses in early Gibson catalogs.


Loar worked for Gibson from 1919 to 1924. His contributions include building the instrument top with F-shaped holes, like a violin; introducing a longer neck, thus moving the bridge closer to the center of the body; and floating the fingerboard over the top, a change from prior Gibson instruments that had fingerboards fused to the top. He also pioneered the use of the Virzi Tone Producer, a spruce disc suspended from the instrument top that acts as a supplemental soundboard.

According to A. R. Duchossoir, Loar designed experimental electric instruments while at Gibson. Loar's views on the importance of the development of electric instruments were supported by Lewis A Williams, one of the founders and major stockholders of Gibson as well as its secretary and general manager.

None of Loar's original electric instruments appear to have been preserved—but Walter A Fuller, who joined Gibson in 1933 and later became Gibson's chief electronic engineer, found some of Loar's original devices when he first set up his R&D lab in the mid-1930s. He claimed that Loar's electrics had electrostatic pickups, but because they exhibited very high impedance they were extremely susceptible to humidity. According to Fuller, the pickups were round, about the size of a silver dollar and had a piece of cork on the back, by which they were glued to the underside of the top of the instrument.

Duchossior's book, Gibson Electrics, The Classic Years, features a photo of a Gibson L5, serial number 88258 of 1929 (after Loar left Gibson), one of the original Loar-designed L5s, with fitted electrostatic pickup and factory-fitted jack socket in the tailpiece.

Duchossoir also claims that Loar spent time at Gibson working on a 'quasi-solid body' electric double bass, and that according to this instrument and several patents filed by Loar between the mid-1920s and the mid-1930s, he worked on pickups that were electromagnetic in nature.

According to Duchossoir, Lewis Williams was replaced as general manager, and a lack of amicable relations with the new manager—an accountant named Guy Hart—led to the termination of Loar's contract. After leaving Gibson, Loar created and patented an electric instrument with a coil pickup, and co-founded the Acousti-Lectric company with Lewis Williams in 1934. The company was renamed the Vivi-Tone company in 1936. Loar died in 1943.

Famous Loar mandolins[edit]

The F5 model was made famous by the founder of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Monroe played a Gibson F5 model serial number 73987[4] signed by Loar on July 9, 1923 for most of his career. This mandolin can be viewed in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, where it now resides in their collections.

Loar also signed a rare subset of F5 mandolins called Ferns, of which approximately twenty are known to exist. The name refers to the distinctive fern inlay design of the peghead. The earliest documented Fern bears the serial number 73755, dated July 9, 1923, the same signing date as Bill Monroe's famous Loar [1]. This is the only known Fern built without the "Virzi" Tone Producer, a secondary sound board suspended underneath the mandolin's top inside the sound chamber. This particular instrument is the only known Fern dated on 9 July.

In 2007, mandolinist Chris Thile acquired 1924 Loar-signed F5 serial # 75316 that was an exceedingly rare find, as it was in virtually new condition. It reportedly cost him around $200,000. Other well-known musicians who have owned Loar-signed F5's include John Paul Jones serial # 75317, Mike Marshall, David McLaughlin, Tony Williamson, David Grisman, John Reischman, Tom Rozum, Frank Wakefield, and the late Joe Val serial #72207.

Only one A-style mandolin, a Gibson A5, is known to have been signed by Loar. It has been widely copied, originally by mandolin maker Bob Givens. The Loar A5 was found by Tut Taylor and sold to a Southern California bluegrass musician in 1974.


As of January 2010, Loar-signed mandolins in fine condition are valued in the $175,000 to $200,000 range, and are highly sought after by musicians and collectors. The average value reached a 2008 peak of around $225,000, then backed off somewhat from 2008 to 2010.

Loar expert Darryl Wolfe maintains an F5 historical journal. As of January, 2010 he has documented 228 Loar-signed F5 mandolins of the 326 that are believed to have been made.[5]


  1. ^ Siminoff.net. "Lloyd Allayre Loar – Background". Retrieved 2006-11-04. 
  2. ^ digital.lib.uiowa.edu. "University of Iowa Digital Library". Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  3. ^ digital.lib.uiowa.edu. "University of Iowa Digital Libraries". Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  4. ^ www.mandolinarchive.com. "F5 Journal record for Gibson F5 #73987". Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  5. ^ www.mandolinarchive.com. "Loar Signed Instruments". Retrieved 2010-01-05. 

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