View Full Version : No Sobell after all

Bob DeVellis
Sep-04-2004, 12:53pm
In early March of 2003, I ordered a Sobell large-bodied mandolin and duely sent off my deposit. I asked when I'd be receiving an instrument and was told "in a year." I asked whether that was a minimum wait or truly what Stefan expected. Hes replied that, indeed, I should have it in a year. March of 2004 came and when I asked Stefan if I should be sending him money in anticipation of receiving the instrument, he said he was several weeks behind and that I didn't need to send money just yet. He also mentioned that some unavoidable circumstances had required that he reorganize his shop and had resulted in the delays. Respecting the craft, I said that I understood and that I would patiently wait to hear from him. Well, about a week ago I (an apparently everyone else on his waiting list) received an email indicating that things were not going well and that more information would follow. I then received a revised price list indicating that what had been a $3870 instrument was now $6343 instrument, an increas of about 64%. I couldn't swing the higher price and thus had to cancel my order -- an option Stefan offered to all on his list. This decision was made more difficult by the knowldege that I'd declined at least two opportunites to buy nice used Sobells because I thought I'd be getting this one.

Apparently, Stefan has had a very difficult year and despite this disappointing turn of events, I wish him only the best. His instruments may well be worth what he is now asking. I'm just licking my wounds a bit in response to a rather stinging disappointment.

Also, I'm requesting any information anyone might have about either (a) a used Sobell mandolin for sale or (b) an alternative builder who might be able to provide an instrument of similar type and quality at a more modest cost and within a more reliable time frame. The instrument I'd originally ordered was a large-bodied carved maple mandolin (8, not 10, strings). I would consider something that didn't fit these specifications exactly, of course.

I've already contacted a few builders but would welcome other suggestions, including ones directly from any builders who might be ableto help me out.

Sep-04-2004, 1:23pm
My sincerest condolences, Bob. Increasing prices after a commission is agreed upon strikes me as a little odd.

Bob DeVellis
Sep-04-2004, 2:00pm

Me too. I'm not sure of all the details surrounding the need for the change, but there it is.

Sep-04-2004, 2:22pm
How much (if any) of the increase was due to the exchange rate change? #I agree completely that changing the price in local currency after a deposit has been paid is pretty bogus -- although more and more luthiers are headed in this direction (in which your deposit only earns you a spot in the queue and the ultimate price isn't locked in until the luthier actually starts building). #But the buyer always assumes the exchange rate risk on any amounts that haven't yet been paid to the luthier.

Bob DeVellis
Sep-04-2004, 7:08pm
I agree that a 2003 price quote in pounds should, to be fair, take exchange rate fluctuations into consideration. The exchange rate currently is $1.77 per pound. It was $1.60 when I ordered, according to the March 7, 2003 Federal Reserve Statistical Release. That's about an 11% increase in exchange rate vs a 64% increase in price. Also, the prices quoted, before and after the increase, were in dollars, not pounds. Sobell distributes price lists in both currencies rather than asking customers to convert pounds to a dollar equivalent. So factors other than exchange rates seem to be the basis for the increase. Again, I'm not trying to beat up on Stefan or anything. He's a good guy. I'm just relating the facts as they are.

Sep-04-2004, 7:38pm
That is very unfortunate Bob--and extremely poor business practice, IMO.

Sep-04-2004, 10:29pm
Have you tried Phil Crump? (www.pwcrumpco.com)

Sep-05-2004, 6:36am
You might try Peter Daffy (http://www.daffyguitars.com/) of Camperdown, Vic., Australia. The exchange rate at least will be slightly more favourable.
His web-page doesn't show mandolins but I've heard that he makes them and they're highly recommended. He played with Luke Plumb before Luke joined Shooglenifty so he will know what you want.

Sep-05-2004, 9:44am
Man, that stinks on ice. If you agree to do a job, any job, for an agreed upon price, you do the job for that price. If you don't make out as well as you hoped financially, you live and learn and take it into account when you enter into your next agreement. To not live up to your end is simply saying that your word is not worth squat.

Sorry Bob, I know the anticipation felt while waiting for a custom instrument to be built and can't imagine the level of disappointment you must be feeling. You should've posted this under "general discussions" where more people would see it.

Sep-05-2004, 1:09pm
As I mentioned above, this is a growing trend. Some luthiers have gotten fed up with building instruments based on prices quoted at the start of a multi-year wait, only to see those instruments get immediately "flipped" to the highest bidder once they're completed, yielding a 50-100% profit to the buyer.

But if that's the deal, most luthiers make it clear before accepting your deposit and letting you wait. As you mentioned, not only did you pass up some used Sobells, but you also lost a year that could have been spent progressing up some other luthier's waitlist.

Sep-05-2004, 7:12pm
I was a bit more "fortunate" than Bob in that I was just sending my deposit to Stefan when he mailed me about his circumstances, so although the price rise is an unwelcome outcome, I for one cannot really complain.
I did talk to Stefan for nearly an hour about his situation and it seems he really is in a no-win, his assistant left quite a few months ago and he is now building on his own which must affect his build time and price. His "apprentice" had been with him for 15 years and building at that end of the market means he can't simply pull in a talented beginner and turn him loose on these instruments.
I believe he is a very genuine person and this descision has been a very painful one for him to make. He either had to stop taking orders as other high end builders have done -and when they re-open their books the prices will rocket - or take the line he has. One guy on the wait list suggested that he could lower his standards - but I think he would rather stop altogether than do that.
Bob, I feel your pain and disappoiontment, good luck with the search. The price jump for me was not as big as for you so I am leaving my name on the list.
The board can argue the rights or wrongs of the way Stefan has chosen to resolve his dilemma. He is the guy who really made the whole CBOM thing happened and has served that community for over 30 years. I hope others who are in Bob's position are as understanding.

Sep-06-2004, 8:17am
according to what i read on the dreamguitars.com website, (they are the only sobell dealer in the us- and are owned in part by martin simpson), stefan is not going to be making any mandolins or mandolin family instruments for the time being. in fact he has stopped taking new orders on guitars also according to what is on the website.

richard beard is selling sobell-like mandolins through charlie johnson at vintage mandolin.com.

Sep-06-2004, 10:09am
Mandobar, I specifically asked Stefan about the postings on the Dreamguitars site. When I first looked at their site it implied they could get Sobells on a shorter lead time than if you ordered direct. Stefan told me categorically that both the statement on lead times and him not building mandolins are misleading. He will take orders for all instruments once he sorts out his situation and knows how his books stand - he took my order for a mandolin a couple of weeks ago but I was already in discussions with him. As I said in my previous post I was aware of his situation so there were no additional surprises for me.
Until Stefan hears back from everyone on the build list I will not have an expected delivery date - that's ok for me -I have a couple of nice instruments to get by with.

Bob DeVellis
Sep-08-2004, 5:59pm
Well, I'm still trying to weigh options. Does anyone have any information on what used Sobells have sold for of late?

Tom C
Sep-09-2004, 6:19am
That's very unfortunate. Imagine if Gilcrest or others (who probably are still building mandos for prices they quoted 7 years ago) did that to their customers.
"Sorry, that will now be 25K". -Doh!

Sep-09-2004, 8:09am
I wonder why these very successful high-end builders don't just build "spec" instruments and put them up for auction to the highest bidder when they are completed. When they get caught up on their custom orders, they may consider doing some of this.

Sep-09-2004, 11:11am
some builders are already building spec instruments. but most customers are looking for custom built when spending big $$$.

i think that the pound versus the dollar has a lot to do with pricing increases also. i have a friend who waited 2 years for a guitar from an australian builder only to find that he could not afford cost with the exchange rate.

there was acutally a large bodied carved maple sobell in the classifieds several months ago. it sold fast.

Bob DeVellis
Sep-09-2004, 2:06pm
Yeah, that large-bodied maple Sobell is one I would have pounced on had I known how things would turn. Ah, well.

Sep-10-2004, 4:52pm
Oh dear, what an unfortunate set of circumstances. Wish I could help you out, but my waiting list is 2 years, and I don't make Sobel style mandolins. I have a great deal of respect for Stefan's work so can feel your disappointment. Although I live in Australia, I have never seen any of Peter Daffy's mandolins so can't help you there either. Bummer.

Bob DeVellis
Sep-11-2004, 12:53pm
Well, we're approaching closure of a sort. I found, and have purchased, an early Sobell large-bodied cedar-over-rosewood mandolin. This isn't the configuration I'd ordered from Stefan (spruce over carved maple), but it seems to be a pretty nice instrument. I should get it around mid-week if the hurricane doesn't interfere. It's a very early model, built in Stefan's home, back before production moved to the old schoolhouse. The case is a Sobell hand-made original, apparently. It will need some work. There's some splitting of the soundboard between the end of the fingerboard and the sound hole. When the seller played it over the phone, it really had what I think of as a Sobell sound--really unlike any other type of mandolin, with a cittern-like ring to it but still good clarity and definition.

The information I got from folks on the board here was instrumental (no pun intended) in my finding this instrument. Mandolin Cafe, as usual, proved to be the resourceful and helpful community we all know it to be. A big thanks to everyone. I also identified some builders of very nice mandolins suitable for Celtic style music. The handful I communicated with were very helpful and there are really a variety of fantastic instruments being built. I wish I could have gotten one from each of them. Davy Stuart deserves special mention for connecting me with a potential used Sobell in New Zealand, even though he knew I was considering buying one from him. The New Zealand Sobell is a nice instrument with an interesting history but a bit more complicated to acquire than the one from here in the US. I'll let you know what I think once it arrives.

Sep-11-2004, 5:15pm
Good luck Bob, hope it works out.

Dagger Gordon
Sep-12-2004, 5:16am

Well done getting a Sobell so soon. The sound of those early Sobells was what attracted many of us in the first place. I had an 8 string cittern from around that period which got pinched at a festival (insurance job -another story), but it was great, in many ways better than it's late 80's replacement.

My early 80's large bodied 10 string mando remains my main instrument. It has been played a hell of a lot and looks it but still sounds and plays just fine. Kevin's mando is also about 20 years old, and is still his main mandolin. I'm sure you'll be quite happy at the way things are going to end up in what is an unfortunate business all round.

I would like to say that I am impressed at your understanding attitude towards Stefan in all this. It is very difficult and Stefan is a very nice man who would not take this lightly. The Celtic mando/CBOM community undoubtedly all owe him an enormous amount for the influence his instruments have had.

Best of luck to you and to Stefan for the future.

On another subject altogether, this afternoon I'm going to a workshop and evening gig by the American guitarist Steve Kaufman in a wee hotel half an hour up the road. Not sure how he wound up there but I'm really looking forward to it.
Just about everyone makes it to the Highlands sooner or later! I think he might have done some gigs last year with Tony MacManus, and he must be coming back for more. Grand.

Scott Tichenor
Sep-13-2004, 5:43am
Little late but this Sobel mandolin (http://www.mandolincafe.com/cgi-bin/classifieds/classifieds.cgi?search_and_display_db_button=on&db_id=10984&query=retrieval) just showed up on the classifieds. There's a Sobel mandolin here locally and it's pretty nice. Good luck with whatever the final outcome is on your hunt.

Bob DeVellis
Sep-13-2004, 7:25am
The one in the classifieds is the one Davy Stuart put me on to. It seemed like a very nice small bodied rosewood mandolin and I would have certainly bought it were it not for finding another (large bodied) here in the US. Mike seems like a good guy and Davy vouched for him. I think people can feel pretty comfortable dealing with him, based on our relatively brief communications.

Scott, if there's one in Kansas looking for a home, a posting in the classifieds should find it one pretty fast.

Again, everybody, thanks for your help and support.

Sep-14-2004, 6:05pm

Congratulations on finding a mandolin; it would be great to see some photos if you get a chance!


Bob DeVellis
Sep-19-2004, 10:07am
I've finally gotten the time and the absence of foul weather necessary to get a couple of shots for those who asked. Here's the front:

Bob DeVellis
Sep-19-2004, 10:10am
And here's one of that pretty rosewood back. Overall, it's in good shape but it does have a couple of minor issues. There are a couple of cracks above the sound hole and theire's a wierd buzz on just one of the A strings. I'm bringing it in for some work on Thursday, so hopefully, both problems will be remedied. Also, I'm not crazy about the tuners and I think Gotohs will work, using the same screw holes. If so, I may swap out the tuners, although I'll save the originals.

Sep-19-2004, 10:13am
Congrats on the Sobell and it looks to be a fine example of his work. Love the tailpiece BTW and Im glad to see your Sobell MAS has been, if not cured at least treated some. We'd all love to hear your take on it various quailities once you've had time to play it a while.

Sep-19-2004, 10:15am
looks like our posts have crossed...:)

Sep-19-2004, 12:51pm
Hi Bob,

Congrats on the new machine. Hope you get on great with it.

I'd be interested to know how you like the large body. I had a Sobell copy for about a year - very similar in appearance (but not in quality, alas) to yours. I found it kind of weird getting used to the large body with so little of the neck clear, but the thing didn't really sound or play well enough for me to spend enough time bonding with it. After all, it was only an imitation - I'd say if I had the good luck to get an original, I'd have had no such bonding issues. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Sep-19-2004, 3:26pm
It's really stunning Bob; thanks for the post!


Sep-20-2004, 1:15am
Man, I want one. The Sobel I've played sounded like I was in a cathedral when I struck its notes. Enjoy Bob! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Oct-01-2004, 2:12am
I think you've got a nice one there, and the small bodied cedar top Sobells are lovely, mellow and sweet. Mine is spruce top and Indian rosewood, from 1983, and I much prefer the rosewood to the newere maple bodied instruments Sobell has been making, but that's only my opinion. Do let us know how you find it when you get it Bob.


Bob DeVellis
Oct-01-2004, 7:02am

The Sobell is in the shop for some work. I'm having a couple of surface cracks attended to before they extend through the wood, having new tuners that fit all the existing holes put on, am having the splits above the soundhole made a bit less visible (they're already rock solid structurally), having the frets leveled and recrowned, the action raised just a hair, and a new nut (the old one had been shimmed and then very deeply grooved) and saddle (one string groove too wide) made. Except for the fact that one A string was buzzing because of the wide saddle groove, its sounded really quite spectacular. It's louder than I expected and very complex and mellow. The buzzing A string made for much irritation, however, so my pre-repair playing experience really wasn't enjoying it at anything near its best.

I kind of like the feel of the large body, at least sitting with it on my knee. This may be because I have other large-bodied instruments (octave mandolin, tenor guitar, tenor banjo). Also, I find the body shape gives pretty good neck access for as far up as I find myself needing to go (11 or 12 frets). The neck is quite wide but again, I like that. On narrower necks, I find I have problems getting pull-offs to ring cleanly without sounding the adjacent string. It's considerably easier to get them right on this neck.

The various repairs should run somewhere between $400 and $500, which is a hefty chunk of change. But I bought it knowing the issues and what it would take to make it right. Several of the repairs (tuners, cleating surface cracks, nut replacement, and others) are more optional than necessary. Only the saddle and action affect playing. But I decided to get everything taken care of at once so that I can get it back in my hands in the knowledge that it'll stay there. The luthier I'm working with seems really competent and said it should be done in 5 or 6 weeks. That's a big improvement over the guy who has had my Howe-Orme, in for a neck reset, about two years now.

I'd love to compare this instrument to a small-bodied maple model, but I'm very happy with the sound of this one. I'm just curious to hear how the two differ. By the way Kevin, as we speak, a copy of Polbain to Oranmore is on its way to me from Elderly. I've been meaning to get one and when I ordered a few sets of strings for the Sobell, I thought that would be an especially apt time to order a copy. I've only heard raves and I'm looking forward to getting it.

Jul-16-2012, 3:11pm
You might try Peter Daffy (http://www.daffyguitars.com/) of Camperdown, Vic., Australia. The exchange rate at least will be slightly more favourable.
His web-page doesn't show mandolins but I've heard that he makes them and they're highly recommended. He played with Luke Plumb before Luke joined Shooglenifty so he will know what you want.

Hey there, can't speak highly enough of Peter's work. I have a bouzouki, mandolin and guitar from him. In all honesty they are equal with the best examples of each instrument I have ever seen. I love my G Christ F5 and would never trade it but the Daff mando is a real killer. Some people prefer it to the G Christ.

Worth a look...

Jul-17-2012, 3:29pm

Jul-19-2012, 11:12am
Delighted you got the instrument, one way or another, and I prefer the rosewood body to the maple, just sounds more like the classic Sobell sound we love. That's kind of you to get the cd too, I hope you enjoy it - its out of print more or less now.
Hopefully, you can put a wee film or clip up of yours once its sorted? This might amuse ...


best frae Scotland, Kevin

Jan-25-2013, 9:45am
One Sobell popped up here .....