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Thread: Help me identify this bowlback please!

  1. #1

    Default Help me identify this bowlback please!

    Just recently purchased this bowlback from an ebay seller who acquired it through an estate sale. No information regarding it's manufacture or origin. My questions are; can anyone tell me a estimate of its time period? Value? Expected quality?

    If it has no historic, artistic or antique value I plan to refinish it - making it playable and fixing up the wear. I would like yall's input on what materials you think it's made of too.
    I apologize for the quality on the pics, the mando hasn't arrived yet and I get get better ones then.
    Thanks in advance!
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    I think it is probably a Washburn made by Lyon and Healy from the 1890s/1900s- nice brass plate tuners. It is an entry level mandolin for a student- this is typified by the small number of ribs/staves used in the bowl. Its value will depend on its overall condition- how it plays etc which cannot really be well judged by photos alone. It may have been made by Regal but it is probably a Lyon & Healy- possibly one of their other brands. Washburn mandolins used rosewood and maple in the bowl. I can't confirm that the wood is rosewood-for sure.

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  4. #3

    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    Thank you so much for such a quick reply. Do you think it would be worth keeping the original varnish even though it is a bit worn, or would refinishing it not diminish its value?

  5. #4

    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    It is generally reckoned that refinishing is bad news- touching up where necessary with care is one thing but a big makeover is not recommended although as the instrument is not valuable this is not such an issue but refinishing reduces a value considerably for collectable instruments. Others will confirm who the maker was for this instrument and offer advice, I am sure and identify that wood.

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  7. #5
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    Likely made by Lyon and Healy, but from one of their (many) other lines.

    But not a Washburn. If it were....there would be a label saying it was and there would likely be a model number on the headstock.
    Washburn was the signature level line for L+H and typically used their higher grade materials, though we do see many quality overlaps with their American Conservatory line.

    We had an ongoing (and relatively fruitless) discussion here about what to "call" various L+H models in the the absence of a label. Some folks (not including me) felt it productive to call an L+H mandolin by the name of one of their labels (eg. Washburn or American Conservatory) if they exhibited the qualitative traits of that line.
    I continue to feel that this is a confusing practice.

    Not to reopen that can of worms, but this isn't a Washburn either by label or by qualitative traits. Likely one of the many, many L+H mandolins that were made with parts that resemble other parts that were used on that label's production run.

    When L+H bought out Regal they inherited all of Regal's existing stock which apparently included beaucoup mandolins in various states of completion and finish, some of which were labeled for sale by L+H (Lakeside models, I believe) and others sold off without labels.

    That isn't to confirm or deny speculation that this might be Regal made, only to suggest that the relationship between L+H and Regal for any given instrument might be more complex than "Regal made these for L+H..." for instance.

    As to value: not a lot in $$ terms. In poetic, mandolin lover terms....quite a lot. As our friend, Mike, is wont to say: These fail to sell regularly on ebay, etc.

    Does it need a refinish? May it just need a good deep cleaning instead. And an overhaul of the tuners and a proper setup to be playable and enjoyable?
    What type of refinish? Would you use this to learn how to French polish a mandolin? In which case, I would encourage it.

    Otherwise, maybe just be kind to it and let its modest good looks suffice. Treat the "wear" as the elusive "mojo" and then take pleasure in playing.

    solo i miei due centesimi....

    Mick
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  9. #6
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    As to value: not a lot in $$ terms. In poetic, mandolin lover terms....quite a lot. As our friend, Mike, is wont to say: These fail to sell regularly on ebay, etc....
    There it is! My name in lights!
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  10. #7

    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    I don't think that darker wood is rosewood, which a Washburn would have for the bowl, so I agree that it is probably not a Washburn model but another Lyon & Healy brand.

  11. #8
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    I don't think that darker wood is rosewood, which a Washburn would have for the bowl, so I agree that it is probably not a Washburn model but another Lyon & Healy brand.
    Looks like alternating mahogany and maple staves; I have a marked Washburn mandola with alternating rosewood and maple. The alternating types of wood seem to be more characteristic of earlier (c.1890-1900) Chicago instruments than of the 19-teens-20's ones, but I'm not expert enough to try to be definitive.
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  13. #9

    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!


    What type of refinish? Would you use this to learn how to French polish a mandolin? In which case, I would encourage it.

    Thank you so much for all of your information, quite a bit more than I was expecting to learn. You would agree with the 1890's as a good estimated production date?
    My goal is to french polish it, yes! I'm looking at different types of oil finishes because I do not really enjoy harsh chemical polishes. Down the road I want to become a luthier, and so I feel that this could provide valuable experience.

    On an aesthetic note, I feel that quite of bit of the character on this mandolin is more due to staining and color, and I personally prefer a natural wood look, so by stripping and french polishing it I can hopefully achieve that aesthetic.

  14. #10

    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    And for the rest of you to enjoy, I'm new to being a mandolin player, but was a fiddler and violinist for many many years. While stuck in quarantine, I found my grandads mando he had given my brother many years ago. It's a beautiful acoustic electric Fender FM62 sce that plays wonderfully. This bowlback is branching out for me, because I've heard tell that lots of jazz and classical mandolinists like their sound. I don't intend for it to be my primary player as the Fender fills that role perfectly, and I only paid $49 bucks for this guy so I'm very happy even if it isn't worth much monetarily.

  15. #11
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Looks like alternating mahogany and maple staves; I have a marked Washburn mandola with alternating rosewood and maple. The alternating types of wood seem to be more characteristic of earlier (c.1890-1900) Chicago instruments than of the 19-teens-20's ones, but I'm not expert enough to try to be definitive.
    I'd agree, Allen, that the ciotola de due legni seemed to be phasing itself out at L+H by the early '00s. If it were a labeled Washburn then I think an '90s estimate is on the money. How long it took them to work through a backlog of parts for these down label mandolins is anyone's guess though. I'd tiptoe around any definitive date on this. Late '90s to mid '00s ought to get you close enough.

    I was reading on a site about Neapolitan mandolins the other evening and found this quote:

    Also during these years, there were luthiers, named : "cassari" who built only the "bowl back part" of the mandolins, for the most important and famous workshops, as Calace and Vinaccia.

    A level of confirmation for something our long-missed friend, Plami, had floated out in conversation. Victor K has maintained the same thing. Both those fellas implied that a lot of these bowls got shipped north out of Sicily to be relabeled in Napoli and elsewhere.

    Not to suggest that L+H farmed out pieces like an auto manufacturer, but it does lend some more credence to the thought-model on L+H production that Mike put out in the above mentioned discussion: that parts might have been made and then "assembled" into the lines based on quality specifications. Of course, L+H (and Gibson and Martin) had workshop space the Neapolitan makers could only dream of.

    I had a proper Washburn some years back with the two-tone back. The rosewood that L+H was using back then was just sick. It was from the mid-90s as I recall when they were still trying out some interior cross bracing systems in support of the bowl. Looked pretty cool in there, but I doubt it was of any real help. Didn't last long as a feature.

    Bear in mind, Reesemartin, that proper French polishing uses shellac. While an oil finish can similarly be built up in many layers they are different things.

    Mick
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  17. #12

    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    Understood! Thanks everyone for your input! I'm really excited that I have a better idea of what I'm getting my hands on here! (mick, I think i actually have some shellac around here somewhere that I could put to good use then)

    Wish you guys the best of luck on your mandolin adventures!

  18. #13
    Mandolin tragic Graham McDonald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    Interesting idea, except that in the Italian style of building bowl back mandolins from the late 19th century the bowl and neck were made as a single unit. The bowl is built by one end of the ribs being glued directly to an extension of the neck shaft, the other end glued to a shallow tail block. It was only the American factories which started making the bowls and necks separately and joining them with a dovetail or dowel. I suspect there was various outsourcing going on, especially for specialised components such as inlaid scratch plates and bridges. Not convinced about the bowls separately.

    May I ask for a link to the website. Sounds interesting.

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post

    I was reading on a site about Neapolitan mandolins the other evening and found this quote:

    Also during these years, there were luthiers, named : "cassari" who built only the "bowl back part" of the mandolins, for the most important and famous workshops, as Calace and Vinaccia.

    A level of confirmation for something our long-missed friend, Plami, had floated out in conversation. Victor K has maintained the same thing. Both those fellas implied that a lot of these bowls got shipped north out of Sicily to be relabeled in Napoli and elsewhere.


    Mick

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  20. #14
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    Quote Originally Posted by Graham McDonald View Post
    Interesting idea, except that in the Italian style of building bowl back mandolins from the late 19th century the bowl and neck were made as a single unit. The bowl is built by one end of the ribs being glued directly to an extension of the neck shaft, the other end glued to a shallow tail block. It was only the American factories which started making the bowls and necks separately and joining them with a dovetail or dowel. I suspect there was various outsourcing going on, especially for specialised components such as inlaid scratch plates and bridges. Not convinced about the bowls separately.

    May I ask for a link to the website. Sounds interesting.
    That was my initial reaction, Graham, as I understand how these were built having taken apart any number of Italian bowls, including a few adventurous attempts at neck resets.

    This was from a blog site of what ever reputation from someone who clearly is more invested in guitars. "Cassari" doesn't ring a bell in my Italian vocabulary, but the "cassa-" root obviously refers to boxes of some kind.

    My hunch is that the quote might better refer to a system of outsourced / distributed piece work that might have taken place. No different from a lot of other fabrication at the time. We know the scope of that work would naturally need to take in more than just the bowl. A guitarist however historically minded, might not know that about mandolin construction and perhaps overstated his cassetta.

    Mick
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  21. #15

    Default Re: Help me identify this bowlback please!

    Talking of "Cassari" I've seen a recent ad in the Italian classifieds of a known modern Italian luthier looking to outsource someone to do just the fluted mandolin bodies for his shop.

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