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Bowlback

Bowlback mandolin

Bowlback mandolin

Bowlback: "'Tater bug" is sometimes used, but that term is usually avoided by folks who actually like bowlbacks. The term originated as an early 1900s Gibson smear campaign that endeavored to crush competition from the likes of Lyon & Healy by equating traditional mandolins of the time to the potato beetle, a pre-pesticide, rural-American nuisance.

The back is comprised of several (typically ca. 9-50) strips or "ribs" of hardwood formed to shape a deep bowl, usually with a canted top, and almost exclusively with a single oval-shaped soundhole. This is the closest to ancestral forms and preferred by many classical musicians. Their tone is often described as bright and complex with a rich set of overtones.

This construction type can be further subdivided. Neapolitan (in reference to its place of origin) is the most common style and that emulated almost exclusively by late 19th- through early 20th-century American builders. Makers of note include Vinaccia, Calace, Martin (styles 000 through 7), Vega, various Larson Bros. brands, various Lyon & Healy brands (especially Washburn), Bohmann, Weymann, Dan Larson, etc.

The Roman style is typified by a narrow, radiused fingerboard, pronounced "V"-shaped neck profile, and by "shoulders" at the neck-body joint being narrower than typical Neapolitans. Roman style mandolins were pioneered by Embergher and those by him and his students remain amongst the highest quality and most valuable.

Modern German bowlbacks have a very broad soundboard and a resultantly deeper tone. They also often have a circular soundhole. Some German builders making bowlbacks are Knorr, Seiffert, Dietrich, Albert & Mueller, etc.

Additional bowlback images.

Authored by: Eugene Braig

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