Cylinder Backs

  1. Eddie Sheehy
    I think it's high time we documented these amazing instruments. I have 10-string Rosewood model, I think a 305 or a 315. I have also had 2 202's. It's hard to believe that these amazing instruments (and the L&H's) were eclipsed by the Gibsons of their day - probably because of the Gibson influence on the Mandolin Orchestras which abounded then. Please feel free to share your pics, stories, and whatever history you happen to have on these magnificent mandolins.
  2. Eddie Sheehy
    This from Wikipedia:
    The cylinder-back is a style of mandolin manufactured by the Vega Company of Boston, MA between 1913 and roughly 1925. The design patent (US patent number D44838) for the instrument was issued on November 4, 1913 to David L. Day, who was director and chief acoustical engineer for the stringed instrument division of the Vega Company. The unique design feature of the cylinder-back instruments (originally referred to as mando-lutes by their manufacturer) is a cylindrical bulge running longitudinally along the back plate, from the tailpiece to the neck heel. This bulge increases the internal volume of the instrument. The result has been described as a compromise between the earlier Neapolitan-style bowl-back mandolins and the more modern styles with relatively flat backs that were manufactured primarily in the United States around the time of the cylinder-back's first appearance. In addition to the mandolin, the same bulged-back concept was applied to the Vega mandola, mandcello, and mando-bass as well as to a series of hybrid 10-string instruments than spanned the pitch range between adjacently-sized 8-string models.
  3. Eddie Sheehy
    Here's a link to a comprehensive history of the Vega Cylinderback
  4. Bob DeVellis
    Bob DeVellis
    I think I'm the source of both the previous documents, (I'm certain in the second case; others may have edited the Wikipedia entry). This group is a great idea. I'll try to share information and pictures from time to time and certainly encourage others to do likewise. There's a lot of collective knowledge here on the Cafe.

    A story I shared a while ago on the cafe is a conversation I had with a lute maker in the Boston area who also makes bowl-back mandolins. The former owner of Vega came into his shop right after it first opened. A few months earlier, Vega had been bought out by Martin. All they really wanted was the company's name, tooling (especially for banjos), and wood supply. This left an enormous quantity of material in which Martin had no interest, much of it relating to mandolins. There were very large quantities of tuners, tailpieces, fingerboards, and inlay materials that Martin just threw away, filling three dumpsters, as I recall my source telling me. This included a huge amount of pearl that had been cut and engraved by Italians that Vega would bring over from Italy periodically to do their pearl work. The Vega boss went on to tell the lute maker that, if he had been in business at the time, he (the guy from Vega) would have gladly turned all that stuff over to him rather than dumping it. Once the plant was shut down, there was nowhere to store it and he considered it a closed chapter in his life.

    Next time you're trying to find a period tailpiece for a Vega mandolin, think of the huge number of them that were trashed. Pretty depressing.
  5. zookster
    I have heard it debated as to whether the back was pressed into shape or carved. Opinions?
  6. Eddie Sheehy
    I've heard both opinions Zookster. Perhaps a luthier could give an opinion?
  7. Eddie Sheehy
    So, from what I can gather, the 201 and 202 were Mahogany B&S. The 203 was maple B&S. The 205 was Rosewood with fancy inlay on the pickguard and abalone round the soundhole. The 207 was highly figured Maple B&S and fancier inlay on the pickguard and abalone round the soundhole. The 207 also had the sunken tuners with a full backplate.
    I believe that in different periods the half backplate and sunken tuners appeared on some, if not all, the models. The tuner posts also varied between plain posts and tapered posts that a bulbous head on the post.
    Some periods had the "hole" in the headstock and others had a star inlaid.
    The 301, 302, 303, 305 and 307 are 10-string versions of the above. The body of the 3 series is much larger than the 2, the scale is 15", tuning is CCGGDDAAEE. I have recently acquired a 205 as a"set" with my 305. Pics to appear soon.
  8. DerTiefster
    To add a little info to Eddie's, or what passes for info to me, my rosewood 205 (I'm fairly sure this is the model) has sunken tuners with full backplate. It has fancier fret board inlays than the dots on the 201/202 models and has one large diamond inlay at fret 7, two dots at fret 10(!), and an elliptical inlay at fret 12. Mine dates from near the end of 1919 and also has a two-piece bridge. I can't determine the wood myself, but there is a bone(?) insert about 1/4" tall fitted into it rather fussily. Someone spent time doing that.

    I had Jim DeCava of Connecticut unsink the top on mine, which he succeeded in doing. I don't understand fully what is cause here and what is effect, but the bridge on this manodlin has very delicate feet outboard from the stiff central part. At the waists in the wood "outriggers" the bridge has bent on the treble side, and at just that point (probably a stress enhancement) the top has sunk. The down-hill part of the top adjacent to the tail piece is sunken a bit, so its curvature doesn't provide the strength of the classic arch, and the "cant" has folded just at the treble end of the straight portion of the bridge base. That fold was not something De Cava was able to straighten (or it folded a bit during transit back to me), and as I pull the mandolin up to final pitch the bridge slowly sags at the weak point.

    To experiment a bit on something relatively simply, and in trying to keep costs down by avoiding S/H on the mandolin to/from CT, I am having a local luthier fit a 1 mm shim to the base of the bridge. This will hopefully spread the load at the weak point a bit and keep the bridge/top from sagging at that weak point. I may ultimately try to slowly re-store the cant, or maybe even have someone who knows what he's doing attempt it.

    I've seen pictures and heard of very many of these mandolins with treble side top sinkage. I -think- the mechanism of mine is bridge distortion allowing stress pileup on a weak part of the top cant. I've seen other pics (from Jim Garber and available in main forum postings) which show Vegas with beefier bridges and with low points at the outboard side of the bridge treble side. This may mean that my attempt to stregthen the bridge base is ill-inspired and may result in further top sinkage beyond what this instrument already has.

    I'd like to start a discussion on fixing these sunken tops. I think it would be fun and useful. Anyone want to sell me a Vega with a top sunken to unplayable state? Might be a lot of fun to try re-shaping.

    Addendum: the bridge stiffener/shim worked great now that the main soundboard is higher. This turns out to be a mandola (15" scale) rather than a 13-5/8"ish scale mandolin.
  9. mandolinteacher
    Eddie I tried to follow your link to read more about Vega and it was dead. Do you have another link to that article?
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