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Thread: Mandolin of unknown origin

  1. #1

    Default Mandolin of unknown origin

    This instrument was in the possession of the previous owner for about 50 years. It was believed it to be a Gibson because of the Gibson tailpiece. However, Gibson Brands Inc. have confirmed that it is not a Gibson made instrument. There are no other marks or decals on the instrument to identify its origin.

    It is a small instrument, with an overall length of 24 ˝” and a string length of 12 15/16”. The most notable features of the instrument are the scroll-like carvings at the top and base of the head, the lyre-shaped carving around the sound hole, the wooden pick-guard and the unusual size and body shape including a convex back. Attached photos show the features of the instrument.

    Can anyone advise me about the possible origins of this instrument?
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  2. #2
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    Never seen one like that, I'd say it was somebodies homemade mandolin or made by a competent builder in the 30's-40's? Neat!

  3. #3

    Default Mandolin of unknown origin

    This instrument was in the possession of the previous owner for about 50 years. It was believed it to be a Gibson because of the Gibson tailpiece. However, Gibson Brands Inc. have confirmed that it is not a Gibson made instrument. There are no other marks or decals on the instrument to identify its origin.

    It is a small instrument, with an overall length of 24 ˝” and a string length of 12 15/16”. The most notable features of the instrument are the scroll-like carvings at the top and base of the head, the lyre-shaped carving around the sound hole and the unusual size and body shape including a convex back. Attached photos show the features of the instrument.

    Can anyone advise me about the possible origins of this instrument?
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  4. #4
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    I would hazard a guess that it was made by an individual luthier, using a tailpiece scavenged from a pre-1935-or so Gibson. The tuners look pretty standard early-20th-century; the neck inlays were probably commercially available at about that time. Woods and work-person-ship seem good, and the figured wood pickguard's a nice touch.

    I have not seen another with that particular body shape, and the lyre soundhole is also unique in my experience. Perhaps others will have encountered a similar instrument, but I'd call it a "one-of." How does it sound?
    Allen Hopkins
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  6. #5
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    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

  7. #6

    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    it has a very nice sound, good action and is easy to play. Your comments about the builder's skills are correct. It's a very nicely built instrument. The lyre-shaped sound hole is the most distinct feature. Has anyone ever seen one of those before.

  8. #7
    Confused... or?
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    Other than the soundhole, the body details (arch, gutters, binding, neck attachment) are native mandolin, while the general outline seems influenced by the pineapple ukulele.
    Last edited by EdHanrahan; Jun-02-2019 at 3:20pm. Reason: spell
    - Ed

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  9. #8
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    What you have is as Allen says, a mandolin built by an individual builder using a tailpiece scavenged from an earlier Gibson and tuners that might have come from the same Gibson and might not have. They were used by other manufacturers as well. The design is unique but the body shape does resemble (but is not) some earlier Harmony and Regal built mandolins. The headstock shape seems to be a rather exaggerated version of the Gibson open book design but that too was used by earlier builders. The inlay appears to be stock inlay on the fretboard was available to builders for decades and may or may have not been retrieved from an earlier mandolin. The wood used on the back appears to be nicely figured maple. The length of the fingerboard would place it after the advent of the F5 mandolin in the early 20's. Although the sound hole is unique the bridge itself is very rudimentary. That is surprising with all of the rest of what the builder did. I would guess it was made in the US but absent any markings (check under the top with a dental mirror and flashlight) you'll probably never know much more than you know now. Unfortunately well made but unmarked instruments like this are rarely sought after. Play it and enjoy it and consider having a luthier build a proper bridge for it. To reiterate what Gibson told you, it wasn't one of theirs and to take that further it isn't recognizeable as having been built by any of the other well known factories of the time.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  11. #9
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    I merged the two threads.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  12. #10

    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    Interesting looking, but I don't have a clue.....

  13. #11
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    the back finish/color/lacquer checking sure looks right for the period 30's Gibson's, but for sure not a Gibson, maybe worker who worked for them? One of his projects, Martin has many employee made guitars out there.

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  15. #12
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    Quote Originally Posted by William Smith View Post
    the back finish/color/lacquer checking sure looks right for the period 30's Gibson's, but for sure not a Gibson, maybe worker who worked for them? One of his projects, Martin has many employee made guitars out there.
    Yup, there are more employee made unlabeled Martin guitars out there than were ever made by Martin employees.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  17. #13
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    Definitely not Gibson but looks pretty nice. My guess is that the bridge was a more recent afterthought and likely the pickguard. Scale length is a little on the short side. Check the measurement from nut to 12th fret and double that measurement. Possibly the bridge needs to be re-positioned.
    Jim

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  18. #14

    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    How does Jim Garber not already own this? :-)

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    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    I dug out some of my mid 30's elevated board F-hole A-50's and the color and lacquer checking/crazing on the back at least is spot on with them/and yours? It was built by someone who had some knowledge on building, pry a one off build in that style but I bet there are more from this mystery maker? Did you look in the inside with light and an instrument telescoping inspection mirror to see if there is a name written on the top? Too bad the label is shredded!

  21. #16
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    How does Jim Garber not already own this? :-)
    That one is easy. It's not a bowlback.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  23. #17
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    Quote Originally Posted by William Smith View Post
    Too bad the label is shredded!
    Bill: how do you know there was any label at all? OP does not mention it.

    I wonder if we can see some side views and other details? I would be curious about how the top was carved or arched and how deep the body is.
    Jim

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  24. #18

    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    In answer to a few of the questions, I set the bridge position by matching the tone of the harmonic at the 12th fret to the fretted note at the same fret for the upper G string and the lower E string, and then strung the rest of the instrument. Those harmonic/fretted note pairings are still correct, and the nut to 12th fret measurement is 6 15/32 while the nut to bridge measurement is 12 15/16", so I'm pretty comfortable with the bridge position.

    I have been all over the inside with a mirror and flashlight and there are no marks. There is also no evidence of any decal ever having been inside the instrument; no glue residues nor other sign of anything having been attached. Perhaps built by an employee of a company who didn't want to be caught out for moon-lighting?

    The sides are 1 25/32" from the outsides of the upper and lower trims. The back arched out about 1/2" and the face is bowed out to a depth of about 5/32". This gives a total body depth of 2 19/32", which is borne out by a measurement of body depth. However, I don't have a big caliper so with the exception of the side depth, these measurements are being made with a good ruler and straight edges, so I probably have too many significant figures here, so lets say 2 5/8".

    This image shows the shape of the back in profile:Click image for larger version. 

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    The following images provide perspective of the face from above and below:
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    This image shows detail of the bridge and sound hole:
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    Notably, the carved inset in the sound hole is edge glued to the face as opposed inlay or overlay, and that joinage still holds perfectly.

    The following image shows the attachment of the neck to the body:
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    As can be seen in this photo, the face is carved up to meet the neck below the fingerboard, with a fillet of the fingerboard running the length of the fingerboard on top of the face. This fillet is 3/64" thick and the face is carved to a depth of 5/32" to meet the top of the upper side trim. All of these detailed parts fit perfectly together so whoever built this was very skilled.

    Note also how the sides and upper side trim join the neck in a curved line, and how this trim is carved to fit with that curvilinear joinage. Her are a couple of other perspectives of the neck/body joinage.:
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    The varying side height in the image to the right is a perspective issue in the photo. The instrument sides are of uniform depth.

    Thanks so much to all of you for your input, I've tried to answer all questions, and if any more information would be helpful I'd be happy to provide it.

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  26. #19

    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    Oops, in the third last paragraph, where it says fillet of the fingerboard, it should say fillet of the neck. There is a fillet of the neck 3/64" deep between the face and the fingerboard.

  27. #20
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    Sorry Jim, My mind was thinking of another one I was looking at "somewhere", Da,Da,da-DAAAA

  28. #21
    Mandolin Player trodgers's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    That is really neat. Thanks for showing it to us!
    “Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free.” -- Aldo Leopold

  29. #22
    Registered User jim simpson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    Is it just me or does that sound hole look like Garth Brook's guitar, lol?!
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  30. #23
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin of unknown origin

    It's just you Jim

    Kind of
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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