Bill Monroe’s Auction
Editor’s note: this the first in a series on the Ibanez Mandolins of Bill Monroe. Corrections and additions are welcome, please direct them to email@example.com.
Bill Monroe endorsed Ibanez mandolins during the 1970′s, and in that role, was given a number of Ibanez mandolins to play and keep. Catalog pictures, advertisements, and posters show him playing an Ibanez model 524 F-5 copy. The father of bluegrass owned several other Ibanez mandolins as well, including a 1977 model 527 mandolin with a fascinating history.
Another website gives this mandolin’s serial number as A778085, which dates to January of 1977. Presuming this unconfirmed serial number is correct, Monroe was still endorsing Ibanez as late as 1977. The serial number is plausible, as a batch of 526 and 527 mandolins were made in early 1977.
Monroe owned this particular instrument from 1977 until his death in 1996. It was subsequently auctioned by his estate in 2001. The Nashville City Paper previewed the auction and estate sale in an article by Colleen Creamer:
The personal items of the father of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe, will go to the highest bidders at an estate sale and auction to he held at the Country Music Hall of Fame next week. The museum is leasing the space to Monroe’s son, James, for the sale, beginning Dec. 21 at 9 a.m. Hall of Fame spokesperson Tina Wright said some of the proceeds will go to the Country Music Hall of Fame. James Monroe will auction off his father’s vintage mandolins, letters, and clothing – more than 600 pieces in all. The younger Monroe will also donate items to the museum. Some of the donated pieces include a 1985 log kept by Eddie Sisk, bus driver for Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys that includes travel mileage, vehicle service records, and playlists; and a black-and-white suit with matching white dress shirt and cuff links. Also included are Monroe’s family Bible and photos. Bernice Denton, who is brokering the sale through her company Bernice Denton Estate Sales, said the items up for bid would range from the seemingly insignificant to the sublime. “We’ve got clothes, jewelry, memorabilia. We’ve got the benches he whittled and sang and played on at his farm,” she said. “We’ve got the table he played checkers on, his saddle, his date books and his diaries.” She said other items on sale include hand-made gifts fans made for the fast-talking musician. “He was a pretty earthy man,” Denton said, “so some of his things are not glamorous. We will have some kitchen items. We’ve got some of his stage clothes and they were very plain.
Among those “very plain” stage clothes mentioned in the article was a brown suit worn by Bill Monroe in the Ibanez mandolin catalog pictures. A mandolin collector and Monroe enthusiast from North Carolina purchased that suit and shared his recollection of the day Bill Monroe’s Ibanez mandolin went under the hammer. He remembers:
I bought the brown suit that Monroe is wearing in the photo in the Ibanez catalog cover. He did many photo shoots with this suit and 2 album covers. The auction was held on Saturday, December 22, 2001 at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. The auction catalog listed the Ibanez as: Ibanez Mandolin Model 527 – Has a black Gibson case with an AWAN Country Festival ’81 sticker.
Amy Grant sent an agent to bid on the mandolins as a Christmas present for her husband Vince Gil. No one was allowed to play any of the mandolins before or during the auction, so her agent asked my advice on which ones were the most desirable. I told her first the two Monroe Models, then the Ibanez, and last the Randy Wood since it was in bad shape at the time. The handmade mandolin with the headstock of Monroe’s head was poorly made so I recommended against it. Amy’s buyer ended up with the Ibanez and one of the Monroe Signature Gibsons. Vince put it up for sale within about a year of the auction but I’m not sure if he ever sold it.
The current owner of A778085 is unknown, and only a handful of grainy pictures of the mandolin itself exist. Although it was the highest spec Ibanez he owned, so far no pictures of Monroe playing it have surfaced. The sticker on the case from the 1981 AWAN Country Festival suggest that A778085 made the trip and was played there but further evidence is still needed.