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Thread: Help identify bowlback

  1. #1
    Registered User Hany Hayek's Avatar
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    Default Help identify bowlback

    This one turned out in an auction house here. It needs some work. The label inside is probably of the seller not the maker. Asking price is 200 euros.
    The crack on the top of the fret board looks nasty, the rest of repairs, I can handle myself. However it's not calling to me. I prefer rosewood to maple.
    Just need to check if it's worth the price and trouble.

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  2. #2
    Registered User Givson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    I am not an expert on bowlbacks, but the top label translates to Calace brothers, Napoli. Calace was a well respected maker and made a variety of models at different price levels. They were high quality instruments.
    When 'good enough' is more than adequate.

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  4. #3
    Registered User Hany Hayek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    I missed that. Yes Calace are worth more than 200 euros. I'll go check it out.
    “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
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    Registered User Hany Hayek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    We are in a city that lives by night. It was 10 PM, I went to check the instrument. There are seam / rib separation that can be easily repaired. There is a crack in the center joint. The fingerboard is extremely thin. The neck angle doesn't seem correct although the neck is perfectly straight. The crack at the very end of the fingerboard goes through the top. I don't think this mandolin can be brought back to playing condition. At least no luthier here will be able to.
    Here are some more pics. Opinions will be appreciated
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  6. #5
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    A maple bowl Calace? I can see why you were attracted, Hany. It does look as if the neck has rotated up some possibly from the top sinking in a bit around the soundhole--looking at your first photo with the ruler.

    You might be able to get that playable if you shave down the bridge enough. I have done this on a few old bowlbacks in apparently similar condition. I have glued in a couple small braces--like the ones Embergher uses on either side of the sound hole to stiffen that up. And also a small spruce plate on the top underside "north" of the brace just inside the soundhole towards the fretboard. CFMartin did that on their old bowls as well.

    200 Euros isn't a bad price for a Calace, though this is a modest one and it will take some work to get playable. Obviously, you've had it in your hands though. I'd be sort of tempted myself if it were in my neighborhood. How open do you think the seller is to an offer? It is a maple bowl....

    Keep us posted.

    Mick
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    Old Neapolitan fingerboards are usually very thin. They can be replaced.

    The neck issue is problematic. If it is strung too heavily that could distort the geometry; also failure of bracing can be an issue. As humidity goes down, wooden things begin to shrink, causing problems. I suspect Egypt is on the dry side? I would check the strings; the bass side looks rather heavy, though it's hard to tell from a photo.

    I would not necessarily write off the mandolin. As it is a Calace, and seemingly an early example, it might be worth the effort to seek restoration advice from a professional. It doesn't appear to be a high-end instrument, but that doesn't necessarily indicate poor quality. I've handled many Italian bowlbacks of differing levels of ornamentation, and it seemed to me that the maker did not skimp on proper fabrication.

    Regarding wood, I prefer maple to rosewood, but I suspect the effect on the tone is minimal.

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  10. #7
    Registered User Hany Hayek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    The bridge is already too low and the height at 12th fret too high. The only solution I can think of is remove the finger board and place a shim. There are still more problems. Will the finger board come out in one piece? It's already cracked. Is the neck stable? How can i be sure. The instrument is made in 1897 as per the Calace label.
    I hate it when I find a mandolin in these conditions and cannot save it. I feel it just wants to sing again.
    Luthiers here did not get to work on mandolins. They can repair the cracks but have no idea about neck angle, set up etc.

  11. #8
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    I'm looking at that one rather favourably

    If I'm reading your photos correctly then the neck angle is fine: the way to check is to run a straight edge along the top of the frets towards the cant, and:

    * If it misses the cant, you're good.
    * If it just grazes the cant, then you'll need a super-low bridge (strings 4mm off the top), this is do-able but not ideal.
    * If it whacks into the top well before the cant, then put the instrument down and steadily walk away.

    The thin fingerboard is absolutely normal for these instruments.

    And finally, a little bit of extra neck angle can be obtained when levelling the fretboard for a re-fret by removing more material from the nut end than the dusty end, depending of course on fretboard thickness. If all else fails you can sand the old board into a shim, and lay a new thin board on top.

    Price is super good too...

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  13. #9
    Registered User Hany Hayek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    Thanks for your feedback John. I was hoping for your opinion. I know you restored one.
    The bridge is already low. The finger board at its end has penetrated the sound board, they are both cracked. The solution I see - just because I had the instrument in my hands - is to take off the fingerboard, hopefully in one piece, slightly sand the neck to place a shim to rectify the angle ( 1 degree). The fingerboard is in very good shape, almost unused.
    I know the price is very good, however for us here it is expensive specially for a non functional mandolin - that may not be functional again. Unfortunately no luthier here can do this work and I am not up to do it myself.
    I'll make an offer for it. But I am not very hopeful the owner will accept.
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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    Good to hear John weigh in: "..... then put the instrument down and steadily walk away." Advice I wish I had taken a few times.

    But glad to hear you are making an offer, Hany. I hope it is accepted.

    From my experience the tough thing with these thin Italian finger boards is that the fret slots often cut all the way through them. Makes me wonder if the fret slots weren't cut after the fretboard was attached to the neck. When this is the case, getting the fretboard off in one piece is nearly impossible. A new fretboard might be the ticket, in which case you can taper it as well to help make up for some of the wonky neck angle. You can reuse the old frets as well.

    Good luck! Let us know how it is all going. Like Bob, I really do like the maple bowls.

    Mick
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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    C'mon, the Italian luthiers fix problems like this all the time. Yes, it needs major surgery with neck, fingerboard and top, but it will be a very valuable mandolin, properly restored. Contact the Calace factory in Naples. Or Carlo Mazzaccara, or Salvatore Mancino.

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    Quote Originally Posted by August Watters View Post
    C'mon, the Italian luthiers fix problems like this all the time. Yes, it needs major surgery with neck, fingerboard and top, but it will be a very valuable mandolin, properly restored. Contact the Calace factory in Naples. Or Carlo Mazzaccara, or Salvatore Mancino.
    All true, amigo. My hunch is that if Hany was up for paying 20K E£ for shipping and repairs we likely would be having a different conversation. He might be.

    Mick
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  20. #13
    Registered User Hany Hayek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    True. I don't have that kind of cash to spend. I have 4 mandolins, each with a problem that I have been unable to fix. I wish I could simply buy a new Calace entry level for 800 euros and that would be my one and only mandolin for good. I am tired of buying instruments I have to fix. I made an offer. I don't have much hope. But since the instrument needs a lot of work, I am hoping no one will be willing to pay 200 euros for it. Very few people play mandolin here, and most of them have probably no idea how valuable this one can get to be. Fingers crossed. Maybe Santa has this one planned for me this year.

  21. #14
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identify bowlback

    Quote Originally Posted by Hany Hayek View Post
    .... Maybe Santa has this one planned for me this year.
    Good luck, hermano. I hope Santa comes through.

    I can empathize, though. There was a nice Embergher student model (rosewood bowl!) at a local Goodwill here a few years ago. It wasn't cheap but I had muy poco dinero at the time. No dough. And I have giant hands so the Embergher would have been tough choice. Or so I tell myself.

    I did snag a $14 Titano 120 bass fisarmonica at a Goodwill this fall though. Needed only minor adjustments to be totally playable. Very sweet accordion.

    Something will work out, hombre, I know it will....

    Mick
    Ever tried, ever failed, no matter. Try again, fail again, fail better.--Samuel Beckett
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