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Thread: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins?

  1. #1
    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins?

    Last week I picked up an Octofone. It's a shaded or sunburst top. Plays quite well but I can see there's a cracked top brace. (Current makeshift bridge was on it.) I can't find my dentist's mirror so I've ordered another one to take a look inside and see if there are more

    As far as I can tell, these little guys were the first octave mandolins built in any number. (Gibson having made one before settling on mandolas and mandocellos.) Does anyone know differently? Maybe in Europe?

    I know it has been stated that Regal made the first tenor guitars, starting (I think) in 1925. I believe the first Octofones were 1928.

    Thoughts?Click image for larger version. 

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    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    I can't think of anyone making them in significant numbers before Regal.

    I've never heard of an octave made by Vega, Martin, L & H, Harmony, or Schmidt. Although one or two might turn up, none of them produced octaves in significant numbers. That just about wears out the US mass-producers.
    The Larsons made a handful of them, but they certainly did not mass produce them.

    The closest European instruments that I can think of that could have been produced in significant numbers were Greek bouzoukis, but they're really a different animal.

    When you get your brace[s] taken care of, you might also want to do something about that bridge. Also, check that neck joint to make sure it is solid. At least some of them were dowelled on, and they have been known to loosen up. String it lightly when you get it back together. These instruments were built much lighter than modern octaves; the top on mine is .106" at the soundhole. You don't want it to fold up from strings that are too heavy. I am currently using 11 - 16 plain - 26 - 41.

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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Indeed, I'll replace the bridge. First I want to see whether or not I need to take the back off.
    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    You might be able to do it through the sound hole if you're really creative about the clamping. But the deeper braces are really hard to get to.
    If I ever have to open mine up, I'll want to re-do every joint that looks even the slightest bit suspect. I sure wouldn't want to have to open it again later.

    A hint: If you have to open it, you can make a temporary mold from rigid foam building insulation to hold the corpus in shape.

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Cary...that extra hefty bridge shim isn't the best of signs.
    Is just a clumsy job altogether or is the top sinking in from that faulty brace?

    Mick
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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    I believe the shim is just a clumsy job, but there is a bit of sinking (just a bit) which makes me wonder if a brace has popped. The one I can see can be reached with one of my clamps so I won't take off the back unless there's something else going on. When I can check, I'll let you all know what's up.

    I just restored a Regal mandolin. Took off the back, reglued all the braces, did a neck reset. (It's sold now.) I plan to do this work myself.
    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    I may eventually have to open my Octofone-- the #3 back brace re-glue that I did through the sound hole many years ago was messy and not up to my usual standards. It looks like there is now a small gap at the very end. It is not rattling now, but I might have to clean up the joint and re-do it somewhere down the road.

    If I decide to go after it, I might be able to just open it for a few inches to repair it, but I won't know until I start the job.

    Are there any "need to knows" when opening a Regal, such as hidden nails or guide pins?
    Was it just moderately touchy to open it, somewhat difficult, or very difficult?

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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    This back was actually starting to come off anyway. And there were no problems. No pins. Just used a couple of hot knives/scrapers. Head and tail block are obviously a bit tricker. Best to go slow.

    The back of my octofone looks very thin in places concerns me a bit in terms of any splitting but I would just be extra-careful.

    Meantime, my new mirror arrived. I'll try and take a look this afternoon.

    Might as well post a couple of pics of the mandolin while I'm at it. New pickguard and hardware and bridge.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Thanks for the info. Although every job is different, it's nice to have some idea of what to expect.
    Looks like you did a really good job on the mandolin.

    No, Regal certainly couldn't be accused of making the plates too thick on the Octofones. There's mild top sinkage on mine, but no top braces are loose, it plays and sounds fine, and does not appear to be getting any worse. The instrument is nice and resonant, so I'm not going to mess with the top. But it's definitely a good idea to string it nice and light. And I'll only open it if the back brace starts rattling or something else pops loose.

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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Ok, just took a look. The lower brace is split at one end. Also, some previous attempt at repair has what looks like a tongue depressor glued under where the bridge is, perhaps hoping to reverse the minor sinking. So the back will have to come off. I will try and remove that piece of wood and perhaps put in an extra brace. I might not get around to the work for a month or two.

    that foam is a good idea for keeping the shape.
    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    It's a lot easier than making a "proper" mold for one instrument. You can cut the stuff with a knife, and use cardboard to shim any spots that need to be adjusted. And if you like, you can punch holes in the mold for your spool clamps and keep it on the instrument when you glue it back together.

    I've sometimes wondered whether Regal came up with the Octofone as a way to efficiently use up wood pieces that were too small for guitars and too big for mandolins.
    Last edited by rcc56; Jun-13-2021 at 3:32pm.

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Regal called it "Octofone" because it was supposed to be tunable as a tenor guitar, tiple, mandola, ukulele (?), taropatch (??), etc. -- eight instruments in all. Sort of a mandolin-family "Swiss Army knife." They even said it could be used as a "tenor banjo," which makes no sense at all, obviously. I'd guess that more of them were tuned as octave mandolins, which is where mine is tuned, albeit with octave pairs on the two lower courses.

    In European practice, some instruments called "mandolas" are tuned GDAE, what we would call "octave mandolins." Distinction is made between "alto mandola" and "tenor mandola," whereas we'd call the latter "octave mandolin." Don't know if the prevalence of tenor mandolas would lead one to call them "mass produced," but builders certainly made them.

    As to the dialog about Octofone construction, remember that the basic model sold for $15 in the 1930's, the fancier one for $30. These were never high-end instruments, and as discussed above, they're among the most lightly built large mandolins I've ever seen, susceptible to neck warpage, neck joint deformation, top sinkage, etc. etc. Compare, for example, the new Octofone offered by the Octofone Guitar Company, clearly intended as a double-strung tenor guitar with its pin bridge -- although the company offers a floating bridge and tailpiece as a "mandolin" option. All solid tonewoods, "deluxe" engraved tuners, custom hardshell case.

    However, they want $2,900 for it. Ya gets what ya pays for, in my experience. I like my Octofone, but I had the fingerboard replaced with ebony, and a carbon fiber bar installed under it to forestall neck warpage. I'm living with the original cheapo tuners and tailpiece, but I've still got $400+ into it, between purchase and repair prices. And no case, just a 3/4 guitar gig bag that "fits" insofar as all parts of the Octofone go inside it. Regal did sell a lined chipboard case, but try and find one of those.
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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    These are fun instruments. The originals were very lightly built with birch and haven't aged well. I've built a couple based on hand drawings that I made on one that fell apart after going through a flood. Here is a link to the file. One of these days I'm going to do the CAD drawing for it and a Regal two point that suffered a similar demise. http://crossroadswood.com/files/1933_Regal_Octofone.pdf

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Nice, Andrew. Might be useful as I repair it.
    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Thought you might want to see. The back came off pretty easily and without damage; I think it may have been off before. The slight sag in the top disappeared. The brace under the bridge is missing, no doubt the cause of the sag, so I will put in a new one. Another brace has shifted. Not sure what that tongue depressor is doing there but I've removed it. Really it's only getting all the braces fixed and cleaning things up that needs to be done. The foam jig for holding the body is a great idea.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Thanks for posting that. I like to see what's inside.
    It's really cool to be able to work on your own instruments. I got my Octofone about the same time as you, and mine's in the shop getting a neck reinforcement.

  23. #17

    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    I've built two of these. Here is my bracing pattern. I really liked the H pattern which I stole from Graham McDonald. I also included a photo of the "basket case" that I took dimensions. It sat submerged in water for about four days.
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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post

    The closest European instruments that I can think of that could have been produced in significant numbers were Greek bouzoukis, but they're really a different animal.
    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    In European practice, some instruments called "mandolas" are tuned GDAE, what we would call "octave mandolins." Distinction is made between "alto mandola" and "tenor mandola," whereas we'd call the latter "octave mandolin." Don't know if the prevalence of tenor mandolas would lead one to call them "mass produced," but builders certainly made them.
    And there was also the 5 course liuto cantabile:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liuto_cantabile

    'tuned CC-GG-dd-aa-e'e'."

    Includes the octave mandolin AND mandocello ranges.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liuto_..._Cantabile.tif

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Nice posts. Andrew J, I used Graham's book to build a flat top mandolin. Your bracing pattern looks good--and simple. I might consider altering things. It's not a Loar, after all.
    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Well, at least a couple of the existing top braces appear to have been installed with the grain running horizontally. That's not helping the structural stability of the instrument. At the very least, I would replace those with new ones with grain running in the right direction.

    Or, you have the freedom to take them all out and brace it however you like. As long as it holds together and sounds good, nobody with any sense should have any objections. I didn't think twice about repairing the loose neck on mine with a machine bolt and a threaded insert.

    I suppose a Regal "purist," if such a person exists, might complain; but that doesn't worry me at all.

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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by thistle3585 View Post
    ...It sat submerged in water for about four days.
    No doubt played by an octopus.
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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by Cary Fagan View Post
    Thought you might want to see. The back came off pretty easily and without damage; I think it may have been off before. The slight sag in the top disappeared. The brace under the bridge is missing, no doubt the cause of the sag, so I will put in a new one. Another brace has shifted. Not sure what that tongue depressor is doing there but I've removed it. Really it's only getting all the braces fixed and cleaning things up that needs to be done. The foam jig for holding the body is a great idea.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    I wonder how the different positions of the braces will effect the sound of the instruments?

    The lowest brace seems like it distinctly relocated there. For a reason other than confusion?

    I added a brace below the bridge on a KM11 that suffered a catastrophic top collapse. At the time, I didn't think I had any other option.
    It had a dramatic impact on the tone of the mandolin: brighter and tighter in the mid range. Noticeable reduction of low end.

    I like it, but I kind of like the sound of the KM11s anyhow. Still have the mandolin.

    I didn't use any tongue depressors though.

    Great project, Cary! Thanks for sharing.

    Looking forward to the next steps you take.

    Mick
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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Well, it's done. i forgot to take another photo before closing it up. Basically I removed one brace that was out of place and put in a new one under the bridge. I added a couple of light braces to help prevent any top sag between the two under the soundhole. (Think of a sideways H, but with two cross pieces.) Stained the white strip on the top, though it's still visible obviously. It feels solid and is playing nicely.Click image for larger version. 

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    - - - Updated - - -

    Don't know why my pics are coming out sideways.
    Cary Fagan

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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Very nice job.
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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Were Regal Octofones the first mass-produced octave mandolins

    Here's a quick video. Trying to decide on mandolin or guitar fingering.
    Cary Fagan

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