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Thread: Bowlback action

  1. #1

    Default Bowlback action

    Hi I have just purchased a bowlback from Ebay which is in good condition with low action (2mm on the 12th) - the only thing I am finding is I need to be careful to place my hand so am playing directly over the soundhole. The low bridge (which is fixed in place) means that there is a lack of clearance over the scratchplate and if my hand veers too close to the rosette edge the plectrum hits against it. It's my first bowlback so not sure if this is normal and just to train myself to play over the soundhole or is the bridge too low. Thanks.Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by ukcarrie; May-13-2021 at 9:52am.

  2. #2
    Registered User Ky Slim's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bowlback action

    Are you certain the bridge is fixed? it appears to be leaning forward slightly. Standing it up might give you a little more clearance. Pretty mandolin!

  3. #3

    Default Re: Bowlback action

    Quote Originally Posted by Ky Slim View Post
    Are you certain the bridge is fixed? it appears to be leaning forward slightly. Standing it up might give you a little more clearance. Pretty mandolin!
    Thanks Ky - I have just realised it is not glued down and I can move it. That means I can try a higher bridge. Phew.

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  5. #4
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    Default Re: Bowlback action

    The strings look new. Be sure to use ultra light strings to avoid damaging the instrument!
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  7. #5
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bowlback action

    Mandolins -- in general -- have a "floating" bridge, which is held in place by string tension. From the pic it appears yours doesn't have full contact with the top, since it's pitched forward and is probably resting on only the front edge. Full contact between the bridge feet and the top will optimize transmission of string vibration to the top, giving you better sound. Also, it's not common to have the bridge located right at the "cant" or bend in the top, as yours appears to be.

    You need to be sure the bridge is properly located, so that the "harmonic" at the 12th fret agrees with the pitch of the string fretted there. Concur with the above advice, to use only extra-light strings; bowl-backs are more lightly constructed than the more "modern" styles of flat- and carved-top instruments, and many have been damaged by too-heavy strings.

    I haven't seen bowl-backs with the string hold-down bar behind the bridge that yours has, but I surely haven't seen every bowl back made. The auxiliary sound-holes on the side are also uncommon. Does yours have a maker's label inside?
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  8. #6

    Default Re: Bowlback action

    Yes, it's strung with GHS ultra-lights and have checked the bridge position. It's sounding good but it's more that I have to play it over the sound hole otherwise the pick hits the wood and wondering if that's normal for a bowlback. Not sure how to source a bridge suitable for a vintage bowlback so will see how I go. It has a badge 'sold by J Geo Morley' who was a harp maker in London but is probably Italian made. There is no fret wear and no cracks or splits in the bowl so lucky find, I hope!

  9. #7
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bowlback action

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    I haven't seen bowl-backs with the string hold-down bar behind the bridge that yours has, but I surely haven't seen every bowl back made. The auxiliary sound-holes on the side are also uncommon. Does yours have a maker's label inside?
    Alan...and Carrie... these bar type tensioners were standard on DeMeglio bowlbacks, of which 1000s were imported into the UK, as well as some other Neapolitan makers. DeMeglio also had numerous particular features such as the side sound holes we see here that influenced other 'copiers', some faithful to DeMeglio and some less so.

    From the limited view of UKCarrie's mandolin, my hunch is that this is Sicilian made. More photos would make that clearer.
    The super wide grain on the top is what has me thinking that, along with the soundhole decoration.

    The Catanese builders were enthusiastic copiers, translators and collagists of mandolin design from the mainland (and from the US in some occasions) as well generators of delightful designs of their own. Many many many were imported to the UK that then bore labels from the local dealer (eg. J Geo Morley.)

    Fair play to you, UKCarrie, for scoring a vintage bowlback with good, playable action on your first purchase. So many of these old bowlbacks have had their necks go south, rendering them difficult if not impossible to play.


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    Last edited by brunello97; May-13-2021 at 7:02pm.
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  11. #8
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bowlback action

    Quote Originally Posted by ukcarrie View Post
    Not sure how to source a bridge suitable for a vintage bowlback so will see how I go.
    Contact Dave Hynds. He hand makes vintage style bridges of all kinds and sells them for very reasonable prices. You still will need to have someone install is correctly and set it up. The bottom of the bridge needs to follow the contour of the curve of the top.

    You can sometimes find original vintage bridges but it is a long shot mostly and sometimes they may not be in the best of conditions. My guess is the bridge you have on it is not original nor was it fit properly. If you don't want to do it yourself any decent luthier should be able to fit one of Dave's bridges. You will be amazed what a difference in tone it will make to have a proper bridge on this mandolin.

    BTW I did find this head-on shot of a J. Geo. Morley mandolin, possibly the one that the OP now owns.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  13. #9

    Default Re: Bowlback action

    Yes, that's the one Jim - and thank you for the recommendation re David Hynds. I come from the world of banjo where it's easy to swap out bridges but I think bowlback mandolins are a bit different! I wasn't able to find a source for suitable bridges (or vintage replacements) in the UK so I have put a shim under the bridge which has raised the action and seems to work okay. I did think about approaching Lucas Sobieranski but he lives some distance from me.

  14. #10
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    Default Re: Bowlback action

    The shim will work fine, many folks do it. You may find if you live where it is humid part of the year you will be able to remove the shim during those times. If your mandolin stays stable that shim can be glued to the bridge and be nearly invisible, if it is made of the same wood that is.
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