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Thread: looking for bowl back mandolins

  1. #1
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    Default looking for bowl back mandolins

    Haven't had a taterbug since my teenage years (which was a few decades ago) and it's different enough from the A5 for variety. But there don't seem to be many out there for sale (outside of ebay). Thinking Lyon & Healy, Washburn or Martin. Suggestions are welcome.

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    Registered User bluegrasser78's Avatar
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Evilbay AKA ebay has loads of them kind, some at great deals!

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    Registered User gweetarpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    I have a really great playing and sounding Vega Style 4 bowlback with hardshell case up for sale on Reverb. There are lots of photos and a video of me playing it as well. There are a few others bowlbacks on reverb too.

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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    If you ever get up to DC, I've got a huge pile of quality bowlbacks that I hope to pass along. Feel free to PM me.

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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    CF Martin made Bowl backs , I used to own one..
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Should be pretty easy to find online. A quick search shows 3 in the classifieds here, Reverb shows 31 or 35 depending on if you spell it bowl back or bowlback, eBay lists 367 for sale today, so there ya go....

    Might be a challenge to find one that plays great and doesn't need work, unless the work has already been done, IMHO.

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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Those eBay mandos are very hit-and-miss. A lot of problems, and usually they're sold by people who don't have the expertise to identify, let alone describe them. I've gotten lucky and got some nice bowlbacks there, but I've also gotten some unpleasant surprises. Often they need significant restoration work; usually they need at least fretwork and setup. And strings, and a case.

    I like to buy these to offer to students, but even with experience there's no way to know for sure what you're getting. Still, there are plenty of good ones out there and I suspect their fortunes are rising. Perhaps as their musical, historical and educational value becomes more appreciated, the market value will follow.
    Last edited by August Watters; Sep-12-2017 at 9:51pm.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Some in the classifieds now.

    Most dealers get them now and again. Picker's Supply in Fredricksburg has a couple. You'll find that dealers tend to handle, and advertise, "name" brands like Martin, Vega etc., and that their prices are higher. The run-of-the-mill bowl-backs you find on eBay and CraigsList can be iffy as to condition.
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    I have had very good luck on ebay, bought 4 from there in the last few years, all playable after new strings. I bought gig bags for all of them as none came with cases, and bought a hard case from Elderly Instruments (NFI) in case I ever want to take one out of the house to play. I paid on average $200 each including shipping.

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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    All the replies are appreciated. For the moment i'm thinking of going with a legit store or a reputable cafe goer...i don't feel lucky. That said, i do surf the internet plenty. Also looking for websites/literature to get schooled and up to speed with the bowl backs.

    Would like fairly plain appointments, good tone/volume, very playable, without warps/cracks/separations. This would be a daily player. Not looking to spend a set amout, but can't see 9 bills tops, depending on the specific instrument.

    Tips and words of wisdom sought here.

    i'd also like to hear about the mandolins you like and why.

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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    For brand new, Thomann sells a variety of bowlbacks in a variety of grades, of course then you have the international shipping to contend with. They do ship to the USA though. I got my bowlback used on eBay from a mandolinist trimming his collection, I think that's a good way to go since it was in well cared for, playable condition and came with a set of decent strings.

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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by dan in va View Post
    For the moment i'm thinking of going with a legit store or a reputable cafe goer...i don't feel lucky. .
    Great idea -- this is one area where you're likely to save yourself headaches buying from a dealer.

    Looks like Stutzman has a Lyon & Healey, for $400. I'd jump on this one:
    http://www.stutzmansguitarcenter.com...ack%20sISI2957

    They also have this Ditson, which is probably good at $350:
    http://www.stutzmansguitarcenter.com...lin%20sISI3550

    Elderly has a Larson-built bowlback for $295, needs restoration:
    https://www.elderly.com/vintage/as-i...lin-c-1920.htm

    Bernunzio in Rochester often has good candidates, but not seeing any there now.

    Crazy how cheap these are!

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by dan in va View Post
    ...i'd also like to hear about the mandolins you like and why.
    I have four bowl-back instruments:

    1. Bugeleisen & Jensen "Victoria" bowl-back that I inherited from my maternal grandfather's second wife. US-made, not sure by whom, since B & J were distributors of a variety of manufacturers' instruments; however, the headstock profile is pretty "Washburn-ish." Rosewood bowl w/31 ribs, mother-of-pearl top binding, fairly fancy fingerboard and pickguard inlays, fancy engraved plate over the tuners, repaired top crack. Sounds good, and has that "family connection," so I guess it's a favorite.

    2. Merrill aluminum-bowl mandolin, made by the Aluminum Musical Instrument Co. c. 1895. Much floral engraving on the bowl, "The Merrill" aluminum headstock inlay, simple binding and marquetry pickguard, cloud tailpiece. Always wanted an aluminum mandolin, so bought it off eBay. Decent player, and I love the uniqueness of the metal body.

    3. Washburn Style 89 bowl-back mandola, 19 rosewood and maple ribs, odd "double-cross-braced" back bracing, wooden "New Model" plaque inside dates it to about 1892, elaborate mother-of-pearl rosette, engraved "crown" tailpiece, herringbone top binding, star, fleur-de-lys and "chrysanthemum" inlays on ebony headstock overlay; many repaired top cracks, "dishing" sinking of the top, but still very playable in mandola tuning with light mandolin strings. Not too many bowl-back mandolas around.

    4. Waldo bowl-back mandocello, 19 mahogany and figured maple ribs, mother-of-pearl slotted diamonds on fingerboard, star inlay on ebony headstock overlay, six-ply top binding with white celluloid outer layer, cloud tailipiece, f-hole sound-holes with twin faux tortoise pickguards, tuned CGDA with mandola strings to avoid putting too much strain on the top. Two small repaired top cracks, repaired end block and reattached tailpiece. Had mandolin and mandola, needed to complete the set.

    So: bowl-backs are great! I mostly play mine when I'm doing historical programs in costume, though I took the mandola to AZ to participate in a Ren Faire, snuck it in as a lute. Go getcha one o'them bowl-backs -- Washburn or American Conservatory are good Lyon & Healy brands, Regal is another Midwest USA manufacturer.
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    I have 3, in the order I got them :

    A DeMeglio base model from 1893, this was a bit of a bad buy from ebay. It's playable but could do with a new fingerboard and the headstock was butchered to support modern tuners. It does have a decent sound and good volume though.

    A Ceccherini from189? looks quite like the DeMeglio, but the bowl is smaller and it has a double top. It was in decent condition but the intonation was a bit off, which it seems is a common problem on these, Cafe member Tavy did a great job cleaning it up and sorting it out. It has a very nice tone but is a little quiet.

    A Calace from 1917, this has rather more bling and a much tighter sound and is a different class of instrument altogether. It's not pristine and just about intonates with Lenzner Consort strings, but it's the one I like best. This one shows the danger of wandering into a instrument maker's for a chat!
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    My two favorites of the 4 are the Puglisi and the American Conservatory, they both play easily and sound good.

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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    There are a couple of things that i'm looking for now: neck width at nut of your bowl back mandolins, and the bridge's correct placement is forward of the bend in the top. The prominent name brands seem to have the bridge located forward of the bend, and it's pretty easy to see in pics. But the neck width at nut is a total mystery to me.

    Wondering the most about L&H/Washburn/etc, and Martin.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by dan in va View Post
    There are a couple of things that i'm looking for now: neck width at nut of your bowl back mandolins...
    Bowl-backs tend to narrower necks than later designs, in my experience. However, my Victoria, which I think is a Lyon & Healy product (but can't be sure), is 1 3/16 wide at the nut, which would be a pretty generous width for modern mandolins. The Merrill is narrower, 1 1/16.

    Pleijsier's book on Washburns doesn't go into neck widths. Remember, also, that bowl-backs don't come with truss rods, so necks were made deeper to resist warpage. The deeper neck profile may make the fingerboard feel narrower by contrast.
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by dan in va View Post
    There are a couple of things that i'm looking for now: neck width at nut of your bowl back mandolins, and the bridge's correct placement is forward of the bend in the top. The prominent name brands seem to have the bridge located forward of the bend, and it's pretty easy to see in pics. But the neck width at nut is a total mystery to me.

    Wondering the most about L&H/Washburn/etc, and Martin.
    Well......Vega -- a pretty prominent name brand -- located their bridges south of the top cant on their mandolins and on those that they made for others: Mayflower and Ditson for instance.

    Vegas, Vega Mayflowers and Vega Ditsons show up with some regularity on Ebay and in shops. FWIW, I prefer them to L+H / Washburn bowls due to their relative lightness, projection and clarity of tone.

    Washburn and L+H's American Conservatory bowlbacks are very well made and offer high value / $ but they are a bit heftier than the Vegas in build and less responsive in tone, from my experience.

    I've owned a few modest Martin bowls, which have been wonderful but you'll pay a dear premium for the name.

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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    Well......Vega -- a pretty prominent name brand -- located their bridges south of the top cant on their mandolins and on those that they made for others: Mayflower and Ditson for instance.

    Mick
    Do we know why Vega chose to locate their bridges differently to most others?
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by derbex View Post
    Do we know why Vega chose to locate their bridges differently to most others?
    Good question, Jeremy. I, for one, don't know. Perhaps folks more experienced with building mandolins might have a guess. Both positions (N+S) are pretty close to the cant.

    I wonder if it has something to do with the vibrations transferred to the top from these relative positions--and the relative flex / resonance of the top in these two sections.

    I'm likely using the wrong technical terms: vibrations, transfer, flex, resonance, etc.

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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by dan in va View Post
    Haven't had a taterbug since my teenage years (which was a few decades ago) and it's different enough from the A5 for variety. But there don't seem to be many out there for sale (outside of ebay). Thinking Lyon & Healy, Washburn or Martin. Suggestions are welcome.
    We think the new Eastman bowlbacks are a solid deal and you don't inherit a myriad of structural and use problems that come from 100 year old instruments on eBay and elsewhere. Plus, not many people really know how to work on them. One in the classifieds right now, possibly more.

  24. #22

    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandolin Cafe View Post
    We think the new Eastman bowlbacks are a solid deal and you don't inherit a myriad of structural and use problems that come from 100 year old instruments on eBay and elsewhere. Plus, not many people really know how to work on them. One in the classifieds right now, possibly more.
    Thanks for the shout-out, Scott- that's my ad.

    I PM'ed him to let him know about the Eastman - he said he's interested in a vintage instrument.

    I bought the Eastman because I got tired of all the little issues that would crop up on my L&H...usually the day of a gig. It needed a lot of attention. The Eastman is rock-solid and sounds great, but I see Dan's point - it's not quite as cool or authentic as a vintage bowlback.
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    mandonucs John Uhrig's Avatar
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Love my Eastman bowlback ! I was also tired of my vintage bowlback never sounding the way it should, and always needing a little tweaking. Yes...vintage is always a cool factor, but playability and tone usually win out over time.
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  26. #24
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    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    This one looks pretty nice.
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/115415#115415
    $750 is maybe a bit steep

  27. #25

    Default Re: looking for bowl back mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by John Uhrig View Post
    Love my Eastman bowlback ! I was also tired of my vintage bowlback never sounding the way it should, and always needing a little tweaking. Yes...vintage is always a cool factor, but playability and tone usually win out over time.
    Totally agree... My Eastman is really fun to play- I just wish I had a way to use it more often... I play in a jazzy trio, and also play with bluegrass / old time musicians... they'd laugh if I brought a bowlback, it just wouldn't sound appropriate.
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