• Sometimes the Case Tells the Story - Part 2

    Lauren Price Napier

    Last October we rounded up a remarkable group of stories we knew were needing to be told and published them in a feature entitled Sometimes the Case Tells the Story. Though we'd like to take credit for the title, those words were written by David Grisman as part of his story.

    We knew there were many more interesting stories other mandolin players would share, and after a few calls for a sequel, we're proud to present another round of classic tales involving the cases in which we carry instruments and about those who carried them before us.

    Not originally intended, this group of stories all had a Bill Monroe or Lloyd Loar twist, and approaching the 100 year anniversary of the February 18, 1924 batch of signed Loar mandolins, nothing could be more fitting. Got a one of your own you think the community might enjoy? There's a link to a Contact Us on the bottom of every page on the Mandolin Cafe. We'd like to hear from you. Who knows? A Part 3 of this series might include your story.

    Daniel Ullom

    Daniel Ullom is a Washington state based bluegrass and old-time player who recorded a brilliant album in 2022 entitled The Swannanoa Sessions. He is currently working a Kickstarter to fund an album he's calling "Dewey's 100th Birthday."

    We've all heard stories about Loar mandolins being stuck inside a closet for decades, quietly sleeping in their original case and enjoying their undisturbed finish. Eventually, these mandolins reemerge and make their way into the hands of some lucky picker who gets to haul around a pristine example of the F5. My story is a little different.

    In the early 1960s, Dewey Murphy purchased an old Gibson mandolin, signed by Lloyd Loar on February 18, 1924 from Harry West. He couldn't believe he was paying as much for a used mandolin as he could get a new one for, but as a bluegrass aficionado, he knew the old Gibsons had the tone he was looking for. And as a bluegrass musician, Dewey played the mandolin for over 50 years, on the radio and on records, in jams and performances.

    When I first met the Dewey Murphy Loar, it had been restored by Steve Gilchrist. The mandolin looked brand new. No pick marks. No neck wear. But when I strummed some chords and picked a couple tunes, I could hear that the mandolin had been played heavily. In the recordings I've found of Dewey Murphy, you can easily recognize the sound of this incredible mandolin.

    So the mandolin is not a collector's piece. I don't have the original tuners. The finish has not been preserved. The labels are over-sprayed. But it certainly has not been sleeping. And as far as cases go, the mandolin came with Dewey's modern Gibson F5L case emblazoned with "Dewey Murphy and the Original Blue River Boys." For a picker like me, I don't know what more you could ask for.

    Cody Shuler

    Cody Shuler is the founder of the Cody Case Company, a small family owned business hand crafting traditional styled mandolin cases like the ones that came with original Lloyd Loar Mandolins. They've become quite a topic of conversation and are highly sought out by those with an appreciation of that history, and for very good reason. His cases are magnificent!

    I always thought Bill Monroe's leather covered Geib (Loar) style mandolin case was a very classy case. The finest of the finest, a case worthy enough for music royalty. Mr. John Paganoni built that case and a gentleman in Kentucky covered it in leather and hand tooled Bill Monroe's name on it. Really the whole case was a work of art. I liked it so much that I searched out someone to make me one like it (minus Mr. Monroe’s name) but I couldn't find anyone or any company that was willing to tackle it. That was a handful of years ago now. When I realized that kind of case simply wasn't an option I got the bright idea to make one myself. Like most folks, I didn't realize how much work was involved in making a case, let alone one covered in cowhide. This is one of those times in my life where ignorance was a blessing. If I had known that case would've taken the time it did then I never would have started. Once I started it I wasn't going to quit until it was finished.

    Cody Shuler - Cody Case Company

    I didn't really know where to start, that is until my friend Steve Kirtley invited me over to his house for a lesson in case making. He gave me a mind blowing amount of information on how a Loar style case was made. He had made a very nice one himself and he knew the structure of those cases inside and out. Steve is an expert in all vintage cases and I'm truly lucky to be able to call him a friend. He has the Vintage Musical Instrument Cases page on Facebook for those who may be interested. Steve supplied me with enough information to get started and gave me tips all the way through that first case. I did have some experience with leather having redone some old saddles in the past and that helped when it came to the exterior of the case. On that particular case I used padding on the interior instead of the traditional wood blocking.

    It took me a couple months on and off to finally finish it. I was pleased with it but to be honest I wasn't expecting the response it received when I shared it on Facebook. I was really blown away at all of the positive comments, many requesting that I build them one like it. My original plan was to build myself a case and that would be it. In a couple months time I had several requests from different folks to make them a case like mine but I kindly refused. I just knew it would probably cost more than people would want to pay. Also, it takes more time to make one of them than most folks realize. All of that time plus the cost of materials really add up. After a while I finally agreed to build a couple, then a couple more, then a couple more after that. Cody Case Company was born. I've built several cases now and have several on my list to build. Many of the cases I've built have been for well known people in the mandolin world and for that I'm truly humbled and honored.

    The name Cody Case Company was kind of a joke really. There is no "company," it's just me and occasionally my wife Marianne will do some sewing on the interiors. She's awesome at that! She also gives input on if my ideas are good or bad. I couldn't do it without her! She's been a huge encouragement. Also, from time to time I'll let our kids glue stuff, they enjoy that. I don't have a factory, an assembly line or the type of setup that one needs to produce these cases in large numbers. Like I mentioned before, I planned on building only one case and honestly that's still how I'm set up. I guess you could say I'm a boutique case maker.

    This is a hobby for me more than anything. Just something I really enjoy doing. I'm not on the clock which means I can spend as much time as I need to get it as perfect as I can. I guess that's an advantage I have over big companies. They're on a schedule, I'm not. Each case takes many, many hours to make with some taking longer. The leather alone takes several days by the time I cover the shell and apply the finish. I don't cut any corners, I use the finest materials available. I use thick cowhide on most cases but I have used some exotics like the one I made for Doyle Lawson. His is a combination of ostrich and cowhide. My cases are expensive, more expensive than I'd like and more than most folks want to pay for a mandolin case. I completely get that. I really wish I could make them more affordable but I don't make much money on them when it's said and done. It's basically a hobby that pays for itself.

    I don't know how many more I'll make really, I'll just do it until I can't or until I don't want to do it anymore. My favorite thing about making these cases is when I'm finished and the client sees it. All have been very pleased and that pleases me!

    I just want to thank everyone who has encouraged me on my cases. I truly am honored by this. I'm just happy I can contribute something to the mandolin community.

    Tom Isenhour

    Historian on all things bluegrass, Gibson Mandolins, Bill Monroe and Lloyd Loar, vintage instrument collector and dealer Tom Isenhour is a frequent contributor to the Mandolin Cafe and greater mandolin community. While most are familiar with the iconic mandolin case Bill Monroe owned when he passed, his earlier cases are less documented and Tom is here to tell the story, including the fact that he owns the second mandolin case Tut Taylor made for Monroe which is currently on display at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Owensboro.

    Bill Monroe seemed to make a statement when he arrived carrying his famous 1923 Gibson Loar F-5 in its case, but not always. When Monroe got his $150 used Loar from the barbershop in Miami in January, 1945 it would have come in its original Loar style oblong case.

    For that era, they were the Cadillac case for the F-5 mandolin, but not that tough. In about six years that case served its purpose and Monroe started carrying his Loar in his 1934 Gibson F-7 case, which happened to fit the F-5 style. This was known as the red-lined contour shape case. Easy to carry but didn't hold a lot of accessories inside. Monroe would use this case about another 10 years.

    Bill Monroe

    Tut Taylor, a long time friend of Monroe, would describe this shape case in the early 60s as "a crummy case, the contour case, held together with black electrician’s tape." Tut wanted to gift Monroe a new case and in 1963 ordered a new Gibson F-5 case that he customized the top with hand-painted lettering saying "Bill Monroe" in gold color and below that "Original Bluegrass Since 1927" in silver. 1927 being the date Monroe would say he started his professional career with Uncle Pen at the Rosine Barn dances. A sketch of the F style mandolin with a King's crown in the center was painted in silver on the left to indicate Monroe was the undisputed "King of Bluegrass." The case was presented to Monroe in Los Angeles, CA in December, 1963 at the Ash Grove Concert. As Monroe walked away with his new case Tut realized he had painted the lettering upside down. Years later Tut painted another identical case with the lettering right side up. This new case for Monroe suffered the abuse of the others, as it too would receive gray duct tape to hold it together for the next 20 years.

    The first Tut Taylor case in 1963
    First Tut Taylor mandolin case minus duct tape

    The first Tut case with duct tape in 1980
    The first mandolin case Tut Taylor made for Bill Monroe

    The second Tut Taylor case with lettering right side up
    The second mandolin case Tut Taylor made for Bill Monroe

    In 1982, former Blue Grass Boy Doug Hutchins noticed Monroe really needed a new case and commissioned a special custom case from mandolin luthier John Paganoni of Virginia in the original Loar style with green interior that would be covered in tooled tan leather by leather craftsman, Nick Boone of KY that had embossed on the top "Bill Monroe - Father of Bluegrass." It was presented to Monroe on his 71st birthday in Louisville, Kentucky on September 11, 1982 as a gift from all the former and present Blue Grass Boys.

    Monroe with Nick Boone presenting the 1982 case.
    Monroe with Nick Boone presenting the 1982 case

    A few years later around 1988, Charlie Derrington of Gibson noticed the mandolin did not fit tight enough inside the case and had the TKL Case Company redo the interior lining for a tighter fit in blue crush velvet material. That case lasted until his death in 1996 and is with the mandolin at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. The first Tut case is on display at the Monroe Bean Blossom Museum, the second on display at the Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky.

    [The second interior in blue of the 1982 case.
    Bill Monroe's mandolin case

    Tom's case on display at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum. Photo credit: Tom Isenhour.
    Tom's case on display at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

    John Reischman

    John Reischman and his February 18, 1924 Loar are one of the most remarkable pairings of a musician and instrument in acoustic stringed music. Whether performing with his band John Reischman & the Jaybirds or teaching online classes for Peghead Nation, John's signature sound is unmistakable. But few have ever seen the original case for his Loar and John said he's proud it's getting a little attention all by itself for once.

    I still have the original case that my Gibson F5 came in. I've not used it though, as it's a bit fragile so not very practical. I keep the original fingerboard, saddle, and pearl nut in it.

    I've used a lot of cases for the Loar over the years. The first one was an old Harptone, I believe, that I bought in 1977. Or it might have come with my Stan Miller Rosewood F5.

    In the early eighties I first noticed a musician carrying a fiberglass case in British Racing Green and immediately wanted one. I did some research and ordered one directly from Keith Calton while on tour in the UK. This was long before the North American manufacturing of Caltons. I ended up selling it on the Mandolin Cafe during the pandemic.

    Once I got my Heiden F5, I used the Calgary made Calton case that it came in for touring, whether with my Gibson, or the Heiden. It is a great case that I still have. Ultimately, since the dimensions were a bit bigger, I found the Calgary Calton to be more protective than the original.

    =Now days I go back and forth between a recent Austin built Calton that I got in a trade with Carters, and an early Hoffee. The Hoffee is a very light, shaped case. Not much more room for a mandolin and a pick. Very easy to travel with though, and I brought it on tour in the UK because of course you want to do some sightseeing while on tour, and I'm never going to leave my mandolin in the van. So it was super easy to walk around Stonehenge with a shoulder strap on this great little case than it would have been with the Calton.

    The Austin Calton is much more protective, I believe, so I use it depending on the kind of touring I'm doing. I think it's the best Calton design yet, and I really like the profile. I want to be clear that my Hoffee is a very early version, not the currently made models, which I also think are great.

    Lots of great cases to choose from. At one time I had more cases than mandolins!

    John Reischman's Original Loar Case

    John Reischman's Original Loar Case

    John Reischman's Original Loar Case

    Lauren Price Napier

    Lauren Price Napier and twin sister Leanna are the face of The Price Sisters, a hard driving 5-piece bluegrass band inspired by the music of Bill Monroe. Already recognized as an authority on the mandolin style and techniques of Bill Monroe, Lauren will once again be a featured instructor at this year's Monroe Mandolin Camp.

    Growing up as a kid there was always music around our house and family, whether it was singing with mom and dad in the kitchen after supper or on the front porch in the summertime, or hearing our Nana play piano or our Pap put on a Jimmie Rodgers 78. My twin sister Leanna and I loved music and loved to sing ever since we were little, though back then it was mostly in the old-timey or classic country variety with a bit of bluegrass in the mix. By the time I’d turned 16, however, I quickly became interested in hard and heavy, classic bluegrass, particularly the music and mandolin style of Bill Monroe. The next spring, my parents gifted their biggest musical investment in me to-date, a Buckeye mandolin custom built just for me.

    The Price Sisters Bluegrass Band

    After receiving my Buckeye, I could hardly stop playing it, I loved it so much, and became more determined to study Monroe’s mandolin playing and learn as much as I could from his material. For fun, as an art class project my senior year of high school I chose to paint a monochromatic-colored portrait of Bill Monroe, based on an iconic midcentury photo of the Mandolin Man. By college-age I felt more and more serious as a player, and dreamed about having a Calton case for my Buckeye. Scott Napier (who’s now my husband, though we’d been dating for a year or so around this time) went in on the money with my parents to surprise me with an early-2000s Calton case for my 20th birthday! It was used but in excellent condition, a cool slate gray color, and I was so excited as it instantly became the safe haven for my beloved Buckeye.

    Many musicians put stickers on their road cases and though I wasn’t opposed to the idea, wanted to be very selective with how I decorated mine. After a couple months of carrying it around, an idea came into my head – what if I could make a high-quality sticker copy of my high school painted portrait of Bill Monroe? My case was a blank slate at the time, and I thought the blue tones in my painting would really pop on the gray case color, particularly if I made the sticker almost equal to the size of my painting. I took the painting to a local sign and printing shop so they could scan it and make a sticker copy, and – voila! I carefully put it on my case that afternoon and thought it was just the perfect fit. It's been there for ten years now, and still wherever my Buckeye goes, Bill will always be front and center on the Calton.

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Brinckam's Avatar
      Brinckam -
      The idea of ​​making a sticker out of portrait is brilliant! it fits perfectly with the case)
    1. Bob Dispennette's Avatar
      Bob Dispennette -
      Another great article Scott. I just put "The Mandolin Store" sticker on my Kimble case yesterday.
    1. musicofanatic's Avatar
      musicofanatic -
      Would have liked to see Reischman's shaped Hoffee case. I bought a very early dreadnaught case from Hoffee and don't think he was even making mandolin cases at the time...wisht I had got one back when he offered one.
    1. junderwood926's Avatar
      junderwood926 -
      Great article. Would love to see a continual, maybe even monthly/ quarterly version.