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Thread: A six-course mandolino

  1. #1
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    Jonathan Springall and I have been carrying on a sporadic correspondance for some time, and we thought it might be fun to open it up to those at the Mandolin Cafe who have an interest in the mandolino. Specifically, Jonathan wants to build a mandolino some day, and I'd (eventually) like a new six-course instrument. And while this doesn't yet represent a commission or contract, it seems a good opportunity to meet both our needs and bring an instrument to the market while having some fun at the same time.

    The fun part is that I'd like to select a "new" model to copy, one that is not generally available from a modern luthier, and I think we'd both like to solicit suggestions and observations from all of you. With so much variation in the "fossil record", I think its important that our modern reproductions echo this diversity. Its all too easy for modern players and luthiers to gather around a few historical models, with the others falling into obscurity.

    I'll jot down some more notes as time becomes available, but here are some thoughts:
    - The instrument should be in close to its original condition, so that a close copy can be made
    - The instrument should be either available to Jonathan (in the U.K. in a willing museum or private hands) or a short trip for him (this might open up instruments in Paris, for example)
    - Alternately, a good professional set of measured drawings and photos should be available
    - The instrument should either have been originally configured for six double courses, or clearly modified to take them in a "successful" fashion
    - I don't have too many pre-conceived notions about date, but I think I would generally favor something earlier rather than later
    - I'm not too picky about the term "new"... if this is a copy of a specific instrument that hasn't been copied, and there is a good reason to copy it. For example, an instrument might still be interesting even if there were only existing "rough copies" or luthier's "own models" based on it.

    Clearly this has to be interesting for Jonathan too, so I'll let him chime in as to what he'd like to see in a model.

    Some possibilities off the top of my head:
    - A Roman model such as the Smorsone in the RCM (RCM 201 (107), or a Gualzatta... if a six-course model can be found)
    - A later model such as the Molinaro in the V&A, or the Presbler in the RCM, or perhaps a Fontanelli
    - Hopefully... something we haven't yet thought of....

    And finally, this isn't binding upon anyone... its mostly for fun and learning.

    Best,

    Eric



    "The effect is pretty at first... It is disquieting to find that there are nineteen people in England who can play the mandolin; and I sincerely hope the number may not increase."

    - George Bernard Shaw, Times of London, December 12, 1893

  2. #2

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    This is the kind of topic I find really groovy, but I can't claim to know much about specific UK collections, especially their state of "willing." #One obvious thought is to compile a list of 6-course pieces catalogued by Morey (1993) in British collections. #He is good enough to include a specific index of collections.

    I am not a fan of Lambert and the V&A piece that is cited as inspiring a great many modern models. #It's odd in that that piece strikes me as so atypical.

    I am a fan of Smorsone's instruments. #Their aesthetic strikes me as like the type specimen of the whole type. #Where I recently didn't know of anybody reproducing his work, it seems to be becoming more common (Cecconi, e.g.).

    I also really like Brambilla. #Unfortunately, they don't seem too common. #I have relatively easy access to a 1759 piece in Michigan, but don't know that I'd be able to make technical drawings of any use to a luthier. #That one also has a heavy replacement bridge and added scratchplate that can only be described as grotesque.

    Another rather prolific shop was that of Presbler. #I like Presbler instruments (especially the big, 7-course mandoras/bass mandolas after which I've been lusting), but it is decidedly "later" than "earlier."

    The 6-course pieces from the 1770s Vinaccia shops are kinda nice, and I don't know of them ever being reproduced, but I still favor the slighter soundboxes and earlier aesthetics of Roman characters like Smorsone.




  3. #3

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    Here's the 1759 Brambilla (that I believe I shared with you a great long while ago, Jon).



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    I can imagine the long discussions about the merit of 6-fret versus 7-fret necks!
    Mandolins:
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    Thanks for the reminder of Brambilla Eugene. I remember that photo. I'm still somewhat mystified about the scratch-plate.. There is, of course, a 1771 Brambilla in Paris (Cite de la Musique, E.2075). It also has an odd inlayed tortoise shell scratch-plate... this time in a shape roughly equivalent to a "doggy-bone". These are jarring to my eye as well, and its tempting to assume that they are after-market accessories. The carved and punched rose on the instrument in Paris is wonderful... and hardly seems consistent with the scratch-plate. Nonetheless, I find it odd that scratchplates would show up so consistently in Brambilla's surviving work (OK, so 2 is probably not significant... still, its odd)

    Do you have the string length for the "American" Brambilla Eugene? Morey doesn't give one for the instrument in Paris, nor does the museum website mention a string length.

    Glauber... I know you were joking, but just FYI, the number of frets is less important. One of the nice things about these instruments is that most of the surviving written music is playable in the first couple of positions. On later large-bodied instruments such things as body frets can matter, as the neck became shorter and the body larger.

    Eric

    ps - Oh.. one more criteria... candidates should probably come from what we now consider Italy.... and then probably the northern realms.



    "The effect is pretty at first... It is disquieting to find that there are nineteen people in England who can play the mandolin; and I sincerely hope the number may not increase."

    - George Bernard Shaw, Times of London, December 12, 1893

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    Eugene,

    What do you think of Molinari[o] of Venice? I am oddly drawn to the two examples I know (1757 in the V&A, and 1762 in Paris). These are decidedly mid-period and medium-bodied instruments, but they seem well proportioned to my eye. I've not seen the front of the instrument in London (it was hung against the wall when I visited with its lovely ebony and ivory back showing). The rose on the Paris instrument is quite wonderful. The Paris instrument seems to have fixed frets... a possibly later addition.

    Eric
    "The effect is pretty at first... It is disquieting to find that there are nineteen people in England who can play the mandolin; and I sincerely hope the number may not increase."

    - George Bernard Shaw, Times of London, December 12, 1893

  7. #7

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    Thanks for starting this thread Eric! You have summarised the practical limitations on which models I could use perfectly. All that I can add to your initial post is one more location - the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague, which I may be visiting late summer or early autumn this year.

    I have an approach in mind to reduce the number of available instruments: What would be really useful is a list of desireable charactersitics for the instrument, purely from the players point of view. These could include the age of the original model, conformity to typical size and shape, string length, nut width, materials (though of course I could always differ from the original in this respect) and anything else that anyone reading this feels is important - please feel free to comment! This should result in a lively discussion, and (hopefully) narrow the field down to a few likely instruments.

    There is a lot of variation in 18th century six course mandolinos, much more so than with some other instruments of this era. The two examples which I recently admired at the Royal College of Music illustrate this: the Smorsone is from earlier in the century and has a string length of 344mm while the later 1778 Presbler has a considerably shorter string length at 307mm. The Smorsone is also a broader instrument - in both its body and at the nut(53mm as compared to the Presbler's 46).

    One issue that this wide variation in string lengths raises is stringing - what would you consider ideal, bearing in mind that this needs to be stable on a very lightly built instruments, and that it should be able to be tuned to a pitch of A=415Hz, as I suspect that most harpsichordists would not be keen to retune their many courses in order to suit the needs of a six course instrument.

    Beyond this there could be a possible weighting towards instruments that are in the UK: there is a possibility that I might be able to arrange a CAT scan of the original instrument that I use as my model, but this would only really be practical for instruments based in the UK and would, of course, be dependent on the consent of the museum or owner. If accurate drawings are already available then this would obviously be very much in favour of an instrument, regardless of its location.

    Quote Originally Posted by (Eugene @ April 03 2006, 22:04)
    One obvious thought is to compile a list of 6-course pieces catalogued by Morey (1993) in British collections. He is good enough to include a specific index of collections.
    I'll look at doing that this evening (UK time ) Eugene.

    Jon

    In the meantime ( groan!), here's another picture of the 1778 Presbler in the RCM:
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    Jonathan Springall
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  8. #8

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    For the purpose of illustrating the discussion - here are some photos of the 1771 Brambilla in the Cité de la Musique:
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    Jonathan Springall
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  9. #9

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    And here is its beautiful rose, which Eric remarked upon:
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    Morning all,

    Jon, thanks for bringing up string length. I had tried to repost one of your photos that showed both the Presbler and Smorsone from the "Bowlbacks of Note" thread to illustrate this point... I wasn't having any luck and it was late so I gave up. With an almost 4cm difference, these two instruments make the point rather well.

    From a practical modern standpoint, shorter is probably better. I've been told by makers of gut strings that pitches in Rome in the early 18th century were around A=382. Morey aludes to this, and it certainly would explain the long string lengths of early Roman instruments. My current 5-course mandolino is rather long... in the range of 33cm (I'll check it again) so I'm somewhat familiar with keeping gut strings on it. There are really two issues:

    1) How long can you get strings to last? I will be stringing in gut, and this is a problem principally with the chanterelles (the treble-most strings). My chanterells used to last about a day... sometimes less. I have got this working pretty well now by using varnished gut strings for the chanterelles. While not an ideal solution (varnished strings can squeak) this works pretty well from a longevity standpoint.

    2) How close are we to original stringing and tension, and thus how close to an original tone? This question is large, and to some degree unanswerable (technique figures large, obviously). However, a string set meant to survive at A=415 at 34cm is very different than one that prospered at A=382. The latter would result in much larger guages than the former.

    For these reasons, I tend to prefer a shorter instrument. I wouldn't rule out the Roman instruments necessarily for this reason... but it is a factor. Obviously, if you want to play with others, A=382 is somewhat problematic. One option might be to calculate tensions at A=382, and build a model with a shortened neck that would reproduce those tensions at A=415... but that rather corrupts the original goals, now doesn't it?

    Nuts and bridges are important too. Not because I have any pre-conceived notion of width or spacing, but rather the other way around. I'd prefer to copy an instrument that demonstrably has its original (or an original) nut and bridge. The idea being that my technique would have to adapt to those dimensions, and I might learn something from it.

    Eric



    "The effect is pretty at first... It is disquieting to find that there are nineteen people in England who can play the mandolin; and I sincerely hope the number may not increase."

    - George Bernard Shaw, Times of London, December 12, 1893

  11. #11

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    Here's the picture that you were referring to Eric. The Presbler is on the left, the Smorsone is on the right. While their bridges are approximately parallel, there is an obvious difference in the position of their topnuts.
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  12. #12

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    Here are some measurements from the Brambilla in MI. #They were taken rather quickly, but should be pretty good if not of caliper-like resolution.

    soundboard at widest point: 142 mm
    length of soundbox: 260 mm
    length of pegbox: 190 mm
    depth of neck at neck-body joint: ca. 22 mm
    depth of bowl at deepest point: 78 mm
    width of finial: 31 mm
    nut width: 48 mm
    string width at nut: 42 mm
    soundhole diam: 58 mm
    length from soundhole to butt: 121 mm
    scale: 320 mm
    length of fingerboard free of body (to 7th fret): 102 mm
    total length: ca. 538 mm

    My opinion of Molinaro will have to wait 'til I'm home from the office and can do a little scan of literature to refresh my memory of said opinion.




  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by (etbarbaric @ April 03 2006, 23:21)
    Glauber... I know you were joking, but just FYI, the number of frets is less important. #One of the nice things about these instruments is that most of the surviving written music is playable in the first couple of positions. On later large-bodied instruments such things as body frets can matter, as the neck became shorter and the body larger.
    ...And keep in mind, glauber, that those body frets--assuming they go to twelve or more--gives access to g''' or higher.

  14. #14

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    Thanks for the measurements Eugene! This Brambilla seems to be nicely between the extremes that we have discussed so far.

    I thought that I had a photo (or more) of the Molinari(o) at the V&A, but haven't found it yet - I'll post it later if I find it. Below there should be pictures of the Molinari/o (why does there seem to be some confusion regarding his name?) from the Cité de la Musique (cat. no. E.534).

    I'm not sure if there's a typo on the museum's website, but they list the total length ("Longueur totale" - just in case the mistake is in my French) as 775mm, a big difference from the 510mm given by Morey for the example in the V&A. The V&A Molinari has a string length of 303mm, is 48mm at the nut, and has a maximum width of 131mm - the slenderest instrument in its group (as defined by Stephen Morey).

    Jon
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    Thanks for that Jon. For some reason I've suddenly become unable to include images in my posts... frustrating.

    The naming issue is puzzling... and perhaps introduced by Morey. He refers to the V&A instrument on page 30 (and refers to the builder as *Joseph* Molinaro), then details the instrument on pages 31 and 32 indicating that the label says Joseph Molinari... (and the index has a typo as it refers to page 52, rather than 32).

    The Cite de la Musique refers to him as Giuseppe Molinari, and they give a reference to Vanes (I don't have Vanes at hand). My guess is that Molinari is correct. It would be interesting if the V&A label actually referred to "Joseph".

    E.534 does seem to be missing its nut. And I have my suspicions about the fretboard... Its very plain, and it terminates so very abruptly... no points, no nothing. Also, the presence of the fixed frets is curious... making me think the fretboard is later. The plain fretboard seems odd too for an ebony and ivory backed instrument with other fanciful details (such as the nice rose). I wish we could see the front of the V&A Molinari to compare... it always seems to be laying on its face!

    Note that Morey seems to have missed a number of instruments in France. These may have come into the collections after his work. E.534 (Molinari) is not listed, nor is E.980, another mid-sized six-course instrument by Giacomo Triolli (listed as 1769?) of Plaisance. This latter instrument is listed as having come from the collection of M. Chambure... from whence came the much-discussed "Chambure Vihuela". Morey does mention an odd-sounding bass mandolin by a member of the Triolli family from 1740... also from Plaisance.

    I'll try to post a picture of the Triolli once I figure out what I'm doing wrong. I also have photos of the back of the V&A Molinari somewhere.

    Eric



    "The effect is pretty at first... It is disquieting to find that there are nineteen people in England who can play the mandolin; and I sincerely hope the number may not increase."

    - George Bernard Shaw, Times of London, December 12, 1893

  16. #16

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    I'd like to throw another name into the discussion, a maker whose instruments are both earlier (older) and towards the shorter end of the string lengths - Ambrogio Maraffi.

    There is an example of his work illustrated in Alex's book (De Mandoline En De Gitaar - Alex timmerman 1994), dated 1669. This instrument is in the Gemeentemuseum, and I'm guessing that this is the instrument that was previously in the collection of Carel van Leeuwen Boomkamp (and also illustrated in his book - The Carel van Leeuwen Boomkamp Collection of musical instruments - C. van Leeuwen Boomkamp & J. H. Van Der Meer 1971)- this instrument is also listed in Morey (at the bottom of page 32).

    Assuming that these are the same instrument (they appear identical, but please correct me Alex!) there appears to be some difference of opinion over the date, but as Alex's book is the most recent of these publications I think we can assume that it is the most well informed.

    Alex lists the string length as 312mm, the nut width as 40mm, and the maximum width of the body as 151mm.

    Do you know if this instrument has been measured and drawn Alex? Being outside the UK I probably couldn't arrange a CAT scan, but if a drawing is available it could be a strong contender.

    Jon



    Jonathan Springall
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  17. #17

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    As there don't appear to be any pictures of this instrument available on the web, I thought that I would quote the description of the Maraffi from "The Carel van Leeuwen Boomkamp Collection" (as I don't speak Dutch, I can't quote from Alex's book). Any square bracketed italics are my comments.

    Jon

    Quote Originally Posted by
    MILANESE MANDOLINE[sic]
    Ambrogio Marafi, Milan 1689

    Narrow almond-shaped body. The shell consists of fifteen slightly concave ribs [concavity possibly caused by shrinkage?] of cypress, varnished alternately bright yellow and brown and seperated by ebony spacers. The cap is of cypress varnished bright yellow and is decorated with an eight petalled flower of mother-of-pearl inlaid in composition. The belly extends for 2.3 cm over the neck. The edge of the belly is marked by a strip of ebony. Wooden rose with a geometrical pattern, surrounded by figures of mother-of-pearl inlaid in composition with two thin ivory strips. At the lower end of the belly a flower similar to the one on the cap, at the upper end another figure of mother-of-pearl are inlaid. Neck of wood varnished black with an ivory strip and a six-petalled flower of mother-of-pearl inlaid. The peg-box is of wood varnished black, the back edges being marked with ivory strips, the front being decorated with a strip of tortoise-shell lined with gold foil between two strips of ivory. The pegbox, partly open at the back, is curved back and has an end recurving into a square headwith a covering of tortoise-shell lined with gold foil and an ivory strip along the edge. Twelve rosewood (palisander) lateral pegs with ivory collars and buttons. Ivory nut. The fingerboard, flush with the belly, is covered with tortoise-shell lined with gold foli and contains eight ivory frets. [This seems to imply that the frets are fixed - do you recall if this is correct Alex? If so then I assume that this is not original] Six more frets of the same material, gradually diminishing in width, are glued onto the table. Walnut bridge with ornamental ends. The bridge has two ledges. Of each of the six string courses one string is looped through the upper ledge and fastened to a metal hook on the lower edge of the bottom ledge. [A later alteration?] At the upper end of the shell to the right of the neck and at the lower end a small turned ivory button. Printed label: 'Ambrogio Maraffi / Vicino a S. Giovanni / Alle Case Rotte in Milano...', then written '1689'.
    Total length 53.7; length of body 24; width 15.2; depth of shell 8.7; vibrating length of strings 31.2.
    The strings are arranged in six double courses. Tuning
    [Tuning is given here]
    Ambrogio Marafi is generally thought to have been working in the 18th century. A Milanese mandoline [sic] (MIR 878) in the Rück collection of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg, also has a hand-written label by Marafi. It is not dated, but the ornamentation of this instrument, too, suggests the 17th rather than the 18th century.


    Jonathan Springall
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    www.devonstrings.co.uk

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    Hi Jon,

    I have nothing against the Maraffi though the luthier Sebastian Nunez already makes a close copy. In fact, I believe that Alex owns the premier copy of this instrument.

    The date is almost certainly off... the instrument is decidedly 18th, rather than 17th century (as Morey and you suggest). This instrument is very different from the other that you mention in Germany... which is decidedly 17th century (rather than 18th century... and may, or may not have anything to do with Maraffi). I have not seen the "third" Maraffi in Rome.

    Here is a link to a page with a less ornamented version of Sebastian Nunez' Maraffi copy which he labels as Armandolino (Milan, XVIII-th Century)



    "The effect is pretty at first... It is disquieting to find that there are nineteen people in England who can play the mandolin; and I sincerely hope the number may not increase."

    - George Bernard Shaw, Times of London, December 12, 1893

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    Hi Eric & Jon,

    About Maraffi; I have examined both instruments (the EC 47-'83 and the MIR 878) and must say that both have labels which are difficult to read (Carel van Leeuwen Boomkamp gave: 1689). I actually doubt the MIR 878 Maraffi is build by the same Ambrogio Maraffi who is responsible for building the EC 47-'83 Maraffi Mandolino in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.

    I have come to this conclusion because I have found several other Mandolinos by Ambrogio Maraffi, a luthier who lived in the 'Vicino a S. Giovanni - Case Rotte in Milano in the second half of the 18th century, that are all very similar to the one in the Musical Instrument Museum in The Hague. All are equipped with 12 pegs for 6 double strings and labelled with the address as given above. #
    Although I have occasionally encountered early Mandolinos that had original fixed ivory (and bone) frets (as early as in the thirties of the 18th Century!) I do indeed believe that the ivory frets on the Maraffi Mandolino in The Hague are not original. This is also the case with the metal hooks at the bridge that are installed to fix the metal strings. These are certainly later additions!
    About the year of manufacture: The year 1669 given at the label of the Ambrogio Maraffi Mandolino in The Hague cannot be correct. The design of this instrument, it's number of strings and the music for these models with six double strings place it much more to be made in the 2nd half of the 18th Century.
    One of several Ambrogio Maraffi (6x2 strings) Mandolinos that is correctly dated can be found in the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali in Rome (Italy). It is labelled: Ambrogio Maraffi / Vicino a S. Giovanni / Case Rotte / in Milano / 1769. And I am quite convinced that the Mandolino in the Hague by this maker is also build around this year.

    I attach the black and white photo - as shown in my book - of the Ambrogio Maraffi Mandolino at the Gemeentemuseum of The Hague so that every one can see about what instrument we speak here. Sebastiaan Nunez copied this instrument for me and I am fairly sure that there is a work-drawing.


    Best,

    Alex



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  20. #20
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    Matthias Wagner makes copies of the Maraffi (5x2 strings) in the Nuremberg Museum (MIR 878). As Eric says, this instrument indeed resembles the few instruments known to have been made in the last twenty years of the 17th Century.

    Click here for to visit Matthias Wagner's website.

    Among other Mandolino models he also builds Mandolinos after one by Floriano Bosi (1787), a luthier active in Bologna. This instrument, a 6x2 string model, is also stored at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg (MIR 877). Bosi build also the model with 5 double strings which makes him al the more interesting.


    Have fun and greetings again,

    Alex




  21. #21

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    Thanks Eric and Alex, and particularly for the photos Alex!

    1769 is getting closer to the RCM Presbler's 1778, and 1787 is obviously beyond it.

    Back to an earlier instrument - the 1757 Molinari at the V&A.

    Quote Originally Posted by (etbarbaric @ April 04 2006, 13:12)
    My guess is that Molinari is correct. It would be interesting if the V&A label actually referred to "Joseph".
    It had slipped my mind that I have a copy of the V&A's instrument catalogue (My comments are in square brackets).

    Quote Originally Posted by
    MANDORE (Milanese mandolin)[sic] by Molinari. Venice 1757
    Label, printed: Joseph Molinari fecit / Venetiis Anno 1757. Also, stamped on the belly, Ioseph Molinari.
    Body of eleven ribs alternately of ebony and ivory. The belly is of a single piece of pine[??], carved with a rose in an interlacing design. The neck, and the ribs of the back, are decorated with a feather design in ebony and ivory. The ebony fingerboard has eight ivory frets and the nut is of ivory. The open-backed pegbox has a square finial and has twelve ebony pegs, for six double courses. The strings are tied to the bridge.
    This example also appears to have a plain fingerboard with fixed frets - not conclusive proof that this was a feature of his instruments, but certainly looking more likely. This brings up the issue of frets of course - fixed or movable, how many (Glauber - your time has come!) and what about frets on the soundboard?

    Jon
    Jonathan Springall
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  22. #22

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    There is another Brambilla (1768) in Berlin's museum (no. 4668). #Its top is pictured alongside the bowl of the famous ebony-ivory 1736 Smorsone in Tyler & Sparks (1989, p. 40) as well as on the cover of the paperback (1992), happily scratchplate-free.

    The Paris Molinari looks alright. #For some reason, I personally gravitate more towards the shorter necks (i.e., longer soundboxes with a slightly narrower taper).




  23. #23

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    PS: The rose from the Paris Brambilla looks suspiciously similar in style to that of the "Chambure" vihuela, also in the same museum.

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    Good eye Eugene. The roses are similar in theme, to be sure. That variations on this design would hold for presumably close to 200 years is indeed interesting.... or are you saying that one of these instruments is suspicious?

    The construction of the roses is different though. The Brambilla rose appears to be a simple sandwich of a single layer of parchment with the wood of the top. The Chambure Vihuela rose is a multi-layer lamination, inset from the bottom (inside) of the top within a beveled sound hole.

    The Brambilla rose seems remarkable to me (actually, most of these seem remarkable to me!) since that very thin wooden tracery is cut (often across the grain!) from the relatively soft spruce of the top itself.

    Its hard for me to imagine just how he did this... I can well imagine myself ruining many a top trying to get to this result.... maybe that's where inset roses came from... :-)

    Eric



    "The effect is pretty at first... It is disquieting to find that there are nineteen people in England who can play the mandolin; and I sincerely hope the number may not increase."

    - George Bernard Shaw, Times of London, December 12, 1893

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by (onthefiddle @ April 04 2006, 18:41)
    This brings up the issue of frets of course - fixed or movable, how many (Glauber - your time has come!) and what about frets on the soundboard?
    It was shocking to see that instrument had a peghead longer than the fretted area.
    Mandolins:
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    Ovation MM68 (#490231)
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