View Full Version : Ukulele-style Mandolin

Jim Webster
Oct-31-2009, 9:16pm
I was at a concert the other night and one of the performers was playing a mandolin that looked like a ukulele. He said it was about 100 years old and let me look at it. It had a label inside that said Vernon. It was about the size of a concert uke, but was strung as a mando with an 8-string mando peghead -- that was clearly original. It had a neck/body joint at the 12th fret and therefore had a somewhat extended upper bout -- sort of like an old parlor guitar. It had standard mando/violin style floating bridge with strings attached to a metal tailpiece and stretched over the bridge.

Does anyone know any more about these Vernon or other similar uke-style mandos? I'd especially like to know the bracing pattern of the top (soundboard). I've built a few guitars and ukes and now am thinking of building an approximation of one of these.

I've done a quick Google search and taken a look at vintage mandos listed at Gruhn, Elderly, Mandolin Brothers but see nothing even vaguely similar.

Matt DeBlass
Nov-01-2009, 12:32am
perhaps it was what's sometimes referred to as a "mandolinetto?" (http://www.minermusic.com/mandolinetto.htm) which is a mandolin with a guitar-type body.

Bill Snyder
Nov-01-2009, 12:39am
Howe-Orme was the premier brand of guitar shaped mandolins and they predated Gibsons just a bit.
They are still somewhat sought after.

Cary Fagan
Nov-01-2009, 9:47am
You'll find some information and photos here:


I've always wondered what they sound like.

Nov-01-2009, 1:33pm
I've always wondered what they sound like.

My Howe-Orme sounds clear, trebly, a bit thin, but very audible even in an ensemble role. I have it strung with light strings and have used it in several concert situations with excellent results.

Not a bluegrass instrument, for sure, but lyrical and sweet-sounding.

Nov-01-2009, 1:57pm
Howdy Eightbar,
Here's a page at musica viva, scroll down to see the Vernon mandolinetto (http://www.musicaviva.com/instruments/gallery/listbybrand.html?phrase=vernon). Evidently Bruno made tons of them.

My best, benny

Edit: click on "more info" for a little more info.

Jim Webster
Nov-01-2009, 4:46pm
Wow -- thanks all for the instant response and the links. This is a whole new realm of mando history to me. So now I know the instrument I saw was definitely a Vernon Mandolinetto -- just like the one in Bennyb's link and which I see sold for all of $10 back in the day.

As for what it sounded like--it definitely sounded like a mando and even had a halfway decent --though none too loud -- chop. It was being played into a condenser mic, and I'm sure the sound man probably cranked it up some in the mix.

If anyone has any knowledge or thoughts about the top bracing on one of these, please let me know. I've built ukes with fan-style braces -- three braces in the lower bout arranged like spokes from the soundhole toward the tail piece. I'm concerned though about possible different dynamics -- both audio and structural strength -- with a mandolin floating bridge pressing down rather than a uke bridge pulling up. I don't want to overbrace the top, but I don't want to cave it in either.

Jim Garber
Nov-18-2009, 9:41am
There is a big difference, tho, between the Howe-Orme instruments and other vintage guitar-shaped mandolins. The H-O has a arched, cylinder top which accounts for some of the tone. The others are more flattops.

Jim Webster
Oct-12-2012, 10:49pm
Here's a thread I started three years ago. I finally built one of these based on drawings I made from a hundred or so year-old madolinetto sent to me on loan by a forum member. I strung it up for the first time two days ago--haven't yet finished the French polish, but I strung it up anyway so I can show it at a local fair tomorrow along with some of my guitars and ukes. After the fair I'll unstring it, finish the French polish and do a bit of final fret leveling etc. But all-in-all I'm happy with it. I did a few modern updates -- put in a carbon-fiber neck rod, angled the neck back so I could use an adjustable bridge (with height adjustment), and adapted the headstock so I could use modern mando tuning machines (with the worm gear above the post).

My first impressions after playing it for an hour or two is that compared to a standard mando, the shorter neck makes for slacker string tension and also closer frets, so I've had to adapt my fingering for the tighter spaces and lighter touch. The slacker strings definitely demand a different feel when playing tremolo. I'll post a link to some pictures after I've finished the French polishing.

Oct-13-2012, 3:02pm
I looked through my collection of vintage stringed instrument magazines from the 1880s to the 1930s and couldn't find any information on a "Vernon" brand of instruments. Sorry

Oct-15-2012, 3:40pm
Mugwumps index (http://www.mugwumps.com/AmerInstMkr.html) of American musical instrument manufacturers lists "Vernon" as a "Regal brand name." Which sorta makes sense.

Oct-16-2012, 7:24am
That would explain a lot.

Oct-19-2012, 11:02am
I have been making Uke shaped 4 and 8 string mandos. Have made one for each grandchild and daughters and sons. I string them with J-74's. Have also built them with traditional mando scale length (same as soprano uke) and concert length ( just a wee bit more than 15") using the same J-74 strings---a tad more string tension on the 4 string "jazz mando", but still manage to hold on key.

Have built the instruments with maple back sides and necks which seems to give them plenty of strength. On the four stringed instruments I use the No Knot banjo tailpiece that I modify-it gives a simple elegance and accommodates the loop strings. The economy A Grover tuners or the Grover Uke tuners from Stewart Mac Donald are a bargain. I use a floating compensated bridge and have elevated the fret board sightly where the neck joins the body. These have been great travel mandos. Not much volume but fun to play.

Oct-20-2012, 5:04pm
Mandolins in that shape are still around. My Ovation gets mistaken for a uke all the time.

Oct-22-2012, 1:42pm
Like wise .. My Hodson D'Jangolin is pretty Uke shaped too , in a Selmer sort of way.

[ maybe they start being vintage, at the death of the builder ]

Nov-13-2012, 6:35pm
Would it not be called a 'tiple'?

Bill Snyder
Nov-14-2012, 12:06am
No. The tuning is different as is the number of strings (at least most of the time) and the type of strings.

Nov-14-2012, 1:25am
Tiples as found in the US, as a rule, have ten strings in four courses, 2-3-3-2. The triple courses include two unwound strings, and a wound string tuned an octave lower. The fourth course, which is double, also has one wound and one unwound string, tuned an octave apart. Since "tiple" is apparently the Spanish word for "treble," smaller stringed instruments, tuned to higher pitches, are called "tiple" in various Latin American ensembles; these tiples may have different numbers of strings and may be tuned differently.

I have two tiples, a Martin T-15 from the 1940's, and an earlier Regal koa model. They're fun little instruments, but are bears to keep and play in tune, as the short scale and the different string diameters make the triple courses almost automatically dissonant when fretted.

In any case, the mandolinetto is a different bird from the tiple.