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Thread: Mystery Bowl back Mandolin

  1. #1

    Question Mystery Bowl back Mandolin

    I purchased this bowl back Mandolin last week at an antique flea market in the South of France. It seems structurally sound and was super cheap so I bought it. It's got no markings anywhere (not in the sound hole or on the bracing or on either side of the head stock) other than Marcelli on the tail plate, which as far as I'm aware is the maker of the hardware, not the whole mandolin. Can anyone confirm this?

    Anyone got any idea where else to look to find who made it or how old it is? Is there anything distinct in the pictures I've posted that anyone has seen before that may give some clue?

    Lastly, there are 2 wholes on the sound board just next to the bridge. I assume something is missing from here, but I don't know what. Anyone know?

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  2. #2

    Default Re: Mystery Bowl back Mandolin

    I've seen those holes before on other instruments, but I can't remember what they are for.

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  4. #3
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    Default Re: Mystery Bowl back Mandolin

    Some older Calace mandolins have similar holes in the soundboard; no one knows what they're for, either.

    The mandolin looks like it hails from Germany or central Europe, about a hundred years ago, based on the inlay of the pickguard, the slotted headstock, and its vague sense of striving toward Italian, but failing.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Mystery Bowl back Mandolin

    Ah! The holes. It's been discussed before. Nobody has ever come up with a definitive answer but they must be for sticking something in - that's what holes are for!

  6. #5
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mystery Bowl back Mandolin

    The Germans were still putting those holes in mandolin tops late in the last century. They have been discussed for years. I think it's German as well.

    We probably have a dozen discussions about these here but most of them are similar to this thread.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  7. #6
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mystery Bowl back Mandolin

    Marcelli-marked tailpieces are often found on German-made mandolins; I have a German "pocket" mandolin with a Marcelli tailpiece. Another indication of German origin.
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  8. #7

    Default Re: Mystery Bowl back Mandolin

    Those holes first appeared on "Calace 900" D-hole instruments claiming to be the innovation killing the wolf notes. They were centrally and symmetrically placed in front of the bridge and had plastic inserts. They kept on appearing on some Calace instruments until mid-20's and were abandoned later as they made no difference, instead the inserts sometimes became loose and caused rattling. Germans simply copied the innovation and kept on using it for a while, often placing the holes in assymetric way seen on this instrument, I guess more like a design feature than anything else.

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  10. #8

    Default Re: Mystery Bowl back Mandolin

    I guess that marquetry design around the hole, as well as the kidney shaped sound hole is traditional German, since in principle it is similar to that on my Gewa 1950's modelClick image for larger version. 

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  11. #9
    Registered User tonydxn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mystery Bowl back Mandolin

    German, as others have said. The holes are 'bass resonance holes' - supposed to improve the bass notes. A common feature of 1920's/30's German mandolins. Of course, they made no difference, so they dropped the idea. Often the plastic grommets fall out, but you still have yours, so nothing is missing.

    From the 1920's mother of pearl was used less and less for inlays and pearloid plastic used instead. More plastic = later date, roughly. If you are going to string it up and play it, use ultra light gauge strings, to put less strain on it.

  12. #10

    Default Re: Mystery Bowl back Mandolin

    Thanks the info on the mother of pearl vs plastic really helps. It was strung when I bought it with what I feel is too heavy for a bowl back. I'll replace them with extra lights.

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