1920’s Bowl-Back Mandolin

A sad, sad little teardrop.

This poor mandolin had been previously repaired (poorly) and was threatening to collapse in on itself. If not for our drastic measures, I doubt we’d be hearing any music from this elderly bowl-back ever again.

More cracks than James Franco at the Oscars. Wakka-wakka. Cue the grasshoppers.

Take a gander at the above photo. You’ll see on the left a few dowels I’d already set into the body, filling in excess holes drilled during a previous tailpiece reset; on the right are more holes to be doweled and glued. There are also numerous cracks on the body that require attention, and what you can’t see of the top also has its fair share of worrying stress marks. At first, John and I weren’t even sure that the block underneath the tailpiece had survived, but luckily enough, it did. Binding had been compressed and squeezed out of place by string tension on the butt-end of the mandolin.

Early Twentieth-Century craftsmanship.

From time to time an instrument’s condition will beg the question, “Is it worth saving?” That’s a sad reality for us, and I’m sorry to say that yes, we asked this quite a few times. It was never going to be a big-ticket item, of course, but what encourages me about Leading Tone is that even though we are a business, first and foremost we are enthusiasts- that is, we adore all instruments, and we each create, enjoy and love music. It’s the best thing ever! There’s more to this venture for us than simple profit margins. We’re about the stewardship of any and all instruments that cross paths with us, and this aching mando was no exception!

When gluing and the appropriate curing period had come and gone, the body seemed stable and intact. Luckily, the tailpiece covered all of the unsightly, extra holes.

The happiest mandolin you'll ever see. I'm lovin' it!

I decided to deep-clean the body for good measure, and was rewarded with this amusing portrait. Ah, good times! Even now, I’m trying not to giggle while that picture hovers above my indecisive words.

Strung and tuned to pitch, this is one of the sweetest sounding bowl-backs I’ve yet heard, and its action is low and silky. Plays like a dream, it does. If you’re ever at the shop, have a look-see! Give ‘er a strum and a pick, she’ll ma’ ye happy, I tells ye!

I’ll end this before I descend even further in to piratey language and syntax errors.

Safe and sound, back in good ol' 2011. 2011?! It's almost 100-ish!

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2 Responses to 1920’s Bowl-Back Mandolin

  1. michaeladams says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story of a prized family heirloom. I’m sorry to say that I’ve seen plenty of these mandolins in less-that-perfect condition. What I haven’t seen so often is an owner so well-versed in the history of their instrument!

    If you’re able to drive about one half hour’s time to Stratford upon Avon, there’s a reputable and highly qualified shop called Richard’s Guitars. In addition to selling used and new instruments, they also meticulously set up and repair instruments on-site. I’ve had them highly recommended to me in the past, and searching for reviews on the web leaves me with no doubt that this place would be able to help- especially with the problems you describe with your bowl-back. With the wood out of tension for so many years, I’d even be nervous putting it back together myself! It could be a very long process of dampening and re-shaping the wood, so please don’t be surprised if this repair takes weeks to months.

    In any case, I wish you the best and thank you again for stopping by our humble website! I’ll leave Richard’s Guitars’ address and phone number below:

    Richard’s Guitars
    5 Tiddington Road, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire CV37 7AE
    tel. 01789 26 33 33

  2. Ms M Stevens says:

    I have my Nanas mandolin it is sadly a victim of an enraged ex partner of my sister. The bowl is split in three places two of which are sprung , the neck fretboard and winder head are broken and all relevant parts separated and in pieces much like a wooden jigsaw. It is a Stridente from Fabrica Di mondolini, Via Anotonio 22, Napoli.
    My nan was given it by her first beau after the first world war. I have looked at trying to mend it but really have no idea how as i cannot create enough tension to put the back together again, and i am concerned about damaging it further. I have the correct glue but as it has been in this condition a good twenty years, it will be difficult not to cause more damage. It only has sentimental value but i would like it repaired as we can all remember her playing it. Do you know of anyone in the Warwickshire England area that would be able to help by looking at it and giving an opinion on the cost of repairing it? I would be pleased to get your advice on this.
    Thanking you

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