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Thread: bowl back mandolin

  1. #1

    Default bowl back mandolin

    I inherited this old bowl back mandolin which I believe could possibly have connections with Riga. Does anyone know if the decoration on the sound board gives any clues to its origin. TIA.
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  2. #2
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Riga, Latvia? From the one photo my guess is Catania in Sicily but you should post more photos if you want real information. Interesting looking 12-string.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Thanks, I will do.

  4. #4

    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Some more photos
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  5. #5

    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    I thought Riga, Latvia, as there were other things in the case from there, but that doesn't mean anything. The only label in it is from a repairerer in Wick, Scotland, dated 1928.

  6. #6

    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Let’s make up a story.
    The torch is the Statue of Liberty, the city, America, the ship, immigration, and the bird, our ubiquitous federal predator. The time, the great wave of immigration, which somehow exactly is congruent to the glory years of the mandolin.
    In my imagined story, this mandolin was decorated or redecorated as a tribute.
    If those strange shapes are icebergs, departure from northern Europe. Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania etc.
    Just a story.

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  8. #7
    Likes quaint instruments poul hansen's Avatar
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    garbled!!
    Last edited by poul hansen; Sep-14-2022 at 9:16am.
    Kentucky KM-805..........2 Hora M1086 Portuguese II(1 in car)
    Hora M1088 Mandola.....Hora M1087P Octave
    Richmond RMA-110-VS .Noname (German?) mandolin
    Pochette Franz Janisch...2 Pocket
    Puglisi Pocket 1908........Puglisi 1912
    Mandolinetto Neapolitane 1910
    1 Mandriola...................Cannelo G. Mandriola...Böhm Waldzither 1921
    Johs Møller 1945............Fangel 1915................Luigi Embergher Studio 1933
    Marma Seashell back......Crafton.......................Luigi Embergher 5bis 1909

  9. #8
    Likes quaint instruments poul hansen's Avatar
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    4 courses of 3 strings makes a Mandriola.

    Your bridge looks exactly like mine on my (flat)Mandriola made in Catania Italy by Carmello Grello.

    Bridgea, tuners, decarations were often made by local specialist, not by the luthier, so a local area could have the same features also because they would copy each other.

    Maybe that's why the armrest look very similar as well.

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    Kentucky KM-805..........2 Hora M1086 Portuguese II(1 in car)
    Hora M1088 Mandola.....Hora M1087P Octave
    Richmond RMA-110-VS .Noname (German?) mandolin
    Pochette Franz Janisch...2 Pocket
    Puglisi Pocket 1908........Puglisi 1912
    Mandolinetto Neapolitane 1910
    1 Mandriola...................Cannelo G. Mandriola...Böhm Waldzither 1921
    Johs Møller 1945............Fangel 1915................Luigi Embergher Studio 1933
    Marma Seashell back......Crafton.......................Luigi Embergher 5bis 1909

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  11. #9
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    A lot of things are pointing towards Sicilia with this instrument.

    Our friend here, David, refers to these 12 stringed instruments as "Sicilian mandolins" with good reason.


    Those strings look quite hefty on it. Are they a new addition?

    You can see in your upper left photo how high the strings are above the frets. This will make this quite a chore to play.

    The extra strings and the increased string tension may be what's pulling the neck up out of position to create this condition.


    Or the neck might have previously been pulled up as the top area above the soundhole sunk in a bit.

    It doesn't take much to put the geometry of these mandolins out of wack renedering them difficult if not impossible to play.

    I would recommend loosening the string tension and seeing how the neck responds.


    We always recommend using the lightest gauge strings available on these old bowlbacks. .09 to .32 are available from different makers.


    A pretty instrument in nice cosmetic condition. I hope it remains playable!


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  13. #10

    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    No icebergs in the Baltic sea! The tuners look to be 1920s items, so the mandolin probably is about 100 years old. Back in the days of emigration from the Russian Empire in the 1890s early 1900s- before Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were born, many emigrants from there found themselves in Scotland. This was because they were duped into paying for a passage to what they thought was New York but when the ship docked, it was Scotland!

  14. #11

    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Thank you, that is very interesting.

  15. #12

    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Thank you. The instruments was recently restrung for cosmetic reasons, but with no tension on the strings. I am afraid to tune it up, as I remember the instrument from my childhood (60 odd years ago), and the neck angle has always made it unplayable. I guess it would be a big job to correct this?

  16. #13
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by fiddler21 View Post
    Thank you. The instruments was recently restrung for cosmetic reasons, but with no tension on the strings. I am afraid to tune it up, as I remember the instrument from my childhood (60 odd years ago), and the neck angle has always made it unplayable. I guess it would be a big job to correct this?
    In a word yes.

    However, it looks like you might still have adjustment room in your bridge (you can take these down to 4mm high and still have enough room for your picking action), it also looks like the nut is high which would also make things difficult to play but is an easy adjust. So... maybe there is room there to fix things, but 12-stringers do tend to end up broken eventually due to the high tension.

    I keep meaning to do a quick video on how to check the neck angle on these, maybe this is the prod I need!

  17. #14

    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Thanks Tavy. A quick video on this subject woud be great!

  18. #15
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Generally these mandriolas are built heavier to take the extra tension but I would also agree to go with ultra light strings. In fact on these 12-string oddballs I might even string the bass string courses with at least one octave string to lessen it even more and give you that octave sound.
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  19. #16
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Generally these mandriolas are built heavier to take the extra tension but I would also agree to go with ultra light strings. In fact on these 12-string oddballs I might even string the bass string courses with at least one octave string to lessen it even more and give you that octave sound.
    One could even just string it up with 2 strings per course.

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  21. #17
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by fiddler21 View Post
    Thanks Tavy. A quick video on this subject woud be great!
    Here we go:

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  23. #18
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    In a word yes.

    However, it looks like you might still have adjustment room in your bridge (you can take these down to 4mm high and still have enough room for your picking action), it also looks like the nut is high which would also make things difficult to play but is an easy adjust. So... maybe there is room there to fix things, but 12-stringers do tend to end up broken eventually due to the high tension.

    I keep meaning to do a quick video on how to check the neck angle on these, maybe this is the prod I need!
    When I used to do simple lutherie tasks and set ups on guitars, I’d check the neck angle by placing a straight edge on the frets and wanted it to intersect right about the top of the saddle. I assume you’d want the same angle on mandolins?
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  24. #19

    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Thanks, Tavy; informative and clear. Having lately played with old bowl backs, I might add that testing neck angle should be done with strings under full tension, if possible in case there is some flex or movement somewhere. Also, because the fretboard is glued to the top, we have to see if there’s a bend right there which is not easy to correct, and antique tiny frets leave little room for filing away a small bend.
    The other inspection issue is the breakover angle. These mandolins have canted tops and very low bridges, so if you correct the action by lowering the bridge, the strings aft of the bridge may not clear the soundboard. Raising the tailpiece requires some care. This is worse if the deformation pattern of the top causes a bulge back there. With mostly lateral bracing, any deformation of the whole thing can cause bulges front and rear even if the bridge is well supported. The very thin fretboard is also an issue, especially if there’s some nice inlay that should be preserved, so just removal and adding a wedge could also end the job right there.
    Brutal cures for all these things are possible, and I’m experimenting. Limited success.
    About mandriolas, there has been some agreement that the Oscar Schmidts do seem to be survivors; I have two, and they’re fine, so they can be made sturdy enough for at least a century of tension. No idea of how they’re constructed.

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  26. #20
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    When I used to do simple lutherie tasks and set ups on guitars, I’d check the neck angle by placing a straight edge on the frets and wanted it to intersect right about the top of the saddle. I assume you’d want the same angle on mandolins?
    OK let's think this through: on a guitar if the frets are level with top of the bridge, then the saddle will be double the height of the 12th fret action, so 3-4mm which is spot on. Given that the fretboard and bridge tend to be similar in thickness, parallel to the top is ideal too.

    For Neapolitan mandolins with their shelf bridges, these typically had the strings just 5-6mm off the top even with a slim brass or bone saddle in there, double the action is 3mm, so following the line of the frets you ideally want to miss the top by 2-3mm to get a "factory height" bridge. Anything down to "frets in line with the top" is just about do-able, just far from ideal.

    US made bowls are slightly different, in that they often had rather more modern style bridges with much thicker bone saddles, so let's say 10mm in height: much lower than a bridge for an archtop, but in this case you would need to miss the top by decent amount when following the line of the fret tops.

    Having lately played with old bowl backs, I might add that testing neck angle should be done with strings under full tension, if possible in case there is some flex or movement somewhere. Also, because the fretboard is glued to the top, we have to see if there’s a bend right there which is not easy to correct, and antique tiny frets leave little room for filing away a small bend.
    I don't think the neck should bend under tension unless there are other issues, or the instrument is poorly made. Though I confess some of the Suzuki mandolins have quite um... flexible necks. And yes, if there's a distinct kink you have to figure out whether it's going to be possible to level the board or not.

    The other inspection issue is the breakover angle. These mandolins have canted tops and very low bridges, so if you correct the action by lowering the bridge, the strings aft of the bridge may not clear the soundboard.
    I tend not to see that with Neapolitan's which tend to have quite a decent angle at the cant, plus there's always these things:

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    But yes, some of the US bowls can have quite low cant angles, and flatter tops generally, so this becomes more of an issue.

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  28. #21
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Thanks for the video John, but am I brave enough to run the test on my Calace

    I am enjoying playing it today, so maybe not.
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  29. #22
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: bowl back mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    But yes, some of the US bowls can have quite low cant angles, and flatter tops generally, so this becomes more of an issue.
    This is so true from my experience.

    I've marveled at just how 3-D the tops are on some of my Italian bowls, between the cross tip curvature and the distinct cant.
    Since I also play carved top mandolins, the comparisons between the two can be striking.

    I have had some US bowls that almost appear dead flat. Some of that might be from the 100 years of string / bridge pressure, but with some, when you look at the geometry of the 'skirt' or top rib of the bowl, those appear to have little or no inflection to them that a top cant would follow.

    Still, sagging at the bridge area has rarely been an issue in the US bowls I've had (Washburn, Favilla, Martin, Vega, Ricca).
    The top giving way a bit north of the soundhole seems to be what has plagued the troublesome bowls I've had be that US or Italian built.

    Mick
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