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Thread: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

  1. #1

    Default Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    Hi all! Great to join the Mandolin Café!

    I have an old bowl back that I picked up about 25yrs ago at a flea market in Sydney. It has 24 ribs and 7 strings (yep, one missing!). It seems to have regular strings on it and they’ve been there ever since I bought it (I haven’t been playing it). I’m worried that they are going to damage the neck. I’ve been reading the Café notes about restringing these old beauties with ultra-light strings. My local supplier says they have the following set: 10/10-14/14-24/24-38/38 gauge. Before I buy can anyone tell me if these would be suitable?
    Also, can anyone help identify this mandolin for me and roughly when it would have been made? It has no maker mark or name. The inside is lined with lightly decorated paper.

    Thanks heaps!
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    The Italians had a craze for double dot markers in the 1950s and the tuners look like the sort that you found on Levin mandolins at about that time. My guess is that it is Italian made with Swedish tuners- German made was more typical before WW2. I don't think it is East German or Czech, although it might be- it is the tuners that would make me less confident in those nations as its homeland although the slotted headstock is typical of that region. You might want to spend some time searching for photos of "Catania bowl back mandolins" although it could have been made on the Italian mainland.

    Here is a Catania mandolin with what appear to be very similar tuners. Its headstock is also typical of the region. However, that does not mean a slotted headstock rules out Italy. I would string the mandolin with ultra light 9-32 strings if you can get them. I buy mine- the GHS brand mail order from Strings and Beyond in the USA. Every now and again they do free international shipping- which is when I get my supply! They are probably available in Australia but more expensively, I would imagine.

    https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/20...-mandolin.html

  3. #3

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    Looks German to me... zero fret, slotted head, typlical scratchplate. Probably 1930-40's. (Or could be later, as post-war Saxony factories made very similar instruments to pre-war stock.) Action appears to be too high, which sometimes (if neck is still straight) can be dealt with by sanding the bottom of a bridge. If you play you might wish to do that and restring. If not, just unwind the strings a bit to take the pressure off the instrument.
    Last edited by vic-victor; Jun-11-2019 at 5:08am.

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  5. #4
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    Concur with the above: maple ribs, zero fret, slotted headstock, pickguard similar to many central Europe instruments. Strap button may have been installed aftermarket, but also more likely to be found on a modern instrument if original.
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  6. #5

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    Here is a 1960s Carmelo Catania mandolin with a slothead and a zero fret. http://vintagesoulguitars.com/reseat...ania-mandolin/

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    Here are those "double dots on an old Catania Ermilinda Silvestri mandolin:Click image for larger version. 

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    At first glance I thought- East German or Czech. Those tuners and double dots made me think Catania- we may never know for sure!
    Last edited by NickR; Jun-11-2019 at 1:23pm.

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  8. #6
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    I concur with Victor and Allen. I think also German partly based on the taipiece which was made in Germany. Of course maker could source parts from another country.
    Jim

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  10. #7
    Registered User tonydxn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    I agree this is of German or Czech origin, late 30's or 40's. Italian makers rarely used maple for the bowls or solid wood for the necks - nearly always rosewood, with necks made of pine, veneered with rosewood. I am also certain that some Italian makers bought in instruments from Germany and stuck their own labels in them.

    The action is high - although the neck is straight there has been some distortion of the body around the neck joint, which has caused the neck to lift. This is very common with bowlbacks. Lowering the bridge would be easy and will help, but fixing it properly would be a major job. The string gauges you have been recommended are too heavy - GHS A240 ultra-light strings (9-32) or equivalent are what you will need.
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  11. #8
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    Quote Originally Posted by tonydxn View Post
    Italian makers rarely used maple for the bowls or solid wood for the necks - nearly always rosewood, with necks made of pine, veneered with rosewood.
    Not sure I agree. Even the Neapolitan makers used maple bowls and certainly the Romans, especially Embergher. I have two Emberghers in maple and I have seen some of the 5bis (soloist models) in maple as well as rosewood. I also have a maple Vinaccia and had a couple of Calace's with maple bowls as well.

    Rosewood might have been a premium but I think it was a matter of preference for certain tone.

    However you are correct in your comments about neck construction though I believe that was the non-Roman style vs. Neapolitan style. Roman necks, at least Embergher's were solid and much different in profile from Neapolitan makers'.
    Last edited by MikeEdgerton; Jun-11-2019 at 3:48pm. Reason: Fixed quote syntax
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  12. #9

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    Yes, I have a maple Vinaccia. As I wrote, those tuners and dots are my main stumbling bock- and those tuners appear to be on that 1960s Catania mandolin that Jake Wildwood worked on.There is no way, they are pre-war, I reckon 50s or 60s which is definitely when the mandolin was made- be it in East Germany, Czechoslovakia or Italy.

  13. #10
    Registered User tonydxn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    Yes, of course there are Italian mandolins made of maple. But I reckon at least 99% of Italian bowlbacks that come up on eBay and other auctions (in UK anyway) are rosewood. That's why I said 'rarely' and didn't say 'never'. I have to admit that Calace, Embergher and Vinaccia are well out of my reach and I don't know much about them. But they are only a small proportion of Italian mandolins and the OP's instrument is certainly not one of theirs.

    I don't know when that kind of tuner was introduced, but probably post-war, I agree.
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  14. #11

    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    Here is a 1960s Carmelo Catania mandolin with a slothead and a zero fret.
    That Carmelo Catania is a copy (or I'd rather say inspired by) Embergher, which had a zero fret in some models and that's why it is there. Zero fret was very rarely used in Italian bowlbacks, but often in German ones. I don't think double dots mean much, they were used by many makers.
    Last edited by vic-victor; Jun-12-2019 at 1:26am.

  15. #12

    Smile Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    Hi everyone,
    Wow! You’ve all given me so much good information. I’ll have to print it all off and examine it carefully – thank you so much. At least I know it wasn’t made in the 70s, which is what the guy at the flea market told me when I bought it back in the 90s! As an immediate measure I’ve loosened the strings and have found a supplier in my town that will be getting strings GHS 9-32 phosphorous bronze set – perfect! They also have an instrument repairer who will help me with the bridge, etc. Great stuff and thank you all!

  16. #13
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help identifying an old bowl back mandolin...

    Quote Originally Posted by vic-victor View Post
    Zero fret was very rarely used in Italian bowlbacks......
    Victor.......??

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