View Full Version : Woods

John Bertotti
May-26-2004, 12:57pm
The mando bowl I mean, no seriously I am starting to collect wood for a bowl project and am curious if anyone here has a bowl made with some or all cherry. Thanks guys for info on your Bowls. John http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/cool.gif

Jim Garber
May-26-2004, 1:06pm
I have seen rosewood (palisander) and maple which seem to be overwhelmingly the most used. The comes mahogany-- I would say more on the American vintage bowlbacks. I may have even seen a few oak ones. Then, of course, there are the multiple wood "zebras". I have a American Conservatory (Lyon & Healy) bowlback mandola that has alternating rosewood and mahogany. A subtle zebra. I didn't even notice it until I looked at the catalog.

Cherry or any hardwood should work. Walnut would be interesting as well. I am also curious if other woods have been used in historic instruments as well as what woods are used in lute-making.


John Zimm
May-26-2004, 1:08pm
I bet sherry would look great. Maybe post this question in the builders section and you may get some good feedback. Good luck with that. Do you have plans or are you making a copy of an instrument you have?


May-26-2004, 1:18pm
I would think that Yew wood would make a really cool Bowlback...

How many makers are making Bowlbacks out there?

Who are the well-known modern makers?

May-26-2004, 1:33pm
I don't know of any tradition of building 19th-century mandolins with cherry but modern American luthiers quite commonly replicate lutes and other plucked instruments with cherry backs. Cherry is a fine (though somewhat plain) wood for this purpose and I think its fairly easy to work with. A colored varnish might jaz things up a bit... maybe some ebony (or even maple) spacers too...

Yew, and Italian Cypress were both used heavily in historic mandolinos and lutes along with figured maple, ebony, snakewood, rosewoods, etc. as attested by surviving instruments and luthier's inventories. Ivory was used too.. often in combination with ebony... though the former is strictly off limits today, of course.

The sky is the limit. I have even seen photos of a modern lute made from Purpleheart... quite the head-turner... though purple lutes are not quite my taste.


May-26-2004, 1:44pm
Modern bowls are mostly of rosewoods (Brazilian if you can get it...or were building 100 years ago), maple, or walnuts; the latter, I believe, is more common to Greek-made instruments. I've seen some early mandolins with the back entirely veneered in tortoise shell. Like Jim says, mahogany enjoyed a bit of attention in that last, early-1900s generation. Ebony made an occasional appearance. Also as Jim has observed, I've seen a small number of really crappy early-1900s bowls in oak; I've never seen a quality mandolin in oak. If you go back a couple hundred years+ and consider mandolinos tuned in fourths, there were plenty of incidents of ebony and ivory ribs too, often in alternation. I've seen some fine 19th c. guitars backed in cherry and always thought it would be cool on a mandolin. Of course, yew was a mighty common bowl material to proper lutes. I know Dan Larson pushes it as a back material for his mandolino model, mostly because he has experience working it and keeps a stash on hand.

May-26-2004, 1:46pm
PS: purple heart does look groovy on a lute, especially in alternation with maple. #Check out the UK's Barber & Harris (http://www.lutesandguitars.co.uk/htm/cat.htm) for exhaustive liberties taken with timber choices.

May-26-2004, 3:23pm
How many makers are making Bowlbacks out there?

Who are the well-known modern makers?
There are precious few quality builders of modern bowlback mandolins of whom I am aware. #Oddly, I suspect there may be as many small-shop luthiers producing reproductions of mandolinos from the 18th c. as there are building modern instruments. #You can get to the bulk of modern bowlback luthiers of whom I am aware via the eye candy page (http://www.mandolincafe.com/archives/builders/bowlback.html). #If you want to look at Calace's site, it seems to have been down for a while. #It's worth noting the difference between the modern German style and those based in the older Italianate tradition; the German soundboxes are truly massive with very broad tables. #An Italian builder who makes very attractive instruments and is not listed at the Cafe is Carlo Mazzaccara (http://www.oldmandolin.com/Default.htm). #His own work is very attractive; his restoration on overpriced vintage pieces is semi-intrusive and occasionally borders on molestation. #A fine German builder not listed is Frank Peter Dietrich (http://www.gitarre-laute.de/). #A very scholarly builder in the UK who used to be an occasional here and with whom I used to frequently correspond is Ken Baddley (http://www.chilternweb.co.uk/digswell/sitefiles/fellowspages/baddley.htm). #Ken used to advertise a Roman-style mandolin (a la Embergher, De Santis, etc.). #He and I haven't been in touch for a great long while. #I know there was a firm in Japan producing some intriguing-looking mandolins in a decidedly Roman style, but I've lost the link; can anybody guide me? #I'm certain there are a couple builders of Greek-style mandolins online to whom Victor or Jeff could refer you also.

John Bertotti
May-26-2004, 6:32pm
I apologize if this was a bit inappropriate for this section. I have noticed that if I post a bowl question in the builders area it is you guys answering them. I think the historical info on this belongs here though. Thanks all John http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Jim Garber
May-26-2004, 7:27pm
I apologize if this was a bit inappropriate for this section. I have noticed that if I post a bowl question in the builders area it is you guys answering them.
I don't think that anyone was bothered by your question appearing here, just that it might get some other answers about wood and actually the regulars here would answer it as well as some of the builder, like Spruce, who certainly knows his wood. No harm done!


Bob A
May-26-2004, 10:45pm
I can't provide a link to Eugene's Japanese Roman builder, but Sparks has this in "Classical Mandolin":"In Rome, the Embergher style of mandolin-making was continued by Cerrone's pupil Pasquale Pecoraro. Pecoraro died in 1987 without a direct successor, but his family has since passed his tools into the hands of a Japanese luthier, Yoshihiko Takusari, who is now manufacturing Roman mandolins in the Embergher tradition in Japan".

I further understand that Daniel Larson might have been engaged to make a couple mandolins with different bowl material, including yew, but I've not heard anything more of the project; my information is probably a year old, at least. I'd love to hear the results.

My personal preference seems to be maple for mandolins; I freely admit that it is probably groundless.

May-27-2004, 6:20am
Indeed, walnut is the "default" wood for ALL Greek-made bowls, be it mandolins, bouzoukis, or folk lutes of all sizes and shapes. I suppose it is simply economic, as the tree is native to (northern) Greece and throughout the Balkan Peninsula. We have often discussed the correlation, if any, between the choice of walnut and the bright but plain, chime-like, crystalline tone-quality of Greek bowlbacks; to date, no conclusive evidence thereof has come forth— I am certainly no expert and can offer no final word on this.

Some, more artful luthiers in Greece, raise the humble walnut to a higher aesthetic standard, alternating staves between "white" walnut, i.e. cut vertically against the grain and therefore clear, unstreaked, and "dark" walnut, i.e. material from perhaps the very same tree, but cut quarter-slab, diagonally against the grain, and therefore showing the characteristic streaks of this wood, accentuated even more by gentle application of some oxidant or woodstain. By the way, I have one such instrument; would you care for an image?

Another wood of choice, albeit rare, is bubinga, a.k.a. "African rosewood" (mainly from Madagascar, I believe), used on "upscale" instruments; its pinkish, rosy hue makes a glorious backdrop to seashell inlays and other gilded, glittering ornaments— which I, for one, am not terribly fond of.

Regarding maple, I agree with Bob, somewhat at least. Then again, Musikalia (for example) sells a plain, unflamed maple bowl for some $300; I somehow doubt it is an instrument of particular quality. The skeptical point I am raising is that, if you are favorably impressed by a Daniel Larson mandolin with a maple bowl, the critical factor might just be the Larson, not the maple— the craftsmanship, not the material. Just my own hunch...

John Zimm
May-27-2004, 7:31am
I apologize if this was a bit inappropriate for this section. I have noticed that if I post a bowl question in the builders area it is you guys answering them. I think the historical info on this belongs here though. Thanks all John
I didn't mean to cause a ruckus or anything-I just thought the builders would know a little bit about wood. You are right though, there seems to be a small and devoted following (the Brotherhood of the Sonorous Bowl?) who answer bowlback-related questions quite well.

As for my thoughts on cherry, I love the wood. I have actually been in the process of making an octave mandola with cherry for the back and sides. I love the looks of it. The grain is not particularily interesting, but the redish color of the wood more than makes up for it. Cherry is a pretty hard wood and I am expecting warm tones to come from it as it is not as hard as maple, I believe.

Anyway, I hope your project takes flight. That would be very cool to see a bowlback made from cherry.

Oh, Victor, I for one would love to see pictures of the instrument you mentioned. It sounds very nice.


May-27-2004, 3:24pm
Behold! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

John Bertotti
May-27-2004, 6:18pm
Buckley, I took no offense just wanted to head off any problems before they began. I hadn't been visiting any other sections, other then the builders, in this forum for awhile. I was burned out reading some flamefests quite awhile back in the more frequented areas. I started coming here because of the realization that the bowl had the sounds I crave. I will be posting a link in the builders section for this thread. I just wanted this sections input for historical reasons. I am beginning my search for cherry. I'll know it when I find it. I contacted spruce he always has a great vision in wood from what I've seen but he has none. I did see some possible wood in a cabinet made by a local shop. Thanks for all the info and I love that walnut bowl. John

Jim Garber
May-27-2004, 9:42pm
This site (http://www.exoticwoods.com/) lists flamed cherry as a wood. Not sure what or if they have any in stock, but it is worth a try.

There is a whole list of suppliers here (http://www.projectguitar.com/ref/supply.htm).


Bob A
May-27-2004, 9:58pm
Walnut and walnut, Victor? Very handsome.

May-28-2004, 6:16am
Thank you, Bob.

Indeed: walnut and walnut; the only difference is the manner in which the wood was cut, a difference that is accentuated by the treatment of the wood, which, in turn, brings out the streaks of the diagonally cut slabs, as opposed to the ones cut across the grain.

A pretty thing... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

John Zimm
May-28-2004, 7:23am
Dang Victor, that is one beautiful bowl. Thanks for posting the picture.

I was burned out reading some flamefests quite awhile back in the more frequented areas.
I agree with you here, although I must take my share of the blame. I am a moderator at a political forum and I tend to like to debate non-mandolin related things sometimes. One thing I love about the classical section of the forum is that I don't know nearly enough to be able to debate anything here. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Good luck in your search for cherry. I've got a bit of it, but it came from the old home place, otherwise I would gladly sell some of it. I am kind of a sap and have dreams of turning it into beautiful instruments one day.