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Thread: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

  1. #1

    Default Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    OK, this mandolin came in today.
    - I assume this mandolin, were it in playable condition, would be worth somewhere between $200-500. Being optimistic. Lyon and Healy produced Ditson? (or Washburn? or?)

    - The mandolin has been strung up with J74's for many years, it appears. The canted top is bowed (bridge looks like a smiley face)
    - Neck is bowed, action is nowhere near playable.
    -Fretboard and fretboard binding is toast
    - Embedded tuning machines are stripped out


    - I quoted $400 for removing the existing fretboard, planing the neck flat, replacing the fretboard with a wedge-shaped, carbon-fiber-reinforced fretboard which will allow playable action to be achieved while stabilizing the neck.
    - Install reasonable strings and make a new bridge. Probably another $100 for a custom reproduction bridge and setup.

    $500 all in, for starters-- way more than the instrument is probably worth.
    Even with all that, the tuning machines don't work.

    So I thought I'd ask the folks here. I suggested to the customer that buying a known good, playable mandolin would be a better value than trying to refurbish this one. There is some sentimental value, but it is intended to be played by a virtuoso (or at least highly competent professional) in major symphony orchestra concerts. Or at least in preparation for them. It needs to be a functional musical tool.

    I'm confident in my ability to get the neck geometry sorted. The soundboard seems stable if we change to reasonable gauge strings.

    But are there even tuning machines available for these Ditson inlayed tuning machine headstocks? Or would I have to do a retrofit, and lose the cool Ditson headplate (admittedly, this is not a cool sterling silver Ditson headplate, probably a 50's model?)

    Any help appreciated. I don't want to charge this guy for a lot of work that doesn't have any value because tuning machines can't be fitted.


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  2. #2
    Teacher, luthier
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    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Marty, the only "taterbug" tuners that I know of are either on other old mandolins, or in somebody's box of old parts. I don't have any here.

    I don't know if the spacing on tuners of this style was well standardized. I do occasionally see used tuners of this general type for sale, but there's no telling whether they would work correctly or even fit.

    It might be possible to disassemble the tuners and replace the damaged parts, but that might be a job for a machinist if the bearings have to be removed.
    If you show pictures of the gears, shafts, and bearings, we can look through our parts boxes and see if we have anything that might match.

    The only other choice I know of would be to remove the tuners, fill the cavities, and install modern tuners.

    It is likely that the mandolin was made before WWII.

    If your customer is a classical player, it might be better for him to save his money for a Lyon & Healy style B or C, or perhaps a good flat-back by Martin, Vega, or the Larsons. All seem to be at least reasonably acceptable to at least some classical players. PM me if he wants to go in that direction, I may be able to help. I rarely see bowlbacks that are either structurally or tonally worthy of serious orchestral or chamber work.
    Last edited by rcc56; Nov-24-2019 at 8:38pm.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    I think the "victory" refers to the Spanish-American war. So 1898-1905. It looks like it's from the 1950's... I wonder if the resurrected the model, or if this was refinished with lacquer at some point. It doesn't look like any 1905 mandolin's varnish I've ever seen. And the plating is too good. It looks like high quality 50's chrome, not turn-of-the-century tarnishable stuff. A lot of this instrument is giving me the "mid century" vibe, not a "turn of the century" vibe.

    I like the idea of plugging and refitting for modern tuning machines. This is intended to be a tool, with some sentimental value, but the purpose of the repair is to make it serviceable, and any modern tuning machines are an improvement over what people dealt with for decades, IMHO. Thanks for the ideas.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Filling the cavities in a manner that is attractive is going to be a challenge.
    If the worm gears are okay, shoot us some pictures of the shaft gears anyway. I may have a couple of gears that might work.

    That indeed is a pretty mandolin. If the finish was indeed re-done, my hat is off to whoever did the work. If the finish is original, it is in remarkable condition.

    My impression is that your customer's mandolin might have been made by Vega.

    The latest use I have seen of the Ditson name on an instrument was on a later Lyon & Healy style C mandolin, probably made between 1925 and 1930.

    From what I have been able to gather on the Ditson Company's history, the Theodore Presser Co. purchased Ditson in 1931 after Charles Ditson's passing in 1929, and closed the retail stores shortly thereafter. I believe that the publishing operation survived longer than the retail instrument operation. The latest reference I can find to the company was a 1936 court case over a copyright. It seems that the Ditson name went out of use by the late '30's.

    Washburn was out of business by 1942 or so, and no fretted instruments were made under the Lyon and Healy name after the early 1930's.
    Last edited by rcc56; Nov-25-2019 at 12:37am.

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  6. #5
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    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    I recently worked on the tuners of an old S.S,Stewart mandolin with similar tuners. The plate simply screws into the wood on mine and covers the tuning plates.. I also have old tuners and would be willing to help with gears if I have any that fit. Gears and posts may go on the original plate, if your lucky, and not have to fill the cavity.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  7. #6
    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Every once in a while you can find a set of those tuners for sale. The big problem is that a knob may break. or the gear may not hold a string in tune. I believe you are better off to put modern tuners on it, but that's its own can of worms in terms of fitting the holes and fitting the head stock thickness. The modern posts tend to be a at least 1/8" higher.

    If the cross brace is not tucked into the lining (likely it isn't), then the top may cave again in the future. I've seen it happen using ultralight strings. The bigger issue seems to be that the neck attachment on the old tater bugs is not very supportive and winds up causing enough pressure at the brace area under the bridge to collapse it.

    I've quit working on collapsed old bowl back mandolins unless money is truly no object to the customer (very rare). The repair cost almost always exceeds the value by a substantial amount. They are a sink hole IMO, because they weren't designed to last. If this player is a professional, there are modern bowl backs that should be considered for both practice and concert play.
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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Marty, I've always been under the impression that Vega made these for the Ditson label.

    A lot of details closely resemble the Vega mandolins of the time...moreso than L+H. Check and see if there is a SN on the small interior brace to the neckside of the soundhole.

    L+H did make some things for the Ditson label, too. But they look a whole lot more like L+H mandolins than this one does.

    Certainly not the '50s. Probably 40+ years earlier than that. May have been refinished in the '50s but certainly built in the '00s or '10s at the latest.

    I've owned a few of these from what I call the "hegemony" series: Victory, Empire and Conquerer. A different day and time.

    I have an Empire right now that is a very nice mandolin. Lighter and more responsive than the L+W / Washburn models.

    None of my business, of course, but putting modern tuners on this sounds really unfortunate. As suggested, salvaging or finding an old pair online shouldn't be too hard.

    I've got a box of old tuners here. I'll check in on them tonight and see if there might be something you can use. My guess is that I should be able to measure off the Ditson Empire and they would likely match the Victory.

    Mick
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  10. #8
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    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Marty, I have an old mandolin that has been in the shop for years. Don't think I am going to fix it, lots wrong and no name, poorly make. BUT it has a set of tuners that may work for you. They will need cleaning up, but I just did the ones on the Stewart and they work very well. If the spacing works I'll send them to you.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  11. #9

    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Thanks everyone. Brunello, good point, I see what you're saying about the Vega resemblance. I'll consult with the owner and see what they want to do.

  12. #10
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Marty, just checking... have you taken the tuners off and checked why they slip? They're generally pretty simple construction, and surprisingly robust. Could be that something has come loose and is allowing too much play and hence the slip. Unless the gears are actually stripped, they can usually be put back in decent working order.

    By way of aside: the Italian version of these enclosed tuners (I don't know if the construction is the same - but the Italian version used 2 plates with the pinion gear sandwiched between them, small posts as spacers and all screwed together) work remarkably well - I have had 100 year old versions which while a bit slack, actually turn better than the modern "4 on a plate" ones. Frankly, it is actually a better design, looks neat too. I always felt it was a shame that mass production killed them off...

  13. #11
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    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    ... Or would I have to ... lose the cool Ditson headplate ...
    Maybe a (matching finish) wooden spacer would let the headplate be installed over any modern 4-on-a-plate tuners?
    Last edited by EdHanrahan; Nov-26-2019 at 3:17pm.
    - Ed

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  14. #12

    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Marty, I have a quantity of these tuning machines that I will never use. Its a long shot but maybe they'll work - or not. They seem to be be very good quality but a very odd design. The back shell pops off easily and although designed as 6-in-line, there is a clip on the assembly that permits the knob to be reversed and I've done this process. Unfortunately for me, I don't have any left-handed back shells. I'm thinking that maybe under your backplate you could secure these without the back shell via tension of the backplate. I'll just give 'em to ya if you want eight of em.
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  15. #13

    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Wrnchbndr View Post
    Marty, I have a quantity of these tuning machines that I will never use. Its a long shot but maybe they'll work - or not. They seem to be be very good quality but a very odd design. The back shell pops off easily and although designed as 6-in-line, there is a clip on the assembly that permits the knob to be reversed and I've done this process. Unfortunately for me, I don't have any left-handed back shells. I'm thinking that maybe under your backplate you could secure these without the back shell via tension of the backplate. I'll just give 'em to ya if you want eight of em.
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    Ooh.. this brings up a really interesting possibility - building in Gotoh Stealth tuning machines.
    I think we have leads on several playable instruments which would cost less than the repairs/upgrades (or desecration, take your pick) of the original instrument, so we'll see if those pan out, but may be in touch. Thanks for the offer.

  16. #14
    Registered User amowry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Oh, inlaying the Stealth tuners and putting the plate back over them was what I was going to suggest, but you beat me to it I think maybe Ken Parker inlays them flush with the back of the headstock? Somewhere I've seen them like that...

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  18. #15
    Registered User amowry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ditson Victory.. in need of TLC, need advice

    Here's one example-- might be just the ticket

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