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Thread: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

  1. #1
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    Default Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Hello,

    I have been learning to play the zither banjo using Herbert J Ellis's 'Advanced School For The Banjo And Zither Banjo' and the guitar with his 'Thorough School For The Guitar'. Having recently obtained a copy of his 'Thorough School For The Mandoline' and after a brief search, I won the eBay auction on this Silvestri.

    I would very much appreciate any thoughts and opinions on my purchase.

    Kind regards, Ian.
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  3. #2
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    It looks like a fine little instrument.

  4. #3

    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Ermelinda Silvestri mandolins often have a label inside with the date of about 1891- when the company was founded and this means that just about every instrument made by the firm is sold using that date as its year of manufacture! I would reckon yours is circa 1920, judging by the German tuners but it may be earlier. It looks like a good mandolin in great order. I have an Ermelinda Silvestri Hawaiian guitar that is circa 1930- it has great tone. I believe that although the firm for many years had the name of Ermelinda Silvestri, there was no female luthier in charge- later on the firm became S. Sgroi Silvestri- another family member. That's a great instruction tutorial but I am more familiar with another Herbert Ellis- on guitar! I have no idea when the tutor was first published but it shows Oxford Street, W1. The use of numbers after the London geographical district began in 1917- so it may be 1920s. Most stringed instruments for sale in the UK for decades (excluding banjos) were made in central Europe- Saxony, Germany and what became Czechoslovakia, Italy and Sicily like this mandolin, France and the United States. Very few were made in the UK. There was one London maker whose mandolins are often seen- George La-Foley.

    Edit: I have seen the listing on eBay, and the seller mentions early 1900s- which may well be correct. I mentioned "circa 1920... but it may be earlier." The seller appears to- judging by his name, know about mandolins- rather than a house clearance trader, so that's a very good thing. I would imagine, he had hoped for a better price but old bowl back mandolins in the main do not command high prices.

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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    David, thank you very much for your opinion.

    Nick, thank you for your very informative reply. The seller is a professional luthier, specialising in mandolins. We had a good conversation regarding my wish to have an imported 'mid range' instrument of around 1900, to continue my interest in the instructional work of Ellis. As far as I can determine, the books I have for the banjo, guitar and mandoline were all first published in the 1880s-90s.

    The bowl is lined with light grey paper, densely mottled with black ink. There is no label or residue paste from one removed.

    As I considered that my winning bid was unlikely to reflect the amount of work that had been undertaken, I asked the seller what price he had hoped to achieve and as it was considerably lower than my maximum bid, I was happy to forward the difference to him, separately from the eBay auction. My assumption was correct, as it is as good as it was described to me.

    Herb Ellis certainly does have more entries on the web than Herbert J Ellis.

    Kind regards, Ian.

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  8. #5

    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Ian, I think that was a most reasonable gesture you made to the seller- there are good sellers out there and I am sure he was very pleased with your kindness. It's better to have no label than a bogus label- something I have been discovering of late! I trust you enjoy learning from Herbert discovering the intricacies of mandolin playing!

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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Nick, I think fate determined that the mandolin tutor appeared on eBay followed by Mike putting up his instruments. Actually, I also got the Il Globo from the eight he was selling and again, paid him what he had hoped to get. He supplied two cases, tatty but functional and one of leather that will be worth renovating. He also threw in a bag of very nice old plectrums and three tutor books from, I guess the 1920s.

    I can't begin playing the mandolin or continue with the other instruments, as my Wife has terminal brain cancer and now only has a day or two left.

    Kind regards, Ian.

  10. #7

    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Ian, I wish you well at a very difficult time- playing mandolin is the least of your priorities, right now. I trust you are getting support and help and whatever else you might need given your circumstances.

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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Thank you Nick, it is difficult. I do have the support to see me through, but the waiting is the hardest part. She is at home and has now reached the stage of sleeping all the day and night.

    This post was an opportunity to momentarily switch focus and has been worthwhile. I will pick up again and post here in time. You appear to have an appreciation of Mr Ellis' influence on the amateur musician of his day. I would like to discuss it with you.

    All the best, Ian.

  12. #9
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    That looks like a nice serviceable mandolin. The only thing that sticks out for me was the bowl which looks like it was refinished. Perhaps this luthier stripped the finish off in order to fix cracks and lightly finished it. Here are a couple of photos of what original finish would look like on a maple-bowled Silvestri from the same period.

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    Jim

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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    HI Jim,

    I had thought that too but forgot to ask, so I will email him again today. Is your instrument the same as mine?

    I haven't yet had a chance to thoroughly search the forum archives, so please can you tell me what the opinions are regarding the bridge placement on old mandolins? My bridge is on the cant with the front edge right on the dividing line. The intonation is spot on and the string height doesn't need to be changed. The neck angle appears to be correct and not withstanding the possibility of the top having been refinished, there is no marking from the bridge having been on the top. Is it likely that it has remained in the original position?

    Kind regards, Ian.
    Last edited by ALCO; Mar-28-2020 at 2:10am.

  15. #11

    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Ian

    I am not an expert but I would expect the bridge to sit on the top before the cant- the lower edge of the bridge being at the division. With old instruments, you may find a footprint where the bridge sat but that does not mean it was in the right place- it was just in that position for a long time. However, I think with an old instrument, the bridge is often located where it allows for ease of play and the question of intonation has been ignored to facilitate this.

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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Hi Nick,

    I did ask the seller about it and he said the same as you. There doesn't appear to be a footprint, but it might have disappeared if he cleaned the top. I only asked out of curiosity, as from the limited amount of playing that I have so far achieved, it is clearly not a problem. The intonation and string height are fine and the tone it produces is very pleasing.

    I had a good Sicilian bowl back for a while about twenty five years ago, but as I was playing out on my fiddle three or four nights a week, it didn't get used. I can't remember where it went, but I probably swapped it for yet another violin!! There was a time, years ago when I could never have imagined it, but I haven't played the fiddle for a couple of years now. I stopped going out and my interests changed. Exploring the Ellis tutors is very much a solo pursuit as so few others seem to play his rather simplistic and dated music. Certainly, the musicians that I used to associate with would not want to. Thankfully there is the Classic Banjo Ning and this amazing forum to provide guidance and support.

    Regards, Ian.

  18. #13

    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    I would imagine that not playing the fiddle for a few years would be detrimental to your ability to play for a while and going back to it, quite a chore and a challenge!

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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Actually, I've given it up all together to concentrate on the banjo, mandolin and guitar. I am really enjoying being a beginner again!!

    What music do you make on your mandolin and do you play any other instruments?

    I.

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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Quote Originally Posted by ALCO View Post
    HI Jim,

    I had thought that too but forgot to ask, so I will email him again today. Is your instrument the same as mine?

    I haven't yet had a chance to thoroughly search the forum archives, so please can you tell me what the opinions are regarding the bridge placement on old mandolins? My bridge is on the cant with the front edge right on the dividing line. The intonation is spot on and the string height doesn't need to be changed. The neck angle appears to be correct and not withstanding the possibility of the top having been refinished, there is no marking from the bridge having been on the top. Is it likely that it has remained in the original position?

    Kind regards, Ian.
    ALCO, I don't own that mandolin I posted. I just capture jpegs from various places for research purposes. I do have a closet of bowlbacks which I purchased as tuition for my self-education about them.

    Generally with most bowlbacks having a cant in the top, the correct position for proper intonation is usually near the cant but on the soundhole side. One of the only exceptions to that are bowlbacks made by Vega where the bridge is properly placed in the tailpiece side of the cant. Since your mandolin was set up by a luthier I assume that wherever it it now is the proper spot, especially, as you noted, it intonates perfectly.

    I have a copy of the Ellis mandolin method as well as a pile of other methods from the period. I will take a look at it. There are many other excellent method books for the mandolin from that period and they often have at least a few nice etudes or practice pieces.
    Last edited by Jim Garber; Mar-28-2020 at 10:35am.
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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Thank you for that information Jim. Isn't it odd that Vega opted for that bridge position, contrary such a proven design?

    I don't imagine that the Ellis tutors are particularly special in respect of the contents. It is, from what I've been able to ascertain, the immense popularity of his works and the widespread influence it had on amateur musicians, that I find fascinating. On the Classic Banjo Forum, I posed the question: if I visited a local music shop in 1890 to purchase my first banjo, what tutor book would most likely be recommended to me? The consensus was the Ellis. I imagine that the same would apply if I were buying a mandolin in that period at the end of the nineteenth century. I appreciate that this is a somewhat narrow view, but as my attempt at 'historically informed performance' is just for my own benefit, it really doesn't matter. However, if there are other players who have a similar interest, I would be delighted to hear from them.

    Ian.

  22. #17

    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    I played piano as a child and I suppose I still do but I need to practise to get back into shape.

    We had some bowlbacks in the house- they had belonged to my great grandfather and my Dad started to learn at one point. I got nagged by a friend to start on the mandolin and at about the same time, I bought a 12 string guitar- a huge mistake. Anyway, mandolin and guitar are my main interest. However, I won an instrument that I thought might be a mandocello on ebay. It had a snakehead and mandolin tuners and it had a few cracks in it and was very odd. During shipping due to totally incompetent packing, it was virtually destroyed in transit. Anyway, I took it to the luthier and he said "if you string that up with eight strings it will explode! I will get my tape measure." I said: "Don't bother, the scale is 20.5 inches long" and he said- "Well, it is a tenor guitar." I said "What is that?" and I went home and searched the internet for about an hour and found the Windsor Whirle tenor guitar.
    So, he refashioned the headstock into a paddle, he put banjo tuners on it, mended ten cracks- some going across the grain where it had been crushed, made new internal braces, made a tailpiece as that had been removed and made a pickguard like the one in this link. I sent the photos from the link to him so he could remake the headstock and he copied the guard. All the repairs and the new wood added on the headstock are invisible- although there are plenty of cleats inside it.
    This link suggests that the instrument was made in the UK- Windsor made banjos and sold guitars and mandolins made elsewhere- but he said that he could tell from how the plates were cut, that it was made in central Europe- probably Czechoslovakia. I got a catalogue page from the chap who sold me the Windsor Whirle badge and it dates from 1927. You will laugh as Windsor sold at the same time a less expensive tenor guitar- and it is an Ermelinda Silvestri instrument- I have only seen one and that was on eBay. Basically, the Whirle is an unashamed copy of the Epiphone Recording tenor guitar but probably made to less high specs. So, I play the tenor guitar a little- it's the same as a mandola- or tenor banjo in terms of tuning. The Whirle is a short scale tenor and is thus much easier to play than others.

    http://www.vintageinstruments.com/mu...iefulpage.html

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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    It is so frustrating to receive damaged items and much more so when it is due to incompetence!! You were fortunate to find a luthier to do that amount of repair work and now it must very satisfying to play it. A friend recently sent me a Windsor zither banjo that suffered a crack to the neck/headstock because, judging by the dried black paint all over the crushed end of the box, it seems likely that a tin fell on it. Because it was so well packaged it is playable but still, very annoying!!

    One of my earliest memories is of my Grandfather playing tenor guitar and singing. A friend played tenor guitar in a little band I was in. The four of us didn't live close enough to play regularly but we would occasionally get a job providing music for a dance or a party. I played fiddle/mouth organ/piccolo, with the three others on fiddle/melodeon/piano, Anglo concertina/songs, and the tenor guitar/banjo/piano.

    Are you in the UK and also, what type of music do you play?

  24. #19

    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    I did not want to return the instrument because the seller had a zillion problems- she had told me about her life. She told me that her son made guitars- sent me some photos of them. I had no idea on that basis she would send the guitar so badly packaged as I assumed she would be advised accordingly. When it arrived, it looked like I had bought an inflated beach ball! It was wrecked. Luckily, I know a superb luthier and he indulges me, so it did not cost a fortune to repair. I am in Surrey and he is just a few miles up the road, which is really handy. With regard to some form of compensation, she agreed to send me 30 to buy a case on eBay I had seen for the tenor guitar. I bought the case, and when I got the repaired instrument back with its rebuilt headstock, that made it a bit longer than before- and it was too long for the case!

    I play all sorts of music but on mandolin mostly bluegrass. However, I can play things I learned on the piano a bit- some J S Bach and Scott Joplin as I have those tunes in my head, which helps. I do not have a repertoire as I tend to play along with others rather than solo although those classical compositions like Jesus Joy of Man's Desiring, I can play okay although ideally I need to practise them a bit more.

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    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    That was kind of you to keep it and kind of the luthier to repair it for you. Do you know if he does work on banjos?

    I'm in East Sussex but was born and grew up in Croydon. I used to go to some 'folk' sessions in Reigate and Redhill'. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but it was a good social evening with friends.

  26. #21

    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    My luthier has been ill since Xmas and has been keeping a very low profile even before this lock down. He has too may customers, I am afraid, so despite his situation, he really does not want any more work. He has done some work on a couple of friends' guitars- they are Martins, and he is a huge fan of Martin guitars- less so, my instruments of choice! With regard to the Windsor Whirle tenor guitar. When I picked it up he said: "Next time just buy yourself an effing jigsaw puzzle, please."

    Many years ago, around East Surrey, Chris Morton was active. He's a prodigy on guitar and excellent on mandolin and banjo and he's also a really great guy and a natural comedian. I have not seen him in a few years but I know the leader of our bluegrass pick knows him very well, so I might get to see him when we are allowed to emerge again.

    Here he is- his guitar is a Mossman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UA9VZJXN0SQ

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uPM...E1C95EEACF69D7

  27. #22

    Default Re: Silvestri bowl back mandolin.

    Here are some photos of that old Windsor Whirle. I need to clean the board. It has one more fret than the one I featured earlier. I always think this guitar's headstock looks like Sweep- Sooty's pal!

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