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Thread: Vega bowlback advice please

  1. #1
    Registered User Saxon Moreno's Avatar
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    Default Vega bowlback advice please

    Hello All,

    I have recently bought a Vega bowlback in fairly good condition but there are a few minor issues for which I'd be grateful for any advice.

    I have had a good search around previous posts on Vega bowlbacks which has answered a few of my queries, such as probable age: my serial number is 34554, so I take it that dates it to 1917, no?

    Firstly, the action is rather high but I notice that the bone saddle on the front of the bridge, which appears to be original, does not have any grooves cut in. The wood behind the saddle has grooves, just not the bone. This strikes me as odd: surely I need to cut grooves into the bone?

    Secondly, unfortunately the clam shell tailpiece cover is missing. Can anyone suggest any suppliers who might be able to sell me a replacement?

    Also unfortunately, the mandolin stinks of stale cigarette smoke. Anyone got any good tips for magically removing this without damaging the instrument?

    Lastly, any recommendations for which strings to use for folk & classical play?

    Thanks,
    Richard

  2. #2
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vega bowlback advice please

    That sounds like the proper bridge for your mandolin. Do make sure it is positioned correctly on the top for intonation. Vega is one of the few makers who built theirs so the bridge is properly located on the tailpiece side of the cant (fold in the top).

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    If the action is high you can lower the bone part of the bridge by sanding down the bottom. Of course, that may not be enough. This type of bridge works like a zero fret at the nut end. Each part has a separate function. The ebony base separates the strings while the bone part raises it enough.

    You can buy a tailpiece on eBay. Unfortunately no one makes repro ones so expect to pay more than $30 usually—not sure what they go for in the UK. Dave Hynds in France carries all sort of parts and has a great site for mandolin stuff.

    Not sure what to do about cigarette smoke but definitely take it out of the case (if there is one) and let it air out. There are some products that absorb odors,, just make sure you let them touch the mandolin.

    As far as strings, GHS has the ultra light A240 set for inexpensive. I like Dogal Calace RW92b Dolce strings on my Vega. Optima and Fisoma makes some good sets and I also know some people who like Savarez brand. Just make sure they are very light gauge.
    Jim

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  3. #3
    Registered User Saxon Moreno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vega bowlback advice please

    Thank you Jim. Dave Hynds is a good shout for the tailpiece. I'll email him.

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vega bowlback advice please

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    You can buy a tailpiece on eBay. Unfortunately no one makes repro ones so expect to pay more than $30 usually—not sure what they go for in the UK.
    Jim is right on about the Waverly cloud tailpiece. However, I have found that they come in somewhat varying widths. Not every "cloud" top fits on every proper tailpiece. You might get lucky just finding a top, but best advice would be to buy the whole set: cloud + tailpiece.

    Vega made nice bowlbacks...along with Favilla, my favorite from the US makers as I find them built lighter and more responsive in an Italian bowlback sort of way. If you get it playable investing in a tailpiece will be worth it.

    Report back when you've got it up and running.

    Mick
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vega bowlback advice please

    i think there was a string around here somewhere about how to get cigarette smoke out of a case/instrument if you are lucky with your searches .... but cat litter may do the trick since it seems to work for other odor problems on other kinds of things. just putting that out there.
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    Registered User nmiller's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vega bowlback advice please

    Quote Originally Posted by Saxon Moreno View Post
    my serial number is 34554, so I take it that dates it to 1917, no?
    The Vega serial list out there is for banjos. Their mandolins and guitars do not follow the same serial scheme, and there is no known list for those instruments.
    www.OldFrets.com: the obscure side of vintage instruments.

  7. #7
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vega bowlback advice please

    As for getting rid of smoke odor. I don't know if this is available where you are, but I used this stuff called Nature's AirSponge. A few years ago I spilled some gasoline (petrol to you) on my shoes. I left them in a garage and opened the container next to them and in a few days the smell was gone. I used it recently top some rotten smell under my kitchen sink. According to the package, it also works for tobacco smoke.
    Jim

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    Registered User Martin Jonas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vega bowlback advice please

    Quote Originally Posted by Saxon Moreno View Post
    Firstly, the action is rather high but I notice that the bone saddle on the front of the bridge, which appears to be original, does not have any grooves cut in. The wood behind the saddle has grooves, just not the bone. This strikes me as odd: surely I need to cut grooves into the bone?
    That's a very common bridge construction for bowlbacks, and I'm a big fan of it. No, you don't want notches in the bone saddle. The job of providing string spacing is served by the slots in the wood behind the saddle -- cleaner string termination this way and easier setup. No notches for the strings to bind it and no need for precision slotting. The slots in the wood just need to be comfortably wider and deeper than the strings. Also, much easier to lower the action than with single-piece bridges: take the bone saddle out and make it thinner. If that's not enough, lower the ledge on which the saddle sits.

    Martin

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  10. #9

    Default Re: Vega bowlback advice please

    This seller is in the UK- he has advertised on this site and he makes the cloud tailpiece. This listing expires tomorrow:

    https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Cloud-tai...frcectupt=true

  11. #10
    Registered User Saxon Moreno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vega bowlback advice please

    Continuing thanks to you all - what a fantastic forum this is.

    Regarding dating from the serial number, Danb posted this back in 2004:


    Here's a list from the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra..

    Serial#Year Instrument Type
    39•80 mando-cello
    28578 1912 T-mandola
    28844 1912 T-mandola
    29348 1913 mandolin
    32843 1916 mandolin
    34141 1918 mandolin
    34166 1918 mandolin
    34544 1917 mandolin
    36281 1919 mandolin
    37132 1919 mandolin
    37543 1920 plectrum-lute
    37644 1920 T-mandola
    38239 1920 mandolin
    38339 1920 mando-bass
    38615 1920 mandolin

    It's been an interesting learning process. I hadn't even heard of Vega until this bowlback came up on eBay a few weeks ago, so it's been great searching old posts and finding there's a bit of a fan base out there. The instrument arrived with very old dirty strings, but even with these the tone was clear and surprisingly loud. I've not owned a bowlback before and fancied trying one, so good to know it's a decent make. Having removed the strings and cleaned the instrument it's come up very nicely.

    Anyway, I'll let you know how I get on with odour removal, and tailpiece sourcing, and thank goodness I asked about the saddle before I got my file out!

    Richard

  12. #11
    Registered User nmiller's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vega bowlback advice please

    Interesting that they compiled a list, but it’s way off. Vega mandos were in the 35000s sometime in the 1930s. The exact years aren’t known, but there are electric instruments in that range, so 1920 is just not possible.

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