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CervenySatek
Mar-06-2005, 9:30am
Hi, could anyone offer their opinion on what the best mandolins for traditional Italian folk songs would be? Bowl backs seem to me to usually have the tone, but not the volume. Do you know of any reasonable compromises?

Plamen Ivanov
Mar-06-2005, 10:50am
Yes, you are right! A Neapolitan bowlback mandolin is the proper instrument to perform traditional Italian tunes. And there are pretty loud bowlbacks.

Good luck!

Eugene
Mar-06-2005, 11:28am
Exactly. A quality bowlback properly strung and approached with a non-Dawg-like plectrum can have all the volume you need. After all, there were plenty of Italians who played such things and were comfortably heard accompanied by grand piano, an instrument known for massive, hall-filling volume. The myth that bowlbacks lack volume is perpetuated by the fact that so few in the US have encountered any of quality that have been preserved in a state of playability, and the older traditional stringing and plectrum used on such things is so alien to what bluegrassers have encountered.

flairbzzt
Mar-06-2005, 11:34am
I've always liked A styles, I'm just more comfortable with them. I especially like 2-points yet they are not as available. It's just my preference. This is in an informal setting, not orchestral play.

John Bertotti
Mar-06-2005, 11:52am
Love My Vega bowlback. They can be had reasonably priced. John

CervenySatek
Mar-06-2005, 1:53pm
I have an unusually large bowl back now, that has the "earthiest" tone I've ever heard, but it's very quiet. Which brands/models/years of bowl backs would you focus on targeting, if you wanted to play Italian style songs? What about an old Martin flatback A style for Italian?

John Bertotti
Mar-06-2005, 5:57pm
I'm pretty sure there were Italian flat back instruments but will leave those questions for the likes of Eugene and Jim G etc.. I would say if it sounds good to you playing an Italian song it'll work. John

Eugene
Mar-11-2005, 9:16am
Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to this; I've been out of town. #What brand of bowlback do you have, CervenySatek? #From your description, I'm guessing it could be a late 1960s-'80s mass-produced Japanese instrument.

I definitely favor bowlbacks, especially pre-depression American instruments or pre-WWII European instruments. #Pre-depression American instruments of decent quality, topped in quality spruce and backed in Brazilian rosewood, are abundant and cheap if you know how to shop vintage instruments. #Avoid unrecognizable brands; a bargain for an unrecognizable, unplayable, unresellable piece of junk isn't much of a bargain, especially given that decent, playable instruments can be found starting around US$200. #American makers to watch for are Martin, Vega, Lyon & Healy's Washburn and American Conservatory brands, Weymann, etc. #There were a number of shops who commissioned quality instruments from known makers for their own house brands; watch for Ditson, Wurlitzer, Stahl, Maurer, etc. #If you're rich, seek out Calace, Vinaccia, or Embergher from Italy. #Old Italian instruments that aren't so costly are de Meglio, Ceccherini, Stridente, and most things labeled by various "students of Vinaccia" ("Allievi/Allievo di Vinaccia").

I like the old American flat-back, canted-top instruments too, especially Martins and especially their style B and above. #Consider the same brands listed above.

If you pursue vintage bowl- or flat-back mandolins, scrutinize the condition of the neck/action and cant (the top's crease). #Many have been wrecked beyond salvageability by the use of bluegrass-appropriate strings. #Severely warped necks and collapsed tops usually aren't worth salvage efforts. #Also be mindful of the functionality of hardware; much of the old hardware can be almost impossible to replace.

If you do score one, only use extremely light strings, like those for which it was built. #When I started playing these things, such strings were really hard to find. #Now, there are a heap of companies making strings that will work. #I prefer Dogal (http://www.dogalstrings.it/)'s "dolce" gauge "Calace" carbon steel, set RW-92b. #Easier to find but less durable and less "refined" in tone are various sets to go down to 0.009"-0.0095" on e", like GHS's "Classical" set, Dean Markley's Earthwood series, or Ernie Ball.

The classic methods, Italian and otherwise, all specify picks that are much pointier than "Dawg"-style plectra or "large triangles" popularized in bluegrass-derived styles on f-holed archtops. #Lightly strung bowlbacks sound right (i.e., Italianate?) when approached with a lighter touch from a lighter, pointier pick. #They can be quite loud when you learn to control the set up. #I like my mandolin picks at 0.8 mm thick, and this would be considered by some classical players to be quite thick.

If you aren't feeling up to pursuing a vintage bowl or flat mandolin, at least look into oval-holed mandolins.

Keep us posted, CervenySatek.

CervenySatek
Mar-11-2005, 1:31pm
Wow, thanks Eugene! That's a goldmine of info, just the kind of things I wanted to hear about. My tentative plan is to buy an old Martin bowlback through someone reputable, then to shop for a Vega/Washburn/other opportunistically, then to later consider getting a Martin A or B flat-back. A couple more questions, if you don't mind...

1. How do old Martin, Vega, and Washburn bowlbacks generally compare to each other? Do they each have their own general tonal character, or are they fairly similar?

2. Is the difference between Martin A and B flat-backs generally only cosmetic, or is there usually a difference in tonal quality also?

Thanks!!!

PS: I don't know what kind I have now. The tuners have a patent date of 1894. It's barely playable, even with the massive shim in it.

Jim Garber
Mar-11-2005, 2:21pm
1. How do old Martin, Vega, and Washburn bowlbacks generally compare to each other? #Do they each have their own general tonal character, or are they fairly similar?

2. Is the difference between Martin A and B flat-backs generally only cosmetic, or is there usually a difference in tonal quality also?
I don't know if I would touch the 1st one... it is very subjective. Also, some are better than others. I would say of those three makers, you could not go too wrong as long as you follow Eugene's prescriptions about strings and #make sure they are structurally sound and set up well.

The Martin As vs. Bs: As are mahogany back and sides whereas Bs are rosewood. The same goes for the Vega cylinder backs with backs and sides of either mahogany, rosewood or maple. Definitely not only cosmetic.

BTW I also agree with the staement above of the myth of bowlbacks being quiet. i think the sound just travels differently. I did some rehearsing with a guitar player friend of mine and he recorded me playing my Pandini bowlback. He said that the mandolin recorded crisp and right out front, soundwise. I have played it acoustically in a large crowded room with no problem being heard without a PA.

Jim

Eugene
Mar-11-2005, 3:06pm
1. How do old Martin, Vega, and Washburn bowlbacks generally compare to each other? #Do they each have their own general tonal character, or are they fairly similar?

2. Is the difference between Martin A and B flat-backs generally only cosmetic, or is there usually a difference in tonal quality also?

PS: #I don't know what kind I have now. #The tuners have a patent date of 1894. #It's barely playable, even with the massive shim in it.
I'll touch on 1, but offering the caveat that the following are gross generalizations with plenty of exceptions.

1. Any of the mandolins labeled by these three should at least be decent. #I'm really horrible at verbal descriptions of the abstractions of tonal quality; please bear with me. #Of those pieces I've encountered, Vega seems to be the most consistently good sounding. #Where they are slightly flawed, low-end Vega mandolins can sound a little sloppy and noisy in the bass. #Stuff of the Lyon & Healy shop can be loud and brash. #Their tone can also lose brightness and go "flabby" in old age. #I am a great fan of Martin; the better Martins are my favorite American mandolins. #To my ears, they tend to have a more refined and focused tone. #Where they are flawed, some pieces will be too focused, being very bright and thin, quite weak on bass.

2. Exactly as Jim offered above. #The difference between Martin's mature style A and styles B and above is the difference between mahogany and rosewood. #I tend to prefer rosewood over mahogany on flat-backed instruments.

PS: That sounds like some unnamed, mass-produced, pre-depression American mandolin that has been wrecked by bluegrass-appropriate strings. #Can you post a picture, maybe here (http://www.mandolincafe.net/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST;f=15;t=14185)?

Jose
Mar-11-2005, 4:56pm
My italian model (this was my first mandolin and it's a cheap one but the sound is not too bad);

Jose
Mar-11-2005, 4:58pm
side

Jose
Mar-11-2005, 4:58pm
side 2

Jose
Mar-11-2005, 4:59pm
back

Jose
Mar-11-2005, 5:11pm
The sound is totally italian, close to ovals, but without the folkie end. Quite uncomfortable to play, f-models are more developed. If I were looking for a priced model I'd go vintage or for a hand-made italian one. If you are looking for a mid-range or a cheap one beware of the inner part of the bowl because sometimes is covered with somekind of abestos clothing or layer.

By the way, my new legacy "o" is louder than this one.

A trick for achieving a more european sound could be replacing the wounded strings for plains for more clarity. In Spain plenty of bandurria players are doing so. I haven't tried yet. It could be another thread.

Eugene
Mar-11-2005, 6:06pm
Quite uncomfortable to play, f-models are more developed.
I emphatically disagree. #The notion that bowlbacked mandolins are some kind of primitive forerunner of "real" mandolins is yet another myth and as absurd as would be the claim that a Martin Dreadnaught or any classical guitar is less developed than the Squier Stratocaster by virtue of their chronology. They are simply different tools for different jobs. While I wouldn't drive nails with a saw, I would not play bluegrass with a Neapolitan mandolin and I would not play the music of Raffaele Calace with any f-holed archtop. #I find bowlbacks far more comfortable to play than any archtop mandolin. #It's the f-style that is uncomfortable if one is accustomed to the Neapolitan-type mandolin.

Jose
Mar-11-2005, 6:31pm
The notion that bowlbacked mandolins are some kind of primitive forerunner of "real" mandolins is yet another myth

I didn't mean that. The sound is ok, but when you play it's quite difficult to maintain the instrument in positition because of the bawlback http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif I never felt comfortable with the italian model. Now that I have tried both of them I prefer f models. Of course, if you want to get the most pure italian sound you need a Neapolitan model, and italian sound has its own charming.

Eugene
Mar-11-2005, 6:33pm
...And please, don't take my defense of bowlbacks too personally. I love'em and find them as easy as any other instrument to hold after you've learned to do so.

Jose
Mar-11-2005, 7:03pm
please, don't take my defense of bowlbacks too personally

Sure! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif Each kind of instrument has its own place in music and each kind of musician has his own choice.

dfrank1587
Mar-12-2005, 7:39am
Which of the contemporary European or Mediterranean builders make a good bowlback for a reasonable price?

CervenySatek
Mar-12-2005, 10:41am
Nice pics Jose. Thanks Eugene and Jim! I've been playing for about 7 years, but my style has shifted dramatically from general to classical/Italian/etc, so the advice is very valuable to me. I appreciate you touching on those untouchable questions, and don't worry, I'll take them as broad generalizations. I don't live near enough to any shop with a decent vintage selection, so I can't really just go by sampling them like I normally would with newer mandolins. I'll see if I can dig up a pic...

Jim Garber
Mar-12-2005, 11:11am
BTW check out this still informative (after over 7 years) article by Richard Walz (http://www.mandolincafe.com/cmsa/archives/0198.html) on bowlbacks.

Notable in this discussion is his recommendation of varuious vintage brands to look for. Other than the big three of the bowlback world (meaning expensive) -- Embergher, Calace and Vinaccia -- he mentions:

Other makers to look out for are: Emmanuele Egildo (excellent sounding mandolins), Stridente, Puglisi, Vega, Lyon & Healy, Martin. Most of the American made round back instruments had only 20 or at most 24 frets, enough the wealth of mandolin orchestral and popular solo material available in those days. German round back instruments such as those made by Seiffert and Knorr are also worth considering.

In terms of contemporary makers, you can see samples on the Eye Candy page (http://www.mandolincafe.com/archives/builders/bowlback.html). Some of the better makers are not cheap and the cheaper makers, like Musikalia are not all that great. Some folks have gotten some nice instruments for reasonable prices from the Greek makers. I have not personally played one of those.

My main bowlback is made by Gabriele Pandini. In fact that image on the Eye Candy page is mine. Daniel Larson is one of the few folks in the US making bowlbacks and Richard has a few of his made to his specs.

Jim

Eugene
Mar-12-2005, 11:34am
Which of the contemporary European or Mediterranean builders make a good bowlback for a reasonable price?
None...or at least not many. #Good bowlbacks are rightfully expensive. #Everything I've heard of the Musikalia #consortium in Catania leads me to avoid their product. #There are a number of reasonably priced Greek builders, but Greek mandolins are of a decidedly different style and sound than the Neapolitan type.

One firm you might want to consider is that of the Calace (http://www.calace.it/) family. Raffaele Calace Sr. (1863-1934) was one of the greatest champions in the history of mandolin, and his firm continues. #Mandolins made under Raffaele Sr.'s tenure can claim many thousands. #Their current product is more reasonable. #I have a recent price list in a different computer. #It seems to me that prices for their entry-level mandolins are around EU$500 (I can look it up come Monday, but I'm certain somebody will beat me to it). #I'm not too fond of their current top of the line, but their mid-level pieces seem pretty good for the price (at least if you don't have to pay all the fees for shipping and executing transactions from a foreign land).

Martin Jonas
Mar-12-2005, 1:40pm
Actually, the entry level Calace is pretty cheap for a handmade quality mandolin. If I remeber right, the latest price list had it at 800 Euro; there are not many mandolins from top makers available at that price in other genres. Victor has one of these and seems very happy with it.

Martin

CervenySatek
Mar-13-2005, 12:23pm
I was looking at the "Eye Candy" bowlback page, and I noticed that some bowl bodies appear more oblong than others. Does anyone have an opinion about how that generally affects the sound?

Bob A
Mar-13-2005, 6:01pm
I'd like to mention that I've had much pleasure from lesser-known Italian makers. I have a very basic model by Luigi Salsedo that is one of my favorites; another maker I'd recommend is Monzino; Mozzani also made good low-end instruments.

I have a new Greek instrument, made by Pavlos Kevorkian, that is an excellent mandolin. Heavier than the old Italians, stoutly constructed and ornamented in the Greek style, it never fails to surprise plasyers and listeners with its volume and sweet tone. Ran me about $500 including case - a bargain, as I see it.

While I am unable to quantify, or even adequately to describe, the difference between Italian and American bowlbacks, there is a difference. I think the music of Italy is best served on its native instrument (although the Greek also serves well in this regard).

Eugene
Mar-21-2005, 6:00pm
Actually, the entry level Calace is pretty cheap for a handmade quality mandolin. #If I remeber right, the latest price list had it at 800 Euro; there are not many mandolins from top makers available at that price in other genres. #Victor has one of these and seems very happy with it.
On a whim, I looked it up on the latest Calace price list that I have (2004); they may have a newer one, but I doubt it this early into 2005. #The entry-level tipo 24 was clocking 600,00: a bargain if you happen to be shopping with cash in olde Napoli! #Tipo 26, sporting some attractive pearl inlay (and what I personally feel is the most visually attractive of their current line), is a resonable 650,00. #The professional Classico series (the looks of which puts me off anyhow) ranges from 1.800,00 for a D to 2.350,00 for an A (like Orlandi plays).

Martin Jonas
Mar-21-2005, 6:40pm
Thanks, Eugene. Clearly, I misremembered (probably thought of the amount in $ and remembered it as Euro). For 600 Euro, they are really a great bargain!

Martin

dfrank1587
Mar-23-2005, 11:35am
Does anybody play the Egerland instruments? They look good and are reasonbly priced