I fell in love with Unicorn mandolins at a festival in Winfield, Kansas during the 1970s. Unicorns have extremely pretty wood, beautiful abalone inlays, are very light weight, have great consistent sound, quality craftsmanship, and full-volume. Unicorns are not widely known, and I’ve always felt that they were undervalued. During the 70s, Gibson was the only well known name brand, so much so that many builders would build Gibson F5 copies rather than building under their own name. Rolfe Gerhardt was one of the first luthiers I was introduced to that put his own brand name on his instruments.
Rolfe Gerhardt built Unicorn mandolins during the 1970s. He still builds mandolins today, Phoenix Mandolins, but the instrument that I fell in love with was the Unicorn. Like many mandolin builders at that time, Rolfe built a few F5 copies, but he didn’t like the fussy detail work of the curls, and thought that they didn’t really add to the sound. So, he tried to come up with his version of an A-style mandolin that had the same air displacement as a Loyd Loar. The appointments on the Unicorns were based, roughly speaking, on Martin Guitars. A Unicorn-18, or U-18, has the same appointments as a Dreadnought -18, or D-18 Martin, and a U-28 has the same appointments as a D-28. The wood is different, but the trim on the Unicorn is similar to the Martin trim.
To my knowledge there were 149 Unicorns Mandolins built. It is our goal to catalog and archive all information that we can about Unicorn mandolins. We welcome your help and input. Send us your pictures, and any other interesting tidbits about your Unicorn. We will, of course, keep your identity anonymous if you prefer. Please send your information to the addresses on our contact page.
I hope you enjoy viewing our small herd! ~ David Finch