View Full Version : Any idea what this might be?

Apr-18-2004, 3:53pm
I appreciate the help of the folks from my previous post. I was able to figure out how to cut down the size of the pics and am now ready to post them. I hope I get it right.

This is an old mando that belongs to my sister-in-law's father. I told her I would post ask here to see if anyone had any info at all about what it might be or what it might be worth. I had no idea.

Here's some info from her:
"Did you get all six pictures of the mandolin? #On one you should be able to read Henry L. Mason, Boston.

I don't know much about string instruments ( or any instruments), but Dad said it was out of tune and he hasn't been able to tune it...tried buying more strings, but still couldn't tune it. #The sounds were short...dead sounding. #I would say it doesn't hold a note. #The bottom (bell?) did have some cracks in it, too. #He said he bought it at a flea market in about 1953 in the Cupertino area (he didn't get it from his Dad like I thought), and it definitely wasn't new then."

I will post the 6 pics in replies. The first is a front view.

thanx greatly in advance,

Apr-18-2004, 3:55pm
This one is a closeup of the body

Apr-18-2004, 4:08pm
The side of the bowl

Apr-18-2004, 4:10pm
The back of the headstock

Apr-18-2004, 4:11pm
pathetic look at the sound hole and the sticker inside

Apr-18-2004, 4:16pm
The bowl looking from the bottom. That's all I could get in of her father and not violate the 74K file size.

Again, any help at all would be greatly appreciated. However, I understand that I probably haven't provided very much quality info to work from.


Apr-18-2004, 6:31pm
Hi Fred,

There are some pretty knowledgeable guys who routinely play and post about older bowlback instruments.

As you may (or may not) know the mandolin was EXTREMELY common at the turn of the century. Mandolin orchestras and quartets were very common. You could buy a mandolin from Sears and Roebuck for a few dollars.

I also have an "old" one from a relatively well known maker.

My pictures are still here:My Old Vega (http://www.mandolincafe.net/cgi-bin....t=12936)

Yours doesn't look to be in very great shape (at least finish wise) and while I'm not sure why it can't be tuned, those two items combined with the commonality of turn of the century bowl backs are going to put the price at (my guess) one or two hundred bucks (optimistic tops).

Of course, I may be completely in the dark about the "builder" who may be famous, but I sort of doubt it.

Hopefully one of the experts will chime in.

For more old bowlback pictures owned by the guys here, check out this thread: Bowlback Pictures (http://www.mandolincafe.net/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST;f=15;t=14185;st=0;r=1;&#entry141215)

You might also browse the EYECANDY section of the board and look at some of the bowlback examples there.

Apr-18-2004, 7:30pm
Hey Gary,
Thanx for the response. I kinda figured it may be a run of the mill instrument after I heard about him buying it at a flea market. Hopefully, someone knows something about the manufacturer.

Bob A
Apr-18-2004, 7:51pm
Hello Fred.

I don't know anything about Henry Mason, nor have I seen his name on any other instruments. From the photos, the instrument is very low-end. I'm not sure about our tuning problems, but there are two avenues to explore.

First, the tuning gears might be slipping. A bit of tightening of the screws (or maybe loosening - I'm not clear whether they are slipping, or just hard to turn) might help. A tiny bit of oil on each gear could assist, but be sparing. A little dab'll do ya.

Second, it is common to find these old instruments set up with modern strings, made for Gibson style mandolins, which require heavier string gauges to perform well. They will quickly ruin a lightly-constructed bowlback. GHS I think makes a cheap set of extra-light classical strings which you might try.

Of course, if the string tension has popped the braces or is otherwise caving the top, that too could be a problem, probably terminal.

It may even be that this was built as a wall-hanger, just a bit of decorative fluff. Huge heaps of that sort of thing were churned out around the turn of the century, when the mandolin was king.

At any rate, it is not an attic treasure, best as I can tell. Probably worth messing about with on the cheap (strings and tuner adjustment) but if you manage to string it up and get it in tune, and you find the action to be higher than a couple millimeters at the 12th fret, you should probably give up on it, and let it go to a well-deserved final resting place.

Apr-18-2004, 8:18pm
Thanks for the insight. It is sounding more like what I assumed.

I am sure there may be mechanical problems that precluded him tuning it correctly. The lighter string comment sounds interesting. I wish I was closer to it and could look at it myself. They live in Northern Cal and I am here in Central Tx.

Thanks for the ideas.

Jim Garber
Apr-18-2004, 8:35pm
Henry L. Mason is listed in the Mugwumps (http://www.mugwumps.com/AmerInstMkr.html) listing of American instrument makers. This is just a list so no further details:

It turns out that Mason was part of Mason and Hamlin best known for their pianos and organs, but likely this mandolin was made for them by Haynes:


Q: I have a parlor guitar from around 1890 made of Brazilian rosewood. On the back of the head stock it has an imprint of Henry L. Mason, Boston; this is repeated in the sound hole. Is this the same as Mason & Hamlin from piano fame? RM
A: Circa 1880-1900 he was vice-president of Mason & Hamlin Piano & Organ Co. Guitars bearing his name marked Boston, MA are circa 1890 style and probably made by Haynes (Bay State), although he may have made some himself.


Apr-18-2004, 9:00pm
Whoa, thanx for that link. That is helpful #....and a very interesting site. I will need to add it to explore it more.

Bob DeVellis
Apr-19-2004, 7:44am
Haynes makes sense. Theirs was the biggest factory in Boston and are the most likely source for Boston-based instruments carrying the name of an unfamiliar maker. This would especially have been true in the 1890s before Vega got up to full steam.

Jul-12-2004, 5:18pm
This was a thread I started a while back. I, and my sister-in-law, really appreciated everyone's help. All the info was very helpful.

I got to thinking about it and decided I would offer to get this oldie sounding better the next time I am in CA visiting family. Any ideas on a string set for it? Anything else to be careful of? I do have some setup background from acoustic guitar, solid body guitar, and dobro. And I have done some successful setup work on my Parsons A4. So I am not a complete newbie. Any help would be appreciated.


Bob DeVellis
Jul-13-2004, 8:35am
GHS Classical Extra-Lights are the most appropriate strings that you're likely to find in stock anywhere. I'd bring them up to tension gently to make sure the neck joint isn't loose. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if the neck angle has drifted out of whack over the years. You'll know this has happened if the strings ride too far above the fingerboard.