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Thread: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

  1. #1

    Default Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    Hi, I'm new to this forum and to the world of mandolins in general.

    I wanted to ask whether someone could help with identifying this mandolin which belonged to my great grandfather.

    There are no labels on it and no markings I could easily search by - so I would appreciate any help.

    I know it is in pretty bad shape, it wasn't well looked after (as can be seen in the photos) - but I am not interested in selling anyway. This has a sentimental value for my family.

    It's just information about the maker I would like to have and the approximate year of manufacture.

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    The wood is pretty dried out on the fretboard, but it doesn't look in terrible shape. It's cool that you have the case! (Unusual to have the case with bowlbacks.) It looks like higher quality than a beginner bowlback, many people on here with more information on manufacturers than I have (I am more an enthusiast of bowlbacks than a student of them.) It would be nice if you learned to play it (it doesn't look far from playable to me.)

  3. #3

    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    Thanks so much for your reply!

    I would love to be able to play it - I've been playing the guitar for quite a long time, so I hope I manage to play a couple of tunes on it

    Thanks again

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    - There seems to be some minor damage and missing binding (the black & white trapezoids) near the bass side of the tailpiece. Just a guess, but the damage is probably more cosmetic than structural.
    - Without strings, it's hard to tell if the neck is straight or of it would be playable. That can be a problem w/ bowlbacks.

    O/t the mentioned dryness, it looks surprisingly good. DO use only the lightest-gauge strings you can find, for which more knowledgeable folks will probably chime in. And yes, the bridge is supposed to be loose, held in place only by the strings.

    I'm no expert, but that pickguard is probably real tortoise-shell, giving a new batch of concerns:
    - Keeping it in the family is entirely legal.
    - Selling it is entirely not legal.
    - Carrying it across state lines is technically okay IF a certified antique. Pre-1973, maybe? Maybe the body serves as "certification", especially w/ period photos or catalogue pages. Not that any of us would ever do it (he said tongue-in-cheek) but who's ever gonna check at a state line?
    - Carrying it thru international customs could get it confiscated. The (probably) Brazilian rosewood doesn't help, either.

    But otherwise: Nice mandolin! Great-grandpa had good taste!
    - Ed

    "Then one day we weren't as young as before
    Our mistakes weren't quite so easy to undo
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  5. #5

    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    Thanks for taking the time to answer!

    Would you recommend keeping it as is aesthetically? Or should I replace the missing mother of pearl inserts?

    Regarding the strings - noted, that's what I thought too. Light gauge strings would be the way to go.

    I honestly wouldn't think of selling it - i want to keep it in the family.

    Carrying it across state lines won't be an issue either I live in Malta - a small island close to Sicily My great grandfather emigrated to the States from Malta and my grandfather was born there. The latter came back to Malta as a young teenager and lived here for the rest of his life, travelling to America only to visit family occasionally.

    So in reality my great grandfather might have bought the mandolin from Sicily or from the States. That is one of the reasons why I would like to establish whether the mandolin is American-made or Italian

    Thanks again

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    Given family history, I'd go with an Italian origin. I was unable to see if the back of the neck was veneered; if so, that would be still another indicator of Italian origin. I'd also look into getting the missing pieces replaced; leaving the spaces open makes it easy to incur further damage. If you can find a knowledgeable luthier to examine the instrument for stability and necessary repairs, it would be worth pursuing. The four-prong string retainer is indicative of an earlier mandolin; I'd figure pre-WWI anyway, but that's merely a somewhat informed guess.

    On the whole, it looks like an instrument worthy of repair or restoration, even more so since there's a family connection.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    I agree with Bob. From many details (thin fretboard, fretboard end curve following soundhole, tailpiece, double coursing of top binding) I would venture this was Italian made, and given your grandfather's proximity to Sicily, likely made in Catania. Bob's suggestion to check if the neck is veneered is a good one as that was a regular practice in Italy, which I don't think I've often seen in the US outside some extraordinary examples from Angelo Manello.
    You can be certain this is not a US made mandolin.

    We've occasional seen mandolins here with Maltese labels, though the hunch has been these were likely made in Sicily and labeled for sale in Malta. I'll have to look around in my files which are in a bit of a mess right now as I'm moving things around a bit.

    Here is a something a quick search turned up for an auction for a mandolin labeled "Carabott Brothers, Malta". Unfortunately there is no photo of the label.
    My guess would be this was made in Catania, too.

    I agree that it doesn't look in the worst of condition. No doubt that amazing case preserved it pretty well.

    Might we tempt you into posting more photos, particularly some side or 3/4 angle views so we might be able to get some sense of the position of the neck?
    As a guitar player you certainly know how necks can go south, and it is a common problem we see on older lightly built bowlback mandolins.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Mick
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  9. #8

    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    Dear Bob A, thanks for your reply and for your insight!

    Yes, I'm trying to find a reputable luthier who is knowledgeable on such mandolins.

    I'll take some more photos of the neck for you to have a better look

  10. #9

    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    Dear Mick, thanks a lot for your help!

    Your comment regarding the mandolins labelled 'Carabott brothers' is very interesting - i'll try to do some research on the matter and keep you posted.

    I will definitely take some more photos of the neck for you to see. It's the least I can do! You have all been so helpful. It doesn't look too bad in my eyes, but i'm no expert

  11. #10

    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    Catania is probably the place. I have one by Puglisi in my files with the similar scratch plate style. Puglisi sometimes made instruments for the dealers without their own label inside. But they would often put their burned seal on the inner side of the top. Worth checking yours with the dental mirror for that.

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  13. #11

    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    Hi vic-victor, thanks for your contribution!

    The scratch plate is very similar indeed!! The deer in the middle is something I was trying to find on other mandolins to try to figure out who the maker was.

    I had a quick look on the inside using a mirror some days ago, but I'll try again with better lighting just in case I missed it

    I'm attaching some photos of the neck and fretboard, as Mick suggested.

    Thank you all for your help

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  14. #12
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    Quote Originally Posted by vic-victor View Post
    Catania is probably the place. I have one by Puglisi in my files with the similar scratch plate style. Puglisi sometimes made instruments for the dealers without their own label inside. But they would often put their burned seal on the inner side of the top. Worth checking yours with the dental mirror for that.

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    Great photo, Victor! Thanks for sharing that.

    Mick
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    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    Quote Originally Posted by bowl_back View Post
    Hi vic-victor, thanks for your contribution!

    The scratch plate is very similar indeed!! The deer in the middle is something I was trying to find on other mandolins to try to figure out who the maker was.

    I had a quick look on the inside using a mirror some days ago, but I'll try again with better lighting just in case I missed it

    I'm attaching some photos of the neck and fretboard, as Mick suggested.

    Thank you all for your help

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    Neck position doesn't look real bad. Looks as if there is a bit of deformation of the top around the sound hole. This area is under a lot of stress when the mandolin is strung up and in tune.

    Often we see this are of the top begin to give in which causes the neck angle to rotate up.

    In such cases the neck itself typically isn't warped like you might see on a guitar, but the whole neck rotates out of position as the top sags in. Even a little top sag and rotation is enough to throw the neck angle and action way off.

    Some builders like Embergher in Rome and CF Martin in Pennsylvania added a small wooden plate to stiffen the top between the soundhole and the neck block to help resist these forces. Don't know why that wasn't a more common practice. The folks in Chicago beefed up the neck and the top. Good structural decisions but at cost to the reponsiveness of the mandolin.

    I'd recommend stringing it up with ultra light strings (.09-.32) and slowly bring it towards A440 tuning. Check out how the neck responds.

    In advance of that, you might take a straight edge from the nut to the bridge position and see what that reveals about the overall neck angle relative to the instruments scale.

    I hope such tests all turn out well!

    Mick
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  17. #14

    Default Re: Could someone help me identify this old bowl back?

    Thanks once again Mick - very detailed explanation and advice.

    As you yourself said, it is the area closest to the sound hole that seems to be deformed.

    I will proceed as you suggested

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