View Full Version : Impulse bowlback purchase...

Oct-03-2006, 1:09pm
Hi all-

Through some random eBay search last night I came upon a couple of Bauer bowl-back mandolins that seemed reasonably priced, so I decided to setup a snipe and see how I would do. #I won! #I ready didn't know anything about these, but the ornamentation on one of them kind of drew me in and I just decided to bid and see what happened.

The seller had 2 of these, both very similar in appearance except for the level of adornment and I bid on the more ornate of the 2. #The other was evidently labeled "Bauer" while the one I bought lacked a proper marking of maker. #Being that they were side by side and almost identical though, I thought it was somewhat reasonable to infer that the one I won was also a Bauer.

The instrument looks to be in great shape from the pics. #Having purchased some older guitars on eBay though, I know to not hold my breathe until it's in front of my face. #The headstock is sadly not very adorned, but I really like the ornamentation on the rest of the instrument. I've been looking at lots of old Washburn parlor guitars lately, so the "vine of life" motif is very attractive to me.

Does anyone know about these? #Did I do ok on price? #I kind of leaped before looking and have seen that these aren't the most desirable of instruments, but can sound nice if you get a good one. #

Here's the pics from the auction and also a link to both the less adorned Bauer and mine:

Here's the less adorned one. (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ih=007&item=170033459676&rd=1&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWA%3AIT&rd=1)

Here's the more adorned one I won. (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ih=007&item=170033464145&rd=1&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWA%3AIT&rd=1)





Oct-03-2006, 1:11pm
More pics:



Oct-03-2006, 1:30pm
I'd say you did pretty well! These look in fine shape, obviously kept in their cases and well cared for. Some of the other wonks on here know much more than I, but I believe Lyon and Healy made some mandolins for Bauer. I'm sure they will sound nice.
Good job on ebay.

Bob A
Oct-03-2006, 4:46pm
Looks like a nice instrument. Beware of stringing it with BG strings; you'll trasj the neck for sure.

JustStrings has some GHS classicals that would work; I am told that Martin makes a very light gauge set that's suitable, but I am not familiar with them. There are a few imports that are highly thought of, but pretty pricey, and harder to find. I personally have no complaints about the GHS, though some prefer the high-priced stuff.

Oct-03-2006, 5:28pm
I strongly second BobA's recommendation on the strings. (I use GHS extra-lights on my bowlbacks.) The necks look to be really good on your Bauers. Don't risk it at all. Let us know how they sound!

Jim Garber
Oct-03-2006, 8:33pm
I think you made the wise choice of the two. The other one -- hard to tell -- but may have some warpage of the soundboard.

Not sure of this one. Headstock and pickguard shape says Lyon & Healy/American Conservatory but I have never seen that inlay on the fretboard combined with the alternating woods on the bowl.

I will look further...

From the pics it looks pretty good, tho. Hopefully no surprises when you get it.


Oct-03-2006, 8:53pm
I have a Galiano bowlback with the same fretboard inlay, tuner covers and a L+H style headstock complete with knob. In fact the headstock looks almost identical to the Washburn 235 discussed on another thread.

I can't really see the end of the headstock on Lee's pictures.

I guess I just assumed Galiano made their own instruments. Is this so?

Any thoughts on whether Lee's might be a Galiano?


Oct-03-2006, 9:50pm
Here's a shot of the rather unornate headstock. I'm kind of suprised that it's this plain jane considering how nice the inlay on the fretboard is...


Thanks for all of the info and feedback guys. It's appreciated.

Oct-03-2006, 9:59pm
Well, that kind of busts my Galiano gambit. The only other one I have in (my very limited) archive also has the knobbed headpiece. I did turn up an L+H with the same fretboard inlay but as Jim mentioned, with a walnut-only back.

I'm counting on Jim or Eugene now.


Oct-04-2006, 7:35am
Not a Lyon & Healy instrument would be my guess, though some features look similar. The fingerboard and star headstock inlays can be found on period Oscar Schmidt or Supertone (Harmony) mandos. Many of these were glitzy looking but still inexpensive instruments. Yours seems to be in fine condition.

Oct-04-2006, 2:12pm
Thanks again for all of the info guys. The mando should ship in a couple of days and once I get it and clean it up a bit I'll get some better pics of it together and update. It's possible there's some info inside the instrument that the seller missed as well, so we shall see.

Martin Jonas
Oct-06-2006, 2:47pm
Looks nice. Looking at the two instruments, I don't think they are all that similar beyond the fact that both are obviously American. Binding, inlay, bowl, tuners and fretboard markers are all markedly different. So, I don't think the fact that one is a Bauer says much about the other. I agree, however, with Jim that the one you got is not only fancier but also seems in better condition. This may well be quite nice. I think it will be interesting to see just how delicate the workmanship is in close-up.

Congratulations - have fun!


Oct-06-2006, 6:30pm
So I had to hunt down the USPS guy since I missed the delivery, but I succeeded and it's here. It was in the promised condition and is just a lovely instrument.

I dropped by a local music shop that has knowledgable folks to look into strings and their basic feeling about it and the store's owner felt like the bridge/saddle assembly was about to crack and that he'd recommend having their repair guy take a quick gander at it before stringing it to tension. The also does have a slight bow, but not super drastic. He felt that it could live without a reset, but that it would likely fret-out when playing higher up the neck.

I've got a few other folks I take instruments to, so I can get a few opinions on all of this.

Here's some decent pics for you guys to check out, pre-cleanup. The fretboards a little grungy, so I'm going to clean her up a little and see how she looks.




Oct-06-2006, 6:32pm


More pics (http://www.pbase.com/infiniteposse/bauer)

Oct-06-2006, 7:05pm
Well, Lee, that looks like $125 of well spend currency. I like the 'collar' around the neck/bowl joint. Hard to tell at all from the photos viz the neck and playability. The bridge seems tapered to the treble side. Any idea why?


Bob A
Oct-06-2006, 7:24pm
Many times bridges are lower on the treble side, since the open G string has a significantly greater excursion over the 12th fret; that is to say, it would probably touch the frets if it weren't raised up more than the other strings. But you can't raise it near the nut, or the action would be too high, so the simple solution is to get it further from the top at the other end.

Oct-06-2006, 7:31pm
Hi Mick-

The owner of the shop earlier told me that the bridge had been warped from being left tuned up for years. On a flat surface there's an obvious slant forward on one side.

Does this mean a new bridge and saddle will need to be made/installed? I've never dealt with bridge stuff on a mando.

I just spent a few minutes cleaning her up. Much better.




Martin Jonas
Oct-07-2006, 3:40am
The owner of the shop earlier told me that the bridge had been warped from being left tuned up for years. On a flat surface there's an obvious slant forward on one side.

Does this mean a new bridge and saddle will need to be made/installed? I've never dealt with bridge stuff on a mando.
Hmm. I'm not sure I visualise this correctly. From the photos and your description, am I right in thinking that the bridge is twisted in itself, leaning forward on the bass side, but not on the treble side? If so, is the base of the bridge in good contact with the soundboard over its entire length? It is not necessarily relevant whether the bridge is slanted forward on a flat surface, but when sitting on the mandolin, it should make good contact. It may be pointing straight up, or it may be angled slightly back (different luthiers had different prefences), but it should not be angled forward.

As bowlback bridges are not very high, twisting of the bridge itself is fairly rare. In my experience, bridges that lean forward are more likely to be caused by a warped soundboard along the area of contact. If the soundboard appears level, then there is indeed something amiss with the bridge. I suspect that the bridge does not make perfect contact with the soundboard on the bass side, but rather is balancing on the leading edge. Is that so? You may be able to remedy the slant by refitting the bridge to the soundboard. This will also lower the action a bit, which may be good or bad depending on how the action is at the moment. Fitting a bridge to the top is a bit fiddly, but reasonably straightforward. There are decent instructions here (http://www.frets.com/FRETSPages/Luthier/Technique/Mandolin/FitBridgeFeet/fitfeet.html), using sandpaper to highlight the contact areas. I use a slightly different technique, with chalk instead of sandpaper.

Finally, a word of warning about music shops/repairers: not many of them know about bowlback construction and setup. The one you went to may or may not know about them. Unless you are certain they know what they talk about, I would advise not to take everything you are told as gospel. The casual mention of a neck reset makes me feel a bit uneasy: the neck construction is quite a lot different from a guitar or a modern mandolin (and also different between American and European bowlbacks), so that would really need a lot of expertise to get right.


Oct-07-2006, 10:00am

A nice SIDE view or two of the mandolin would certainly be great to see. (Do you feel like we are being too nosey?) That might help illuminate Martin's questions.

This is one thing I love at the MC, when some of these wonks (i.e. Jim, Eugene, BobA, Martin and some others) really weigh in with some forensic work on 'unlabeled' mandolins. They really know their scheiss and I always learn something new.

Martin is right. Be wary of luthiers unfamiliar with bowlbacks. Neck resetting on American made bowlbacks is not quite so tricky, but with that nice 'collar' around your neck joint it would take a very skilled hand to keep it all clean. I'd definitely work with the bridge/nut relationship before considering more radical surgery.

It looks like a nice piece of spruce from the photos. Is that a center seam or just something in the image? I just bought a Weymann bowlback on the very cheap to fiddle with some repairs. The top looks like a Frei Otto roof structure due to improper strings and uneven tension. What a mess. Yours bears no resemblance, but it would be interesting to see the top at a helpful angle.

I've seen some ebony bridges warped, but that has been on replacement pieces freshly made and I assume the warpage came from something inherent in the wood.

More photos, my friend!


BTW Martin, it is fascinating to hear a German guy use the term "a bit fiddly". Uno Mundo.

Oct-07-2006, 12:08pm
Thanks so much for the feedback guys.

Martin - The bridge is leaning/bent forward on the bass side. When placed on the top where the wood has a dimple where the bridge has always sat, there doesn't seem to be any wobble or rocking, so it appears to be stable and flush to my eyes.

Thanks for the link to Frets.com. That was a cool article.

Re: the caution about the luthier, the gentleman I spoke to does know about bowlbacks, as does his luthier. Having said that, I'm probably going to swing by a local luthier's shop this week and see what his thoughts are. His specialty is repairing older instruments and he's got integrity and I feel good that he won't rip me off. My feeling is that a neck reset would be overkill for an instrument like this even if it wasn't especially challenging, which I understand it can be since you just can't steam and not affect other interior structures/gluing.

Mick - The top does appear to be 2 peices with the center seam joining the 2.

Here's some more pics:




Oct-07-2006, 12:10pm


Martin Jonas
Oct-07-2006, 1:10pm
Lee --

thanks for the extra photos: they're fascinating. The bridge looks like it has been fitted to the top at an angle, rather than tilted under the influence of string tension. I can see three explanations for this:

a) This is a Vega or Vega-clone and the bridge is intended to sit behind the cant rather than in front of it. If so, then the bridge would naturally lean forward if moved to the other side of the cant. As far as I'm aware, Vega were the only maker to use this system. It should be reasonably easy to determine whether yours is one: if the distance from the nut to the 12th fret is larger than the distance from the 12th fret to the cant, then the bridge belongs behind the cant.

b) The bridge may be the wrong way around. If you turn it the other way, does it stil fit to the top? Some luthiers (Luigi Embergher, for example, although yours clearly isn't one of his) fitted their bridges leaning backwards, so that they split the string breaking angle.

c) Whoever fitted the bridge (not necessarily the original builder) had some strange ideas about string compensation and fitted it like this deliberately. I can't see a rationale for this: compensated bridges have longer string lengths at the G than the E, and yours is the other way around, and in any case it is a very bad idea for tone to have the string pressure acting primarily on the front edge of the bridge.

These are the only explanations I can think of that don't involve warping of the bridge. I would be surprised if the bridge could have warped so badly in that particular way. If nothing else, the pressure needed should have damaged the soft wood of the sounboard more than the harder bridge. The strange tilt of the bridge has left some trace on the soundboard: the indentation is deeper at the edge facing the soundhole, which it shouldn't be with a properly fitted bridge.

But all in all, this is a very nice looking mandolin, which should not be difficult to get playable!


Oct-12-2006, 9:15pm
I am a Brit, so I lack close contact with US mandolins - but to me, the bindings say US made, while the star on the headstock and the shape of the tailpiece scream Vega! Tell me I'm talking rubbish if it is true, but didn't Vega make the best bowl-backs in the world about 100 years ago?

Bob A
Oct-12-2006, 10:26pm
Generally a star does indeed typify Vega, but I think the star is larger, and the top point is straight up toward the top of the headstock. Tailpiece is typical US.

The bridge does not look like a Vega bowlback bridge, though Martin's comment about angle/placement are spot on. Top doesn't look warped to me; be aware that the top should have a belly of sorts: they are not supposed to be flat. Anyway, once you get the bridge issue dealt with, looks like you'll have a very handsome mandolin.

Oct-13-2006, 7:43pm
There was a Weymann Keystone State Bowlback on ebay that went for about $55 the other day.

Oct-13-2006, 8:32pm
This comment is not helpful, except that it may contribute to the wider pool of knowledge. Sleep on something and you may remember ... a little over thirty years ago I worked on an arch-top guitar which had a similar offset star logo. It was not exceptional. It was made of good timbers (spruce top, maple back and sides, mahogany neck), had a fixed trapeze bridge, round soundhole, and a good action. The guitar had no bindings, but had an inlay of white celluloid set about 1/4" into the edge of the top - this was repeated around the soundhole. The most interesting thing about that guitar was that the neck was detachable via an Allen key joint in the heel, and the joint was very precise and solid. A typical "guitar manouche" if you discount the neck join, except that it had a deeper body than most,and the top was arched. No marks or label, but I would date it as 1930s, and probably of European (German/Scandinavian)manufacture. When it comes to guitars, the centres between machine head positions are a big telltale for European vs US manufacture. Has anybody researched this on mandolins?
End of message.

Tony Burns
Nov-25-2006, 10:41am
You did very good my friend , that is a real looker - love the vine inlay - congratulations !