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Thread: Aluminum Tater Bug

  1. #1
    Registered User jdchapman's Avatar
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    Default Aluminum Tater Bug

    I've heard rumors about these....

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Old-Antique-...MAAOSwfVpYsHxG

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    I don't know the maker of that one, but I know of Merrill aluminum bowl backs. We have talked about them before. I saw one at a festival once.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    An article about Aluminum Musical Instruments by the late Mike Holmes.
    Jim

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    I used to like the idea of full metal instruments, but I find this combination of metal and organic material slightly creepy.

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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    I have an aluminum upright bass I am restoring. They certainly are different.

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    Administrator Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Nice find. This seemed like something we'd run across in our This Day in History database, and sure enough... The eBay one looks different from the patent, though can't be that many folks named Merrill making aluminum bowlback mandolins in 1896.



    Seems even back then builders were continually experimenting with their designs.

    https://www.google.com/patents/US559301

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    Administrator Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Couple of images scraped from that eBay page since it'll disappear some day. Notice the patent date on the instrument corresponding to the above.

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  10. #8
    Registered User jdchapman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    There's an acoustic music shop up the road from me in Staunton called Fretwell Bass with lot's of vintage basses, including a couple of the aluminum ones. They do seem to last, anyway.

    At this price, someone could probably afford to retop this one just to see how it sounds. Not me this time, though.

  11. #9

    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Vintage aluminum instruments have been a constant in my shop for the last dozen years; I probably see more of them than anyone in the nation. Lots to look at if you scroll down:

    http://kaybassrepair.com/aluminium-instruments/

    Personally, I'd rather buy tickets to a good show and a nice meal at the pub rather than an aluminum bowlback wall art. I have a couple of the basses and they are in huge demand right now- pretty much a tulip war is happening; prices have increased tenfold in the last dozen years.


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    Last edited by grandcanyonminstrel; Feb-26-2017 at 12:32pm.

  12. #10
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Could well be another product of the Aluminum Musical Instrument Co.; same shaped headstock as my Merrill, though different tailpiece. Pics are somewhat frustrating -- why not a "full frontal" shot?

    Mine has a mahogany strip glued around the rim of the bowl, below the top binding, to cover the joint between the aluminum bowl and the spruce top. I think I see remnants of a similar strip on this one. I've never investigated the top/bowl joint itself, to see if has the same dovetails as this one, but I rather think not. I don't want to disassemble a functional instrument just to take a look at the joint.

    Merrill was in business for a short time, due to questionable practices on his part. I'd speculate this might an "economy" instrument from his firm. My Merrill, which is a bit more "upscale," has extensive floral engraving on the bowl, plus "The Merrill" inlaid in aluminum on the headstock.
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Quote Originally Posted by Nevin View Post
    I have an aluminum upright bass I am restoring. They certainly are different.
    there's a guy here in Seattle that plays a prewar aluminium bass. sounds killer too. plenty of volume for open air gigs with no amplification.

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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Aluminum basses were great when bands traveled in station wagons. The base was tied on top and if it rained you just turned the bass over and let the water out.

  16. #13
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    My aluminum bass fiddle is quite possibly a Pfretzschner, judging by its wooden neck and riveted, rather than screwed, construction. I bought it from Jim Bollman when he was still affiliated with the Music Emporium in MA, perhaps 15 years ago.

    Word was that the aluminum basses were also in demand for cruise ship orchestras, since they were less affected than wooden ones by the salt air and humidity. I got interested in aluminum basses after watching Everett Allan Lilly with the Charles River Valley Boys; his had the paint stripped off, so it was a shiny silver color.

    Mine still has the faux wood paint; maybe some day I'll get it stripped, I dunno...
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Mine also is a Pfretzschner. Unlike the Alcoa they were constructed much more like a regular bass with a wooden neck and braces. Unlike the Alcoa they are not waterproof. Mine was rescued from a dumpster with horrible yellow paint splashed over the remains of the fauxfinish.

    I think we have hijacked this post.

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  19. #15

    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    The all-aluminum ones look cool. I think I'd like a nice sterling silver one though, elaborately engraved.

    Here's a brass or copper one I found a photo of in America's Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century. No idea if it could have been made playable or not but it is an interesting piece.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    https://www.amazon.com/Americas-Inst.../dp/0807824844

  20. #16
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    I jammed with a fellow who played an old aluminum fiddle. I don't remember if the neck was aluminum.

    There are some making modern aluminum fiddles, with that diamond plate look to them. Meh.
    Indulge responsibly!

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  21. #17

    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Paul Schubach in Portland has an elaborately engraved model of this mandolin in playable condition along with an early Springer aluminum violin at his shop in Portland if anyone wants to see what they sound like. I had a long conversation with the grandson oof the fellow who designed and built the ALCOAs last week.

  22. #18
    Registered User nmiller's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    This mando definitely is a Merrill. I recently did some research on the brand when I acquired a Merrill guitar, and I recognize the patent stamp and the dovetail joint used to attach the top. This is probably a Style AA, the lest expensive Merrill model with no engraved decoration on the back. It originally listed for $40 according to the catalog.
    www.OldFrets.com: the obscure side of vintage instruments.

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  24. #19
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Yup, they do exist...

    A ca. 1930 Alcoa aluminum bass, somewhat hot-rodded (owned by our band's former bass player):

    Click image for larger version. 

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    A 1968 aluminum body Dobro made by Rudy Dopyera in his private shop in the back of the Mosrite factory (owned by me):

    Click image for larger version. 

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    -- Don

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  25. #20
    Registered User nmiller's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    A 1968 aluminum body Dobro made by Rudy Dopyera in his private shop in the back of the Mosrite factory (owned by me):

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	'68 Rudy Aluminum Dobro.jpg 
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    Wow! I knew the Dopyeras started building Dobros again in the '60s, but I didn't realize they actually used Mosrite parts (I see that's a Mosrite body shape and headstock). How does it sound?

    If you're ever tempted to part with it, drop me a line.
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  27. #21
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Quote Originally Posted by nmiller View Post
    Wow! I knew the Dopyeras started building Dobros again in the '60s, but I didn't realize they actually used Mosrite parts (I see that's a Mosrite body shape and headstock). How does it sound?
    It is very loud and growly. It has a metalic tone similar to the pre-war steel bodied Dobros but really a lot louder. A bit "rustic" but a lot of fun to play.

    My understanding is that the coverplate and tailpiece are pre-war, and that the square-neck and cone assembly are from the 60s. This was not a production run, Rudy hand-assembled a few of these himself in his spare time in his private workshop at Mosrite. I knew Don Young of National Resonator now National Guitars (he passed away just last year), who as a reso-minded young man was one of very few people that Rudy let into his workshop. Don remembered seeing these in progress.

    Quote Originally Posted by nmiller View Post
    If you're ever tempted to part with it, drop me a line.
    No such plans at this time, but if it does happen, I'll let you know.

    Aluminum instruments have one distinct disadvantage when you're playing outside... When the sun is shining on them they get extremely hot -- really too hot to touch. And when it's cold, they get extremely cold, cold enough to be uncomfortable. Among other mods, the Alcoa aluminum bass shown above has been powder-coated to try to reduce that effect.
    Last edited by dhergert; Feb-27-2017 at 11:23pm.
    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

    2002
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    2016 "$199.00 solid F style" MKLFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug
    (plus a large assortment of banjos, dobros, guitars, basses and other noisemakers)

  28. #22
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Tater Bug

    Love the double f-holes on the Dopyera. That family seemed to have a flair for outre instrument design.
    Allen Hopkins
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    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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