View Full Version : Handel Tuners

Aug-22-2004, 2:31pm
I was just on the '1914 F4 Blackface' thread and had some questions about Handel Tuners. I've wondered about them since the 1st time I saw a ruined set in a reject 'don't use' coffee can at a Luthiers shop in the 80s. Could someone tell me about them? And is there anyone making reproductions of them?I think they would look beutiful on new mandolins! ...Kerry

Aug-22-2004, 3:21pm
Yes! Precisely what I was thinking while watching headstock pictures.
I'd love to get some repros! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wow.gif

Aug-22-2004, 5:34pm
For convenience, here's the latest close-up shot again:

Aug-22-2004, 6:42pm
In this photo, you can see that the lines are not simply etched or painted. They are made of inlaid wire.

Aug-22-2004, 6:58pm
Each one is a bit different, and occasionally you'll find one that's very different. On this button,notice that one of the "twigs" is missing its branch, while another twig has two branches.

Aug-22-2004, 7:44pm
These were made in Germany and Gibson imported them. At the onset of the Great European War (WWI), importation ceased. Gibson used their remaining stock until that ran out.
They do command a hefty price when they appear on the market.
There is no modern repro, to the best of my knowledge.

Aug-23-2004, 1:26am
Thanks FrankenM! Great pics! I still want more info though... Anyone else?...Kerry

Aug-23-2004, 4:02am
More shots of these at the listing, here's another big one..

Aug-23-2004, 4:03am
Here's a very old set of them (oldest known) from "pokey", my 1903 (?) Gibson F (http://www.mandolinarchive.com/perl/show_mando.pl?2922)


On the older ones, the "2" or "phi" doesn't seem to intesect the "+", and the inlay looks a little larger.

Aug-23-2004, 4:06am
Here's a set from a 1916 F2 (http://www.mandolinarchive.com/perl/show_mando.pl?62) owned by my friend Chipper Thompson (http://www.folk-n-roll.com)..


Aug-23-2004, 4:12am
The plate stamping is fancier on the old ones.. Notice how the corner of the tuner plate is actually cut off to not overhang the peghead at the Nut end..

Aug-23-2004, 4:13am
but not at the top of the peghead! It overlaps the gap in the peghead scroll..

Aug-23-2004, 11:56pm
Dan ,what about history of them? Is anyone doing reproductions? Maybe I should start a company? Thanks for the detail shots of the plates and buttons.....Kerry

Aug-24-2004, 6:37am
Not sure about the history of them. I guess tuners are something that mando geeks are likely to pick up bits of, but rarely are studied independently of the instruments themselves. As far as I'm aware, nobody is making repros now, but check Stew-Mac just in case!

Jim Hilburn
Aug-24-2004, 7:02am
They certainly seem to hold up well over time.

Bob DeVellis
Aug-24-2004, 12:41pm
I tried tracking down information on these a while back and didn't find much. In an old issue of Frets or Pickin, Roger Siminoff said they were made of bone, not plastic. I can't tell definitively one way or the other from the couple of sets I have. The real test would be to burn one and diagnose from the smell, but I ain't goin' there! The example with the misplaced curlicue makes me think that the bits and pieces were molded into the button rather than grooves being cut and the piece fitted. That fits the "plastic" better than the "bone" scenario. You'd really have to have a hangover to cut a groove in bone for that misplaced wire! If the ornamental pieces were pressed into a hot plastic button of if liquified plastic were poured into a mold, a bit of wire that shifted could wind up as it appears in the previous post. If the wire were pressed in hot, I'd expect to see an invagination of the plastic right next to the wire -- kind of like what happens to a slice of untoasted bread when you cut it with a butter knife. But on mine, there is no evidence of this. The plastic and the wire are absolutely flush. On the other hand, if liquid were poured into a mold containing bits of wire and shell arranged in the customary pattern, you'd expect that occasionally, some liquid would creep under the loose bits. I've never seen an example that looked that way. That could mean good quality control or another method of manufacture. I don'think anyone really has the answers, but they sure are purty buttons.

Bob DeVellis
Aug-24-2004, 1:20pm
Sorry for back-to-back posts, but looking at the pictures again, I had another thought. An obvious way to make these things would be to arrange vertical rods of pearl material with the appropriate cross sections (stars, circles, petal shapes, etc.) and bands of metal in a tube having the diameter of a finished button. Each end of the tube would show the ends of the rods and the edges of the metal bands. Then, liquid plastic could be poured into the tube to fill in the voids around the metal and pearl. After cooling, the cylindrical composite could be removed fromthe tube and sliced horizontally into discs. Each disc's surface would have the familiar pattern on its surface. Some final shaping and polishing would produce a useable button. Also, this method is consistent with established European decorative techniques such as "millefiore." This is the same concept used to make wood trim strips (like herringbone) by arrangingstacks of wood, gluing them together, and then cutting thin strips across the blocks. The problem is, that it wasn't done this way. I know, because the method described would result in the individual bits from one side of the button aligning with the bits on the other side, because they'd be the same piece of material passing all the way through. On the buttons I've checked, this isn't the case. I have no knowldege what the method of manufacture was, but if I were making replacements,I'd prefer this approach to fitting bits and pieces into one button at a time.

Aug-24-2004, 1:33pm
I think mine are consistent with "grained ivoroid", but then again I'd defer to Roger Siminoff on principle.. wonder if I could ask him that

Aug-24-2004, 3:22pm

I agree, the misplaced "twig" could be a useful hint as to how the tuners might have been manufactured. It certainly seems more likely that they were pressed into place, rather than glued into a pre-cut groove.

Here's another possible hint: If I recall correctly, the wire is actually silver. It's possible that silver wasn't used solely for its appearance, but also because of its great heat conductive properties. Perhaps silver wire, when heated to adequate temperature then quickly pressed into the pre-shaped buttons, cools quickly enough that it doesn't become awash in melted material. Just a hypothesis...

Aug-24-2004, 3:29pm
Interesting idea FM. I wonder how the little pearl stars and diamonds would get in then?

Wire inlay was also used in the pegheads back then, which were usually "ebonized" maple (one builder/repairman friend described to me that maple tinted with diluted india ink looks almost exactly like a vintage peghead).

Another possibility is that wire has a very even width, can be pressed to fill voids, and could fit a cut mark from a tooled cutting implement quite well.

Interesting, I wonder. Those tuners really do complete the effect on an old piece, don't they? They add to that "out of time" look to the think, a style that is it's own thing, without an anchor really in the time it was made.

Aug-24-2004, 5:06pm
I've always thought that the wire was just bent and glued on, and #have a sneaking suspicion that the MOP and abalone might be very thin MOT (mother of toilet seat), and AOT, glued on, and the whole button dipped and decoupaged. The buttons are definately ivoroid, as I almost set one off once with heat trying to get it off.

Aug-25-2004, 1:08am
I should have stated earlier, all these buttons are made of bone.None were made of plastic.I've learned, that at the factory, there were maybe a half dozen people that did diferent jobs on each individual button.Rout person ,wire inlay person, abalone inlay person, sanding person...Kerry

Aug-25-2004, 1:28am
My question is this: Why did Gibson eventually go to the Waverly tuners instead of the Handel tuners? Was that a Lloyd decision or what? Oh Charlie.....

Aug-25-2004, 2:15am
Krishna, how did you learn that they were bone? It'd be interesting to here the why of it. Hans seems to have pretty good reason to suspect they are ivoroid..

Aug-25-2004, 4:58am
My question is this: #Why did Gibson eventually go to the Waverly tuners instead of the Handel tuners? #Was that a Lloyd decision or what? #Oh Charlie.....
They were a German import and the supply dried up in WWI.

My question is where did the name originate? Nobody of whom I'm aware seems to have been able to track down a manufacturer. Who first labeled them "Handel" in the lit and why?

I don't own any, but I have seen plenty. They all look consistent with what I know of ivoroid (a celluloid). To make that many of bone, eventually you should see one with pores evident; I never have. Look at the deformation at the insertion of the post in some of the images above. This is consistent with a more pliable substance than bone, like celluloid.

Tom C
Aug-25-2004, 5:40am
Quoted above: "Each one is a bit different, and occasionally you'll find one that's very different. On this button,notice that one of the "twigs" is missing its branch, while another twig has two branches."

<span style='color:purple'>That seems to support the "pressing" method as it looks like the branch moved in the process.</span>

Darryl Wolfe
Aug-25-2004, 7:44am
I don't think I agree with Hans' "bone" idea, I think they were celluloid. #I'll check a couple of buttons I have tonight. #I concur with the "pressing" issue too..I don't believe they would have gone to the labor intensive method of hand gouging, inlaying and reshaping and polishing to arrive at the product. # Additionally, #the metal workings of the Handel tuners were "zig-zag" end Waverly's, just like the ones that followed without the inlayed buttons. #Then, quite a few years later, the change was made to the arrow end Waverly's for both A and F styles. #The arrow end Waverly's appear to be the result of the necessity to properly support the shape of the snakehead mandolins and to provide a machine that was more proper for F5's with the tuners canted inward like a snakehead. #The arrow end tuners do not need to be clipped off on the corners, do not overhang the peghead scroll, and have longer shafts to facilitate canting them inward on the F styles. #I will double check my tuner stash to verify which ones are actually stamped Waverly on the back side of the plates.

Bob DeVellis
Aug-25-2004, 7:52am
Here's a close-up of a button that has its central pearl insert split, and half of it has fallen out. You can see that the recess has a bit of depth, not just a paper-thin layer. I think the consensus is definitely running to celluloid, with Hans' observation sounding pretty definitive. Siminoff, like all of us, has been wrong on occasion and this appears to be one example. Pressing also makes the most sense given the extreme labor intensiveness of cutting recesses and the lack of any evidence of tool work around the pieces. The clean edges where celluloid meets pearl/metal are a bit surprising for a press fit into soft plastic, but that still seems like the best hypothesis.

Aug-25-2004, 11:08am
Here's a pix of the button I almost toasted. The button has deformed where it was almost torched, and the area had turned black (a sure sign that it was about to fry). I scraped the black off with an Xacto. The button looks like it has a very thick layer of finish. I dug into the button with an Xacto near the shaft, and it was soft like ivoroid. I also chipped off a MOP "almond", and found it to be pretty thin and brittle suggesting that it is MOP, not MOT.

Aug-25-2004, 11:09am
Well, let's try this.

Aug-25-2004, 11:10am
Well, I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks ( new Photoshop user)!

Darryl Wolfe
Aug-25-2004, 11:53am
Hans, I'll check my button tonight...I think I have two..each from different sets

Aug-25-2004, 1:12pm
could the inlays be pressed into a coating?

Aug-25-2004, 1:29pm
I don't know how much this helps the current discussion, but for those of you who may be wondering, it does look like the same tuners were used on the A series as on the F, the only difference being the inlay on the buttons (and stem lengths, of course).

Here's a photo of the tuners from an A1 and an F4, both dating from early 1914. The differences in color can presumably be attributed to the fact that the A1 has been much played and exposed to 90 years of smoke and grunge, whereas the F4 has spent most of its life in its case.

Aug-25-2004, 2:06pm
Hans, your shot looks like handel buttons on '26 tuners?

Great composite frankenmouse!

Aug-25-2004, 2:53pm
Dan they're Handel buttons on nickel Schallers. I picked up a set of "A" tuners a while back that were plain shot...bent shafts, parts missing, gears that were worn out etc. So I decided to salvage the buttons.

Aug-25-2004, 3:50pm
OK, knew my eyes weren't messin' with me. SO how do the buttons fit on the shafts? I've never quite understood that. Square pegs in square holes?

Michael Lewis
Aug-26-2004, 12:37am
One method of "inlaying" the MOP and wire in the buttons could be dipping the blank buttons in acetone then pressing the little parts into the gooey surface. By using a form to hold the little parts, the button could be placed on top of them to pick them up and repete the process on the other side, then gently clamp into shape with the forms. A light sanding when completely dry would clean up the surfaces. It could happen.

Aug-26-2004, 6:53am
Dan, the shafts on the old tuners were very odd indeed...kinda looked like you squashed a piece of brass tubing with a needle nose pliers. As I remember, the buttons looked similar to Waverly buttons with a square hole. I drilled them out to fit the Schallers and cyano'd them on.
Looking at the scorched button this morning, the finish (see above pix) is a different color than the button underneath. The finish is #yellow (these are very #weathered buttons) while the button itself is similar to new Ivoroid color. Also, the finish did not turn black as the button did when it almost fried. It seemed to sort of liquify and "puddle up".

More # #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/coffee.gif # #please!

Bob DeVellis
Aug-26-2004, 6:53am

Sounds reasonable to me.

Darryl Wolfe
Aug-26-2004, 10:14am

That's about what I was thinking too....except that maybe that process was done during the original shaping/curing of the celluloid itself...i.e. the celluloid never had any stock form other than the buttons

Aug-27-2004, 8:14pm
I'll do more research...Kerry

Aug-27-2004, 8:19pm
Lets see if I can get this to work...The tuners alone are worth $250.00 a set.# These were made in Germany in ONE little village in Saxony,# Handelstein.# The industrious Handelsteiners had done inlaying and carving of bone and ivory for at least 200 years,# thus the pegs are commonly referred to as "Handel Tuners" . Christian Martin made sure (another saxon, he) that he imported the ivory and bone tuners from there to fit his more expensive guitars (actual cost 1860 for a CF Martin top-of-the-line parlour guitar? $45.00!)
It was a cottage industry for someone to shape the bone thumb-pegs and then someone else would engrave the bone thumb-pegs and then someone else would inlay the flowers on the bone thumb-pegs# and someone else would..... you get the idea.#
Well,# a complication arose....called WW1.# Being experts in engraving bone, most of Handelstein's young men went and started engraving French and Belgian skulls with lead, and the industry died.# When the US entered the war, it was now un-patriotic to use these and so Gibson sent all it's stock back to the importer and went to plain bone thumb-peg tuners from then on in.# Until then, these Handel tuners were a premium feature on not only mandolins, but guitars, mandolas, mandocellos, etc.

Aug-28-2004, 7:19am
Interesting. #While the 19th c. pieces may have been in bone/ivory, I am fairly certain they were largely ivoroid into the early 20th c. This conversion to from bone/ivory to ivoroid was almost universal. Even C.F. Martin, an extremely conservative firm to use ivory later than most, was using tuners with ivoroid buttons on their mandolins, even the very fanciest ones, before the first decade of the 20th c. was out. #Also, Handel tuners appeared on occasional Gibson instruments into 1918 or so. #I don't believe Gibson sent their stock back, but rather that the supply dried up and they used the surplus until gone.

Aug-28-2004, 7:25am
PS: In what source did you find this info, krishna?

Bob DeVellis
Aug-28-2004, 9:50am
Hmmm. The only Handelstein an internet search turned up was a fictional location from a Harlequin romance. Might krishna be having a bit of fun with us? If so, good one, krishna!

Aug-28-2004, 10:35am
This (http://www.sosyourmom.com/23JAN2003.html) is the source of the Handelstein info.
However, I, too, have been unable to locate a Handelstein in Germany.

Aug-28-2004, 12:13pm
Well, I put very little scholarly stock on citation of online chats, even those that happen here, unless they are substantiated with references to real scholarship (no offense to "Vince" of sosyourmom.com)

Scotti Adams
Aug-28-2004, 12:21pm
havent I seen a pic of Bill Monroe with this type of tuner on his Loar?...I know I have...some promotional pic from the 60's maybe. This tuners werent the norm on Loars were they?...

Ken Waltham
Aug-28-2004, 2:25pm
You're right, he had a set on the July 9 at one time. I used to use a set on my July 9 for a while as a nod to Big Mon.
And for sure the buttons are celuloid. I think I have 5 F4's/2's right now with them on.

Aug-28-2004, 3:44pm
Well if nothing else,I'm glad I started this conversation with you guys. This is much more info than I had, and I think we all learned something. ( I sound like Romper Room lady ...I see Billy, and Jenny,and Will.. Ken ,Scotti and Bob....)I personally had no idea that plastic was available so early last century. I thought the plastics industry started with Bakelyte during the 1910s .Nice to meet you all...Kerry

Aug-28-2004, 4:08pm
Celluloid was invented in 1856. (http://www.sit.wisc.edu/~rjkubiak/History%20of%20Celluloid.html)

Aug-28-2004, 9:04pm
THAT is one cool page of info. Are not all plastics pertoleum based?

Luthier Vandross
Aug-28-2004, 10:20pm
The celuloid-oid used is more like a bake-lite material, notice that Handels don't do the same kind of deforming, as other buttons made of composited materials.

There are other materials used on Handels, bone has been used, as well as real ivory, easily tested as described above, or by checking the grain, if you know what you are looking for.


Luthier Vandross
Aug-28-2004, 10:23pm
Oh, I was going to say... the bake-lite... you know that clay that you bake after forming shapes? Same idea.. the inlay was pressed into the button, and baked, then final shaping. Inlaying that in ivory sucks.. ;)

Rare to see such an early one, I am not sure the tuners on the '03 are not replaced, even if very long ago?

Speculation, obviously.


Luthier Vandross
Aug-28-2004, 10:28pm
There is no modern repro, to #the best of my knowledge.
I make repros, but they cost as much as originals.


Aug-28-2004, 11:29pm
How much are they ? (just between us...)

Luthier Vandross
Aug-29-2004, 1:16am
It's not worth it, $150 per button, and I don't like doing it... so it take a very long time.


Aug-29-2004, 6:54pm
I had read in a mag a few years ago about some sets going for $1200 Canadian... I thought I was mistaken till now...

Luthier Vandross
Aug-29-2004, 9:51pm
10 years ago, you could hardly get $1,200 for an F4 with Handel tuners..



Bob DeVellis
Aug-30-2004, 6:59am
Great thread. I learned a lot.

Sep-02-2004, 6:11am
Rare to see such an early one, I am not sure the tuners on the '03 are not replaced, even if very long ago?
Well, I have no way of telling really. The top was refinished, the tailpiece *base* is a replacement.. but the pegs? No idea really. I guess there hasn't been a formal investigation or hunting down of old part information to determine what was made when. Tuning pegs are interesting to me from the point of view of the mandolin archive, as often they will help to pinpoint the age of an instrument.

Charles Johnson
Sep-30-2004, 6:10pm
On a side note, there are at least 3 different inlay patterns for the center of the buttons - a dot, a diamond, and a star.

Latest instrument I've seen these on is a 1917 A4.

Sep-30-2004, 8:47pm
Monroe's Loar had them.