View Full Version : The Completed Brian Dean Bowlback

J. Mark Lane
May-22-2006, 4:55pm
No, I don't physically have it yet, but it's ready to go out, and these are the final pics before shipping. Speaks for itself, I think.

J. Mark Lane
May-22-2006, 4:56pm

J. Mark Lane
May-22-2006, 4:57pm
Body and neck.

J. Mark Lane
May-22-2006, 4:58pm
Soundhole and fretboard extension.

J. Mark Lane
May-22-2006, 4:58pm

J. Mark Lane
May-22-2006, 4:59pm

May-22-2006, 5:05pm
That's absolutely incredible!!! Love the fretwork in the sound hole, as well as the tuner buttons, peghead carving, case... it's a work of art!

Paul Doubek

May-22-2006, 5:05pm
Beautiful old world elegance(both instrument and case)--will be interested in a performance report.

Daniel Nestlerode
May-22-2006, 5:08pm
Dayam. That has to be the prettiest bowl back I have ever seen.

I hate to mention this, but... I'll bet it's going to be a bear to restring.


May-22-2006, 5:11pm
Brian has a wonderful eye for design, and I commend you, J. Mark, for giving him a chance to do something like that and actually have a pay day at the end of the job!

Fabulous mandolin!

Lane Pryce
May-22-2006, 5:56pm
That is beyond words. Just amazing ----- I would love to hear it. Congratulations. Lp

May-22-2006, 6:13pm
Congratulations J. Mark. I can only image how excited you are. I've been having so much fun watching this project as it went. Thanks for all the updates. Brian Dean has really made a Master Model with this one!


May-22-2006, 6:32pm
http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wow.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wow.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wow.gif

can't wait to hear about how it sounds!! Brian's work is so stunning... check his in progress page for another instrument with soundhole carvings that are to die for.

Congrats, Mark... it is gorgeous

May-22-2006, 6:34pm

I'm not one to go talking up someone's mandolin, but that is, hands down, the coolest new mandolin (and my god, the case is a work of art in its own right) I've seen posted in the Cafe the last couple years. Congrats to you and kudos to Brian Dean. I don't get lustful of others instruments very often, but I have it now.


May-22-2006, 6:50pm
Oh wow! Did we ever find out who the headstock dude is?

May-22-2006, 7:02pm
J. Mark,

Could you summarize the woods and all that are in there one last time, please. I have a feeling this thread gonna have a lot of posts and a lot of views!


Chris Baird
May-22-2006, 7:04pm
Very nice work, that is truly some fine old world wood working.

Martin Jonas
May-23-2006, 3:49am
Very nice work. #Is that a carved top or an induced arch? #Its overall body shape is more like a traditional bowlback than the more lute-like bowlback Brian made last year. #I'm intrigued about two things: the bridge compensation looks really unusual, with the E and A strings both filed back (or is that an optical illusion?), and the headstock looks like an Embergher-style slotted headstock from the front, but has a closed backplate. #I can't quite see the rationale for that.

Big thumbs up to Brian and J. Mark for leaving the trodden path of (North American) mandolin building and being innovative with the bowlback!


Michael Wolf
May-23-2006, 4:30am
I'm also curious about the top construction. I never saw a archtop bowlback to date. Are there any historic examples for such an instrument or is this an innovation? I think an arched top should lead to different results than the cranked tops often seen on traditional bowlbacks. It's beautiful, too.


May-23-2006, 4:38am
Mr. Dean has outdone himself yet again.

Way to go, Brian!!!!!!


J. Mark Lane
May-23-2006, 5:53am
Thanks for all the nice comments, folks. Indeed, I do feel very privileged to be getting this instrument.

I'm going to encourage Brian to post in response to the questions about construction. I can't really do justice to it. I know it's going to be fun to string <g>, but that's part of the process. The top is carved, and that was Brian's idea. Pretty much everything was Brian's idea -- we bounced ideas around, but I mostly left it to him to decide where to take the project. I do think it is a unique instrument.

And Glauber, no I don't know who that is who will be watching over my humble attempts to play the instrument. I think maybe it's just one of the Muses.

May-23-2006, 6:23am
Simply stunning... congratulations to all involved!

Jim Garber
May-23-2006, 7:37am
Fascinating... a carved-top bowlback. I am looking fwd to trying it out after arrival. Could be an interesting experimental instrument with a traditional look.


May-23-2006, 8:41am
Holy Cow!!!!!

I'm not a big fan of bowlbacks but that is indeed a work of art. The case is just as stunning. Great work by Brian Dean!

May-23-2006, 9:16am
Restringing seems like a non-issue to me. #After all, it's a mandolin.

J. Mark, I hope it sounds and plays as fine as it looks.

Jim Garber
May-23-2006, 9:26am
Wha6t is the big deal about restringing. Yeah the slotted style headstocks are a little more of a pain, but so what?

Just goes to prove -- real men (and women) play bowlbacks http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif


May-23-2006, 9:36am
Congrats on the wonderful new instrument Mark!

Steve Farling
May-23-2006, 12:47pm
OH MY! J. Mark, you are one lucky guy!

May-23-2006, 12:55pm
I think the tricky part with stringing is that the slotted headstock does not appear to be slotted all the way through.

re: the top... Brian has developed a top option that he calls "weebit" carved... essentially, its about the same amount of arch as an induced arch, but instead of bending flat wood over the braces, he carved that amount of arch. I think he is aiming for sounds that sit in between classic flat and archtop sounds, and to make the arch more 3-dimensional. Anyway, my OM has a similar top.

and yes, Mark, please do re-post the specs.

May-23-2006, 4:24pm
Hello friends,
First of all thanks for all the comments, or rather, the mandolin thanks you. Mark had asked me to come on over and have a few words, which I was more than happy to do.
I suppose I'll tackle the most juicy point first. Utility was not my foremost concern. As a philosophical sidenote, you might notice the new Ford Mustang looks a lot like the one from the late 60's--its undeniable heyday. I like classic looks. And while I'd surely prefer the reliability of a 2nd millenium internal combustion engine, the joy of home mechanics is lost, as is the rumble of inefficiency under the hood and the beautiful smell of un-catalyzed exhaust fumes. In short, a few extra minutes to have well adjusted valves in your 60's rumbler.. why not? It's worth it for those vintage leather seats............
It does string quite easily, I might add. ;)
My inspiration, al-oud:


The head, I really wish I was a good storyteller, I could throw a bit of a loop in there, but truth be told, he's just a very suave pumpkin farmer from a small town in Italy, 1659. Sorry ladies, he is married.

JEStanek had asked about woods and materials. The body is cocobolo/rosewood, the top is Engelmann and is a fully-carved cant, if one could say such a thing. It is rounded on nearly all tranverse cross sections, and approaching only a slight curve from end to end, meeting at a sharper curve at the center--the "cant" itself. The neck is curly koa, the join is a traditional dovetail
Bindings are ebony and bloodwood, and there are several decorative bits in cuban mahogany. Gaboon ebony fretboard, macassar ebony bound. Tuners are Schallers, tailpiece is my own design. As for the case, knotty pine and oak, with leather, sheepskin, and raw Thai silk upholstery. The latches are handmade from ebony and steel wire. Finish is oil followed by orange shellac. Given that Mark has seen this project in every possible stage from beginning to end, I had to throw in a small surprise in the case's glove compartment. I thought it was a neat idea anyway (for the practically minded).
The bridge compensation is no different than modern compensation, except in how it appears. Considering that with four "points" in space, you can always make at least two straight lines through, I did just that.

I hope that helps out with some of your questions. If there are any others, Mark, please let me know, I'll let you all talk amongst yourselves in peace.



J. Mark Lane
May-23-2006, 7:19pm
Knowing Brian, as I have come to during this tremendously fun process, I can only smile at his comments. There's a certain...playful mystery about the man. It is quite enchanting. ...(That's a sort of musical term, isn't it?)

Pumpkin farmer? If anyone has any idea what he's talking about, please tell us. <G>

I wonder what the surprise is? My father says that he named me after Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor and philosopher, known for his writings on Stoicism. I will try to apply that philosophy as I wait for the package to arrive.

Dena Haselwander
May-23-2006, 7:40pm
Stoicism would be the farthest word from my brain at this point. What a beautiful piece of art. I can't wait to hear what the surprise is.


May-23-2006, 8:09pm
Might be wrong here, but my suspicion is that while Brian was carving that head, a mirror was propped up on the work bench in front of him. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif


May-24-2006, 7:12pm
Best looking bowlback mandolin I have ever seen and quite possibly the best looking mandolin period I have ever seen. I can't think of a word to describe what I am seeing without it being an understatement.

Just simply jaw dropping amazing!

Will Kimble
May-24-2006, 7:28pm
Wow, that's cool. #I would love to hear the carved top on the bowlback body.

Congratulations to all involved,
Will Kimble

Jim Garber
May-24-2006, 10:06pm
I think the tricky part with stringing is that the slotted headstock does not appear to be slotted all the way through.
I play an instrument very much like that -- a violin. It should not make any difference whether it is slotted all the way thru or not as long as there is enough room to get you string end in.


May-24-2006, 10:33pm
gotcha, Jim... thanks for the correction...

I was chatting with Brian today, and the thing went to Fedex this afternoon...so the countdown begins....

J. Mark Lane
May-24-2006, 10:38pm
Yup. Friday.

Martin Jonas
May-25-2006, 3:35am
I play an instrument very much like that -- a violin. It should not make any difference whether it is slotted all the way thru or not as long as there is enough room to get you string end in.
I would think it's different from the violin because of the much stiffer steel strings and the much tighter post spacing. #I can see a closed-bottom slot being a real nightmare: you need free access to both ends of the holes in the tuner post or else you'll either have problems getting it into the hole in the first place or have problems getting hold of the tip on the other end in order to pull the string through. #Depending on your restringing technique, you may also want to put in a locking loop. #I have two slotted tuner instruments, and I use both sides of the headstock for access when restringing. #Without access from the back, you'll end up having to use needle-nose pliers or some other tool trying to get hold of the tip of the string in order to pull it up out of the slot.


May-25-2006, 7:56am
Restringing is going to be the least of your worries J. Mark. I suggest mass quantities of dessicant to soak up all the drool from the dropped jaws that are sure to happen every time you pull that work of art out of the case. Of course I drooled just looking at the case.



May-25-2006, 7:30pm
I have a few closed pegboxes on historic mandolins and faithful reproductions. Granted, I am dealing with gut and gut-like synthetics, but restringing isn't that hard.

May-25-2006, 8:18pm
J. Mark, as it has already been said above, that is one beautiful mandolin. #Congratulations! #You will probably be playing this new mandolin a great deal, so I am going to be kind and offer to keep your Stanley F-5 and Glenn A-5 for a while. #I don't want the Stanley and the Glenn to feel neglected. #Just send them to me and I promise to play them both everyday. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

J. Mark Lane
May-26-2006, 3:23pm
OK, Mr. Garber. #Crank your engine. #I was going to suggest a beer...but I think a nice cab might be more appropriate. #


May-26-2006, 3:50pm
Might be wrong here, but my suspicion is that while Brian was carving that head, a mirror was propped up on the work bench in front of him.
Intriguing idea... looks possible:


I have an idea what the glove compartment surprise may be, but i won't post it here so i won't spoil it.

Jim Garber
May-26-2006, 9:19pm
OK, Mr. Garber. Crank your engine. I was going to suggest a beer...but I think a nice cab might be more appropriate.

Okay... what time you want me...? I will bring the sausages!!

Very funny! I didn't get the joke about the cab, thinking one of those yellow vehicles, not the wine.

Actually I could be down county later in the day tomorrow. E-me, if possible.

So... how does it sound and look in person. I see you are having some trouble with holding it on your lap. You are not alone. Before I bought my Pandini, I emailed Dawg who also has one. his comments was something like: the thing sounds sweet but I can't figure it out how to keep it on my lap.

I told you that real men and women only can tame these beasts.

I will be glad to give you a bowlback-holding lesson.


Duc Vu
May-26-2006, 9:46pm
[/QUOTE]jgarber Posted on May 26 2006, 22:19 I see you are having some trouble with holding it on your lap.

Do I not see a strap button on the tailpiece? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

J. Mark Lane
May-26-2006, 9:53pm
Yes, there is a stap button (my request). But I can't get any strap to have a good relationship with the headstock. Thanks to the help (other forum), I've been getting a little better at holding it without a strap. But it is somewhat limiting.

Jim, in person it is more than I expected, even given the incredible appearance as per the photos. There are things about it that are surprising me. It has this wild tonal quality on the trebles, like the notes are jumping out of the soundhole. If you know the "pop" of a good F5, this is a variation on that. It is loud, clear, very nice. The workmanship is simply spectacular. The detail work doesn't really show in the photos, but when you see it up close you really understand what an artist Brian is. I mean, little things like the volute, or the shaping of the fretboard extension, are truly impressive, not only in their conception, but in the precision with which the conception is executed.

I had not intended to post a review yet, and won't. I am still trying to understand the instrument. It is unlike anything I have ever played. Come, try it yourself. I would very much like your honest opinions. (I emailed you about tomorrow.)

May-26-2006, 10:15pm
Intriguing idea... looks possible:
I noticed that picture is a new one of him. The old picture he had on the site was from an earlier, more gaunt time, and it included him wearing what appears to be a doo-rag depicted on the carving side views. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Of course, I'm probably all wet... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif


May-26-2006, 10:33pm
Truly a work of art - can one be a mandolin player and not own a bowl back?
I recognize that oud - I've used that same photo as a desktop background. In fact, I almost bought one from a guy in Turkey who often posts on one of the oud sites - Mike's oud page, I think. Mark, you must feel like royalty or something.

Baron Collins-Hill
May-26-2006, 10:55pm
well... what was the surprise?? wowee that is the nicest, most beatiful bowlback i have ever seen. i cant wait to hear more about it. sound clips? love to hear em if there are some.


May-26-2006, 10:58pm
Well, this looks nice (and congrats on its acquisition), but I'm kinda partial to a lot of extant pieces too.

Jim Garber
May-27-2006, 11:06pm
Well I just spent a few pleasant hours with Mark this evening, talking mandolins and life and getting to know the latest Dean creation.

I have this to say. On one hand it is unlike the traditional bowlbacks I am used to. It is an original Dean creation for sure. The workmanship is exquisite and the tone is nice and sweet. It does work fine as a lovely tone producer. As a dabbler in the classical bowl scene I do have a couple of caveats tho. I can see why Mark has some difficulty in holding it on his lap. I found it was head-heavy. This requires you to almost support the head with your left hand. In addition, the bowl is very shallow and narrow. I am not sure why Brian chose that profile for the bowl. On top of it all the most puzzling feature to me was that it has a very long scale of 14.5 inches (368mm) -- longer than even a std bluegrass instrument. That makes it very difficult for someone to play classical repertoire. I also found BION that I was missing a few upper frets -- I think it goes only up to fret 15(?) I actually have a piece that I am attempting to play that uses those upper upper frets.

Not that I am entirely knocking it... on the positive note as I mentioned, it does have a pleasing sweet tone throughout and amazing volume for such a small bowl.


J. Mark Lane
May-28-2006, 7:03am
My wife gets nervous when people that I "met on the Internet" come to our house. Good thing she wasn't home. Jim would have scared her to death. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif

Jim may also have ruined my life. He brought a small armada of mandolins with him, and at least two of them were revelations to me -- the Calace and the Pandini. Especially the Calace, which was just amazing. I have...BAS!

On the Dean, yes, it is unusual, no doubt. It was not built as a Classical instrument. As I told Brian, my intention is to play a little Baroque on it, perhaps some Turlough O'Carolan tunes, a Scottish aire or two, and whatnot. It's basically a folk instrument, and Brian constructed it with that in mind. The number of frets (it was worth it just to see the expression on Jim's face when he realized the note he was trying to make just wasn't there), the fretboard width, the headstock, the bowl, all were designed in collaboration. It will not please purists looking for reproductions of existing models. That was never its purpose.

I am very happy with this mandolin. As Jim indicated, it has a great tone, and is very loud, especially given it's diminutive size. It chords very nicely, with clean, crisp notes that do not get in each others' way. The notes ring, especially the trebles; the tone is strong and resonant. Intonation is perfect. Workmanship, incredible. And aesthetically, it is simply amazing.

Some time in the next few days, I intend to post some more photos, to show some of the detail that is not visible in the photos above (which Brian took). I hope to have my head around this instrument enough by then to also offer more of a "review" of it. As I said above, I'm still getting to know it, and it is unlike anything I've ever played.

But...I also want that damn Calace!

Jim Garber
May-28-2006, 9:23am
My wife gets nervous when people that I "met on the Internet" come to our house. Good thing she wasn't home. Jim would have scared her to death. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif


But...I also want that damn Calace!
All right, Mark! You wife was correct in fearing me. I was sent by the Loyal Order of the Bowl to entice you with our treasures and to convert you to become a member of our cult. I ma known among our kind as the one to be feared. BTW am am also a paid consultant on the upcoming thriller, the Calace Code.

For those not familiar with the Calace, here is the photo of the instrument in question.(Sorry, Mark!)


Baron Collins-Hill
May-28-2006, 10:01am
but what was in the glove compartment!?! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

your kiling me...


May-29-2006, 10:21am
Ouf, I hope I didn't outright anger the classical crowd. Yes, it is a bit of a blasphemous creation and I was ready for the purists to be a bit unsettled. However, when one person creates a square peg and another tries to fit it into a round hole, some difficulty is inevitable.. I am always available for discussion.


May-29-2006, 10:34am
Nonsense. Build whatever you'd like for whomever you'd like. Whoevever likes it will buy it up; whoever isn't into it doesn't have to do so. I would be very curious to see what it would be like if you were to build a more traditional bowlback with function as a primary consideration...or even a reproduction of a baroque-era mandolino with fixed bridge.

Jim Garber
May-29-2006, 11:35am
Yes, I ditto what Eugene says. We bowlheads are not angered by veering off from the traditional bowlback. However,we have grown accustomed to the classic (not necessarily "classical" instruments. Many of us have been playing these instuments for many years. There is something to the structure and sound quality of these instruments that are appealing. Mark was drawn to my Calace for a very good reason.

Brian and I had an extensive email conversation right after I saw the first bowlback he built. I did offer to show him a few of my choice instruments for inspiration. The offer still stands but, of course, our locations do make it difficult.

Brian has an excellent sense of sound production thru luthiery. There is also something valuable about learning from what is out there and what worked in the old days. The esteemed makers of bowlbacks no doubt did similar experimentation and they cam eup with their design. No absolute need, of course, to do so, but it is useful IMHO to have that history in mind as well as the creative spirit..


May-29-2006, 12:37pm
Thanks, Jim, I'd love to get my hands on one of those classics one day. The effort on this mando was to get the thumbs up from Mark and it was a damn fun time doing.. That being my last comment on that, I'd love to build to spec for any other courageous souls out there... In fact, Jim, my offer still stands on the repro work. Would be a very nice challenge indeed.....

In the waiting... ;)


Jim Garber
May-29-2006, 1:41pm
I certainly would not want to lock you into a repro project down to the molecular level, but more something that combined the things I have loved about the vintage instruments (esp the sound) with the modernized vision and excellent workmanship that you have. Let's keep the dialog open in any case.

I will keep my eye on your site. I noticed that F4 ("l'ef quatre"?) that is in progress.

What was in the glove compartment?


May-29-2006, 2:56pm
Here's my guess for what was in the glove compartment: a restringing tool. Did i guess right? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

May-29-2006, 5:31pm
Regarding the contents of the glove compartment: Could it be the bag of soil from Transylvania that J. Mark mentioned in another thread where he posted progress photos of his case for the mandolin? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Duc Vu
May-29-2006, 5:42pm
Ear muffs for the man on the headstock!

Kidding aside, congratulations for a truly spectacular mandolin.

Jim Rowland
May-30-2006, 3:55pm
The surprise in the glove compartment? The bill.

Jun-02-2006, 10:34am
The pictures on the first page of this thread have made it into my dreams and the background on my computer. #I never desired a bowlback of any kind, and the Calace looks nice...but talk about eye candy!

I keep wondering -- what is in the case compartment?
[edit- I thought the soil from Transylvania was a joke!http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif ]

The head on the headstock kind of disturbs me....I keep thinking of the F-5's with headstock scrolls missing. #If you accidentally drop that thing on the headstock, you'll really have a head rolling around in that coffin case! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Chip Booth
Jun-10-2006, 2:57pm
I was just restringing a guitar and I think I figured out who the guy on the headstock is...