View Full Version : Roman mandolin - unknown luthier

Vangelis M.
Nov-14-2013, 7:53am
Hello everyone!
I'm new here on the forums. Mandolin became a hobby for me two years ago, when I purhased an old Ferrari bowlback from ebay, in order to learn playing an instrument.

Learning about the history of the mandolin, faschinated me into searching the playing and contrution technics of the mandolin, as well as performing starter level restorations. Last spring the Ferrari had a neck issue and I left it aside for a -what seems to be- roman type mandolin of german origin.

I am completely novice to the roman type mandolins. Only recently I have read the information about Luigi Embergher from mr Timmerman and the modern luthiers and originally I loved their very special appearance.

In the summer, there was the following instrument on ebay which I fell for. It needed some minor cleaning and repairs, but it's better now. :)

(the original pics from the aution)


At first, there is the curled head. Also it's fingerboard is thicker on the Sol side and I think there is a slight radius. The neck has a V shape too. And there is the different bowl constrution (I was told it is walnut).:confused:
I have little knowledge though in order to identify the maker or the age (there was no sign either)...

What would you say according to your knowledge?

Nov-14-2013, 10:21am
Thanks for sharing with us. This is quite an interesting mandolin. There are those here with far more experience with Roman mandolins than I who I hope see your post and join the conversation.

While Roman in style, my guess would be that this was not made in Rome, but perhaps in Sicily by one of the Cantanese builders. They were enthusiastic copiers of mandolins from the mainland with greater or lesser degrees of accuracy, craft and design interpretations.

It perhaps might also be of German origin, as the luthiers in the Markneukirchen area also had a keen eye on mandolin types from Italy and produced faithful copies and otherwise. I had a Roman copy from this region for awhile and it was fairly nice. The tiny dimension at the nut was a challenge for my big hands, but the tapered fretboard was a very nice feature.

The tapered fretboard profile, V shaped neck, headstock shape and (general) bowl profile are traits found on proper Roman mandolins. The subtle recurve of the bowl body where it meets the neck is one of the more delightful design features of the Embergher mandolins in my opinion. These folks didn't quite achieve it.

This looks like it could be very nice in its own right. How does it sound and play?


Vangelis M.
Nov-14-2013, 1:25pm
Hi Mick. Thanks for the input! Sounds interesting to be a Roman copy made in Sicily. I haven't met a reference about these mandolin builders before.
Might be from Germany too, since I got it from ebay.de (and there was another one with similar bowl until recently).

I am neither a keen listener nor player and my playing experiene only counts one year. Personally, I think it sounds better than the old Ferrari and warmer than the other mandolin I own.
And it plays quite OK, but I replaced the plain wooden bridge with a bone top, which needs a better slotting than what I 've been doing so far... There is some noise and maybe a little clarity lost.
Could you recommend any tips for that?

I tried to play the latest song I have for class, using both mandolins in order to compare them. My playing abilities are imature, it's ok I guess, eh.. :redface:
Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEQZkYPp2BU

ps. the mandolin in question here has 009 / 013 / 022 / 032 strings, while the other 010 / 014 / 024 / 034 -both silverwound.

Bruce Clausen
Nov-14-2013, 2:02pm
Welcome to the Cafe, Vangelis. It looks like you've done a fine job getting the new mandolin back into working condition. Good playing too. I love the song-- where does it come from?

Nov-14-2013, 2:02pm
Sounds good! What kind of class are you taking? Where is it located?

A lot of mandolins were made in Catania through the 1890s until WW2 in various styles to varying degrees of quality. A few builders survived the war and kept in production until the '60s at least. There is a Bowlbacks of Note (http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?2591-Bowlbacks-of-Note/page245) thread here that you might enjoy looking at past conversations and participating in current ones.

A lot of folks who share information there are far more informed than I. Our friend, Martin Jonas, who is German but living in Wales, is quite knowledgeable about German made mandolins and hopefully will be able to offer an opinion on yours. I am pretty certain Martin still has an Embergher mandolin that he regularly plays. Alex Timmerman also shows up from time to time in the conversations (though not often enough! ;)) He is a fine fellow and you might contact him directly with further questions about Roman instruments.

Martin, Jim Garber and others will no doubt join in here shortly. They know their stuff.

I had a German made, Roman style mandolin for awhile myself. The V neck and arched fretboard made playing much easier than the very skinny nut width would have led me to believe. I enjoyed that mandolin, but we did have to part ways.

BTW, I've done my share of fiddling with bridges and nuts at first using an array of fine files to size the slots. I eventually bought some proper nut files from a luthier supply house here in the States. They aren't essential to the process, but I have found them to be virtually fool-proof in their use and performance. I've found them clearly worth the investment as I do wind up fussing with mandolins perhaps more than I should.


Vangelis M.
Nov-15-2013, 8:37am
Thank you for the warm welcome, Bruce! It is a fantastic process that of restoring an old intrument till the moment you can play it with your hands, isn't it?

The class is, say, a semi-professional semi-companion lesson at a cretan union club here in Athens. Crete is the island on the far south of Greece.
They have their own traditional music, which involves mainly the cretan lute (https://www.google.gr/search?q=cretan+lute&espv=210&es_sm=122&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=_xqGUuT3EorHtAbMjYC4Cg&ved=0CD0QsAQ&biw=1832&bih=994), the cretan lyra (https://www.google.gr/search?q=cretan+lyra&hl=el&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=MBuGUq7MKcqotAbDvYGACw&ved=0CDEQsAQ&biw=1832&bih=994) and the mandolin as accompaning instrument.
It's a cretan song called "μ' άνοιξες στο κορμί πληγές (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7l-bJLuICE)", meaning "you inflicted wounds on my body" (erotically speaking).
Doesn't make much sense, eh? haha
Best to think of it as "you caused my body to ache".

Mick, I find those informations very interesting! The fact that they were copies of roman mandolins, plus made in Sicily, plus the WW references... it creates a mystical aura to me.
Hope we hear more!

On mine, nut width is 27mm. At first, I tried bringing the string pairs closer to create more space in-between, but I didn't like how it messes with the tremolo.
I think I know the supplier you mean -starts with a food. Those files must be indeed very usefull, but a bit off in value-for-money for the frequency I would use them at the moment.
I use a grinder-flattened nail file and some needle files of ebay for rounding off. It works ok but mostly out of random process. Are there standards about the slot width-depth in relation to the string diameter?

Why did you have to part your roman style mandolin though? I hope it wasn't out of necessity.

Nov-15-2013, 8:58am
Athens, you say, Vangelis. It is great to have another Grecian connection to the mandolin join us here. We have friends here who are most definitely interested in these traditional Cretan instruments.

Just to be clear, I am not certain yours is of Sicilian origin. The German (or perhaps) other source may be more likely as well....

When I let my German / Roman mandolin go, it was due to a bit of 'herd thinning' as we call it. I have acquired a few mandolins, some of them, like you, I have bought in somewhat poor condition and tried to repair (with greater or lesser degrees of success.) I have an American and an Italian bowl back that I have been playing more often. I was playing the "Roman" one less and thought to let it go.

If you search in the "Builders and Repair" section of the Cafe here for methods of working bridge and nut slots, you will find an array of suggestions for what type of file-type tools folks have been using.


Vangelis M.
Nov-26-2013, 6:20pm
Good evening,

Very late responce, I 'm quite busy these days :(
I hear you Mick, I wish it was italian, but most probably it's german. Anyway, I still like it a lot!
I found tons of interesting info on the forum. It's huge though! Thanks to everybody sharing.

Sorry you had to part one of your instruments. I will probably part one soon, but it's for the best I guess..
You must have nice memories too from the repair process of each one, I believe that is the most important thing. Even if the instrument itself changes hands, it has a small piece of ... Mick soul.