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Thread: Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlback?

  1. #1

    Question Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlback?

    Hello everyone, hope you're having a good day. I've always been in love with the mandolin and I've managed to put a bit of money aside to finally buy one. I've found this beautiful bowlback wich would even match my budget. I'm not really sure about buying it as the advertiser doesn't specify the brand, he only says it's been restored, that it comes from Germany and that it could be from the 60's/70's. Could you manage to give me any suggestion given the photos? Do you think I should maybe ask any question about some other thing besides the brand? Thanks everyone for your time.
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  2. #2
    Registered User Jason Stein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlbac

    Hi Igor and welcome!

    Although "MAS" - Mandolin Acquisition Syndrome - can become quite an obsession, before you decide to get it there are several things to consider.

    1. What kinds of music do you want to play and who do you like to listen to? The voices of bowl-backs, flat, and carved mandolins are distinct - so listen to and research the musicians and mandolins you enjoy hearing. Maybe you can see some of the performers in action playing their mandolins on youtube or even ask about a specific artist on this forum. Someone may be able to tell you the kind of mandolin that artist is using.

    Bowl-back mandolins are mostly associated with classical music here in the US. But even if you want to play classical music, you may want to consider the type of classical mandolin as they vary in style and sound, e.g., Italian vs. German.

    2. If you decide a bowl-back is for you, the second consideration is the condition. Even though it is advertised as restored, it may still need work to make it playable - work that may cost even more than the mandolin. The more playable the mandolin is, the more likely it is that you will enjoy practicing and playing it. I don't recognize this maker - some bowl-backs are outstanding and some are "wall hangers" (sadly, suitable for decorative purposes only).

    Asking here on the forum for advice is a good start.

    I think the best advice I can offer is to have a mandolin teacher or trusted luthier get their hands on it and give you their opinion.

    Also, make sure to get an approval period so you can evaluate the mandolin and send it back if you don't like it.

    Let us know what happens!
    Last edited by Jason Stein; Apr-28-2020 at 10:37pm.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlbac

    My impression is that it is an older instrument that has been refurbished fairly recently and I would think has had a fairly serious makeover. As a beginner, the most important thing is its ability to play- rather than its originality. One would hope that the refurb has addressed this and an experienced player would be able to confirm this for you. Starting on a bowlback is a little harder than a flat back but it is how I started- but the mandolins were already in the house. The most important thing is to start with an instrument that is not going to defeat you through the frustration involved as it is borderline unplayable. I cannot tell you how many hours I spent just learning to hold the plectrum- so that when I struck the strings it did not create a dead sound or just fly off from between my thumb and forefinger! A lot of what you have to master is not dictated by the instrument but having one that will respond and not be virtually impossible to play is a good thing.

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  5. #4
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlbac

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    My impression is that it is an older instrument that has been refurbished fairly recently and I would think has had a fairly serious makeover.....
    Concur in this; the bridge and tuners look recent, the rest of the instrument perhaps older...? There seems to be some sort of green material between the tuners and nut; I'd hypothesize that it's felt glued to the headstock to dampen string vibrations in that area. Haven't seen this before, but there have been several expedients to dampen the vibrations of the portions of string between tuners and nut, and between bridge and tailpiece.

    Not quite sure what would cause the lighter-colored rectangle on the lower part of the top, and a bit surprised that the tailpiece [a] has only four posts for string loops, and [b] has no cover. The shape and ornamentation of the pickguard might suggest central-European manufacture, but I'm far from expert enough to draw any conclusions regarding origin.
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  6. #5

    Default Re: Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlbac

    Italian instruments often had green felt glued on just beyond the nut. This mandolin has features that seem to suggest both central Europe and Italy as its place of manufacture but it can't be both!

  7. #6
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlbac

    To add my guesses to everyone else's:

    I can't speak to the country of origin but it looks to me like this was refurbished from top to bottom. I think the burl overlay on the peghead was added as well as the fretboard which is thicker than you find on vintage European bowlbacks. I think the whole instrment was refinished. That rectangle is a mystery though maybe there was some tape on the top and the rest of the color darkened except where the tape is.

    As for advice to the OP, Jason Stein has some excellent things to say. If this is a reasonable price and the OP either has some experience with other fretted instruments or knows someone who has that knowledge *and* likes to play a bowlback then give it a shot. Other wise, get yourself a teacher who can recommend a good starter instrument. It might help to tell us where you live geographically. I am guessing non North America but I could be wrong.
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  8. #7

    Default Re: Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlbac

    First of all thanks everyone for you answers, Jim I live in southern Italy.

  9. #8
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlbac

    Let 'er rip, fratello.

    Non e il tuo primo mandolino ad essere cosi importante, e il tuo secondo.

    Sei nel mezzogiorno, vero? Of course you want un mandolino napoletano.
    Non ce ne sono molti disponibili da Catania vicino a te?

    It looks like a very thick fretboard--possibly a replacement to help compensate for a neck that had become misaligned.
    (Non provero nemmeno a scriverlo in italiano )

    Altrimenti, if the action on this one is good and price right, then I recommend it!
    You want to begin playing... allora suona.

    Forget what everyone says about bowlbacks being so hard to play. Probabilmente hanno un grosso stomaco....

    Facci sapere cosi decidi....

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  11. #9

    Default Re: Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlbac

    South of Italy is the land of mandolins. I am not sure how much you are prepared to spend, but 300 Euro for example will buy you a decent bowlback in Italy, much better than this one. An easy option is Musicalia or Privitera modern instrument and you can often get them either new or second hand via musical stores. Otherwise you might wish to approach any luthier in your vicinity and ask for a well setup and nicely playable beginners mandolin within your budget and you might get a nicely sounding 100 years old instrument as a result.

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  13. #10

    Default Re: Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlbac

    NFI, but have a look:

    https://www.subito.it/strumenti-musi...-335541164.htm

    Nice and inexpensive.

    Or a Calace, which is a top brand and may well last you a lifetime:

    https://www.subito.it/strumenti-musi...-335540953.htm

    (Please note I do not know this seller and cannot vouch for him, but the prices are nice and mandolins look good to me).

  14. #11
    Registered User Peter K's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could you help a young wannabe-mandolin player with a bowlbac

    I see that mandolin style as 1920s-1930s German cottage industry, however, only god knows who made it, if that would matter at all in this case, which I do not think it should. The tuning machines are evidently modern and so is the bridge. The bowl staves look misaligned vis a vis the instrument longitudinal axis (symmetry) which is not a hallmark of a good sort of workmanship.

    However, what I think should be more important to you is the following:
    (1) The picture No. 2 would suggest to me a deformation of the fretboard (FB), which generally results in playability limitations. If you were to post a side view picture of the mandolin, we'd be able to verify if such FB deformation is indeed present, and the extent of it.
    (2) I've had a number of such German cottage industry bowlbacks pass through my hands, and they all sounded rather dull. One notable exception has been a Hoffman brand "Belcanto" bowlback which sounded very nice, but that one was a much later made instrument.

    Therefore, my suggestion is that you may wish to look elsewhere for your BB mandolin.
    Last edited by Peter K; May-01-2020 at 6:20am.
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