View Full Version : Vega Cylinder-Back mando

Jun-14-2006, 10:17am
Lately I've been aware of a few Vega cylinderbacks out there for sale. They're two-point, oval hole with nice birds-eye maple backs. How do they play and sound? I'm not a bluegrasser, more into Dawg and jazz. Are they worth the investment? They are an intriguing looking instrument but I can't find a lot of info about them.

Jun-14-2006, 10:30am
dor- I don't own one, but I have played a couple. The ones I have encountered have had GREAT tone... bell-like and clear, and played very nicely. sound that I would associate with classical and folk... maybe jazz too. Not huge volume, but very rich tone.

Jun-14-2006, 10:44am
My neighbor and customer (posts here as "Boatman") has one. it's pretty loud! I won't try to describe the sound becuase that's too hard to do, but they have a sound all they're own.
I've also played one of Charles Johnson's that was good sounding and loud.

Jun-14-2006, 10:55am
I agree that the sound is rather unique... in fact, it's quite lovely, and I'm a little surprised that hardly anyone makes cylinderbacks any more.

Jun-14-2006, 11:41am
only played one, it was really nice though. sounds like it would fit very well for your tastes.

Jun-14-2006, 11:58am
though i love my mando, and am not an mas type. the cyl. back is one that i do lust after. i've played 3. all had spectacular tone and incredible action. def. not a bg machine. for what you seek to play, should be a dream.

Bob DeVellis
Jun-14-2006, 12:56pm
I love 'em. Very warm, mellow, complex tone. I think volume is decent and comparable to most oval hole mandolins. Although they're different from Gibson oval holes, I think they're every bit as good. I have a nice F-4 and when I A-B it against a Vega, I can't really pick which I prefer. I end up wishing I could combine the best features of each, which to my ear would be the Gibson trebles and the Vega basses. The Gibson is a bit brighter, the Vega a bit more mellow. The Gibson basses sound a bit brash next to the Vega's whereas the Vega trebles sound a bit muddy next to the Gibson's. Both differences are small, however, with "brash" and "muddy" overstating the extremes.

Vega is not as familiar as Gibson, perhaps, but I think their sound is outstanding. I have a well-worn 202 (mahogany back and sides) that I bought when I really had no intention of buying it. It was a bit overpriced at the time. But as I played every mandolin in the shop, I just kept returning to the Vega. Its sound just captivated me and it was really easy to play. I will say, though, that not every singe Vega I've played struck me in the same way. That may have to do with set-up, among other things. I also have 307 mandola with the birdseye maple back and that, too, is a glorious-sounding instrument. They're not going to be everyone's cup of tea but if you're not looking for a bluegrassy sound, they can be very seductive.

They're also pretty, well-made, and historically interesting. The cylinder-back design was the product of David L. Day, who is a figure in acoustical instrument history comparable to Lloyd Loar, although primarily associated with banjos. The most significant banjo innovations found on Fairbanks, Vega, and Bacon's B&D banjos were his creations. When Vega acquired Fairbanks, they turned all stringed instruments over to Day (who came with the Fairbanks acquisition) and the cylinder-back was unquestionably his most significant contribution to the mandolin line. Perhaps because Day was primarily a banjo guy, Vega didn't aggressively market the cylinder-back mandolins (compared to the advertising programs of Gibson and Lyon & Healy), focused primarily (but not exclusively) on a substantial regional market in the northeast, and had less of a national impact than the larger midwestern companies.

Django Fret
Jun-14-2006, 1:38pm
I own two of them and have to agree that they are among the nicest sounding mandolins I've played. I learned a lot about them here on the Cafe and also at Bob's great article at http://www.bellsouthpwp.com/r/d/rdevelli/Vega%20307%20Mandola.htm

One of mine is a blonde tiger maple back and the other is made of Brazilian Rosewood. Both of them are a delight to play with a very unique sound, but both have a wonderful bass. Guitar players I have played with remark how much louder they are than other acoustic mandolins I've played with them.

I haven't played too many others, but you should try to play a few to see if they will provide the sound you want. Also, be sure to watch out for any top sinkage on any that you might be considering.

Jun-14-2006, 1:54pm
They are very nice for folk/Irish/old-timey, though they don't sound bluegrassy. They are a lot of mandolin for the money usually!

Bob A
Jun-14-2006, 2:04pm
I've owned two, a mahogany and a maple. They are pretty loud in my opinion; they have a sort of bowlback sensibility to them, but a larger soundboard. The cylinder provides a built-in reverb tank which gives them their unique tone.

While I enjoyed them, I ended up selling them both. I suspect it's a matter of too many mandolins; when I played them I enjoyed them a lot, but I found myself gravitating to other instruments more. Nevertheless, they are unique in their tonality, and a lot of fun.

I understand that the cylinder portion is not bent, but carved out of a block of maple (or whatever); I suspect that they are more expensive to build than to purchase used. The same phenomenon applies tothe carved Lyon & Healy instruments (which are themselves also possessed of a sound all their own). Just goes to show that there remains a pool of undervalued mandolins out there. A patient musician can find a lot of bargains by looking at instruments that mainstream players avoid or don't know of.

Get 'em before they're hot, folks!

Jun-14-2006, 7:12pm
I've got one. Inherited from wife's father's uncle in 1962. Never played well then got broken up in a wind-storm. Imbicile brother in law had it repaired by flamenco guitar builder in L.A. who also refinished it. (1971) Didn't play well. 2005 had broken brace repaired by Grissmans guy and it is now spectacular. Shows repairs on both bouts. Wouldn't part with it for anything but make an offer. Also have L & H AModel # 84. Don't make an offer.

Jun-14-2006, 7:55pm
I had a wonderful 205 model, with the tiger maple back and pearl trim in mint condition. I sold it because..well I'm and A. Wish I still had it, but I quess we can't keep them all...or can we. It had a very full sound with plenty of bass, and the most delicate highs, oh and the finish on that neck was like silk..humm mabey a rosewood backed model
would ...no no no more mandolins..for now http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Jim Garber
Jun-15-2006, 7:28am
I understand that the cylinder portion is not bent, but carved out of a block of maple (or whatever); I suspect that they are more expensive to build than to purchase used.
I don't believe that to be so. I think the backs were actually either steam-bent or mold pressed. The Rigel-built clone was built with a carved back which is very labor intensive.

There is some discussion on the technique of top and back construction on this thread (http://www.mandolincafe.net/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST;f=7;t=33301). Howe-Ormes are first cousins.


Bob DeVellis
Jun-15-2006, 8:04am
I think Jim's right. There was a repair guy that I think I may have quoted on my Vega page claiming that they were carved. But everything else I've seen suggests bending. Jim, I also concur with your observation that Vega and Howe-Orme are first cousins. I suspect that the Vega factory may have been a source of the Howe-Ormes, but have no definitive evidence. Bob A, I think you're absolutely right about the pool of undervalued instruments. Vega, Lyon & Healy, and Howe-Orme are the most striking examples, in addition to a slew of bowlbacks. Martin flatbacks should be added, as well. The Vega and Lyon & Healy instruments may be the most versatile of this group, which makes it especially surprising that they aren't more widely sought. I love the old Gibson oval holes but I consider the L&H and Vega mandolins from the same period to be fully their equals. Howe-Orme and Martin are great but different enough to have less cross-over appeal, perhaps.

Patrick Melly
Jun-19-2006, 9:01pm
I have my Mom's cylinderback, serial # 38136; she played it in an all-girl mando band in Lawrence, Mass when she was a teenager. I have always loved the tone - deep rich bass with nice sustain. Since I had it refretted (by Pete Langdell at Rigel) the treble notes have come alive - rich, loud, clear and sustained. I think the old bar frets had made it difficult to get a clean note.
Since Pete did the work, Mom's Vega is clear as a bell all over the neck.
I have a Vega archtop guitar (C-66, 1940) as well - very playable, but rough looking - that I found for $400 on craigslist.

Jun-20-2006, 2:29pm
Bernunzio in Rochester has a bird's-eye maple one for sale for just under a grand.
vega cylinder-back (http://bernunzio.com/item.php?sku=058949)
I believe there's also one for sale at Stutzman's Guitar Center here; no link available. Slightly lower price, I think.

Jim Garber
Jun-20-2006, 3:47pm
Bernunzio in Rochester has a bird's-eye maple one for sale for just under a grand.
vega cylinder-back (http://bernunzio.com/item.php?sku=058949)
Yeah try to find one for sale with a non-warped top. Not easy. It must have been the main defect. Bernunzio's has been refinished and non-original tuners otherwise would be more $$$.


Avi Ziv
Jun-20-2006, 4:07pm
Mandolin Brothers has two listed on their web site. Quite a bit more money though

Link (http://www.mandoweb.com/15_MandolinFam.htm)


Jun-25-2006, 6:33am
Just outa curiosity, how difficult, expensive, etc. is it to correct a warped top? Also I read somewhere, not sure where, where(lotta "where" here) someone refretted the neck with newer style frets and it improved the sound dramatically, especially on the high end.

Jul-21-2006, 1:36pm
Bernunzio in Rochester has a bird's-eye maple one for sale for just under a grand.
vega cylinder-back (http://bernunzio.com/item.php?sku=058949)
I believe there's also one for sale at Stutzman's Guitar Center here; no link available. Slightly lower price, I think.
The one at Stutzman's is $1400(comes with original case...)....I was there last week...played it, adored it <3 It's the first mando I've *really* fallen in love with so far...oddly enough, because I like the treble tones, usually, and as stated, this hasn't got very good treble, comparatively. Also, at least the one I played had a wider neck, which suits my long, clumsy fingers very well :-D However, it's way out of my price range, so I'll just visit it till it's sold http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Louisa http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif