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Thread: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymore?

  1. #1

    Default Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymore?

    Iím a tenor banjo player and Iíve been wanting to make the switch to mandolin. Neapolitan mandolin and Banjolin have my greatest interest, though I havenít seen many from popular companies. I saw one Banjolin by Gold Tone, but that was about it. I like to play outside and take my instrument when I travel, therefore vintage isnít really my style. Are there any companies that make a more modern Neapolitan mandolin and/or Banjolin that would be good for travel?

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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    Maybe we can help with your quest for a mandolin-banjo. Can you explain why travel and playing outside would mean excluding an older instrument? There were many good mandolin-banjos made in the 1920’s that are quality instruments. If it is cost you are concerned about most sell for low prices even after including the cost of a good set-up.

    Mark
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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    If a banjo has a plastic head or fyberskin it is about as secure as an electric guitar. Not much to bother when traveling or playing out of doors. I believe Gold Tone makes an mandolin banjo if it is new you must have.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  4. #4

    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    I personally like to play outside, all 4 seasoms, so Iím a bit afraid of warping. How sturdy you reckon vintage ones are? A lot Iíve seen are from the 1920s-1970s

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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    I have played one from the 20's outside with no problems.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  6. #6

    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    So I don't know how you'd feel about the style of the Kiso-Suzuki bowlbacks, but they're solid as a rock. My da's own one as far back as I can remember, it's traveled 'round the world (twice) to some of the harshest climes you can imagine (we're talking Sub-Saharan Africa in Summer, Eastern Europe in Winter...), and it just keeps on giving.

    They've a great sound, too. Really nice projection. Nice warmth to them, and a particularly well rounded midrange (to my ear). In pointed fact, here's a clip of the MR-150 (the model both me dear ol' da and myself play):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XB-XaNUrtZI

    For contrast, here's a Gibson F-5 Master Model:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qm0x8hFuWo

    Now personally, I think the warmth of the MR-150 is nicer. I also think it projects a little better. But that's just my two pence.

    You should be able to find all manner of Kiso-Suzuki bowlbacks on the Electronic Bay (that's eBay) for between £80-300. Some have cases, some do not. Cases for a bowlback are a right pain in the arse to come by. I'm in the process of deciding if I want to order from China or make my own. Probably going to go with the latter.

    Anyroad, there's as I said, my two pence.
    Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.-Geralt of Rivia

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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    It sounds pretty damn good and Iím happy to hear of itís good durability. Iím personally not a huge fan of the F style mandolin so Iím automatically kinda leaning towards the Kiso Suzuki. I reckon no bowlback has something for a strap? Not a deal breaker, but it may be nice to have

  8. #8

    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    What my da did was take a bit of shoelace and around the headstock under the strings above the nut, and then at the tailpiece where that fancy scrollwork is he ties it *very lightly off* there. It'll roll a bit while you play up towards you, but we've found if you hold your picking arm a bit under it like a lute (really a bowlback is played more like a lute anyway), it negates the roll. Eventually my sister made him a custom bit of silk strapping for it with snaps and everything really fancy, but he left that in Egypt, so now it's back to the shoelace again lol

    I myself play sitting down.
    Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.-Geralt of Rivia

    Serve... Save... Slave... Slay... I've sins aplenty, aye. But regrets? Not so much.-Fray Myste

    It's the best and strongest steel that goes through the hottest fires.-Me

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Smile Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    Quote Originally Posted by Kajetan View Post
    It sounds pretty damn good and Iím happy to hear of itís good durability. Iím personally not a huge fan of the F style mandolin so Iím automatically kinda leaning towards the Kiso Suzuki. I reckon no bowlback has something for a strap? Not a deal breaker, but it may be nice to have
    Generally Classic bowl back mandolin in a mandolin orchestra..you would be sitting in a chair ,
    with the written musical score on the music stand in front of you ..

    then there was Kenny Hall, A blind musician of renown, (Recordings can be found)

    played his bowl style mandolin standing straight up on his knee, seated of course , with a fingernail as his pick..





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    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    Kenny Hall didn't play classical either, Love his stuff with the Sweets Mills string band.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    Quote Originally Posted by Kajetan View Post
    I’m a tenor banjo player and I’ve been wanting to make the switch to mandolin. Neapolitan mandolin and Banjolin have my greatest interest, though I haven’t seen many from popular companies. I saw one Banjolin by Gold Tone, but that was about it. I like to play outside and take my instrument when I travel, therefore vintage isn’t really my style. Are there any companies that make a more modern Neapolitan mandolin and/or Banjolin that would be good for travel?
    By "company" do you mean the requirement is whoever is building it must have multiple employees? There are dozens of individual builders of bowlbacks and we have a list that is up-to-date, but finding all of those builders, most of which are outside of the U.S. isn't an easy task since their native language isn't English and given that they're discussed far less on this site which is primarily English speakers. Tracking any builders is like herding cats.

    Eastman is the only large company I'm aware of that was routinely manufacturing bowlback mandolins but I have good word they discontinued building those, but you might get lucky and find a used one.

    If you're most concerned about travel, you might as well go all in and get the carbon fiber bowlback made by one single company we're aware of, Ava Strings:

    Ava Strings carbon fiber bowlback

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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandolin Cafe View Post
    By "company" do you mean the requirement is whoever is building it must have multiple employees? There are dozens of individual builders of bowlbacks and we have a list that is up-to-date, but finding all of those builders, most of which are outside of the U.S. isn't an easy task since their native language isn't English and given that they're discussed far less on this site which is primarily English speakers. Tracking any builders is like herding cats.

    Eastman is the only large company I'm aware of that was routinely manufacturing bowlback mandolins but I have good word they discontinued building those, but you might get lucky and find a used one.

    If you're most concerned about travel, you might as well go all in and get the carbon fiber bowlback
    Carbon fiber looks like the ticket for playing out of doors provided it has the tone you want. Does not appear as though you would have much opportunity to try one state side.
    Out of curiosity I noodled with a new Eastman taterbug approximately five years ago. Even with a strap it kept slipping out of my lap.
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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    Don't expect that carbon fiber job to be inexpensive. And regarding bowlbacks, well, yes, they don't rest in the lap like an American style F or A. Most Europeans find this a "feature," not a bug and prefer it. YMMV, TMMV.

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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    Out of curiosity I noodled with a new Eastman taterbug approximately five years ago. Even with a strap it kept slipping out of my lap.
    there's a way to hold a bowlback - no strap needed - that uses 3 points of contact: the left hand on the neck, the right arm on the side of the top, and the back of the bowl against one's leg and body.





    If you get used to this method, you can hold and play any bowlback instrument without problems.

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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandolin Cafe View Post
    Don't expect that carbon fiber job to be inexpensive. And regarding bowlbacks, well, yes, they don't rest in the lap like an American style F or A. Most Europeans find this a "feature," not a bug and prefer it. YMMV, TMMV.
    The Ava Strings bowlback goes for about $3000 at current exchange rate.

    Personally, if I were buying a brand new bowlback right now the Calace Company makes a simple model for a reasonable price. And, although I am a fan of all things mandolin including bowlbacks, I agree with Scott on this issue. If you never have played one I agree that you need to do that before investing in one because you may find them a little awkward to play. If you love the loom and the tone, then you can figure out a way to deal with that, of course.

    Also, if you can find an Eastman bowlback for sale at a reasonable price, they are nice instruments. As far as the Suzukis above, they are not all great. In fact, the ones I have owned made in the 1970s were pretty poor instruments, too overbuilt to get much tone from them. Also, the ones that are decent instruments may never have made it over here in north America.

    It might helps us also to let us know where you live. Newer bowlbacks might be more available in Europe. The best ones will still cost you a fair amount.
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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    Holding the bowlback mandolin is part of the technique of playing it. It's easy once you learn it, but the technique might not be obvious if you haven't had occasion to be around it.

    Here is Ugo Orlandi, making the standing position look perfectly natural.

    Here is Carlo Aonzo, playing in seated position.

    Here is Julien Martineau, demonstrating his rather highly-held standing position.
    Last edited by August Watters; Jul-22-2020 at 10:27pm.
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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    The Ugo Orlandi position tells me that playing technique is different from a flatback. My main instrument is ukulele, and those are held the same way - the playing forearm holds the instrument against your body, and all the playing movement comes from the wrist, not the forearm.

    US bluegrass mandolin players seem to use their forearms to an extent, especially for chop chords. So for them, switching to play a bowlback would require some muscle re-training.

    If I play bowlback mandolin I do it sitting down, but I think I only use my wrist to play so it stays put in my lap.

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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    Quote Originally Posted by August Watters View Post
    Holding the bowlback mandolin is part of the technique of playing it. It's easy once you learn it, but the technique might not be obvious if you haven't had occasion to be around it.

    Here is Ugo Orlandi, making the standing position look perfectly natural.

    Here is Carlo Aonzo, playing in seated position.

    Here is Julien Martineau, demonstrating his rather highly-held standing position.
    Julien Martineau's position reminds me of some of the ways Eastern European, Balkan, and Central Asian musicians hold bowlback lutes.






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    Default Re: Do any companies make bowlback mandolins and banjolins anymor

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    ...

    Also, if you can find an Eastman bowlback for sale at a reasonable price, they are nice instruments. As far as the Suzukis above, they are not all great. In fact, the ones I have owned made in the 1970s were pretty poor instruments, too overbuilt to get much tone from them. Also, the ones that are decent instruments may never have made it over here in north America.

    ...
    I will grant that with the Suzukis, if you can play on 'em before buying, it's a good idea. Kind of like buying a Gibson guitar made between 1985 and well... Now-ish. QC is a bit all over the place. Mine and my da's are great players, great feel, great sound.

    Now, that said, as many have stated, bowlback certainly isn't for everyone. I've got the nerve damage, and so I do find myself playing sitting down more oft' than not.

    All of that said, if you can find a bowlback you like, that feels good and sounds good, you'll never want to play anything else.
    Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.-Geralt of Rivia

    Serve... Save... Slave... Slay... I've sins aplenty, aye. But regrets? Not so much.-Fray Myste

    It's the best and strongest steel that goes through the hottest fires.-Me

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