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Thread: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

  1. #1

    Default Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

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    I know this instrument will not set pulses racing- it is a pressed top mandolin sold by Wards- my guess being priced about $9 in 1939. It dates from the late 30s when Montgomery Ward was moving away from Gibson to Regal- but still used Kay and possibly other makers as well. Perhaps, Regal made them an offer they could not refuse!

    I bought this on ebay- a Cinderella instrument. It looked pretty rough- but apart from the cloud tailpiece cover, it was all there. The instrument's back was coming away, there was a crack in the fingerboard and there was plenty of ugly mess which turned out to be from a neck reglue/reset. I think someone had used a solvent to remove glue squeeze and turned the finish into a gooey mess- that did not prevent him from leaving plenty of glue elsewhere, as well! There were dings and scratches and it was not strung up- with its bridge taped to the top. The photos were extensive and did a very good job of giving a thorough picture of the mandolin and its condition as a project- nothing was hidden about its condition, which was good.. By being unstrung, getting a feel for the neck's geometry was not possible and it appeared that the photos deterred bids and I decided to bid the $50 start and went to bed- and when I got up, I had won! You win some and you....etc!

    Anyway, when it arrived, the neck looked straight and it has probably had a refret- plenty of play wear on the neck shows it to have been played extensively. I would imagine that some of the dings were inflicted on it during its period of inactivity- not during its playing life. The headstock is not veneered- just a basic finish with three MOP markers on the board. Sadly, the bridge appeared to have gone walkabout at some stage in the auction- but I decided to do the work- to glue the top of the back down to the end of the neck block along with replacing some missing binding. I cleaned it up all round and removed the worst yucky messed up finish from the heel and the adjacent top of the back. This revealed that the finish was faux- a sort of maple or birch look as the back and the sides are actually mahogany. It is all solid woods and it has no cracks- which is a minor miracle and the top has no distortion. The board is maple with one crack which has pretty much closed up by applying a wood restorer.

    I soon got fed up with a strung up mandolin with no bridge when I remembered that I had a tenor guitar bridge that might work on it. It is not adjustable- and needed cutting down- then I had that fun sanding- refitting the bridge, tuning it up, de-tuning etc and sanding a few times but I got there in the end- and the mandolin plays really well. With the extra light gauge strings, there is a 2mm gap at fret 12 under the Gs and it plays fine and intonates well. There is a buzz after fret 13 under the Gs but looking in daylight, I can see that two frets could use filing down to cure that. Mind you, who plays there anyway? I may be becoming a perfectionist- now that is a worry!

    This mandolin is very tubby- 10.5 inches wide- quite a fatso. The body is 13 inches long and the scale is 14 inches. Jake Wildwood wrote this in his analysis of one that it: "has a gutsy, big, warm sort of sound which is unusual for an arched-top instrument. It's also a bit deeper and wider than other arched-top instruments which contributes to its power." I do not disagree- it's pretty good and is a worthwhile instrument. I will take it to the next bluegrass pick and see how it holds up against the massed ranks of ear-splitting banjos. I will need to play it a bit more which will probably improve the sound still further as it wakes up.

    There you go- not something too exotic- although Regal f hole mandolins are not that numerous. Yes, it is a Wards stripped down version of a more glitzy mandolin model- but it has merit. Sadly, what with shipping prices going north and the authorities in Britain robbing you blind when you buy from the USA, I think my time on Tracy Island running International Cheapo Mandolin Rescue will come to an end. Mind you, if the UK does do a trade deal with the USA, all those outrageous charges for US imports will be removed and it will be Mandobirds Are Go! once again.
    Last edited by NickR; Oct-02-2019 at 3:09pm.

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  3. #2
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Jun 2010
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    Default Re: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

    I think its GREAT! I have a soft spot for all those 30's era mandolins and guitars, each is special!

  4. #3

    Default Re: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

    I think that the better Chicago made instruments from this time are often very good. The thing about Wards and their Recording King brand is the incredible value for money. As has been mentioned by Mike Edgerton, none of the third party made Gibson models had truss rods but some like the RK version of the Nick Lucas did have a steel reinforcing rod. This version was sold for $48 while the Gibson branded original was $120. I am pretty certain that this mandolin is the one on the left of this 1939 ad from Regal. The blurb mentions maple- mine is faux maple- the original may be. There is more bling and perhaps the board is not dyed maple- who knows-it may be- it is $25. Its guard is tortoiseshell not plain back. It has "polished strings" but perhaps it was meant to state "polished frets"! The other maker that Wards used at this time- that I could not remember, yesterday, was Richter. There are some who suggest this firm did not exist- it was part of Harmony. The blurb shows their factory but back then, advertisements and the truth ware often in different galaxies!
    I do know that Richter parlour guitars are very similar to the Harmony examples but there are small differences that can be seen.

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Jan 2009
    St. Paul, MN

    Default Re: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

    Very cool. Glad you were able to get it up and running again. Always nice to see an old non mainstream mandolin make it back to working condition safely. Betting the sound is cool being a big body and mahogany.
    1935 Gibson A50, 2018 Collings MT, 1929 Gibson A Jr., 1935 Kalamazoo KM-21, 1941 Strad-O-Lin, 2018 Eastman MDO-305, 1950's Californian

  7. #5

    Default Re: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

    Eric, it is good- it would be even better sounding with slightly heavier strings but I always start with the lightest- you never know what string tension might do to an old instrument. The good news is it really is easy to play- even with that 14 inch scale- no problems with the board except those two frets where you don't play! It just goes to show that a shabby old thing can be made to play although as I have mentioned, the problem areas were not difficult to repair- but they might have been- you can never really tell with an instrument that is not in playing order.

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  9. #6

    Default Re: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

    This changed my mind about cheap old Mandolins.

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  11. #7

    Default Re: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

    That's great- is it an old OS Stella? The skill of the performer makes this and he gets so much from his instrument. Very good.

  12. #8
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Mar 2003
    Westchester, NY

    Default Re: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

    I have one of those Stellas I opened up to fix top cracks. I really should put it back together. Funky sound perfect for blues.

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  13. #9

    Default Re: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

    Thanks for posting about this mando NickR. I too have one of these treasures. My father bought it from Monkey Ward in the mid30s, for the reported price of $25. I started playing on it in the late 50s, and have played mando ever since, including bluegrass, old time and classical. My old Chicago mando looks just like yours. It is structurally sound, holds tuning, and sounds great. I rarely play it, as I have acquired some nicer instruments in my old age. But none of them evokes such a fond memory that I have of hearing my father launch into The Chinese Breakdown on that old axe.
    I will try to post a picture I have of him and the mando circa 1935 in Breathitt County KY.

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  15. #10

    Default Re: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

    That's very interesting, I look forward to seeing a photo. I don't think that price is correct. Wards instruments retailed for less than half of the price of the "original" model as they were mail order- and cut out the middle man. Furthermore, they were less Ritzy versions in the main. I would reckon $8-$10 maximum- prices were falling in the 30s due to the Depression. Here is a snippet of a Wards catalogue that Jake Wildwood found and posted up. There is blurb on a $9-25 mandolin- we don't see it- he was reviewing the carved scroll mandolin that is marked on the page. It quotes fine maple back and sides- mahogany finish. Mine is mahogany with a faux maple finish- which may have been what the blurb should have stated. You see plenty of faux rosewood or maple finishes- I am not so sure about mahogany!

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  16. #11

    Default Re: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

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    Here is my father with his 30s F style Chicago mando, circa 1935. He paid $25 for it through M-W catalog. Reverse scroll looks similar to the one shown in the catalog photo above

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  18. #12

    Default Re: Late 30s Regal/Wards F hole archtop

    That old photo is great. That is the carved top reverse scroll example in the catalogue that sold for $12-98 and a more Ritzy instrument than mine. Nice photo of your father- I can't work out the guitar that is also featured- looks like a trapeze tailpiece. My father tried to learn the mandolin when I was a kid- he did get to Santa Lucia by studying a book but the family size got a lot bigger when twins arrived and the mandolin was put away- it had been my great grandfather's. I had it mended last year- it was a Vinaccia, quite a nice instrument but I prefer a flat back- mandolin playing is tricky enough on one of those! I did learn on another bowl back owned by my great grandfather and I am just amazed that I persevered!

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