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Thread: The new (old) mandolins of long time reader.

  1. #1

    Default The new (old) mandolins of long time reader.

    The vintage subforum says to post about instruments from before 1945, so I figured this would fit better here. My name is Niki and I have been a long time mando cafe reader, easily since 2009. And would like to take this opportunity to make my first post. Almost every single time I needed advice in mandolin or bouzouki matters, I have searched these forums. Let me say thank you for that.

    I finally acquired my first mandolin in 2010, after having taught myself how to play bass, guitar, bouzouki (Greek), drums and keyboard. I'm a lefty and it simply took me a while to find an mando. There were no lefthanded production line European folk mandolins available to me at the time, and a teenager spending that kind of money on a luthier built instrument? One day, I found an American F shape mandolin from the company Morgan Monroe on some internet auction site. It was a budget instrument, but it was exciting. It had a spruce stop, carved flamed maple back and sides, ebony fretboard, so on. Laminated, of course. It was made in 2009 or 2010.

    What this instrument was not good at, was playing Greek and Italian music. Or maybe I should rephrase this: I was not good at playing that kind of music on this specific instrument. It didn't fit, for me personally. After learning the basics and how to play some songs by Blind Melon, Eddie Vedder and REM, I took the mandolin to two or three sessions and put it away after that. I was honestly kind of disappointed and lost interest. I imagined something different. I did not like playing in fifths at all and was really into modal tuning at the time. So I tuned it modally and still didn't like it. And the sound was not what I imagined when I heard a mandolin in my mind. I heard a Neapolitan bowlback or a Cretan flatback. I like the American mandolin sound in bluegrass and country, but not for the music I myself play most of the time. And that is folk and rembetiko. So I focused on six string bouzouki all these years. Last year, I gave the Florentine an overhaul and sold it to a fellow southpaw who still likes the mandolin very much to this day.

    I was at the right place at the right time and with that money, I bought my first bowlback. A violin luthier across the country bought it used from someone, filled a crack in the top and had it hanging on a wall in his shop for years. A guy sees it, falls in love and buys it. But he never ends up learning how to play it. And so he was glad to see it go to someone who really wanted it. I made a new lefty bridge for it and worked on a fret or two. Luckily I have found a regional luthier in the meantime who can help me with bigger projects. Long story short; I played more mandolin last summer than I did in the past 8 years since getting my first mando. I am HOOKED. This instrument was made by Perlgold and has a large grain spruce top and a mystery bowl and neck material. The finish is very pleasant to the touch, though. Might be maple or ash hiding underneath it. The fretboard is rosewood. This was made in the 1970s.

    This Hanseat tear drop shape with a flat back was gifted to me by a friend of my mother shortly after. He is a guitarist in a local band and bought it from a flea market for 7 Euros. His words where "at home, I noticed that I cannot even play mandolin". He never bothered to learn it. While the instrument was badly scratched and dinged and needed a refret and a new nut, it was structurally very sound. Someone even carved their name into it, to my dismay... But the second I heard the first few notes coming out of it (they were not many, with a bowed neck and filed down frets), I just knew this mando would scream. And it is the loudest mandolin I have played thus far. The sound is eerily reminiscent of what I have heard and loved as a kid, on my first vacation to Crete. I never bothered with refurbishing it beyond making it playable. The aesthetic doesn't bother me. This time a better quality spruce top, but still no idea on the back and sides. The varnish almost seems like it was darkened by staining the wood, the ligher chips in the wood suggest it is not actually rosewood. The fretboard is ebony. This was built in the 1950s.

    This Portugese shape has an arched back and was gifted to me last month by someone who himself received it as a gift and... Would you believe it, never learned how to play it and stored it in his closet for 30 years. It has no label or markings, but since not only the headstock, but also the fretboard end is shaped exactly like the Perlgold bowlback, this too could be a Perlgold. While this one was cosmetically much better than the Hanseat, two cracks in the top needed to be filled and this fretboard also needed a refret, it was completely unplayable. A new nut made the instrument sing. The luthier's words when I came to pick it up last week and played it were "I did not expect this to be as loud". Wide grain spruce top, flamed maple for the sides and the domeback has maple and a wood that my luthier friends and I discussed could be mulberry, plum or pear. Whether the neck is varnished maple or oak, I don't know. The fretboard is speculated to be oak or ash, so far. It was built in the 1960s.

    This completely unexpected mandolin blessing has come to me, simply because three people failed to learn how to play their mandolins. And it has given me the opportunity to comfortably experiment with open and cross tunings, now that I have a little mandolin cafe of my own to choose from! What has been especially interesting for me, is to see how the different tunings contrast with baglamas/bouzouki playing. I am delighted that I can play a lot of my repertoire on both instruments.

    Funnily, these mandolins are all Eastern German builds from before the wall fell. As you can see, they are not only budget ones made from lower quality components, but third/fourth/fifth hand by now that I converted them from right to lefthanded. I do have custom built guitars and bouzoukia to compare the results to and let me tell you, I could not be happier. This was all worth it. I have always had a love for overhauling used and vintage instruments and no one can tell me a thing about bracing or resale value. No one.

    If there is interest, I will be demonstrating the instruments over the course of the week. Special thanks go out to my luthier friends Hartmut Stuehrenberg, Phil Conway, Dimitris Rapakousios and Manos Tourpalis for all the help and knowledge they have provided over the years. Thank you for reading!

    Last edited by Apollonia93; Jun-17-2019 at 7:06am.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: The new (old) mandolins of long time reader.

    Yes, some of those East German instruments are pretty good- and have good wood in their construction if they are at the higher end. Good luck with your mandolin odyssey- I am assuming you are Greek- hence my choice of that word! I am sure others will admire your collection. I just wonder how many mandolins were tucked away because their original and enthusiastic owners found their enthusiasm was not sufficient to master the basics- which do take time, effort and not a little pain!

  4. #3

    Default Re: The new (old) mandolins of long time reader.

    Hello Nick, you are right about that! Greek and German. The mandolin and I, we truly have been through an Odyssey. There was nothing linear or planned about this journey.

    I have no idea how much any of the mandolins initially cost, but I was told that Perlgold started out as a family business of luthiers that later went on to expand and manufacture instruments by machine. The materials used in the first two mandolins are not poor quality, but obviously not high end. I lovingly call them my scrapwood mandolins because of the conditions they arrived in. The most recent one is quite fancy. The construction itself is on point for all of them, three luthiers said so. And that is why they lived to tell their tale... I see this time and time again, that instruments that had time to open up and age sound very pleasant, even if the materials used are not the best. I played a 1000€ custom built mandolin last week... Beautiful, but I honestly prefer mine.

    What you mention is very true, especially the German online auctions are full of mandolins of this eastern German and also earlier Italian eras. Some of them in decent, others in very bad condition, obviously. I had no idea just how many people had a mandolin tucked away in their basement or attic, it's crazy. Crazy good!
    My YouTube channel. My tabs and video lessons on Ultimate Guitar and GuitarTabsExplorer.

  5. #4
    Moderator JEStanek's Avatar
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    Oct 2004
    Pottstown, Pennsylvania, United States
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    Default Re: The new (old) mandolins of long time reader.

    Nice collection. Welcome!

    There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second. Logan Pearsall Smith, 1865 - 1946

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  6. #5
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Mar 2006
    Rochester NY 14610

    Default Re: The new (old) mandolins of long time reader.

    You have picked (pun intended) the right instruments for the styles of music you want to play. And you've spent very little in acquiring them, though you've laid out a fair amount in repairs and set-up. Sounds like win-win to me.
    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: The new (old) mandolins of long time reader.

    Thank you, JES and Allen! Truly a win. Just wish it had happened sooner and not over the span of 8 years.
    My YouTube channel. My tabs and video lessons on Ultimate Guitar and GuitarTabsExplorer.

  8. #7

    Default Re: The new (old) mandolins of long time reader.

    I have seen some very nice Czech/Schonbach mandolins on ebay- made in the 1930s. For various reasons, I have not bought one but the last one I went for that needed a bit of work returned to ebay for about seven times its cost a few weeks before! The seller has fixed its heel, a crack and made a pickguard and done something to the case to make it extra squeaky clean looking! I should have bid higher but there you go!

  9. #8

    Default Re: The new (old) mandolins of long time reader.

    That's a sweet looking one, Nick. I like how it combines the older qualities with some new elements of the American carved tradition! Personally, I never liked electric-acoustic instruments. I like it when the amplification sounds natural, so I prefer to stick to K&K transducers or just micing it up.

    Here is a clip comparing the mandos. They are quite different. The song is Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart by Chris Cornell.

    My YouTube channel. My tabs and video lessons on Ultimate Guitar and GuitarTabsExplorer.

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