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Thread: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

  1. #1
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Cathy McGrath, Jim Clare and I run a little monthly music thing called Tunes By the Tracks in Clifton Springs, small village 30 miles south of Rochester. It's at the public library, formerly a railroad depot -- hence the name. Wednesday night Nora Starr and Jess Youngquest from Ithaca came over to do a short set, and Jess brought "Fred," his Martin harp mandolin. I'm sure many people have seen it on YouTube, and there have been other threads concerning it (though I'm too lazy to look 'em up now).

    Jess says he bought "Fred" in the little town of Brewster NY, back in the '70's, for $75 in an old antique/junk shop. He had just broken his mandolin and was looking for a replacement. He states that it was made by Martin around 1899, and there is a "C F Martin" stamp inside under the soundhole. Jess maintains that only twelve were made by Martin, and that there are only two known to survive; the other's in the Martin museum collection in Nazareth, he says. Jess has the original wooden case as well, now held shut by a bungee cord.

    "Fred" is quite possibly the weirdest looking mandolin I've seen, with the possible exception of Bernunzio's anchor-shaped "no-name" monstrosity. I'll post one of Jess's YouTube videos below so everyone can get a look at it. Jess plays it well, in an energetic, open-string, ragtime-slash-Celtic style. The instrument has a thin, trebly tinkle, belying its huge body, but rings clearly in an ensemble. We finished up the set with a Celtic jam on Wind That Shakes the Barley/Merry Blacksmith, played at breakneck pace, and "Fred" held his or her own against two whistles, guitar and my Eastman mandola.

    The one thing that gave me a bit of pause, was that Jess has obviously played the tar out of it, and it shows lots of pick wear around the pickguard, scuffs and scrapes and scratches. The old case is pretty disastrous, worn and stained lining, wooden surface gouged. I almost never begrudge playing damage to an instrument; my attitude is that mandolins are tools to make music, not art objects to sit in a case. But when you have one of the only two in existence, made by one of America's premier instrument builders and something that many collectors would go well into five figures for -- well, if I owned it, it would be on display, not getting whupped in the meeting room of the Clifton Springs library on a Wednesday night. Just sayin'.

    Anyway, I felt privileged to be close to a unique piece of mandolin history. I'll post one of Jess's videos below; it's not Mill Street Rag, which he played Wednesday night, but his video of that tune has him playing in a gas mask and wig, and that's just a bit much even for me. Definitely an eccentric, with a truly eccentric instrument. (Which I dearly wish I owned.)

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    More animated discussion about the harp mandolin here. I also met Fred and Jess over the summer since I live in his former hometown and he came down for a high school reunion.
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Allen, mi amigo, you live a charmed life. Thanks for sharing. I am on such a CF Martin pulse of late that this is a real treat.

    Mick
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  6. #4

    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    nice to meet'cha, Allen. and 'Fred' thanks you for the kudos. hoping to play again with you some day, da Prof

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  8. #5

    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    oh, the 'Mill St Rag' video was made in make up to cheer up my friend, Susan. -- it worked-- Jess

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Jess, you're a fine musician and fun to play with. Please take care of "Fred," one of the last of a rare breed... And, perhaps, a legacy for future generations of mandolin lovers. Hope our paths cross again soon...!
    Allen Hopkins
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  10. #7

    Exclamation Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Hi Jess!
    I am a museum curator in Georgia, and I hope I can reach you through this forum, I have tried getting in touch. Last week i began researching the unique 1899 or 1901(depends on who you ask) Martin harp mandolin made for CH Gaskins & Co, and I came upon your name in several forums as owning one, also saw a video of you playing it.
    Last week a donor brought me an identical mandolin for research and identification, and they were told theirs was one of only two still in existence. I know of one at the Martin Museum, but you also have one, so that makes ours a third one, perhaps.
    I am trying to get as much information on the instrument as I possibly can, so I can direct this family as to their next steps. Would love to connect with you in person, you can contact me at the GA Museum of Ag & Historic Village.

  11. #8

    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Hi Allen!
    I just posted this reply to Jess. I am trying to get in touch with him.

    Hi Jess!
    I am a museum curator in Georgia, and I hope I can reach you through this forum, I have tried getting in touch. Last week i began researching the unique 1899 or 1901(depends on who you ask) Martin harp mandolin made for CH Gaskins & Co, and I came upon your name in several forums as owning one, also saw a video of you playing it.
    Last week a donor brought me an identical mandolin for research and identification, and they were told theirs was one of only two still in existence. I know of one at the Martin Museum, but you also have one, so that makes ours a third one, perhaps.
    I am trying to get as much information on the instrument as I possibly can, so I can direct this family as to their next steps. Would love to connect with you in person, you can contact me at the GA Museum of Ag & Historic Village.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Hi Polly. Allen is a regular here at the Cafe but Jess (madphd) hasn't logged on since Jan-24-2010. Your best bet would be to send him a Private Message. Click on his username above and select Private Message. If he hasn't changed his e-mail address he should get that message. He also has a Youtube Channel and a Facebook presence that can be found by going to the Youtube video. Best of luck and please post some pictures of the mandolin here on the Cafe. You might get more information that way as well.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    I had an old email address for Jess and I fwded a link to this thread. I also sent him the same thing on FB-messenger.
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  15. #11
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Well, I haven't seen Jess since I started this thread. He worked in the band Miller's Wheel with fiddler Kit Fallon, and I have contact info for her, so if someone's trying unsuccessfully to reach Jess, PM me and I'll share her e-mail.
    Allen Hopkins
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    I just heard from Jess on FB and he was tickled. Hopefully he will check in here.
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    ----well, Howdy, Polly!!! yupper, I'm the guy with 'Fred, she's a mandolin'--- LET"S CHAT !! if you do facebook, find me under Jess Youngquest and message me there. if not, you can email me at finsterco@gmail.com
    I'd love to see and hear more of 'Fred's' third sister!! and if you have any info that I don't have on her, CS Gaskin, (the pat. holder), or old time photos of any of them, I have one off the net.
    - I just had 'Fred' worked on by a great local luthier in upstate N.Y., she use to be just a folks singer, but now, she SINGS OPERA!!!--I'll tell you more when we can chat.
    also, you can see a few more vids of Fred on my youtube site, all original tunes. dial up my name and scroll till you see whatcha like----and Thanks for the inquiry--
    Jess -- aka ��da Prof��---

  18. #14

    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Hi Mike!
    I am not at all familiar with the forum tools, I am glad I checked this thread to see your answer!
    I wanted to start a new thread about the instrument and have not yet figured out how. I know, terrible.
    I was able to examine the instrument in person today, I am posting photos below. Robert Corwin, who has another one of those rare birds sent me a Martin shipping guide where the 1895 and 1899 instruments are listed. We are working to figure out which batch this one belongs to. It has an ebony guard, and the CF Martin & Co stamp/etching is on the frame piece (inside the sound hole) which runs the length of the mandolin.
    I am hoping to assist this donor with figuring out more information on this instrument. I am not on any social media, so I have not been able to get in touch with Jess, however, I spoke with someone at the guitar shop in Ithaca, NY and they knew him well but had no contact information.
    So far I am aware of 4 such harp mandolins-this one, Jess', Robert's, and the one at the Martin Museum. My donor was told that theirs was one of only two surviving. Trying to find them some more info.
    Below are some photos, I am also subscribing to this thread so I don't miss any of you helpful folks' responses. Thanks so much!
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  19. #15

    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Thank you all for helping connect us. I am not on any social media, and new to this thread and forum, so I am off to a clumsy start. Just emailed Jess, so excited.
    Thank you again.

  20. #16
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Hi Polly. I suspect that the tailpiece on yours might not be original to the mandolin. The other Martin mandolins from the era and after don't use that tailpiece. It was common on mandolins from other builders and could have been replaced at any time in it's life. I'm sure it was available as an aftermarket item as well. It doesn't appear to be on the other example I can find.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    I just looked back through the pictures I took back in 2003 at the Martin Museum and I must have missed the harp mandolin or perhaps it wasn't on display. They were in a state of flux at that time. The picture of the one in the museum doesn't have a tailpiece cover and that's not surprising, but it still looks like what I would expect. Can you post a picture that shows the entire tailpiece (where the strings attach to the body)?

    I found this image that was posted by forum Member Jim Garber years ago. It appears to be from Gregg Miner's site. Note the tailpiece on the harp mandolin in the foreground.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  22. #18

    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    I just looked back through the pictures I took back in 2003 at the Martin Museum and I must have missed the harp mandolin or perhaps it wasn't on display. They were in a state of flux at that time. The picture of the one in the museum doesn't have a tailpiece cover and that's not surprising, but it still looks like what I would expect. Can you post a picture that shows the entire tailpiece (where the strings attach to the body)?

    I found this image that was posted by forum Member Jim Garber years ago. It appears to be from Gregg Miner's site. Note the tailpiece on the harp mandolin in the foreground.
    Mike-I looked through the photos I took yesterday while the instrument was here at the museum and this one is the best one I can find that shows the tail piece. I find it curious for you to say that it looks like it was maybe added later, as I thought it didn't quite belong when I was examining the artifact. It just wasn't laying down quite right. But I could be wrong. 99% of the artifacts I deal with at our museum are ag and rural household related, not musical instruments
    I have been attempting to contact the curator at the Martin Museum for a few days now, but no luck yet. I did reach out to Jess on email last night.
    I am also in contact with Robert Corwin, who has another one of the harp mandolins. He has seen the one at the Martin Museum. I bet, like us, that they use artifact rotations for display and rest, and perhaps the harp mandolin was on a rest period when you visited. Neat pictures. Thanks!Click image for larger version. 

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  23. #19
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    The tailpiece looks like something placed under the strings for decoration. I don't think it is attached to the actual tailpiece.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Yes, that is more of an arm guard or sleeve guard.

    Here are two photos of the Gaskin mandolin on the wall at the Martin Museum when I was there in 2013. It was not easy to take photos through the glass. I am sure that if I talked to the right person and was interested in a few instruments they would have taken things out for photos.

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    Last edited by Jim Garber; Oct-16-2020 at 8:51am.
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    OK, looking at it now that wouldn't be an arm guard as it's under the strings but the actual tailpiece below it is the same as the others sans the decoration. The bigger question would be what is holding it there? Was it perhaps there on all of them and got lost? Maybe this is the original and the others just broke off somehow. I'll note it doesn't appear on the picture of the one in the group photo of the orchestra. If it was just laying there I'm pretty sure it might buzz or tear up the finish.

    I just also noticed that the harp thingie on the tailpiece isn't centered on the tailpiece. Is it loose to move?
    Last edited by MikeEdgerton; Oct-16-2020 at 10:41am.
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    The tailpiece looks like something placed under the strings for decoration. I don't think it is attached to the actual tailpiece.
    I think you're right, it appears to be held in place by the course of strings it's under.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  27. #23

    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    It felt like it didn't belong, and it felt somewhat loose. Almost as if it had "bubbled up" from the surface of the mandolin. I didn't try to force it to see if it would move. I also noticed it is not centered. The owner purchased it as is in 1997, and did not alter it.

  28. #24
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    I agree it's not a part of the tailpiece; it's not attached, and it doesn't seem to have a way to attach it. It somewhat resembles the Lyon & Healy "lyre" tailpiece covers, though not exactly. Perhaps the Martin's former owner had seen one of them and slipped the "lyre" piece under the strings to achieve a similar look...?
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: An evening with the Martin harp mandolin

    As I posted above, that mandolin has an older style four-post mandolin tailpiece and that "lyre" thing is called a sleeve guard. More common for the bowlbacks of that era.
    Jim

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