View Full Version : My Ceccherini

Martin Jonas
Jun-08-2004, 5:10am
I think I'll take this out of the "Bowlbacks of Note" thread now, to avoid cluttering that topic...

I've just come back from a week's holiday, but before leaving, I did manage to do some work on the bridge of my Ceccherini and string it up. As I had described earlier, when I got the mandolin, the action was too high to play, but the neck was straight. What I've done now it to replace the original brass saddle with a new lower one. That was quite straightforward, as the original saddle was just a length of round brass rod, with one side filed flat to make a good contact with the bridge. So, I got a new round brass rod, same diameter, and flattened it further, leaving about a third of the original diameter. That alone didn't give me enough reduction in action, so I shaved some wood from the saddle support on the top of the bridge. In total, that lowered the string height at the bridge by about 2mm, giving me an action at the 12th fret of just over 2.5mm and a distance saddle-to-soundboard of around 5mm. That's comfortably playable, although the intonation may improve if I were to lower it further. One good thing about the separate brass saddle is that I can always raise the action again if I take off too much wood, simply by using the original saddle instead of my lowered one.

One problem that arises from lowering the bridge is that the bar behind the bridge meant to hold the strings down doesn't do that anymore. As I think that the bar plays a role in tone development by increasing the tension on the bridge, I have put some pads underneath the bar so that the string bending angles at bar and bridge are approximately what they had been before.

I've strung the mandolin up with Newtone lights (0.008 to 0.030) and checked the intonation. When I first strung it up, the intonation seemed fine with the bridge in its original position (which is very easy to spot, as the wood is much lighter underneath), but now after playing it in for a bit, the fretted notes are too sharp so I'll have to move the bridge back a bit toward the cant. Not an awful lot of space there, though.

So, on to the fun bit: I have played the Ceccherini for a few days now and my mother (who is visiting me at the moment from Germany) has done so a bit more during the week I was away. It's a lovely sound, very bright and full, lots of fun to play, and certainly much better than my mother's rather nasal-sounding Miroglio (which is at my place at the moment as well, also strung with Newtones). The intonation isn't quite right, which is a bit off-putting, and the strings have a tendency to go sharp with playing, but that may all settle down with time and better bridge placement (and perhaps lowering the saddle a bit more). As I'm fairly certain that this instrument hasn't been played for a good few years, it may well open up further.

I have little to compare it with in terms of quality bowlbacks, but I'm very happy with the way it's shaping up and fairly optimistic that I may lose some of the rough edges after some playing time and a bit of tinkering with strings, picks and bridge height/placement (not to mention my developing a more appropriate technique for the lightness of the instrument). I'm very excited about the different tone I get from the bowlback compared with my other mandolins, in any case, and I think I'll do most of my playing with this one for the time being. It gives a certain Baroque lightness to dance tunes which is very appealing.


Alex Timmerman
Jun-08-2004, 5:31am
Hello Martin,

Congratulations! Wonderful to read that it all worked out well and that you like your Ceccherini so much.

Best regards,


Jun-08-2004, 6:25am
Wonderful news, Martin! I am very happy for you.

Indeed, due to natural "material fatigue" (wood does recede and lose some volume after more than a century), one usually needs to move the bridge somewhat towards the tailpiece for the sake of correct intonation. Depending, also, on the natural imperfection of whatever wound strings one uses, one might have to slant the bridge as well.

The good news is that, as the scale of the mandolin is so short to begin with, even a minuscule relocation of the bridge —1 mm. or even less!— will make an appreciable difference in the overall intonation of the instrument. So, the prognosis is good. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

Enjoy your baby!

Jun-08-2004, 11:55am
In reading things like this, I maintain a constant state of covetous envy. Congrats, Martin. Of course, the most immediate fix for incorrect intonation, as Victor says, is to reposition the bridge. For trickier between-fret trouble, you might want to try a different set of strings to see if a different gauge makes for better intonation. I often run ca. 0.009"-0.032" or a slight bit heavier.

Jun-08-2004, 12:08pm
Truly. The only persistent intonation-issue I have had with my Ceccherini still remains inexplicable to me: The lowest two frets are perceptibly sharp! Yes, odd, considering that the overall intonation of the instrument is spectacularly accurate. How strange!

Maybe it is the Dogals, in which case the lighter, wound strings of e.g. Lenzner or Marí would improve the intonation; maybe it is that the frets (non-original) are a wee bit thicker than the ones old Umberto had meant, which, in turn, stops the string a minimicromillimeter later than the original, super-thin bar frets.

Or maybe it is that Sr. Ceccherini liked those super-bright, sunny G-major/D-major chords (with open strings + second fret) and therefore intentionally tempered the fingerboard in this way... Who knows?

At any rate, I have been reluctant to have a luthier reposition the lowest two frets; that seems to be uncalled-for, major surgery for a minor quirk. Besides, whoever restored this instrument in England in the 1970's, clearly replaced the frets in the same SLOTS as the original ones, so I have no reason to undo Ceccherini's original temperament.

Still, I wonder... Cadential, perfect fourths, e.g. from A (second fret on the G-course) to open D are seriously, SERIOUSLY small. No point, of course, in moving the bridge further, as that would mess up all the other, perfectly in-tune frets.

Maybe its my "fretless, alter ego" that craves to constantly slide and temper, temper and slide. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif

Jun-08-2004, 12:37pm
Fret placement is a purely mathematical affair. I would checkout one of the software apps scattered about on the web that give you the proper scaling and fret positioning measurements for any given string length. Newtone strings would never be true (in tune) on any of my normal classical scaled mandolins (I've tried and given up on them). They work with the Gibson scale instruments. I've had mandolins where the fret placement was simply off and we had to make a new fingerboard to correct this. You start with the 12th fret which must be half way between nut and bridge. Or you set the bridge via the 12th fret (assuming that this is correctly placed). After that, it is easy to check the other frets and see if they are misplaced. If not, then it is either bridge height and/or strings, emphasis on the string factor. Every Embergher and Lyon & Healy mandolin I've ever played was deadly accurate. I've never seen or played a Ceccherini.

Martin Jonas
Jun-08-2004, 4:29pm
Thanks for all the comments. I have now put on the Lenzner Consorts, replacing the Newtones, and am a bit confused. Although I don't know the gauges, it's fairly obvious that the tension at pitch is a good deal higher with the Consorts. Possibly as a result of the tension and possibly because of the different nature of the strings, the tone is different now (harder and less bright) and I'm not sure I like the change. It might just be a matter of me getting used to the sound or else of the strings settling in, so I'll give it a few days. What is confusing is that the intonation is now pretty much spot-on, without having to move the bridge. That tallies pretty well with what RSW has said, although I can't claim I understand the underlying reason (and I am a physicist).

Victor: your observation on the first two frets of your Ceccherini is interesting, as I have been wondering about the height of the brass nut/zero fret on mine. Going by the normal rules of setting up the height of the action at the nut, my Ceccherini would be considered quite a bit too high. However (as I think you have also remarked in the past about this design), Sr. Ceccherini clearly had very definite ideas about setup and hard-coded them into his mandolin desing: this nut is not intended for adjusting and the relatively high action at nut is clearly how it was intended. Now, normally it would be considered that a high action at the nut throws out the intonation of the first few frets. That may mean that your low frets are out because of a high zero fret, or, conversely, that the zero fret height was lowered when the instrument was restored and is now no longer in agreement with the fret placement by Sr. Ceccherini who set it up for higher zero fret.


Jun-09-2004, 6:20am
I second and concur with both of you gentlemen.

Martin, it may also be that, during refretting, the fingerboard (i.e. the blank sheet of ebony, sans frets) was shaved down, thereby "raising" the zero fret / nut compound inversely. But, of course, this is just conjecture, baseless hypothesis...

Yes, for an instrument with feather-light touch and buttery-soft action, my Ceccherini does feel a bit stiff at the first two frets. Then again, with Dogals (especially the 0.035 G's), some stiffness is expectable; I also suspect that affects intonation.

I have no experience with Newtones but would tacitly go along with RSW's estimate of their pros and cons; having tried them, he should know. Lenzners will take a couple of weeks to settle. Especially the wound A's will sound dull at first (being flat-wound) but, to my experience, they will even out with the other strings before long.

Ah, the physics of music... I do occasionally get some physicists in the adult classes I teach (music theory, that is) and they are most fascinated with it all. Always a bit baffled, too... # http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

Martin Jonas
Jun-09-2004, 8:04am
Victor --

Thanks for the tip on the settling in of the Lenzners. They already sound better after a day than they did immediately after putting them on, so I'm quite sanguine. I'm still tempted to shave a bit more wood off the saddle support: the higher tension of the Lenzners makes the action more difficult than I feel it should be. "Feather-light" and "buttery-soft" is something I aim for, but that I don't quite have yet.

I think the baffling thing about music for physicists is that there is clearly a direct link between music theory and wave dynamics, but each discipline uses such a completely different language and symbol set that trying to understand one having knowledge of the other just makes my head hurt.


Jun-09-2004, 8:58am

Iannis Xenakis once came to my highschool in Athens and gave a lecture before all aspiring musicians (yours truly among them) and mathematicians. At the end of the lecture, the two parties, converging in the corridor, were uniformly asking each other: "What exactly did he say?"


Martin Jonas
Jun-14-2004, 4:48am
Some progress report: The Lenzners are settling in very nicely and sound much better now than when I first put them on. #Otherwise, I have now switched back from my replacement brass saddle to the original brass saddle, which got rid of a buzz I had on the e-string. #I think my saddle was probably too thin and maybe also too soft. #The tone is better with the original saddle, but it's 1mm higher than the replacement, i.e. 0.5mm more action at the 12th. #Maybe I'll try to make another replacement saddle to see if I can combine the original tone with a lower action. #In any case, it's playable even with the original saddle, because of the wood I've shaved off the saddle support: action is pretty exactly 3mm at the 12th now (G, a bit less on E). #I don't want to take much more wood off the bridge as I'm afraid it might snap if I thin it too much (I have about 3mm of wood left between saddle and base, down from 5mm originally).

Another question: how does one lubricate the closed tuners used by Ceccherini (similar to ones I've seen on Calaces and Vinaccias). #They work fine, but one of them has just started to become rather stiff. #Is it ok to squirt a bit of WD40 along the pegs?


Jun-14-2004, 6:43am
Martin, 3 mm. on the G-side isn't bad at all— provided, of course, that the height is a wee bit less on the E-side. Be happy! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

I have never applied any lubricants to tuning machines, so I will refrain from speculating on possible solutions, leaving this matter to others with personal experience.

Tony R.
Jun-15-2004, 11:57am
Martin, I would steer clear of WD40, it goes everywhere no matter how careful you are, (besides, can you stand the smell?)
You could try what I did with my recently acquired De Meglio clone and carefully dribble MINUTE amounts of the finest machine oil off the end of a fine sewing needle into every conceivable point of entry. The result for me was a set of enclosed machine heads that were once at best stiff, and at worst totally seized, now working beautifully and NO MESS.
Incidentally, I put Newtone 8s. on it ('cos it was all I could get at the time) and it sounds great. I've quite fallen for it!
(Pace, Richard, I'm quite willing to concede that with even better strings I might love it even more!)

Jun-15-2004, 12:49pm
I have no issue with the sound of Newtones (ol Malcom knows wire) but they're that 80/20 formula that somehow doesn't work on short scaled mandolins. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif? I bought every conceivable gauge from Malcom (Newton) and no combination worked to get the instruments in tune all the way up the fingerboard. Works fine with the Gibson F-5.

Tony R.
Jun-16-2004, 1:05am
Richard, I'm sure you're right about the intonation, tho'I also love the sound. Trouble is' with the bridge still a little on the high side, particularly towards the G, it's tricky to know what is the source of the problem (or what combination.)
I shall try a set of Dan Larson Lights which have just arrived and see if that improves matters. If not it's back to the Luthier!

Martin Jonas
Jun-26-2004, 1:48pm
For those who are interested, I've just posted some pictures of the Ceccherini, and also of my mother's Miroglio in the picture area here (http://www.mandolincafe.net/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST;f=15;t=16450;st=0;r=1;&).


Martin Jonas
Jul-05-2004, 10:21am
I've been playing around with recording the Ceccherini a bit on the weekend and have put an MP3 of my playing a couple of J.S.Skinner pieces ("Dargai" and "McKenzie Hay") here (http://mandolinproject.150m.com/misc.html). Please ignore my poor playing, which mostly illustrates that I am a rank beginner, but I thought some of you might be interested in hearing the tone of the Ceccherini, especially in the long sustained notes of the first piece.

I'm currently using Lenzner Consort strings, but for these pieces an unwound A-string might have been more suitable -- the wound A of the Consorts has a wonderful consistency in tone with the D, but the loss of the type of brilliancy that the unwound E-string has is a high cost.


Bob A
Jul-05-2004, 6:15pm
As you say, Martin, the wound A string doesn't have quite the treble of a plain wire. While I like the Lenzners on my Roman mandolin, I think I would miss the two courses of plain wire on an instrument made in Napoli.

Sadly my computer does not lend itself to hearing your instrument. I assume the sustain you speak of is to be heard on the bass courses?

Martin Jonas
Jul-06-2004, 3:46am
Thanks, Bob. I have a set of plain Lenzner bronzes lying around as well and I'll try them out sometime soon just to see how it contrasts.

The sustained notes I was mentioning are actually on the treble courses -- the piece (Dargai) is a pibroch, which is a highly ritualised form of Scottish bagpipe music played very slowly. The score is here (http://trillian.mit.edu/~jc/cgi/abc/gettune?F=GIF&U=/~jc/music/abc/Scotland/by/James.Scott.Skinner/Dargai.abc&X=1&T=DARGAI&N=Dargai.gif), with the high sustained notes on E5 and A5.

The second piece, a strathspey, is here (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/scottskinner/display.php?ID=JSS0708), although I play it slightly differently (partly by choice and partly by ineptitude).


Jul-09-2004, 9:05am
Lovely tone, Martin! I hear what you mean about the wound A; I must say, however, that I like it.

Mine (i.e. Ceccherini) is still wearing Dogals; its tone is much like that of the mid-range keys of a fine, grand piano— a wonderful, "classical" tone but one foreign (to my ears) to the folk repertoire. Next time around, bronze!

I have Dogal Consorts on my baby Calace— clearly an instrument I am still getting to know. I have not fully experimented in search of the "just-right" strings, less yet the right pick for it.

Martin Jonas
Jul-12-2004, 6:55am
Thanks, Victor. Don't get me wrong: I do like the wound A-string, especially in tunes that straddle the D and A-string (i.e. most), and I'm very happy with how the strings and mandolin fit together. It's just that there are some tunes where some more brilliance might suit the music better, and Dargai is probably one of them, seeing that only one note drops below the open A. At some stage, I want to put the plain A strings on just to be able to compare and then decide which ones I want to stick with in the future.

I've never heard of "Calace Consorts" -- did you mean "Lenzner Consorts" on you Calace? I'm also still hunting for the perfect pick. I have a fairly wide range of them at home (picks are cheap) and at the moment, my favourite is a Jim Dunlop nylon 0.88mm, which is also what I used on the MP3. I have an old and very thin and pointed tortoiseshell plectrum but it gives a very harsh tone when I try it.


Jul-12-2004, 10:48am
[QUOTE]"I've never heard of "Calace Consorts" -- did you mean "Lenzner Consorts" on you Calace? "

Yes, Martin—#ah, confusion sets is. To rephrase what I was trying to say, part history, part current status:

The instrument came from the shop with strings by the Dogal company, branded by them as "Calace" strings, of medium gauge. I found those intolerably stiff.

I, in turn, changed from the "shop-setup" into Lenzner "Consort" strings, as you surmised.

Now, having gotten this straight, all I need to do is figure out how to actually play this thing! #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif