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Thread: Please Help ID Instrument - Partial Label and Pat 88 Tuning Pegs

  1. #1

    Default Please Help ID Instrument - Partial Label and Pat 88 Tuning Pegs

    Hello! I am trying to identify this instrument I found at an antique store a while back. It has a partial label and what appear to be three Pat May 8, 88 banjo tuning pegs (?). There seem to have been some questionable repairs over the years, though I'm not sure of the timeline. Based on the condition, I'll probably just clean it up a bit and hang it on the wall but I'd love to know a bit of the history. I haven't been able to find a similar instrument but, admittedly, don't really know where to look. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much!

    Images available here: https://imgur.com/a/oZMsLXI

  2. #2
    Confused... or?
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    Default Re: Please Help ID Instrument - Partial Label and Pat 88 Tuning P

    Hopefully, one of our bowlback experts will recognize that bit of label and ID the builder.

    I'm pretty sure that the three banjo tuners were not original to the instrument, but such tuners are handy for adding strings to a stock instrument. An 11-string ... something? Maybe 5 paired courses plus a single? That could allow for guitar-style tuning (fourths + a third), even if, as many of us have learned the hard way, that doesn't leave room for guitar-style fingering.

    A close-up of the nut, that wired-on metal thingy near the tuners, might give a hint of how the strings were intended to be placed. If there's an original nut underneath it, maybe bone, dark wood, or an early plastic, that should show evidence of the original 4 pairs of strings, plus maybe later modifications.

    Clearer close-ups of the bridge, at the bend in the top, should also show evidence of the original 8 strings plus mods. (The bridge is normally held on by string tension only; should it come loose, "re-gluing" would not be standard practice.)

    May '88 is probably the banjo tuners' patent date but they could have been made decades later, so that probably isn't a helpful clue.

    Just for comparison to a typical "what were they thinking?" history:
    I have a 1950-ish 10-string Martin tiple, sort of a cross between baritone uke & 12-string guitar. It has 4 courses of 2-3-3-2 strings, tuned in fourths + a third like ukulele or the top 4 strings of guitar, and the 3 lower courses having an octave string. From the holes drilled on the bridge and slots cut in the nut, it's clear that someone thought five paired courses (2-2-2-2-2) would be an improvement but, like most such mods, it didn't stick. I suspect you're looking at a similar effort.

    Edit:
    The original tuners' gears, with cogs that are almost square and worm that is almost a knife-edge, indicate (to non-expert me) that it was originally European.
    - Ed

    "Then one day we weren't as young as before
    Our mistakes weren't quite so easy to undo
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    I'm a better man for just the knowin' of you."
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  4. #3

    Default Re: Please Help ID Instrument - Partial Label and Pat 88 Tuning P

    European tuner units- and I think they are European- German, that is, were imported into the USA- especially in the late 19th century. My guess, is that the top word on the label is "American" which would suggest a US Made- which I think it is, mandolin but with German tuners.

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  6. #4
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please Help ID Instrument - Partial Label and Pat 88 Tuning P

    The alternating wood strips in the bowl are more often found in turn-of-the-20th-century bowl-backs; the four-post (rather than eight-hook) tailpiece also suggests European (Italian?) manufacture. The plain binding, lower "rib count" in the bowl, and lack of ornamentation indicate an entry-level instrument. Someone has added the banjo tuners later, perhaps influenced by 12-string mandriola-type instruments. Perhaps the same "someone" also glued the bridge in place, a no-no.

    Turning it into a "wall hanger" decoration does seem the wisest course. The added tuners are an interesting, if somewhat weird, decorative feature. Probably someone played the snot out of it a century ago, and committed some "reptile dentistry" to customize it to their liking. Would have been interesting to see eleven strings attached to the four tailpiece posts, though.

    With regard to Ed's post above, I owned a Regal tiple -- nice koa construction -- that had the 2-3-3-2 slots in the nut, but had a guitar-ish bridge with five individual bridge pins. So the strings started out in four courses, but ended up in five courses at the bridge. After trying to play it that way, I gave up and had the bridge replaced with a Martin 2-3-3-2 bridge. Then I traded it in, but kept my Martin T-17. After all, does anyone need two tiples?
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    Confused... or?
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    Default Re: Please Help ID Instrument - Partial Label and Pat 88 Tuning P

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    ... does anyone need two tiples?
    Uhmmm... Can't help thinking that someone with ~75 instruments might still have 2 tiples and not even know it?
    - Ed

    "Then one day we weren't as young as before
    Our mistakes weren't quite so easy to undo
    But by all those roads, my friend, we've travelled down
    I'm a better man for just the knowin' of you."
    - Ian Tyson

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  10. #6
    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: Please Help ID Instrument - Partial Label and Pat 88 Tuning P

    A closer look at the nut (which is held on by the wire bracket?!). It seems like the nut is so tall that this could only be played with a slide. The number of strings passing over the nut is hard to guess. And one of the strings in the banjo tuners would be even above the nut, perhaps? Totally weird!

    Click image for larger version. 

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  12. #7

    Default Re: Please Help ID Instrument - Partial Label and Pat 88 Tuning P

    So interesting - thank you so much for your response! There appear to be some pieces of early plastic under the nut, but not sure if they're indicative of string placement or just jammed under there as support. Likewise, the bridge looks a bit primitive and is glued on rather crudely. I included some more photos, but don't know how helpful they'll be, especially if it's a total mutt. Thank you again for taking the time to respond - it's nice to know why someone might have added the banjo tuners!
    Click image for larger version. 

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  14. #8

    Default Re: Please Help ID Instrument - Partial Label and Pat 88 Tuning P

    I believe that the label probably has AMERICAN MADE (which may be a bare-faced lie- but I think it is American) top and bottom with the brand name in the middle and we can only see one letter. We have seen mandolins with that shape of headstock in the past, and from memory, they have never been positively identified. I think this one is in that category! The chances are the brand name is an obscure retailer cashing in on the mandolin boom of the time and the maker is not well enough known to be instantly recognisable.

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