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Thread: Cleaning up an old bowl back

  1. #1
    Registered User steve-o-reno's Avatar
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    Default Cleaning up an old bowl back

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    I was recently gifted this old bowl back which is believed to be of Czech origin and from my mother-in-law's grandfather. It seems well made, is loud and has a very nice tone.
    I want to clean it up and the get tuners working better, add new strings and make it a player. But I don't want to damage it in any way.

    Any precautions or warnings in attempting what should be a simple cleanup? And are there strings specifically made for bowl backs? It seems that lower tension strings would be easier on it since it has no truss rod. Any thoughts or ideas would be greatly appreciated.
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    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

    Extra light strings are essential. Regular mando strings will destroy a bowlback in short order. GHS A240 are reasonably priced and available from places like JustStrings if you can't fin them locally.

    Don't go overboard. A little fingerboard oil applied once or twice a year is a good thing. Check for open joints or loose braces; if found consult a luthier. Some people will use oil sparingly on tuners, others will not. Take the strings off and work the tuners to get rid of the crud of the centuries. Go slow and gently; this thing is older and more fragile than your grandparents.

    Get a selection of picks and experiment to see which ones sound best. Have fun.

    That's about all I got.

  3. #3
    Registered User steve-o-reno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

    Great ideas! It feels really solid and with a cleanup, and working tuners, it should be player. Thanks Bob.
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  4. #4

    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

    Looks like a typical US-made instrument to me...

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  6. #5

    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

    I agree with Victor. That headstock shape is characteristic of late-nineteenth- to early-twentieth-century Lyon & Healey models. If memory serves, the alternating rosewood and maple ribs were discontinued around 1896.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

    Quote Originally Posted by Scot63 View Post
    I agree with Victor. That headstock shape is characteristic of late-nineteenth- to early-twentieth-century Lyon & Healey models. If memory serves, the alternating rosewood and maple ribs were discontinued around 1896.
    Alternating staves appeared in the L&H catalog for a decade after that maybe longer. It is American made, probably in Chicago and looking at the tuners maybe the teens or a little earlier.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  9. #7
    Registered User steve-o-reno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

    Thanks all. I ordered some of the GHS A240 strings and I'll gingerly take the old strings off and then work on the tuners. Any thoughts on taking an old mandolin

    It was my wife's great-grandfather who came over from Czechoslovakia. Her mom remembers her hearing her grandfather playing it in her youth but she didn't know where it came from and assumed it was from Europe. I've seen several very similar that were all U.S. made. Most seem to have more and thinner ribs than this one but lots of similarities in tailpieces, headstock shapes and top designs. I'm just thrilled to be getting a new mandolin.
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  10. #8

    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

    When loosening or tightening mandolin strings, wear eye protection or keep your head turned. Sounds like overkill, but strings often break and have hooked themselves in people's eyes.........FWIW.

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  12. #9
    Registered User steve-o-reno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

    Thanks Jeff, I'll keep that in mind. Especially since I'll be using pretty thin strings, and I bought several sets just in case of breakage.

    Hopefully if I need to update the bridge or the tuners I can find replacements.
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  13. #10
    Registered User steve-o-reno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

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    The solid wood bridge looks like it had been repositioned at one time(see the original outline next to where it was actually positioned) and possibly glued down as part of the finish came off when the bridge did. On the bridge, one side of the outside E string slot is broken off. You can see the tuner shafts are pretty wonky too.

    Looks like it's time move this thread to Builders and Repair. A new bridge & tuners may be in order.
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  14. #11
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

    Don't glue the bridge down. You can continue on this thread. It may have been in place when the instrument got warm and the top finish may have melted bit. Either way it should be placed correctly.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  15. #12
    Registered User steve-o-reno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

    Thanks Mike. That looks more like it. I want to use this same bridge if it can be salvaged. I don't have any experience cutting string slots and I'm not sure if it's worth a luthier visit.

    I've taken the tuners completely apart and discovered fragments of old gaskets. So I'll need to find or fashion some thin 1/4" gaskets that fit under the worm gear. Here's one of the tuner parts laid out after I cleaned them up a bit.

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  16. #13
    Registered User steve-o-reno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

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    I finished building up the bridge where some of the points had broken off (dark areas). And she tunes up wonderfully at the nut. But up the neck she goes sharp. So asI understand it, if it goes sharp up the fretboard then the bridge needs to move back toward the tailpiece to lengthen the string and flatten it. I've moved the bridge as far back as I can go without going over the bend in the top but to no avail. It's still sharp up the neck no matter where I put the bridge.
    Is this a correctible problem on this old instrument?
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  17. #14
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cleaning up an old bowl back

    Couple things to consider: it's rare, but there were "canted top" mandolins where the bridge was placed "south" of the bend in the top (some Vega instruments were set up that way). Not unheard of, and if the bridge has to go there, then try it there. Second, if the action (height of the strings above the fretboard) is too high, the strings will stretch sharp when pressed to the fretboard. I'm assuming you've adjusted the action to a comfortable level, but if not, that could lead to mis-intonation.

    Clearly the former bridge placement was 'way too close to the neck. And there aren't marks on the other side of the bend, to indicate that it was placed there in the past. But this may be one of the exceptions to the general rule, that the bridge goes on the "neck side" of the bend.
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