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Thread: German Mandolins

  1. #1
    Registered User dulcillini's Avatar
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    Default German Mandolins

    I was looking at bowl back mandolins. I notice that many are made in Germany, (Eichorn, etc). They are referred to as "concert mandolins". Anyone have any personal knowledge or experience with these instruments ?
    Michael A. Harris
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  2. #2
    Registered User Plamen Ivanov's Avatar
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    Default Re: German Mandolins

    You will probably receive a lot of different replies to your question as regards the German bowlback mandolins. I personally like them, but you have to be aware of the following circumstances:

    The idea for the design, the construction and the equipment of the modern German bowlback mandolin are developed or at least heavily influenced by one person's concept of what kind of sound should such a mandolin produce. According to this understanding the desired sound is best achieved through the combination of a heavily constructed (rather lute-like) mandolin, equipped with flat-wounded strings, picked with a special art of rubber plectrum and played with a special technik. This combination results in a special sound which some people define as "dark", "obscure", "not very clear especially in the high register", etc.

    But you could always try to go out of this "default settings" and string the German bowlback with a different set of strings and to pick with a different plectrum rather than a rubber one. You can achieve a substantial change of the sound produced.

    You have to bear in mind also that the prices of the German bowlbacks are relative high compared to other modern mandolins and that you have to wait sometimes for about two years for a German mandolin by a reputable German maker to be built. Some of the brands you should look for are: Knorr, Albert & Mueller, Dotzauer, etc.

    As regards the "concert", "soloist", "orchestra" and "student" models i cannot provide any info as regards the difference in sound, construction, etc. But there is for sure a price difference.

    If you consider buying your first bowlback, the German one might not be the best choice. You may try first something more traditional and cheaper.

    Best,
    Plamen

  3. #3
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    Default Re: German Mandolins

    I think there's a big difference between the modern handmade German concert-quality instruments and the typical German bowlback as seen on ebay. The ebay German bowlbacks tend to be imitations of the Neapolitan and Roman mandolins of Italy, and some are pretty decent. Some are tourist-trash, just as some Italian instruments were never actually made to be played; just sold as "souvenirs of Naples" sort of thing. Far too many of these around, though mercifully many are turning to dust.

    At any rate, the heavy, lute-like German mandolins are rather more guitar-like in tone. I believe they were made to be played with a rubber pick, to eliminate any possible pick noise. I personally am not particularly fond of them, but neither am I a concert-quality German mandolinist. The others are sometimes decent Italianate-sounding instruments, with usually tacky decorations on the scratchplate and a crispy finish.

    With any bowlback purchased as an old used instrument, you are in danger of getting something unplayable due to neck joint problems (which are terminally priecy to repair) or other cracks, tuner problems, etc. This is NOT to say that you can't get a decent old bowlback; hey, I have a dozen or more. Some have needed repair before being playable; some are awaiting repair, and some are in use. These are fairly delicate in design; the best makers tended to go for the sound, making for a lightweight, lightly-constructed instrument that naturally will suffer somewhat from the ravages of time and use.

    Best advice is to try before you buy, if possible; if not, try to get an approval period, or at least ask plenty of questions to determine the actual condition of the instrument as well as the level of knowledge of the seller. You can't expect too much in the way of accuracy from someone who's never seen one of the things before they inherited the contents of Grandpa's attic.

  4. #4
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: German Mandolins

    I have played a Knorr sometime ago and it was an impeccably-made, sweet-sounding instrument. As others have noted the tone of the contemporary German mandolin is much different than other styles of bowlbacks. You can hear it in the playing of Gertrud Weyhofen and Caterina Lichtenberg (among others).
    Jim

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