My mandolin is in the hospital

  1. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    So, I had a lesson with a new teacher last week. Took both the Reno and the Kentucky to see what he thought about them. (The mandola stayed home—three cases is more than I want to schlep.) He tried the Reno, and said it should be easier to play than it is. He gave me the name of someone in town to take it to for a look.

    It needs some work. The first thing he noticed, and was quite amused by, is that the instrument has a flat fingerboard, but along the way someone's great idea was to put a bridge on it made for an instrument with a pretty extreme radius! For all the people that had looked at that mandolin in the year + I've had it, I'm surprised that no one else noticed that one. It also needs a re-fret and some work on the neck (there's a bump at the neck block and no truss rod).

    A lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of money. I really like the man who will be doing it. He builds beautiful guitars (five-year waiting list), and also does set-ups and repairs on guitars and mandolins. He freely admits he has a richly deserved reputation for being slow and expensive.

    The good news is that he thinks the instrument will play easily and sound gorgeous when I get it back, and feels it is well worth his time and my money to restore it. He doesn't have much time, and I don't have much money, but I'm taking it on faith and reputation that he's right.

    Glad I bought the Kentucky this spring! Everyone needs a back-up, just for these situations.
  2. bbcee
    Indeed Louise, and having TWO backups is even better!

    It sounds like you're getting it done right. I had my F2 overhauled a couple of years ago - it came back a different instrument, in the best sense. I was amazed I even liked it before!

    Here's to hoping yours will too!
  3. MikeZito
    If the Reno is already sweet instrument, I can only imagine how much more enjoyable it will be when you get it back!
  4. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    That's great news, that you found someone who instantly spotted the bridge/fretboard mismatch, and will be able to solve your other problems as well! I hope you just fall in love with it all over again when it's done.
  5. HonketyHank
    It's nice to have a mandolin luthier available in whom you can place your trust. A good guitar luthier can probably do a decent job of planing the fretboard and refretting. But getting the bridge to fit absolutely perfectly takes experience, skill, and probably some specialized equipment. If it was a radiused bridge, that indicates that an amateur probably did the replacement and thus the fit was probably also less than perfect. I am really glad you found someone who knows and works on mandolins and I am betting that when you get it back, the new or reworked bridge wil have been fitted very nicely and you will hear a great huge improvement in tone.

    In the mean time, your Kentucky sounded pretty nice in the recent video.
  6. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Henry, right as rain about the fit of the bridge. Less than ideal, a "happy hands at home" sort of approximation of a fit. Bless their hearts, as the Southerners would say!

    I'm so glad I found out about this luthier. There are two decent guitar stores here, but one doesn't really want to work on mandolins. The repairman at the other impressed me as overconfident, too young to know what he doesn't yet know. I didn't think there was anyone in the area I would trust with this instrument. My teacher has some really nice instruments, and completely trusts this man with them. He has offered to check and optimize the set-up on the Kentucky when I'm ready to change the strings on it. I think this is partly to ease his conscience about how long he'll have the Reno!
  7. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Finally, finally, finally I got it back yesterday. Actually that's not accurate—I did not get back the mandolin I first took in. It's a long, bizarre story, but yesterday afternoon I picked up an F-style, ff hole Reno mandolin, but not the one I dropped off. RM 1 and RM 2, for short.

    Anyway, RM 2 sounds better than I could have hoped.
  8. HonketyHank
    I am in suspense, waiting for "And now, the REST of the story ..." Especially if it is bizarre.
  9. SOMorris
    Yay Louise! I know you are happy.
  10. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    "And now, the REST of the story ..."

    As you may remember, the mandolin was built in February of 1988, label from a company no one ever heard of, signed with initials only. I bought it for a pittance in an antique store. With the help of several people, I figured out that the company was incorporated in the city where I live but came to a crashing halt in June of '88 when the luthier dropped dead of a massive heart attack when he was only in his late 40s. I became fascinated by this story. I've met a few people who knew the maker, and it turned out that he was living and working about two blocks from where I live now.

    So, RM1 needed work, and my teacher (who has/had old Gibsons, a Gilchrist, a Giacomel, and other great instruments that don't start with "G") recommended someone to do it. As I said above, he doesn't work cheap and he has his own idiosyncratic relationship with time, but gets amazing results. The shop looks about like what you might imagine—guitars of all shapes and sizes hung along the walls, other instruments in cases, a couple of mandolins, an oud or two. It's a good sign when an instrument comes out of its case and gets put up on the wall.

    One Sunday morning in March I had an email from the luthier, wondering if I had any interest in selling or trading RM 1. It had made it to the wall and was hanging in a corner, kind of hidden behind the much larger guitars. A customer had come in to pick up a guitar, spotted and recognized the instrument immediately, and was floored to see it. This man had played music with the maker and became a partner in the ill-fated business, hoping for a career change. RM 1 had been the maker's personal instrument, the one he was playing at the time of his death. The maker's widow had regretfully sold it, supposedly to someone out of state. To see it hanging in the shop was jaw-dropping. He offered to trade me for a similar F-style, made by the company in May of 1988, now known as RM 2.

    The luthier and I had a flurry of emails, texts, and phone calls, and on Monday the other customer drove three hours each way to deliver RM 2 to the luthier for us to look at. The instruments are similar, but RM 1 has cherry sides and back and RM 2 has maple, stained dark. The luthier felt they were both nice instruments, and that there wasn't a wrong decision.

    Although the customer was very clear that he wasn't pressuring me in any way, and that I should do what I felt best, it was obvious that he had a strong emotional connection to the cherry instrument. How could I pass up a chance to make another person that happy? He came back to town later that week, we shook on it, then all three of us went out for lunch.

    I always felt that, in some weird way, RM 1 had a story. I feel like it's gone home, and is now in the right hands. I still have one by the same maker, and love the way it sounds. Now we just need to figure out where it spent the 30 years between the maker's death and the antique store.
  11. HonketyHank
    Wow. That is an amazing story. I bet you feel good about it.

    I can see the screenplay developing already. Working title, "Gone with the Reno".
  12. MikeZito
    If the new Reno puts a smile on your face, you can call the story 'Reno and Smiley'.

    Yeah, I know - BAAAAAAD pun.

    Congrats, nonetheless!

    I'll leave now . . . .
  13. SOMorris
    What a great story, Louise. You did the right thing!
  14. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    While I was recording Flop-Eared Mule, this one was on the next page in the book. Just for giggles, here's Flowers of Edinburgh.

  15. HonketyHank
    Hey hey hey. That sounds good. Good playing and good mandolin.
  16. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Very nice! I like that tune and you play it well.
  17. bbcee
    Sounds great, Louise! RM2 (and the player) is a winner!
  18. Dave_KC
    That's an awesome story about the RM 1 Mandolin. Thanks for sharing it.
  19. John Van Zandt
    John Van Zandt
    What a story! Are you still playing the Kentucky, too?
  20. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Thanks for all the nice comments, guys.

    Yes, John, I'm still playing the Kentucky. I put a set of Thomastik flat wound strings on it a couple of weeks ago. It's an oval hole, so the two instruments are very different.
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