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Thread: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Hi Everyone .
    New member needing some help.
    2 part question.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/6qJMoGyN39yhrY5a8

    1) Does anyone know what maker this mandolin is by? I've been trying to find a similar design to the pick guard which has a unique red scroll edge pattern.
    2) And also the finish is gone on the top. I've tried stew mack but it's just not doing anything to polish the dried dull wood and I'm afraid to just leave it bare because I think it will just crack from exposure. Any suggestions on a finish that won't cause harm?
    Any input would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    It is probably a product of Lyon & Healy or possibly Regal but the pickguard is unusual and may help identify it but that's as far as I can go although I would imagine it is circa 1900.

  3. #3
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    I think Nick is on target with L&H or Regal...or maybe both. When Lyon & Healy acquired Regal they also acquired a pile of mandolins in various states of completion that they marketed on their own, some with labels (the Lakeside brand was purportedly all Regal leftovers) or without...a common practice.

    This is a modest mandolin, but the two-tone bowl is nice. It looks like rosewood and mahogany.
    Is that so?
    Not your most common pairing out of Chicago. They look good together to my eye.

    Many, many bowlback mandolins out of Italy from this era had a super light finish on the tops...often just wax.

    I've never been certain whether this was a cost cutting move, or a way to keep everything lighter and more resonant, the hallmark of that classic sound.

    I've tried a lot of things, all equally amateurishly executed: spray on lacquer from S-M (looks great, easy to apply...is it appropriate?) rub on oil finish, shellac, and just the simple wax.


    Others, particularly folks in the 'builders and repair' section can certainly offer better advice....

    Nothing beats keeping it in a case in a well humidified space. It's made it 120 years. Those top cracks can be heartbreakers.

    Mick
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    For posterity:
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    It almost looks like some craftsperson in the past might have created a custom scratch guard later in the mandolins life.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  7. #6

    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Thank you Nick. Do the purfings on these old instruments have any distinct characteristics that represent a style or design used by certain makers?

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Unfortunately, from this view it looks like y'all are having some top sinkage north of the soundhole...not an uncommon problem with old bowlbacks that have been under string tension for a long while.

    Cafe member Sam is discussing a repair project he is working on to address this type of problem in this thread.

    Sometimes I've been able to make things work out by fiddling with the bridge height (not the best solution) but if it gets much worse...and this one could do so under string tension, then the neck rotates up out of position (even a couple degrees) and the action becomes unplayable.

    I hope that's not the case here. Ultra light strings (.09-.32 max) only.

    It's a nice looking old bowlback with some unique charm. It's worth a shot at getting it right.

    Do you have the bridge from it?

    Mick
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  9. #8

    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

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  10. #9

    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    And these are the strings I got. Probably totally wrong. I actually am just giving this to my Mom for display. I will get it back when she's done with it. Was curious weather its worth setting up or not and it's history. I'll probably just string it real loosely.
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  11. #10

    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Thank you all for your help. What a nice group of guys you all are.

  12. #11

    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Is anyone familiar with "American Conservatory " mandolins? Of all the comparisons, I think the overall shape is closest to mine. Tell me what you think?Click image for larger version. 

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    C.1890-1900 L&H

  13. #12

    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    American Conservatory was a Lyon & Healy brand- a less expensive line of instruments- often with less bling. As mentioned above, the relationship with Regal was very close and somewhat convoluted, for many years. Your strings may be a little too heavy for this instrument. I use GHS ultra-light strings on old and possibly delicate instruments.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    American Conservatory was a Lyon and Healy brand name. That same mandolin was sold with and without labels for the trade so a teacher or school or retailer could sell it as its own product. Yours has already been identified as possibly coming from L&H or it's subsequent company Regal.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    If you want to know more about this company there was a book written by Cafe member Hubert Pleijsier named Washburn Prewar Instrument Styles. It is available on Amazon and elsewhere. It has catalog pages and illustrations along with the information. You aren't going to find that pickguard in there. I don't think that's original to the instrument. It was probably tortoise shell.

    As far as monetary value goes these fail to sell weekly on eBay. One in great shape isn't going to cost you a whole lot. If there is no family or personal connection it would make a fine wall hanger.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  17. #15

    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    The GHS strings are very slightly lighter than that set you showed. They would probably be okay but here is a link for the GHS ultra light set:

    https://www.stringsandbeyond.com/ghs...ight-9-32.html

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  19. #16

    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Okay thank you so much.

  20. #17
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    I second (third? fourth?) Nick's recommendation. Don't risk it...particularly with that .38 low G string.

    Mike's on to something that we've been discussing for years here and Hubert / Keef's book is an invaluable (and wonderful) aid but it doesn't answer all the complex questions involved with the the Chicago mandolin builders from the era. Don't know how one could. Keef has hinted at a "Volume 2" comprising what he's learned since the original. That would be awesome.

    L+H made a lot of instruments to various specs: wood types, headstock profiles, fretboard materials, bling, etc. How they labeled the instruments....outside their 'flagship' brand: Washburn, is anyone's guess. American Conservatory was supposedly their second line (and they certainly had third and fourth lines)....as well as unlabeled mandolins and ones they sold off 'to the trade' to be labeled by others.

    The interesting thing about the American Conservatory line is that some of them actually were nicer, and some much nicer, than some of the Washburn instruments. There are some very nice AC mandolins out there...and I've been touting them as some of the best $/value bargains on the used mandolin market.

    Of course finding one that's in good playable condition is another thing all together.

    If I'm representing him correctly, Mike has been advancing the 'built to spec, rather than built to brand / label' as a way of sifting through L+H's production. Would love to get Keef back in on the discussion as I think Mike's position is very intriguing, particularly as just such methods were emerging in our fabrication industries at the time.

    I know this is getting very divergent...but I find it pretty fascinating to consider how these shops operated. I'm part of a team running a digital fabrication shop here at the University of Michigan I can get kind of wonkish about this stuff. There's lots of great photos around of the L+H factory and one can spend a lot of time (believe me) pouring over those.

    From the likes of it, you could probably get that nut and bridge to work, though with the neck being un poco sketchioso you might need to sand down the underside of that bridge some to get it to where the action is playable. Give it a shot!

    Is the nut really made of wood? How many centavos were they saving using wood?

    Fun stuff! Every serious mandolin player should own an American bowlback mandolin. Why not? They are amazing specimens however modest or blingful.

    Mick
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  22. #18
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    It almost looks like some craftsperson in the past might have created a custom scratch guard later in the mandolins life.
    That is what I thought, too. Rather modest mandolin with the usually budget zebra bowls but that unusual pickguard. Hmmmm...
    Jim

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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    You aren't going to find that pickguard in there. I don't think that's original to the instrument. It was probably tortoise shell.
    To be clear it was more likely tortoise-patterned celluloid.
    Jim

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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    To be clear it was more likely tortoise-patterned celluloid.
    Yup.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGirl67 View Post
    And these are the strings I got. Probably totally wrong.
    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    The GHS strings are very slightly lighter than that set you showed. They would probably be okay but here is a link for the GHS ultra light set:

    https://www.stringsandbeyond.com/ghs...ight-9-32.html
    I agree with Nick - the 10-38 set is just a bit too heavy. the 9's are what I'd use too.

  26. #22
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    ...(and they certainly had third and fourth lines)...
    Lakeside, e.g.

    Perusing Pleijsier's book on Washburns, around p. 128 there are several Washburn models that seem close to OP's -- "scooped" headstock top, nine ribs, alternate maple and rosewood on the bowl. These are all 1890's vintage. Since most illustrations are catalog drawings, it's hard to ascertain what the top purfling was, but I don't see indications of the alternating light-and-dark-wood inner top binding.

    A Washburn would almost certainly be labeled, probably an American Conservatory as well. But there are enough similarities to strongly suggest this one came from the same shop. If the ribs on the OP's are mahogany and maple, rather than rosewood and maple, and if there's variation in the body purfling -- let alone the unique pickguard, which may be aftermarket as suggested above, and the "cloud" tailpiece cover, which isn't indicated to be an L & H option of the period -- it may well be one built by L&H for another dealer or distributor.

    Just my 2.
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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Allen...these ribs look like mahogany and rosewood to my eye, and not the maple alternative that is often seen on '90s L+H bowls.
    Jim seems to imply this is pretty common, but I haven't seen it so often myself, at least compared to the maple / rosewood combination.

    I have seen it on some Harwood bowls, though. I have a Harwood bowl that is all mahogany and with the tight clean grain it almost appears that the bowl is single piece of wood....

    I'm not suggesting at all this is a Harwood, btw. Just that it has some unique features for a bowl ordinaire.

    L+H / "Great Lakes Rim" seems the good call on this.

    Mick
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  29. #24
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    ...these ribs look like mahogany and rosewood to my eye, and not the maple alternative that is often seen on '90s L+H bowls.
    Jim seems to imply this is pretty common, but I haven't seen it so often myself, at least compared to the maple / rosewood combination....
    Concur. The light finish on the mahogany makes it look "maple-ish," I guess.
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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with identifying old bowlback mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Concur. The light finish on the mahogany makes it look "maple-ish," I guess.
    I have seen some bowls with maple ribs that have been stained to represent something else. The maple grain does look distinct though.

    Maple, of course, does darken and change in color over time on its own, often to a very pleasing hue.

    I'm not much of a fan of wood stains aimed at making one wood look like another one.
    My Gibson A has a birch back...which I took for maple for a long time...but it's stained with that classic Gibson purple-y color which I rather like.
    No slight of hand there.

    Mick
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