What I know about Strad-O-Lin Mandolins

  1. Maxwellt
    Maxwellt
    Warning: This thread contains long and rambling accounts of how I fell into acquiring and passing on many, many Strad-O-Lin mandolins. This is not an apology - just a warning - read at your own risk.

    My first mandolin, which I bought in 1972 for $35, was a Strad-O-Lin. However, I did not know that for many years. When I bought it, it had a decal with the name "Armstrong" on it, as well as all its finish and no scratches. Even back then, it was already a closet classic, in virtually un-played state. As I had never touched another mandolin at that time, I assumed that they were all made like that, and was very happy with it. I played it a lot over the years, and finally, sometime around 1990, I had it at a friend's violin shop, and he pointed out that there was another name peeking out from under the decals. I took it home , steamed the decals off, and discovered I owned a Strad-O-Lin. A quick letter off to the Mandolin Brothers asking about Strad-O-Lin mandolins (because who else would know?) and I found out what we all have heard...that no one really knows. They thought the Strad-O-Lins were good student model mandolins, probably built by jobbers, which I interpreted to mean one guy in his little workshop made some of them, and some other guy in his little shop made some others, etc. I've since thought that the idea of jobbers explains why the mandolins vary so much from one to another. I have seen some catalog pages from the 1930s, showing the Armstrong and the Strad-O-Lin mandolins on the same page. For some reason, the Armstrong mandolins were $6 more

    I must confess that all the damage to this mandolin was caused by me...much of it in my early years of learning to play. As I developed a little more finesse, I became much easier on my instruments. The enlarged treble f-hole was caused by the strap I used for many years. Before I had ever played a mandolin, I had played classical guitar. In order to facilitate the holding of the instrument, I went to a music store in downtown Dallas, and asked for a classical guitar strap. Well, what they sold me was a saxophone strap, with a metal hook, and I being young and na´ve, believed them and used this thing for many years. It worked great on the mandolin, just hooking the hook in the lower round hold on the treble side. It took many years to cause the damage, and by that time, I found out about real classical guitar straps, with soft plastic hooks, which work much better. As an aside, the enlarged hole has very handy when installing a quarter inch jack into the instrument's side to electrify it with a Texas Transducer.

    #01 Specs

    Black curved headstock with curved Strad-O-Lin script
    Black back and sides
    Sunburst Finish on top
    White plastic pickguard
    Ivoroid binding on top
    Ivoroid heel cap
    Rosewood fingerboard (originally) with ivoroid line inlaid on side
    Supported fingerboard extension
    Mother of Pearl fret markers
    Schaller Tuners
    Ebony nut
    Ebony compensated bridge
    Cloud tailpiece


    After playing this mandolin for 30 years as my primary instrument, I had to break down and do some maintenance. The tuners were replaced with Schallers, which work very well, and I know I've replaced the bridge at least once. I sent the mandolin to a luthier friend to re-fret, and as he was taking the old frets out, the old fingerboard began to crumble so the fingerboard was replaced with an ebony one at that time. All in all, even with the rough cosmetics, it is a great mandolin.


    Shortly after finding out that Strad-O-Lins existed, I found my second one: an electric Strad-O-Lin with a magnetic factory pickup. It was at a widow lady's house, and she had invited me out to help her value her late husband's instruments, a task for which I was not really ready. I gave her ball park estimates on the things I was familiar with, but she had so many things left from her husband, it was mind boggling...things that stuck out were old Martins, including a tenor, some other mandolins, and old electric Fender, and a white fiberglass string bass. I gave her a fair price for the Strad-O-Lin, and took it home, cleaned it up, and sold it to a friend. (At the time, I couldn't conceive of owning more than one mandolin.) This instrument is documented on the EMANDO site, the brown one on the left.

    #02 Specs

    Black pointed headstock with straight Strad-O-Lin script
    Black plastic pickguard
    Brown Mahogany Top
    Magnetic pickup
    Rosewood bridge (original)
    Cloud tailpiece
  2. Maxwellt
    Maxwellt
    In the late 1990s, my original Strad-O-Lin was showing its age, and I had already tried both Martin and Gibson mandolins, and kept returning to my Strad-O-Lin. With the advent of the internet, with websites for instrument dealers, and online auction sites, I decided to look and see what mandolins were available. There were more Strad-O-Lins out there for sale! I quickly snagged up my third, and it was a keeper. This thing was well made, and sounded better than the one I had been playing on for 27 years ever did. The headstock is a little different, coming up to a point, and the Strad-O-Lin script runs straight across the headstock. One really interesting thing I noticed about it was the inlays on the fingerboard: they appear to be steel, like someone took a steel rod and sliced little disks off to use as fret markers. It made me wonder if mother-of pearl was scarce in the late 1930s or early 1940s. (Like steel pennies from WWII, when copper was scarce) I have seen these steel inlays on several Strad-O-Lins since then.

    #03 Specs

    Black pointed headstock with straight Strad-O-Lin script
    Black plastic pickguard
    Brown Top, back and sides, with a hint of a brown to yellowish burst on the back
    Black painted line where the binding should be
    Rosewood fingerboard
    Supported fingerboard extension
    Steel fret markers
    Schaller Tuners
    Bone nut
    Ebony compensated bridge (Fishman pickup)
    Cloud tailpiece

    Since this mandolin sounded so good, and played so nicely, it quickly became my main mandolin. I added a Fishman bridge pickup to it, and play it all the time.


    Once my first internet auction site mandolin purchase turned out so well, I started watching very closely for other Strad-O-Lin mandolins. I am current up to #21, and will document as many of these as I can get back in my hands long enough to photograph. I did not keep all these mandolins, tempting as that was. I have put them into the hands of my children, sold some to students, and sold some to friends. I try to keep one or two around in case a student is looking for something good.
  3. bmac
    bmac
    You really weren't kidding about elongating the f hole...

    Nice information and photos.

    Bart
  4. Doc Simons
    Doc Simons
    The 6 string intrigues me. Can you post a full size photo?
  5. Maxwellt
    Maxwellt
    I actually just bought the guitar on an online auction site...I had been trying to get one for many years, mostly out of curiosity as to what the quality would be. The seller said he thought it was made by Harmony in the early 1940s or earlier. If you look quickly, the auction site still has it up as item number 110615030786. In the case was a file of music and notes from flight training, and the guitar had belonged to a WWII pilot, so that helps date it as that time period. I have to do more research on that stuff.

    Anyway, the "Armstrong" decal is the same as what was on my first Strad-O-Lin, and the headstock is the same, so some of these could have been made by Harmony.
  6. Maxwellt
    Maxwellt
    One of my more recent Strad-O-Lin finds is this one, which I call "Old Gluey" It has the curved headstock with the curved script "Strad-O-Lin". It is definately made of solid wood, and has binding on front and back, which few of them have.

    #20 Specs

    Black curved headstock with curved Strad-O-Lin script and treble cleff on staff image
    Brownburst? finish on top
    2 piece back
    White plastic pickguard
    Ivoroid binding on top and back
    Missing heel cap
    Rosewood fingerboard with ivoroid line inlaid on side
    Supported fingerboard extension
    Mother of Pearl fret markers
    Original Tuners
    Ebony nut
    Original bridge
    Cloud tailpiece

    This one is also a keeper...but why do I calll it "Old Gluey"? Well, when I bought it, the seller mentioned in the description that it had "some" excess glue in the back, where someone had done a less than professional repair to the back seam. Once I got it and looked inside, I discovered a large puddle of dried glue 1/4 of an inch thick in places. But in spite of all that glue, it sounds really good. I plan to get my mandolin building friend to fix it some day, but I'm in no hurry.
  7. Doc Simons
    Doc Simons
    Maxwellt: I checked out the auction pics and it's gorgeous. I've not seen any harmony's that are this perty. The neck heel also looks different, though the "paddle" headstock looks like Harmony. (Apologies to all for crossing the line into the 6 string zone)
  8. Maxwellt
    Maxwellt
    Here is another Strad-O-Lin that I found several years ago. This one is stamped June 11 1940 inside. This one sounds good, and has stayed in the family.

    Black curved headstock with curved Strad-O-Lin script and some kind of image

    #06 Specs

    Sunburst finish on top
    Pressed back
    Black plastic pickguard
    No binding
    Rosewood fingerboard
    Supported fingerboard extension
    Mother of Pearl fret markers
    Original tuners
    Original nut
    Original bridge
    Cloud-like tailpiece (Different than I've seen)
  9. Bruce Clausen
    Bruce Clausen
    Wonderful stuff, Maxwellt! Great info and photos, plus nice stories. I look forward to the next installment. Since you've seen so many and noticed their dates, have you got any ideas about when the different design changes happened? (Different headstock and f-hole shapes, fingerboard end, binding styles, etc.)
  10. Maxwellt
    Maxwellt
    Actually, I just learned (probably on this forum) in the last two years where to look for date stamps, so I haven't correlated any kind of trends based on dates. Whenever I see any of these instruments again, I am going to document what I can. Since most of the ones I've touched are either with friends, family, or students, it should not take too long.

    I've got a gut feeling that design changes aren't based so much on time, but on the fact that different builders made the changes independently. If these guys were all sitting around in one factory making the Strad-O-Lins, then the only variety would be between the plain models and the fancier, master models. What is truly amazing to me is how well the pressed-back ones stand up against their fancier, all solid wood cousins.
  11. DerTiefster
    DerTiefster
    I can't find a date stamped inside my 2-point US Strad mandolin with metal dot fret-markers here, so I don't know when it was made.

    I've wondered whether records from the other labels which marketed Strad-O-Lin genre instruments might provide hints for origin. I see that bluesmandolin is apparently selling the darker Orpheum 2-point in this pic in cafe ad 51402. (Golly, gee, but the other one looks a -lot- like mine. Check it out in the pics attached here. I hope you can be happy with only one 2-pt Strad. If it sounds like mine, then I know why you're keeping it.) But seeing that mandolin reminded me that Orpheum, Stadium, Strad-O-Lin, and other labels have all contracted to presumably the same manufacturer to make these instrument. If no paperwork remains from Strad to point to the source, is it possible that one of the other marketing concerns may have useful source records?
Results 1 to 11 of 11