View Full Version : c.1920 Unmarked Bowlback (L&H?) Resto

Jake Wildwood
Oct-01-2009, 2:40pm
I have to admit, I did it again, and didn't take any "before" photos -- but suffice to say, this was pretty grungy when I got it. Top had sunken and both mid braces needed regluing, setup, new bridge, etc. Cleaned up like a champ and plays like one as well.

Tone reminds me of Vegas from the same time and the feel is just about the same. My guess is that, though unmarked, this is an old Lyon & Healy.

Annnyhow, more photos and more writeup at Antebellum:

Salmon Falls Strings
Oct-01-2009, 2:54pm
Wow, that looks great Jake. Being an instrument repair person myself, it's always nice to see what others are capable of. As always, nice job. :mandosmiley:

Oct-01-2009, 3:13pm
You've done it again! Loks wonderful. I hope it finds a good new home.


Cary Fagan
Oct-01-2009, 4:10pm
A fine job! I'm wondering, do you reglue the braces by working through the oval hole? And does that, or something else, reverse the sinking of the top?

Jake Wildwood
Oct-01-2009, 5:00pm
Thanks everyone!

Cary: Yes, I work through the soundhole. When the braces are finished regluing the top will be held in shape to some extent by them, but while they're regluing I use a number of wooden wedges that I use inside the instrument to raise the top back into position while I glue the braces back on.

This is so that no extra stress is placed on the braces while they're setting up -- if you have too much stress on the braces chances are they'll snap where you're clamping them... which is mucho depressing. I hate putting new wood in old instruments if I don't have to.

Oct-02-2009, 10:11am
Nice job, Jake. Any sound clips?

Jake Wildwood
Oct-02-2009, 1:32pm
Thanks, Bill! I'll try to get a sound clip or video up this evening for everyone. It's worth it to hear this guy.

Jake Wildwood
Oct-02-2009, 9:59pm
Here's a video of the mando in action.

Jill McAuley
Oct-02-2009, 10:31pm
Sounds lovely, Jake - it's awesome how you bring new life to these neglected oldsters!


Cary Fagan
Oct-03-2009, 2:47pm
Sitting in a cafe without earphones so I'll have to watch the video later. Jake, I was wondering a couple of more things. One, do you clean the wood surface with something? A lot of those bowlbacks can have pretty grimy surfaces. My own looks like it could use a cleaning and I'm wondering what you'd use.

Second, since you've had a chance to play many, I'd be interested to hear which makes or models you've liked the most. Is is Martin, Vega, Stahl, Washburn, American Conservatory...in that order, as many say?

Jake Wildwood
Oct-03-2009, 6:21pm
I haven't had the chance to play a Stahl bowlback, so I'll tell you about the rest IMHO...

Martins across the board tend to have an "official" feel that is a lot like their guitars, ukes, etc. -- well made and all of them with a similar design aesthetic. This is a plus and a detraction, too, as you sort of know what you're getting into from the start. That said, they're great playing mandolins. I especially like the fretboard feel on them.

Of all the brands of bowls from the era that I've played, I've liked the chirping, almost watery, shimmery sound of mid-to-high grade Vegas the best... they also tend to have a very comfortable bowl to hold in your lap that feels a little shorter and wider from the perspective of the player, regardless of reality's measurements. They're simply a joy to play -- very responsive.

As far as Washburn & American Conservatory & other L&H brands... I like both quite a bit, but they tend to have the slightly "cramped" feeling necks you don't get on a Vega or Martin. Also, because they're factory made in large quantities, you get some that are really, really gems and others that feel more mundane. I haven't played one I wouldn't feel proud of having in my collection, though. Their sound is a little different, too: more ringing and sustained and perhaps with slightly less bass response and focus in general as compared to a Vega. But that's of course overgeneralizing, as materials for a lot of the L&H models were very different and give different tonal characters.

I think simply having an eye for a well-built old bowlback helps a lot, though, as I've played lots and lots of unmarked and small-shop instruments that were very good and on an equal or superlative footing with "grander" instruments, and many that were terrible and many more that were just not exciting but fine learners' instruments.

I'll PM you with info on some cleaners I use.

Oct-05-2009, 12:08pm
Nice sounding instrument, Jake. Very nice! Your playing is very good, too.
Thanks for posting the clip.

John Eischen
Oct-05-2009, 12:44pm
Nice.... looks good and I like the tone. Enjoyed your playing too!

Jake Wildwood
Oct-07-2009, 9:13pm
Bill, John: Thanks!

This little critter is on its way out to Utah tomorrow and I'm very happy to say we might be converting a fiddle player to our erring mandolin ways. :)

Oct-08-2009, 1:19pm
Now, Jake,
A fiddle player should be getting one of your fiddolins!

Cary Fagan
Oct-08-2009, 1:39pm
I'm curious, Jake. Do you find mandolins, restore and then sell them? Or do people come to you with their instruments for repair? or both?

Jake Wildwood
Oct-08-2009, 2:23pm
Cary: It's almost 50/50 buy-repair-sell and repair at the moment but I like it to be more like 75/25 ideally. :)