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Thread: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    I have an oval hole A-style mandolin I inherited from my grandfather in 2005. It has mostly sat dusty and unstrung until with the current stay at home situation, I decided to clean it up and make it playable. There had been a split on the soundboard since I had received it and a couple spots where the back that had separated from the sides where they curve into the bottom. I was able to get the cracks to swell shut by placing it in a covered container with a bowl of water beside it. I researched repairing the cracks, used a very fluid CA adhesive to repair the split in the soundboard and Titebond wood glue to fix where the back had come loose. I stripped the very badly worn shellac off with alcohol and applied several coats of fresh shellac, cleaned the tuners and tailpiece, replaced the broken original wooden nut with a Tusq one, and installed new strings. It sounds like it should, but I would like to know if anyone has any idea when it might have been made and by whom. It appears to be mahogany, but there is no binding, only white paint lining the top and sound hole, which appears yellow (as it did when I got it) after applying the shellac. Judging from what I have read (plus being a shellac finish) it appears to have been made in the 20's -30's. Any further wisdom about its origins would be greatly appreciated.
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  2. #2
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Before you cleaned it up, it probably looked a lot like the one in this current thread. I'm going with the expertise displayed there, and guess Harmony or Regal, pre-WWII.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Thanks, I had seen Harmony and Regals that looked similar so I had thought maybe. The markers on the fingerboard on mine are smaller, and my tuning knobs are black, but yes those are very similar. The first pic is actually before I had done much cleaning, but after it came out of its rehumidification. It was never that dark, but when we found it cleaning out the house, it had been inside a cedar chest for who knows how long. If it is that old, I have a feeling my pap may not have been it's original owner either as he was born in 1926, although it is possible.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Are the tuner units nailed on- likewise, the tailpiece?

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  6. #5

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Small screws. The tuners are very simple, no engraving or scroll work, just squared off ends and 5 screws. There are 3 screws in the tailpiece.

  7. #6
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    NickR has it right even though he hasn't said it yet. It's a United built in NJ. Even if the tuners and tailpiece had been nailed on somebody would have changed them eventually. These aren't real pretty. I'm getting a real education in these things these days.
    Last edited by MikeEdgerton; May-13-2020 at 2:57pm.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  8. #7

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    The mandolin looks to me like it might have been made by United of New Jersey. Here is one- it is probably a bit newer and the finish (possibly redone on the top) is different but the shape is very similar. Perhaps, you can post a photo of the back- including the tuners.

    https://reverb.com/item/7592108-penn...style-mandolin

  9. #8
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    The fingerboard dots seem to be an identifying item on these as well.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  10. #9

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    This is my Santacilla mandolin- which also has the names- Perfacktone and PMICO NYC- on the label for good measure- three Peter Sorkin brands- and he bought from United and Oscar Schmidt. In fact, this mandolin sounds really good- it is all mahogany but a silk screen faux maple finish has been applied. It has those four dots- one obscured by the pick. I am of the opinion it was made after Oscar Schmidt sold out to John Carner- Neil Harpe suggests this was 1935 and traded under the name of Fretted Musical Instruments before selling the Stella and Sovereign brands to Harmony in 1939. When United then was formed, I don't know but it is reckoned the company took over the same factory. Anyway, I bought this for its tailpiece- but it is still on it as the mandolin plays really well and has quite a voice! I reckon it to be very late 1930s. The mandolin in question in this thread may be from the same time or perhaps the 1940s after United was formed.
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  11. #10

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Thanks! Yes, the fingerboard dots on mine are smaller than others I've seen and much more like the United one. Plus that timeframe is more in line with it being my pap's new. He was too young for WWII, but fought in Korea. I had to glue the lower support rib on the back so I had inserted my phone to get a better look and see if anything else was loose, so I added that and a few other photos too. Nails would explain why the screws in it are tapered head rather than pan head and a couple were bent too, so likely not original.
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  12. #11

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    It is very nice. I have been watching Baron Collins-Hill on YouTube trying to learn how to play it, but also listening to a lot of mandolin music too and mine sounds surprisingly good for something that was neglected for decades. I am 41 and never saw it until we were cleaning out the house 15 years ago. Their basement where it was was always damp, plus over the years my retired coal miner pap heated with a coal stove, wood stove, etc even though they had a gas furnace so it was in an environment of extreme humidity changes. I am surprised the split on the soundboard and the two spots where the back had pulled loose were the only damage it had.

  13. #12

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    I am glad you are enthusiastic about your mandolin. If it plays well and you enjoy it, that is all that counts. I think I paid about $60 for that mandolin I featured and that included an original chipboard case- it was an eBay orphan. As I wrote, I bought it for its tailpiece cover but when I had spent time setting it up- with an identical bridge to its original broken bridge, it played really well- with a very very low action and sounded so good and it now lives in a far superior case to what it came in. I do own some expensive mandolins but the most important aspect, ultimately, is not the value of the instrument, but how you relate to it. A bit of family history and personal appreciation are very important- monetary value is one thing but that does not mean a less expensive instrument does not have value because it is how you feel about it that matters. That is the bottom line in reality- where we can separate monetary value from simple satisfaction.

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  15. #13
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    I'm pretty sure those flathead wood screws holding the tuners probably aren't original. The tuners certainly aren't beveled for them.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  16. #14

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Thanks Nick, I am just beginning learning about how to play. For me, it isn't about the value so much as it is about the family connection. I was very close to my mother's parents and they have both been gone for some time. I have a good portion of their furniture and other household items (the cedar chest we found the mandolin in is at the foot of my bed). I had wanted to get mine repaired and playable for years, but had never gotten around to it.

    With the situation going on, I have been home for over 2 months. Luckily I am able to be working remote. I am a IT Technician by trade, but have always loved old things, and mechanical things. I have a few clockwork phonographs and drive old vehicles, which I do most of my own maintenance and repairs. The mandolin finally got my attention because the weather here has been so dismal the plans I had had for how to use my time didn't happen because of cold, wet weather.

    I'm enjoying the mandolin now that I have it playable because the size is convenient to pick it up and practice while I am sitting at the computer between emails, calls, etc. My guitar, not so much. Even if I get good, and add a higher end one to my collection someday, I will keep this one and maybe eventually it will pass to one of my nephews when they are old enough.

  17. #15

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Mike, I had a feeling. Once I can get to the hardware store, I will probably pick up some pan head screws to replace these especially since two were bent bad enough I didn't want to use them again. I'm still not done with it. Once the shellac gets good and solid in a few months, I plan on polishing it out and waxing it. I had not used shellac before and most of my experience is with poly on much larger pieces, so I have some wrinkles and drips to blend in. But over all, I am thrilled with the color and sheen. It glows in the sun. I have resisted the urge to freshen the black paint on the fingerboard since that doesn't really affect the sound or the beauty of the wood.
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  18. #16
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    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Leave the fretboard alone! Those are your grandfather's footsteps. ...fiingersteps?

  19. #17
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    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    That is not paint on the fingerboard, but it would have been dyed. Possibly dyed in a vacuum to force the dye deeper into the wood.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  20. #18

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Thanks, I will leave it as is.

    I am pretty sure it is paint. It is only on the top surface of the fingerboard and the edges have worn. There is evidence of some remnants of paint along the sides however.

  21. #19

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    I have two mandolins that belonged to my great-grandfather in the 1890s. My grandmother gave one to my Dad about 60 years ago and he learned to play Santa Lucia on it but as the family expanded and he started a new career, he gave up and the mandolin was stashed away. A while back he dumped the mandolin on me- I had learned the rudiments of playing on the other as it found its way into our house after my grandmother died. Anyway, Dad's mandolin and its battered cardboard case joined the junk in the cupboard under the stairs. A few years back I thought it ought to be looked at- and indeed, the top was coming adrift from the sides. I noticed it was a Vinaccia- a known make of worth and took it to my luthier. He repaired it- refusing any payment so it is now a player and he commented that it was a good instrument. I have to admit that although it intonates perfectly it is not easy to play but at least it has new strings! It is the fifth anniversary of my father's passing today- the same day that B B King died. I am pleased I have got his mandolin back into playing condition- he really wanted to be a competent musician- when he met my mother he was an accordion player. This reminds me of an old joke: "What is the definition of a gentleman? Someone who can play the accordion but chooses not to!" I am glad you treasure your mandolin- good luck with mastering it!

  22. #20

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Nick, that's awesome! I have a feeling although mine isn't valuable or quite as old, it was a similar situation. My mom's older brother was born in 1950 so he had a growing family and a job, so it likely got tossed aside and hadn't been touched in decades before I got it.
    I am sorry for your loss. I am lucky to still have my parents and they are in good health, but my grandparents generation is gone except for my youngest great aunt, who isn't much older than my dad's sister.
    I also have had an accordion since 2000 when my dad's father passed. It is a Scandalli, but it hasn't been played in 20 years and has been stored in less than ideal conditions so it would need a professional to do a complete overhaul.
    I contacted a luthier last night. I was sitting in my chair with the mandolin leaning against the wall and heard a crack. Well one of the spots where the back and side meet opened back up. The top has stayed nice and tight, so I am thinking the back is shrinking away from the sides rather than the sides distorting at the curve, plus the fact there are no stress cracks anywhere in those areas. I was reluctant to pull the back off myself, but I might see what they think. I was surprised to fine anyone in this area (rural WV) that even does that kind of work, but I have a friend who has been a musician since we were in school and he suggested I contact these folks.
    I think getting it in a case and getting a case humidifier will likely help and prevent it getting worse or happening again once it is repaired, but I will see what they think.
    Thank you all for all the comments and advice!

  23. #21

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    I have a historically significant guitar made in 1842 and when I acquired it, knowing absolutely zero about it, I tracked down the top British Romantic era guitar expert and emailed him. I got an email straight back from him telling me that he was in New Zealand with members of the Panormo family and had to see my guitar on his return. He said he was doing his doctorate and the information in terms of labels in this guitar was vital- it is not a Panormo guitar but another maker(s) instrument. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got this guitar from a Latvian friend who had been willed the guitar by a Latvian sea captain- he had seen it hanging in his cabin in his ship in the Pool of London in 1963 and my father was Latvian. James the expert wanted to buy the guitar for his museum but I felt I should keep it and as he is a skilled luthier he said on that basis he would restore it for me. He has subsequently featured photos of the bracing of the guitar- it is X-braced and probably predates Martin's use of this system in an article in American Lutherie- the magazine for the Guild of American Luthiers. I used to keep the guitar on a stand in my bedroom and one night in the early hours of the morning- five years ago today, I was awoken with a start by a loud twang and on turning on the light and inspecting the guitar- once used as a weapon in bar brawls by the captain, I saw a string had broken. When I got up and checked my phone there were messages telling me my Dad had passed away- about the time that I heard that twang. I may be fanciful in this but I think it was him saying goodbye- I had visited him the night before and he was not conscious. I do not keep the guitar in my bedroom now- it is in a case. James made a copy of this guitar - which is all spruce and sold it to somebody in NYC for about $4,000 three years ago. Good luck with your mandolin and keeping it in good playing order!

  24. #22

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    That's awesome! I don't have anything historically significant, just a lot of things old enough to be considered antique. I had a similar experience the day my grandmother died. I was in her house alone, and had been in the bedroom, when I walked into the living room, the TV came on on it's own.
    I am taking my mandolin to a luthier tonight to see about fixing where the back came loose again. I may just not have had enough glue on it, but I guess we will find out.

  25. #23

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Yes, it is odd sometimes when people move on, "Grandfather's Clock" the song celebrates this phenomenon although one assumes it is pure fiction. Five years ago, a friend died very suddenly and he chose to be buried next to a good friend in Brookwood Cemetery- when created, it was the largest cemetery in Europe. I got there early and went to the Latvian graveyard- there are national cemeteries, which I had never visited. In the graveyard there were people I had known as a kid- who had died a long way from home but the cemetery is planted with silver birch trees to make it more like home and it is very beautiful and tranquil. I found the sea captain's grave and told him his guitar was up and running- I can't play it very well but I have have heard it played by an expert friend- the guitar tutor at a very famous musical school. Anyway, I trust you get your mandolin fixed up- don't use it as a weapon in bar brawls it is too small. My friend who sold the guitar to me said the captain used to carry it around in a pillow case and it also hung up above the cooker in the kitchen after he had retired. How it survived, I will never know. A Telecaster is a good defensive weapon I have heard- or so Bill Kirchen has suggested.

  26. #24

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    It certainly is amazing how things, especially seemingly delicate things like an acoustic guitar can survive though environments like that. And that is awesome you found the captain's grave. I have been practicing on my guitar since after the back separated again, I loosened the strings on my mandolin. I dropped it off at the luthier tonight and he said it appears to be sapele wood and is solid. He told me about an arch top guitar he fixed not too long ago that was brought to him by the granddaughter of the original owner. Her dad had tried to use it as a pogo stick as a boy and it had sat damaged for decades until it came to her. It isn't perfect, but it is solid and playable again. I posted in the looking for information section about an Ortega I saw on Reverb that is for sale cheap because it has a blemish in the finish. I figure it is less than half of what they are for sale on other sites new, so I am considering buying it since it is cheap enough if something would happen to it, it wouldn't be any loss.

  27. #25

    Default Re: Help Identifying Unbranded Mandolin

    Using a guitar as a pogo stick- that's novel! I hope your mandolin is repaired and it is good to be enthusiastic about these unstoried instruments. That mandolin I posted up which I think was made in the late 30s in the works that probably became United cost very little. I think it was $60- it had to be shipped over here and there were import taxes but it had a case as well. It sounds great and it now lives in a really nice hard case from the 1920s I bought- it fits the case and deserves a good home as it sounds great and plays well. It is not all about the instrument's monetary worth- it is what it means to you that counts. I saw you had started an Ortega thread.

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