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Thread: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

  1. #1

    Default Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    Hi,
    This is my first post on Mandolin Café. I have never played a mandolin, but I have a ukulele. I have been enamored with bowl back mandolins since first seeing one (in terrible condition) about 15 years ago at an antique shop.

    I purchased this older bowl back mandolin on craigslist in New Mexico for dirt cheap a few weeks ago. It has rosewood ribs, and a rosewood pickguard, spruce top. No label inside, and paper lined. The neck is solid.
    The tailpiece is 4-post, and the nails (I guess they're nails) that fastened it are partially pulled out.
    The top does not look warped to me.
    I'm not clear what the angle of the neck to the sound board should be, but you can see the ruler picture.

    The bad:
    There are some knobs missing from the tuners.
    There are a couple of separated ribs, but they seem whole.
    There are two cracks on the top - one right next to the fingerboard (right side in the picture), and where the lower center portion of the top is joined together.
    And the wood butt piece is cracked a little on each side.

    From what I have read on these forums, it seems like a previous owner put heavy strings on it at some point causing all of this damage.

    It looks to me like the upper and lower portion of the top have a cut joint rather than being bent like the nicer Italian mandolins I've been seeing pictures of.

    The trim around the sound hole seems to have almost nothing holding it underneath - I have no idea if this is normal. You can kind of see that in the picture with the mirror inside the soundhole.

    The lady I bought it from said, "You'll have to glue down the bridge."


    What's my goal of posting this?
    Of course I'd like opinions of era and maker (at least Italian or American).

    I'd love to get the instrument playable, but I don't want to spend a lot of money. I'm a meticulous engineer (and hobbyist woodworker), so I would like to try to do the work myself. If I do I'll post pictures.

    Thanks everyone!
    -Matt

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  2. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    See if you can get a full shot of the front and the back.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    I had to take some more pictures in good light.
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  4. #4
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    I think it's American made, very early 1900's but I don't think it was made in Chicago. We need one of our expert bowlheads to ID this from the headstock shape and maybe the bowl. Hopefully a catalog page. It seems to me we had that scratch guard recently on another bowlback that was posted. The wood on the rosette and "binding" was a common product sold by jobbers and used by a few different makers. Just picked up you said it's paper lined.

    Changed my mind, maybe Chicago. That dot on the 12th fret all by itself might help ID a builder as well. Four post tailpiece.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    I wonder if those tuner units have been swapped around? There may be markings on them underneath if you take them off although this is not that likely. Those nails holding on the tailpiece are pins and could be upgraded to screws!

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    You don't want to glue down the bridge!

    It looks to be a turn of the century instrument, judging by the 4-post tailpiece. It seems to be in remarkably decent condition overall. Regarding cracks, it's hard to say without it being in hand. The crack near the tailpiece is on the midline where the two pieces of the top are joined together. It may well be stable. I can't be sure about the crack near the neck, but the interior shot of the cross-brace looks to have a glue line so maybe it had been addressed at some point. Be careful cleaning the top. If you get some kind of polish into the cracks it will be a real problem should they need gluing. (I've cleaned several old violins by using a soft cloth/paper towel and saliva to remove decades of crud. It's a slow project, as one runs out of solvent after a while, but it is harmless to the instrument, works well.

    I think buttons can be found for the tuners. They look to be a bit corroded, but a tiny drop of light oil like sewing machine oil on the gears could render them usable; once the strings are removed, just work them around until the crud wears itself off.

    The neck looks OK. Be sure to use extra-light strings; places like JustStrings have them; you're not likely to find light enough strings in your local brick & mortar shop. I find the wooden inlaid scratchplate charming, better than old plastic/tortoise that warps or deteriorates.

    The top is in fact made in the Italian style; the cant (bend) may not be extreme, but it's there. There is a little cracking along the line of the cant, not likely a problem zas the wood fibers had been torn a bit in the bending process.

    The bridge is usable as-is; too bad about the broken end, but not a big deal. Once all the repairs have been effected, you'll need to mess about with it to get the intonation right, or at least as right as it's ever going to be. If it ends up being problematic, a new saddle can be made to partially compensate for any issues. If you're really hardcore you can try to replicate the bridge, I guess.

    I think this is a worthwhile project instrument. You'll probably enjoy the process.

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  8. #7

    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    I removed the strings and pulled off the tuners, per Nick R's suggestion. Two of the pins holding on the tailpiece fell out.

    Under the tuners, there are no markings. Everything on the tuner is pinned/peened together.
    They are stiff and in serious need of cleaning / lubing. I have seen the postings regarding this.
    Two of the cap pieces (that the string goes thru and wraps around) are loose. The pins holding them together have backed out slightly so this was going to be a necessary repair.

    Also, the tuners look to have never been moved or replaced based on the imprints on the head.

    >You don't want to glue down the bridge!
    Thanks, Bob. Yes, I have seen that elsewhere in the forums.

    How do I figure out of a crack is stable?

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  9. #8
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    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    A little pressure near the crack will show whether the wood is moving relative to the other side of the crack. Be gentle.

    The crack near the neck is the more serious issue; when strung up to pitch it may permit more extensive damage at the neck/body join. The downward pressure on the belly crack below the bridge is not as structurally significant. Also it's harder to deal with, as I suspect you'd have to be removing the top to address the poblem. But the bridge spreads the downward force, and the sides hold the top together, so it's not an area where there's a concentration of destructive forces coming into play.

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  11. #9

    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    What I meant was that I wondered if the tuners had been changed from one side to the other of the headstock because they appeared to be "worm over gear" which was not the norm when this mandolin was made. I had a set of guitar tuners very similar to this pair and they had "patent applied" on them although they did look German made at a quick glance. German made metal ware was shipped to instrument making centers- even the USA but they tend to have more elaborate shapes to the plates- but not always.

  12. #10
    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    What I meant was that I wondered if the tuners had been changed from one side to the other of the headstock because they appeared to be "worm over gear" which was not the norm when this mandolin was made.
    I noticed that too! However, the position of the tuners relative to headstock looks correct, and flipping the tuners would have meant their position would have been very low on the headstock. In other words, looking at the headstock vertically from the front, the tuning keys are nicely centered, top to bottom. If these had originally been mounted worm-under, the lowest (outer E and G) would have seemed very close to the nut. Functional, perhaps, but seems unlikely someone would have designed it that way. What a mystery!

    I also notice that the grain of the top is carefully arranged with wide grain at center, and narrow grain on the edges. And--maybe someone can help me with the terminology here--the grain is not parallel to the strings, but angles slightly inward, toward the tailpiece. Maybe this detail will narrow it down?

    The scratchplate looks much like my Bohmann mandolins, but the Bohmann label covered nearly the entire inside of bowl, and this one has been papered. Then again, it's not impossible they could have shipped one without a label. The headstock is reminiscent of the Bohmann look, too.

    Does anyone know if any of the early Bohmann mandolins had worm-over tuners?
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  13. #11

    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    The tuners have not been switched over as we would see indentations on the top of the headstock below the bottom two tuner peg holes- and they are not there. I think it is an American made instrument- possibly by one of the Italian makers and I think Mike Edgerton's date of 1900 is right given the mandolin's features. As to where it was made and by whom, I have no idea.

  14. #12
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    August, I think you're on to something with the headstock. If you add the stuff that Bohmann had inside that cutout it could be very much like his headstock and others as well. I'm not finding any Bohmann's with an added brass piece but I know I've seen little doo-dads in an open space like that before.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  15. #13
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    OK, it is by no means a D'Angelico but the headstock most likely had some sort of finial like this.
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    Last edited by MikeEdgerton; Mar-13-2020 at 6:19pm.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  16. #14

    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    Here is a picture of the top of the head - no hole.
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    But I have found many examples online of Italian mandolins with the same shape (and other similar features).
    I'm not suggesting a maker, just similarities.
    https://www.lucassobieranski.com/instruments-for-sale (Vinaccia)
    https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/20...-mandolin.html

  17. #15
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    Quote Originally Posted by BowlbackMatt View Post
    Here is a picture of the top of the head - no hole.
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    But I have found many examples online of Italian mandolins with the same shape (and other similar features).
    I'm not suggesting a maker, just similarities.
    https://www.lucassobieranski.com/instruments-for-sale (Vinaccia)
    https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/20...-mandolin.html
    It's nothing like the Italian one, it's American made. The L&H was a common mandolin. It could be an L&H. Everyone used that trim. I'm surprised there is no mark on that top. The finish there looks different though, not sure there wasn't something glued there at one time.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  18. #16
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    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    Pretty much everything about this says Italian manufacture. Not a chance of it being from L+H.
    A few things of note: the veneer covered neck is a giveaway. The contoured end of the fretboard another common Italian characteristic not typically seen on US bowls.
    Same with the neck to bowl detail.
    The tailpiece and super thin fretboard with fret slots cut almost-if-not-entirely through.
    Wood veneer scratchplate also shows up on a lot of Italian bowls including many MOR Vinaccias.
    Vinaccia, among others, used a little finial at the headstock like the one Mike posted from D'Angelico. Vinaccia was the model for lesser copiers just as Gibson has been in the US.
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  19. #17

    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    I think I found the maker! Using the 12-th fret marker comment from MikeEdgerton, I was able to search for the unique head shape (google image search), and I found a few from the same maker: Guiseppe Casini. The first one is exactly like this one. The second and third have nicer trim, but the same shape everything, same 5,7,12th fret markers.

    One looks exactly like it and sold recently, but it's on Italian Ebay (and I assume Italian Ebay is being slammed with everyone at home), so it doesn't reliably load pictures:
    https://www.ebay.ie/itm/161931218848
    NOTE: If you click the link above in the US (or elsewhere) it gets corrected to .com, and the item can't be found. Correct back to .ie and you will see the listing.
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    This one looks almost identical except for the flat spot on the head: https://www.invaluable.com/auction-l...-c-9e9345e8f0#
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    A third one sold in the UK in an Auction: https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/a...2-aa03013e8b45
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    A fourth one has a celluloid pickguard, but the same shape: https://www.worthpoint.com/worthoped...lin-1778487531

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  20. #18

    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    Hi Matt. It is impossible to attribute your mandolin to any particular maker. Many makers made the similar features, they are not unique. Say, Luigi Salsedo made similar headstocks and bowl shapes and many others, too. There were thousands of small scale makers in Italy around the turn of the 19/20 century. Many simply bought parts from larger factories and put them together. Some didn't label them as they sold in bulk to the shops who'd put their own labels inside or just sell as is like your example.

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  22. #19
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Another old bowlback here. What is it?

    Quote Originally Posted by vic-victor View Post
    Hi Matt. It is impossible to attribute your mandolin to any particular maker. Many makers made the similar features, they are not unique. Say, Luigi Salsedo made similar headstocks and bowl shapes and many others, too. There were thousands of small scale makers in Italy around the turn of the 19/20 century. Many simply bought parts from larger factories and put them together. Some didn't label them as they sold in bulk to the shops who'd put their own labels inside or just sell as is like your example.
    Agreed. Itaiian. Neapolitan style with heavy Vinaccia-n influence. Maybe made in Napoli, maybe in Sicily. Casini was likely a labeler, as Victor suggests.

    None of that takes a smidgeon away from the instrument's inherent quality good or bad. Or MOR. The "distributed factory" approach to mass production continued on in Italy while it was being consolidated at places like Lyon and Healy and Regal, etc. in the US. What was similar was the practice of selling "...in bulk to the shops who'd put their own labels inside or just sell as is...."

    If the neck angle and intonation are good, you've got yourself a nice little mandolin. Hopefully with that "shimmering sound" of Italian bowlbacks, to quote our friend Martin Jonas.

    Super light strings on these per favore. .09-.032. Basta cosi. Nothing heavier.

    Mick
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