View Full Version : Mandolino (5 course) available

May-21-2004, 2:18pm
An interesting instrument maker has contacted me and sent one of his mandolinos (true 5 course mandolino) for comments. Well, it turns out that this instrument is also for sale and before I even asked the price I was already quite impressed by his work. The maker's name is A. Hopkins and the mandolino costs in the $1250 range with a spectacular rossette (multi-layer parchment). The instrument is well setup and very well made. If anyone is interested, please contact me directly. This instrument is ideal for the greater part of the baroque repertoire.

Photo 1 (http://perso.wanadoo.fr/rswalz/Img/Mandolino17.jpg)
Photo 2 (http://perso.wanadoo.fr/rswalz/Img/Mandolino18.jpg)
Photo 3 (http://perso.wanadoo.fr/rswalz/Img/Mandolino19.jpg)

Although this might be interrpeted as an announcement (classified style), I want to underscore that I have no interest (financial connection) other than letting everyone know that this instrument is available.

May-21-2004, 2:49pm
Very interesting. I think the instrument is graceful and very aesthetic. Did the maker tell you if he patterned this instrument after an extant piece, or simply on a general concept of the form. It's odd to see a full 12 frets clear of the soundbox on such things. Not even the diminutive Strad has a full 12 frets clear.

Alex Timmerman
May-21-2004, 2:56pm
Hello Richard,

Indeed the workmanschip looks fine. Seen the costs of this example ordering a mandolino from this maker, who I believe lives and works in Budapest, could be a nice alternative.

By the way, do you know why he and for instance Daniel copy out of all the excisting 5 and 6 course mandolinos precisely this long necked and tiny bodied Mandolino model, of which only one original example excists?



May-21-2004, 3:07pm
Not sure what you're talking about Alex, I've seen a number of small bodied mandolini, almost all 5 course. Not surprising is that most of my baroque music for mandolino never descends below the low B. It's actually very comfortable to play and has a healthy and pleasing sound. This instrument is considerably smaller (scale and body size) than my Larson copy of the Lambert mandolino (6 course). It is a big bigger than than the Stradivari mandolino (body size) and about the same in scale (on the short side). I'll see if I can dig up some photos but I'm sure you must have some as well. I didn't speak at any length with the maker because I was in a hurry at the time and I haven't spoken with him since I was sent the instrument. Incidently, he's not in Bulgaria, I believe he's in Mallorca or some place off the Spanish coast.

Alex Timmerman
May-21-2004, 3:41pm
Hi Richard,

Well, I am troubled by the fact that the wrong Mandolinos (with ´wrong´ I mean: the isolated cases) are copied.

I am sure Mr. Hopkins (and others) can make good and more historical justified examples, especially when so many of them are around.



Jim Garber
May-21-2004, 4:58pm
So is this a loose copy of the Stradivari? Is the Stradivari the one that Alex terms an "isolated case." Tune in next week... #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

I still love the case and the 18th century wallpaper. Is the case original to the instrument. BTW, Richard, is the Stradivari actually playable? Did you play it on your visit?


Alex Timmerman
May-21-2004, 5:51pm
Yes Jim,

A ´loose´ copy, and that particular Stadivari Mandolino - nice as it is - is an ´isolated case´ in the Mandolino brance of the Mandolin family.

I found quite a number of this kind of cases, so the design was quite known at the time. The Mandolinos always fitted precisely.



May-21-2004, 10:55pm
In the article addressing the Cutler-Challen Strad in the Shrine to Music Museum's newsletter, I remember them stating the case to be original. I don't think the instrument posted by Richard is an intent to reproduce the Cutler-Challen Strad. I suspect it would probably be described by the luthier as "own design" (a phrase often used to describe modern-built vihuelas until the appearance of the "Chambure" vihuela)...Although Dan Larson's mandolino after Lambert isn't really proportioned any more similarly to the V&A Lambert that inspired it than this piece appears to be to the Cutler-Challen Strad.

May-22-2004, 12:34am
Dan certainly did a loose reproduction of a mandolino type but I can't agree with Alex on this one because the Strad (Cutler-Challen), though maybe not so common in precisely this form, sounds and plays wonderfully (yes, I did try this instrument but prior to the last repair or regluing of bridge). There has always been such variety of forms and individual twists in the making of mandolins, if the luthier today wants to change something, well.. go ahead, maybe it'll be better, maybe worse or maybe just different. I believe this was in the spirit of the luthier's of the past excepting those in the forgery business.

Alex Timmerman
May-22-2004, 5:55am
Hello all,

Of course, the long necked tiny bodied original Stradivari Mandolino (and it´s today copies) sounds and plays great. I will not question that.

All I am saying is that - if copies are made - it would be best if it is done after the (Italian) instruments in the mainstream of the Mandolino field. Most of them have seven to nine frets tied (if they are made of gut) around the neck. To enlarge the tone range later examples have extra wooden (bone or ivory) frets glued to the sound table.

It is an advice also given by James Tyler in 1989 at the end of part I in the book ´THE EARLY MANDOLIN´, page 46 and 47, where he mentions (quote): "only a few examples" as representative 17th century#examples to copy those Mandolinos by Matteo Sellas and Giuseppe Fontanelli and those that could be choosen to copy of the 18th century made by Benedetto Sanbretto, Giovanni Smorsone (see attached stamp), Domenico Brambilla and Fedele Barnia. #

Incidently, James Tyler was - already in 1981 and long before the publication of his and Sparks´ book ´THE EARLY MANDOLIN´ - through his article in Early Music, the first to bring the long necked tiny bodied Cutler-Challen Stradivari Mandolino under the attention of a wider public.



May-22-2004, 6:14am
The instrument pictured in the postage stamp, an example of what Alex would prefer have the attention of luthiers and players alike, looks interesting but I really don't like the nut jutting out and creating a sharp edge to scrap the side of the knuckle. If the instrument was big enough to discourage my hand position (highly prejudiced by mandolins tuned in 5ths), than it might not be an issue (I would be forced to adopt the guitar handset). With me, this neck would be painful and unsuccessful unless I devoted most of my time to it. I prefer the more narrow neck of mandolinos in general. So, for historical accuracy, this might indeed limit me to the less common approach in the Strad mandolino and a few others that I have seen. I'll have photos after my next visit to the reserve room in the museum. What are Tyler's arguments for the 'superiority' of this design? I would assume that in the past as in the present, the best instruments were in a minority, the majority were just ordinary.

May-22-2004, 6:54am
Good morning all. I started to chime in here a couple times and couldn't put the right words together. First, I think its great that another luthier (young luthier?) is building a mandolino... especially at a reasonable/affordable price. We should all encourage his efforts and I hope that someone buys his fine-looking instrument.

Eugene's point about it being perhaps his "own model" is, I think, also correct... the difference between mandolinos and vihuelas being... (and I think this is one of Alex' points) that there are lots of surviving mandolinos on which to base a copy. Some of us would like to see more of those models available. At the same time, an affordable "student-model" mandolino would not be a bad thing to have in the marketplace either. The trick is that a good student instrument ideally should be representative of most of the instruments out there.

I happen to own both a Larson/Lambert mandolino and a close copy of the Cuttler-Challen Strad so perhaps I'm an expert! :-) My own Strad-copy (by Christopher Challen, the previous owner of the original) was my first mandolino... and though I love it dearly, it certainly represents a statistical outlier in the overall inventory of surviving mandolinos (and a steep learning curve). Because it is one of Strad's precious surviving instruments (and because Christopher Challen founded the West Dean School of Luthiery), it has been copied perhaps more than any other mandolino.

Compared to the surviving literature for the instrument, the Strad is relatively early (1680) and its size makes it a real challenge to hold and play (with good tone) for most. The Strad is not something I'd recommend as a general-purpose mandolino, or a good starter instrument. Unfortunately, too many people tried to start with this model of mandolino a few years back... and quickly gave up... either abandoning the mandolino all together, or opting for unrealistic modern embellishments on the model and technique.

The important thing for me is getting at the original playing techniques for the music written for the instrument. To do this well, short of playing original instruments, I need the most accurate representation of what a mandolino was in the 18th century. Again, there are plenty of examples to choose from as patterns in collections and museums around the world. The Strad is a worthy instrument to copy too and it deserves our understanding... we just need to encourage more variety in the mandolinos that are available.

Remember too that luthiers are just putting food on the table like everyone else (they're some of the bravest people I know... employing a 16th-century craft in our crazy 21st-century world). The time and work involved with building a mold for a new model of lute or mandolino means that luthiers tend to build what they've built before. At the same time, luthiers will ultimately make what people want to buy. Someone should buy Mr. Hopkins' mandolino... someone else should commision a close copy of a surviving instrument that peaks their fancy. In the luthier studying that original instrument, and in the buyer playing the copy, we will all get closer to the truth about the mandolino.



Alex Timmerman
May-22-2004, 7:42am
Hello Richard,

I don´t know the exact reasons James Tyler had, but they are likely the same as mine: the Mandolinos mentioned by Tyler (of course not only the one pictured on the stamp) represent best the model design of the fast majority of 5 and 6 course examples.

Of course there are little differences in the overall design among them. But these do not stretch the mainstream of the Mandolino type.

As for the sharp edge of the nut seen at the front side of this Roman Mandolino model, I say that this is such a little difference. And also that it is a bit exaggerated by the dark background of the photo.

I know from the Smorsones that I have seen and handled that at the backside the neck-headstock fitting of a feels quite smooth and convinient.

But if one still is disturbed by it, I would simply recommend a copy of a Milanese model by Domenico Brambilla, Francesco Plesbler or one made by Ambrogio Maraffi. The nuts on these instrument are less outspoken and - seen at the back - the headstock looks like to follow the side lines of the neck
(see for instance the photos in my book of the Maraffi Mandolino at page 13: front side and at page 106: back side). Or the images of the copies of it if these are still somewhere floating around at the message board here.



May-22-2004, 7:54am
Does somebody know if the large "Baroque mandolins" played by German artists like Gertrud Tröster and Caterina Lichtenberg are copies of some uncommonly large originals, or are they modern luthiers´ "own models"?

thanks, Arto

May-22-2004, 7:56am


I actually find this instrument wonderful to play (comfortable) and the sound more than just adequate. I wouldn't call it a student model (maybe the original Strad is), did you check out the rosette? What about this instrument:

http://servsim.cite-musique.fr/museede....NT23824 (http://servsim.cite-musique.fr/museedelamusique/detail_notice.asp?ExtIDLink=DOCUMENT23824)

Looks like a long neck too.


Alex Timmerman
May-22-2004, 8:02am
Hi Arto,

These are "own models"...



May-22-2004, 8:45am
Hi Richard,

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that Mr. Hopkins' work was "student-quality". #I was merely observing that his price seems quite reasonable. #The dearth of affordable (affordable by students) instruments is a canonical discussion in lute circles and a great impediment to more people playing the instruments. #To me a student-quality instrument *must* play well and easily, though it might lack the detail, and workmandhip of say, a fully-replicated and ornamented Smorsone. It would be great to see affordable mandolinos available from someone... even with some historical compromises (IMHO).

And no... I don't think the original Strad was of lower quality either, far from it. #I've been visiting with Dan Larson about his close copies of this instrument and its been interesting to hear how hard it is to replicate this little jewel successfully. #The top is probably less than 1mm thick... *and* it has an ebony half-binding and perfling inlayed into it (each of which must, of necessity, be ~.5mm deep). Dan said that it was more like surgery than luthiery. #He said he went through no less than 12 tops before finding properties he liked. #I had my own Strad-copy re-topped by Larry Brown (which changed everything for the better). #Larry called it "the hairy edge of luthiery" and every time I speak with him he asks if it has imploded yet. #There is good reason that old Antonio is respected the way he is... his workmanship was just phenomenal...

As for the link you provided (E.0702), I don't find this too similar to Mr. Hopkins instrument. #This 5-course instrument still has the "traditional" 10 frets to the neck and the proportional tapered body. #I think even Alex would approve :-). #And the ebony/ivory back is to die for eh?

Arto, as for the modern German "baroque mandolin" school, this is what I was refering to in my earlier post when I said "unrealistic modern embellishments". #The examples of these instruments that I have seen are quite heavily-built and though there may have been a few larger mandolinos around toward the end of the 18th century... these seem to take the concept to a new extreme. #They are certainly out of the mandolino mainstream that Alex mentions. #Also, the stylized plectrum technique that is applied to these instruments today, though usually quite accomplished and well performed, is also not based in any historical record that I am aware of (excepting, perhaps Hoffmann... and even then, as Alex has demonstrated, a different plectrum is probably implied).



May-22-2004, 11:15am
The mandolino after Strad that Dan made did indeed suffer the same fate of the original (already 2) with the bridge pulling off. This model is indeed at the limit but somehow I think that's what makes great instruments. The instrument in the link I posted has nothing to do with Hopkins, Strad or Larson mandolinos other than that the body of the instrument is more narrow and refined than the wider body instruments that Alex and many prefer. Where the frets lay doesn't really matter that much to me. The scale on the Hopkins is 322mm which is less than that of the Larson (Lambert) and many others. I believe the Strad is still shorter in scale. My point was that the size doesn't matter too much about the volume of sound coming out of the box. It is a bit more bright or chirpy than a fat bodied late 18th century instrumetn. The only thing I don't like about the Hopkins but which could easily be corrected is that he strung the top course with a single string. The bridge needs the 2nd hole drilled to make the entire instrument double strung. I believe the price is low because the luthier doesn't have access to a market living on an island cutoff from early music. I have the instrument until end of next week than I have to bring it back to the shop selling it on consignment. I'm tempted but, unfortunately, have to pay for a Cremonese mandolin shortly.

May-22-2004, 12:13pm
Hi Richard,

Ah yes... "size doesn't matter"... the mantra of the mandolino player. :-) (When I bought my archlute, my wife said "now... that's more like it!") Richard, I agree completely that these tiny boxes can put out alot of sound when they are made (and played) correctly.... bigger is not necessarily better. Also, I don't think Alex is advocating wide mandolinos necessarily, as his own choice of the Maraffi model demonstrates.

Just for fun, here are some numbers from handy instruments (all reproductions, so they may vary from the originals to some degree):

5c 1680 Cutler-Challen Strad mandolino (Chris Challen):
- Overall length: 51cm
- Body lenth: ~20.5mm
- Body width: 11.2cm
- Vibrating string lentgh: 31.5cm

5c Anonymous 1730s mandolino (Ivo Magherini):
- Overall length: 54.5cm
- Body length: ~25cm
- Body width: 13.8cm
- Vibrating string length: 33cm

6c 1752 Lambert copy (Dan Larson):
- Overall length: 60cm
- Body length: ~25.5cm
- Body width: 17.7mm
- Vibrating string length: 34.4cm

The difference between each of these instruments in depth of body is almost precisely 2cm. These are truly small, medium, and large representations. For most things my preference is for the middle instrument by Ivo Magherini though the others get played as well, depending on the music.

Anyway, I have a solution... we all move to Mallorca and start an early music scene. Half-days making music... the other half on the beach? Evenings with good wine, mandolinos, and a gentle breeze... Good idea?


Alex Timmerman
May-22-2004, 2:08pm
Hi Eric,

Yes, for fun here the measurements of the original 1680 Cutler-Challen Stradivari mandolino now kept at the National Music Museum/The University of South Dakota:

- Overall length: 498mm
- Headstock length: 143mm
- Body length: 197mm
- Neck length: 158mm
- Body width: 111mm

- Vibrating string lentgh: 316mm

The width of the fingerboard at the nut is 41mm and at the point where the body starts 47mm, while the thickness of the rather round neck at the very same places is measured resp. 16.5mm and 20.5mm.

It will take a while - I have to look for them - but if you care for the measurements of the 1752 Jean Nicolas Lambert Mandolino, just say so.



PS. Mallorca... sounds great!

May-23-2004, 3:50pm
If one goes to www.worldguitarist.com, clicks on "Instruments", and scrolls down the page a while, one will find Mr. Hopkins' website. He makes both student and professional models. His 2003 price for a student mandolino is 1000 euros; the price for a professional model is 1600 euros. I believe the case is extra. Interestingly, the model offered on the website is not a Strad copy (it is a six course, later vintage I think, but someone more expert here should take a look and confirm). My guess is that his 2004 prices are higher.

May-23-2004, 4:09pm
2004 prices are somewhat higher, comes to about $1278 for the basic model. The one I have pictured is somewhat fancier (incredible rosette) but less than the one with lots of inlay. All in all, a great instrument for this price or even compared to the highest priced contemporary replicas.

Alex Timmerman
May-23-2004, 5:20pm
Hello Margora,

Thanks very much for the link to Mr. Alexander Hopkins´ website. It is nice to know that he is also making a 5 or 6 course Mandolino model after Giuseppe Molinari (Venice, 1757).

Now that I have seen the pictures with on some of them Mr. Hopkins himself, I remember that I met him two or three years back at the "Musicora” music fair in Paris. At that time he living in Budapest and very much orientating himself on ´the market´, where it concernes making copies of old plucked instruments.

From what he told me then, I believe that he can make whatever the customer wants him to make.
And indeed, the prices of his instruments are to say the least quite modest.

So it is a good thing that Richard brought him under the attention of us here.



PS. #For those who would like to visit Mr. Alexander Hopkins´website, click on this sentence for a direct link and see how and what instruments he makes. (http://www.biwanoin.to/Hopkins/en/alexander_hopkins_bsc.htm) Especially the "Instruments in construction" pages are interesting.

May-23-2004, 9:32pm
Here is a handful of random musings after returning to this topic rather late. #I have to say that the profile and proportions of Smorsone's work meets my own expectation of the mandolino type specimen better than any other. #I also like Brambilla's slightly stouter soundboxes, but he seems to have been much less prolific. #Not all Smorsone pieces have such an incongruous-looking, narrow pegbox as the stamp pictured above; I do favor the looks of those with the pegbox width more closely approximating the nut width.

What I have on the 1752 Lambert at the V&A is from Baines (1966):
Total length: 56 cm
"Belly:" 22.5 cm
String length: 31 cm

I have often wondered why people who feel a slightly broader soundbox would be more comfortable don't pursue reproductions of Presbler's abundant work of the later 18th c. #This would offer the precedent of extant instruments without either having to monkey with original designs or make up an idealized instrument that features only a baroque visual aesthetic.

May-24-2004, 11:39am
For reference, here's a 1736 Smorsone in Berlin. #Note the less jagged-looking pegbox joint than that on the stamp above (a mighty cool stamp, by the way):

May-24-2004, 11:50am
...And here is a mid-18th-c. mandolino by Brambilla in the Stearns Collection, MI, USA. #I love the proportions of this piece, but it was wrecked by the addition of a scratchplate and freakish bridge, I assume to make the instrument functional with heavier, metal strings at a substantially later date than that of its construction. #I am hoping to visit the Stearns and inspect this instrument in July.

Alex Timmerman
May-24-2004, 3:46pm
Hello Eugene,

Very nice images!

And although this Stearns Brambilla has had it´s best days in the past, it is a very nice example. I presume you scanned the photo from the museum catalogue? Like with the pictured Mandolino that was placed on the stamp without it´s square finial head, something has gone wrong with picturing this Brambilla.

The Brambilla Mandolino is shown as a mirror image and this shows again that our beloved instrument hasn´t got that attention that it deserves. Photographers unfortunately often don´t know much about these instruments (and can we blame them?) and curators often don´t see this and/or don´t bother to check if things at the pictures are reflecting reality.

To have the photo right is namely rather important because if this was a true image, the Mandolino would have had a peg at the right side (spectators view) for the outer and highest g-string that would touch the 3rd phalanx of the index finger and so hinder the movements of the left hand. Not very pleasant while playing. This is why in reality the pegs at that side are higher placed in the headstock than the ones at the other side.

This is also one of many reasons why the best old examples should be copied by luthiers today. The headstock should be long enough to give room to (all) the pegs to enable the player to tune and play the instrument without problems.

It is therefore interesting to compare for instance the 5 course Cutler-Challen Stradivari Mandolino with the others here at this topic.

A pity that one Brambilla peg is missing.

Nevertheless a great image (I only knew this Brambilla from the written description), thanks!



May-24-2004, 5:21pm
No, the only versions I have seen of the Stearns catalog were without images. #The catalog, of course, wrongly lists this instrument as "pandurina" (Brambilla, 1759, accession no. 1049). #This image used to be online at the Stearns little encyclopedia site where it was hotlinked (brace yourself!) to the descriptive title of "Persian chittarone!" #Years ago, I wrote to the curator at that time, Dr. Lam, to make him aware of the error. #He dismissed the website as being "largely the work of students." #Shortly after that, the image simply disappeared.

May-24-2004, 7:20pm
Fortunately... these things are easily rectified (see below)!

Also, how strange that another surviving Brambilla (1771, Musee' de la Music, E.2075 (http://servsim.cite-musique.fr/museedelamusique/detail_notice.asp?ExtIDLink=DOCUMENT18504) ) also has a rude-looking tortoise-shell pickguard. This time in the shape of a lopsided dog-bone.... and curiouser still... its missing the same peg!!! :-)


Plamen Ivanov
May-25-2004, 12:21am
Is it too late to mention, that Budapest is not in Bulgaria?!http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

May-25-2004, 4:16am
Might this be the same instrument? Looks much too similar despite the one photo being printed out wrong. The museum curator will not allow this instrument to be restored to playing condition. A pity.

May-25-2004, 8:03am
Hi Richard,

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in my earlier post. I merely "flipped" and reposted the image that Eugene provided so that the instrument is presented in its correct orientation.

A photo of the other Brambilla can be seen by clicking on This Link (http://servsim.cite-musique.fr/museedelamusique/detail_notice.asp?ExtIDLink=DOCUMENT18504)

There are indeed two different Brambillas, both with strange pick-guards, and missing first pegs...

Sorry if I wasn't clear before.


May-25-2004, 8:26am
Of course, as Eugene pointed out, wider mandolinos did exist. Here is a Presbler in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art (photo copyright Eric Liefeld).

Chris Challen
Jan-01-2009, 1:25pm
I wonder if these interior pictures of the Antonio Stradivari mandolino of 1680 might be of interest (my apologies for their poor quality). I played this instrument daily for several years before it went to the USA, and although it was much smaller than anything I’d played before I soon became very comfortable with it. It did seem quite a stiff instrument, but that may have been because it hadn’t been played for some time - it arrived with strings and frets very likely from the last time it was played in the 18th century. However, the soundboard showed very considerable signs of wear due to its previous use, more than I generally expected to find on instruments of that age and provenance. Mention has been made regarding the small bridge. The bridge gluing area is I agree extremely small, but in scale no less than the Stradivari guitar in the Ashmolean Museum, also made in 1680.

In the end I felt more comfortable with this instrument than the many copies of Stradivari’s other, larger, mandolini we made at West Dean. James Tyler was a regular visitor and we played Vivaldi's double concerto several times, Jim using his much larger 18th century instrument. Blending didn’t seem to be an issue, but then maybe he was being polite. Volume never seemed to be a problem, though I put this down to tessitura and its percussive nature rather than anything else.

Of the three Stradivari patterns illustrated for comparison the smaller one in the centre relates to the 1680 instrument.

Richard Walz
Jan-02-2009, 3:01am
Thanks Chris and Happy New Year! Keep us informed of your activities...Richard

Chris Challen
Jan-02-2009, 7:10pm
Thanks Richard. I've added an album showing photos of the 1680 Stradivari mandolino and case in the condition it arrived in. I have more photos if anyone is interested.

Richard Walz
Jan-03-2009, 3:23am
Yes, where can the album be found?

Jim Garber
Jan-03-2009, 9:47am
Chris's photo album can be found here (http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/album.php?albumid=176).

Wonderful photos, Chris. Thanks, so much for posting them.

Jan-04-2009, 7:41pm
Dear Chris,

First, a most hearty welcome! And second, thanks so much for posting the album.

Best for the new year.

Eric Liefeld

Jan-04-2009, 11:32pm
Hi again Chris,

As this (old) thread intimates, I have spent many an hour staring at Strad's mandolino patterns, with considerable attention paid to the Cuttler-Challen Strad in particular. I agree completely that pattern #419 is the closest of Strad's patterns. The incongruity, of course, is that #419 appears to show a flat, rather than serpentine peghead... similar in nature to the typical peghead of a Baroque guitar. This seems perhaps consistent with the relatively early date of the instrument (1680).

I must say that I've been rather captivated by the proportions of pattern #419 for some time... I've drawn a version of it, and I have the old (replaced) top from my copy of the Cutler-Challen mandolin taped to it (this collage has hung on my office wall for a couple of years). I like the proportions of #419 very much, and I've even been tempted to (ahem) have my instrument modified along those lines. I have wondered if the shorter string length might result in a less "stiff" instrument (to use your words), and perhaps fewer spontaneous bridge removal events. I haven't yet gotten up the courage to modify my instrument in this fashion... but its something I ponder from time to time.

From the photos I've seen, it seems clear that the Cutler-Challen mandolino had a replacement (non-original) pegbox when you acquired the instrument. This, in turn, seems different from the pegbox and finial that the restored instrument now wears. Even so, the the scarf joint on the neck of the instrument seems placed such that the neck would still be "too long" for the Cutler-Challen mandolino to have originally been built with the shorter neck and flat peghead of pattern #419.

I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter. To your recollection, does the rest of the neck appear original to the instrument?



Jan-04-2009, 11:44pm
The other speculation I'd add, is that the level (and range) of wear on the top seems to me to be consistent with an instrument that was strummed. This might also make some sense given the instrument's small size. According to Tyler (if memory serves) there is some precedent of mandolinos being used with a sort of alfabeto.



Chris Challen
Jan-06-2009, 3:55pm
Hi Eric. Regarding the five course Antonio Stradivari mandolino of 1680 which you asked about.

Paper patterns are only guides, new ones can be created very rapidly and alterations can be made during construction. Stradivari was not one for making sweeping changes, once something worked he stayed with it and made only small adjustments when necessary. No doubt, after some time had passed, all these adjustments were incorporated into a new pattern, and the old pattern cut to make new smaller patterns, or used to line new instruments or to scribble the shopping list on - I doubt much has changed in this department. It is quite common during conservation to find fragments of interesting documents glued inside musical instruments. I was delighted to discover that the interior of the 1680 mandolino was lined with paper on which Stradivari’s children had practised their writing skills (please see album).

There was a considerable amount of worm evident around the nut end of the neck and around the extant pegbox. Maybe Stradivari originally went for a spatulate guitar style pexbox, as illustrated in the 419 drawing, but it may have become so worm damaged that it had to be replaced, and that the repairer chose a more reminiscent style of pegbox. It is possible that the replacement pegbox, which was also worm damaged, might have been infected by residual worm.

Bridge disappearance! This can be down to various reasons. (a) Assuming that the bridge has been prepared and glued on properly, then a thin soundboard, which when under tension takes on a heavy curvature in the bridge area, will cause the rear edge of the bridge to begin peeling off. (b) I’ve seen the knife taken to the perimeter of a bridge in order to remove excess glue - even the smallest cut into the soundboard will isolate the bridge on a very small platform of relatively weak pine which will eventually (if not during the first tuning) break away from the soundboard (after a break-away check how much of the soundboard is still attached to the underside of the bridge, if it’s covered with a thin layer of soundboard, then this is probably what has happened). I don’t think the length of the neck has any bearing on bridge disappearance. If the instrument is a rational piece of design, string tensions will be calculated to produce optimum sound quality without endangering the structure of the instrument. Where this balance has been ignored or changed - lutes converted into theorbos etc - damage inevitably ensues.

Regarding ‘stiffness’. Stiffness has nothing to do with the length of the strings. The soundboard thickness of the 1680 Stradivari mandolino is approx. 1.5mm and consistent with most lutes of that period. A 1.5mm soundboard spread over a lute body will have enough surface area to remain flexible. However, a 1.5mm sounboard spread over the very small 419 mandolino will be quite stiff, relatively, even using the softest and most flexible wood available. Even with a great deal of playing I can’t see it loosening up much. Thus I believe a certain amount of percussiveness is intrinsic to mandolino sound. The smaller the instrument, the more pronounced this effect will be.

Pegbox and neck: At it was not possible to know which type of pegbox Stradivari intended for this instrument (there being no precedent for a spatulate or guitar-style pegbox in this situation) it was decided that one of the more reminiscent Stradivari mandolino pegbox patterns should be followed. If Stradivari had intended a guitar style pegbox, I wonder if it would have resembled the arrangement he used on his guitars? I’ve loaded a few photos into an album to indicate how Stradivari approached his guitar pegbox/neck joints, should anyone decide to convert their instrument. I made a copy of the 419 pattern this way and was not pleased with the result, the sheer size of the pegbox appeared to overwhelm the remainder of the instrument (please see album). I’m certain that the lime wood neck and bone edges are original.

This is a fascinating and seemingly limitless subject, even when restricting info to the 1680 instrument alone! It would be possible to add considerably more information, but space constraints (1000 characters per post I’m told) and good manners, don’t really permit.

I’ve added several picture albums of instruments which I hope might be helpful - please click here to view. (http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/album.php?u=14380)

Jan-06-2009, 5:09pm
Hi Chris,

Thank you for your informative reply, and for the additional photos. Unfortunately I'm under a tight work-related deadline, so I won't be able to reply myself until later this week.

This is a fascinating and seemingly limitless subject, even when restricting info to the 1680 instrument alone!

Indeed! And, though I suppose this is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, I rather like the rendition of pattern #419 with the "spatulate" peghead! I also like the term "spatulate"... :-)



ps - Did you and your crew at West Dean ever build any of Strad's larger mando* patterns into physical instruments? I've drawn out some life-sized patterns from the Sacconi photos and measurements... and there were clearly some strange and wonderous beasts that once roamed the earth...