Results 1 to 19 of 19

Thread: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

  1. #1

    Default Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    I have a flat back/flat top A-style mandolin that once belonged (family lore says) to my grandfather. It wouldn't hold a tune (bad nut) so I had the owner of a local guitar shop install a new one. He thinks it was built from a kit, perhaps peddled door-to-door, in the Great Depression. Given the span of my grandfather's lifetime, I'm guessing this is from the mid-to-late 1930s.

    Does this look like one of those mandolins?

    Any idea on the brand? I've included some photos, including of the headstock, in hopes they would help.

    The case also has an instruction book. from the late 1930s. The cover has a different style (F, not A) from the instrument, so I don't know if it was sold with the mandolin or purchased later.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Soundhole.jpg 
Views:	54 
Size:	536.3 KB 
ID:	196894   Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Headstock.jpg 
Views:	50 
Size:	291.1 KB 
ID:	196893   Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Top view.jpg 
Views:	63 
Size:	1.01 MB 
ID:	196892  

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Tailpiece.jpg 
Views:	25 
Size:	369.4 KB 
ID:	196895   Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Back view.jpg 
Views:	30 
Size:	387.9 KB 
ID:	196896   Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Book 1.jpg 
Views:	37 
Size:	2.06 MB 
ID:	196897  

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Book2.jpg 
Views:	44 
Size:	720.9 KB 
ID:	196898  

  2. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Howell, NJ
    Posts
    24,980

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michigander View Post
    I have a flat back/flat top A-style mandolin that once belonged (family lore says) to my grandfather. It wouldn't hold a tune (bad nut) so I had the owner of a local guitar shop install a new one. He thinks it was built from a kit, perhaps peddled door-to-door, in the Great Depression. Given the span of my grandfather's lifetime, I'm guessing this is from the mid-to-late 1930s.

    Does this look like one of those mandolins?

    Any idea on the brand? I've included some photos, including of the headstock, in hopes they would help.

    The case also has an instruction book. from the late 1930s. The cover has a different style (F, not A) from the instrument, so I don't know if it was sold with the mandolin or purchased later.
    It wouldn't have been built from a kit but it could have been part of the business model of instruments that were sold door to door including a lesson plan. It's a pretty common instrument.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    It's a Harmony made Supertone from about 1935. This one has its Supertone label inside- and it is the version used in the early 1930s.

    https://www.worthpoint.com/worthoped...esign-16463487

  4. The following members say thank you to NickR for this post:


  5. #4

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    It's a Harmony made Supertone from about 1935. This one has its Supertone label inside- and it is the version used in the early 1930s.

    https://www.worthpoint.com/worthoped...esign-16463487
    Thanks!

    In digging around, I found this article. Based on that, and your estimate, this would have been during the 33 years when Sears owned the company.

    https://www.madeinchicagomuseum.com/...rmony-company/

  6. #5

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    I bought this Supertone mandolin for $25 recently and it needed a bit of attention-it has its Harmony date stamp inside but it is illegible. There is a name in pencil on a brace and I think it reads Adelle Browne, who may have been the original owner. Mine, like yours, has the crystalline finish on the board which came in during the mid-30s. This mandolin has surprisingly good tone and plays well, much to my surprise! It is an extreme entry level version as it does not even have the painted on binding and no decorative frills.

    iClick image for larger version. 

Name:	1936 Supertone Mandolin- Front.jpg 
Views:	41 
Size:	475.9 KB 
ID:	196906

  7. #6

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    I bought this Supertone mandolin for $25 recently and it needed a bit of attention-it has its Harmony date stamp inside but it is illegible. There is a name in pencil on a brace and I think it reads Adelle Browne, who may have been the original owner. Mine, like yours, has the crystalline finish on the board which came in during the mid-30s. This mandolin has surprisingly good tone and plays well, much to my surprise! It is an extreme entry level version as it does not even have the painted on binding and no decorative frills.

    iClick image for larger version. 

Name:	1936 Supertone Mandolin- Front.jpg 
Views:	41 
Size:	475.9 KB 
ID:	196906

    Thanks! Two questions (I know very little about mandolins) ...

    1. What is a crystalline finish?

    2. What's the binding?

    I'm glad to hear that yours plays well now. What work did it require?

  8. #7

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    There was a huge crack in the back and the frets needed dressing- doing this removed some of that crystalline finish and it did not have a bridge. Basically, with a poplar or maple fingerboard this would be ebonized- a chemical treatment to make it look like ebony. Harmony decided to paint on that finish which looks a bit like it has crystals in it making it sparkly and the fret position markers were stencilled on in black- not dot inlays. The binding runs around the top- and the back in many cases- a groove is cut in the sides and celluloid binding is glued in- and this can be done on the neck. Cheap instruments had a fake binding painted on. Here is an electrified example which has the painted on binding and other silk-screen frills.

    https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/20...supertone.html


    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Supertone-1935-Mandolin-Back-Crack.jpg 
Views:	16 
Size:	109.0 KB 
ID:	196911

  9. #8

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando? [Ed: Harmony Supertone]

    Thanks for the explanation, photo, and link. The recording gave me hope that someday I'll be able to play this one and it will sound like a mandolin. (Right now, I know how to play a G-C-D progression on the first few frets, and that's it.)

    So I think I understand crystalline now. Maybe it looks fine on some instruments, but on mine it looks like a botched paint job, like someone put on too much paint and it got all lumpy. It didn't make me think "This is ebony," but I suppose I can understand that now.

    Binding ... that appears to be a bit like piping on a sofa or chair cushion. It's not raised (like piping) but it does give the edge a stronger definition. I don't think mine has that. I can see a line where the sides meet the top, but that looks more like two pieces of wood coming together rather than something that's been added.

    You dressed the frets, you said. Does that explain why some positions on the fretboard are silver and some are gold? It's an interesting look starting with one tone and then moving to another as you go up the fretboard. If you blow up the photo I included of the top view you'll see that some are lighter and some are darker a substitute for dot inlays.

    How did you fix the crack?

  10. #9

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    "a fret dress is a process of levelling frets with some type of flat, straight abrasive surface in order to eliminate string buzzing. ... The frets are re-crowned using a fret crowning file and then polished to a mirror-smooth surface."

    The mandolin's neck was a tiny bit wavy- so dressing the frets helps level this out and stops the buzzing that would have been present had the job not been done. The crystalline finish on the fretboard was just a gimmick- the wood was not ebonized- it was plastered with that stuff but was dyed first. Later in the 1930s, Harmony and Supertone went two-tone on the fretboard although some instruments had celluloid on the top of the board to mimic mother of pearl. You can see near the top of the fretboard on this guitar how the ebonized or dyed wood has been worn away by wear and the maple shows through. Someone has added a pickguard as this guitar has one sprayed on!

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/25491939275...4AAOSwzW1gYA9L

  11. #10
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Rochester NY 14610
    Posts
    16,980

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    1. The "pickguard" on the OP's mandolin is a decorative decal, partially worn off by pick wear. My brother got an unlabeled (well, labeled "Made In USA") guitar through a catalog that had the top painted black where a pickguard would have been; he did a good job of wearing through that as well.

    2. The alternating colored finishes on the OP's fingerboard are also attempts to "dress up" the look of the instrument. I'm clueless as to why certain of the color blocks are two frets and others one, but I'm sure there's a rationale behind it. Or not.

    3. The mandolin on the cover of the E Z Method for Mandolin book is not an F-model; it's an A-model with f-holes (Citation by the Nomenclature Police).
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  12. #11

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    I think the mandolin on the cover of the instruction method judging by the bridge and pickguard is a Stradolin made mandolin but appears to be unbranded. This one has on its cover what looks to be a Harmony mandolin- but a much more up-market version of the humble Supertone we are discussing- it has plenty of frills! I have never seen one like it. It is shown in detail inside- spruce top, crown tailpiece, marquetry and elevated pickguard!

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/13367974008...cAAOSw91NgO~Pc

  13. #12

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    I think the mandolin on the cover of the instruction method judging by the bridge and pickguard is a Stradolin made mandolin but appears to be unbranded. This one has on its cover what looks to be a Harmony mandolin- but a much more up-market version of the humble Supertone we are discussing- it has plenty of frills! I have never seen one like it. It is shown in detail inside- spruce top, crown tailpiece, marquetry and elevated pickguard!

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/13367974008...cAAOSw91NgO~Pc
    OP here.

    Thanks for the clarification on F versus A on the cover of the instructional booklet. You can tell I'm new to this.

    I'm not surprised that it's a different model than what's in the case, even assuming that they were purchased together. Sell 'em what they can afford, make them want something more expensive.

    The copyright notice of the booklet I have says "William J. Smith Music Co., Inc., New York, N.Y."

    Pickguard, yeah, there's nothing like that on this instrument.

    I can't figure out any logic to the colorations on the fretboard. At first I thought it was to mark 3rds and 5ths. But it's not that. The 3rd is light colored; the 5th and 8th are darker. Then I thought it had something to do with marking off the notes in the major scale of each string (say, note 1 is light, note 2 is dark, note 3 is light). But that doesn't work; the markings aren't consistent.

  14. The following members say thank you to Michigander for this post:


  15. #13

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michigander View Post
    I can't figure out any logic to the colorations on the fretboard. At first I thought it was to mark 3rds and 5ths. But it's not that. The 3rd is light colored; the 5th and 8th are darker. Then I thought it had something to do with marking off the notes in the major scale of each string (say, note 1 is light, note 2 is dark, note 3 is light). But that doesn't work; the markings aren't consistent.
    The darker color blocks are where position marker dots would be. Frets 3, 5 ,7, 10, 12, 15. This is the convention for mandolins. Guitars will have a dot on the 9th rather than 10th.

  16. #14

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    Personally, I think your mandolin has been got at. It appears to have had a pickguard stuck on which has been removed or fell off. I think that stuff that was daubed on the fretboard has worn away in places and possibly removed. When this finish was used, it was applied all over the fretboard and as I mentioned, markings like on that mandolin that was electrified are then stencilled on. These may have just been obliterated with age and as suggested, possibly the places where they should be had all that finish removed to serve the purpose of identifying the frets.

  17. #15

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando? [Ed: Harmony Supertone]

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    The darker color blocks are where position marker dots would be. Frets 3, 5 ,7, 10, 12, 15. This is the convention for mandolins. Guitars will have a dot on the 9th rather than 10th.
    Ah. Thanks. So they are. Why those frets?

    Another question: Why is there a "K" on the headstock? Is that "K" for Kluson tuners, which might be on the instrument? (There's no marking to identify the tuners.)

  18. #16

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    I have never heard any particular reason behind the choices of locations for position markers on any fretted instruments. I am not even sure when it got started.

  19. #17

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    Personally, I think your mandolin has been got at. It appears to have had a pickguard stuck on which has been removed or fell off. I think that stuff that was daubed on the fretboard has worn away in places and possibly removed. When this finish was used, it was applied all over the fretboard and as I mentioned, markings like on that mandolin that was electrified are then stencilled on. These may have just been obliterated with age and as suggested, possibly the places where they should be had all that finish removed to serve the purpose of identifying the frets.
    Got at?

    Not sure what that means. Typo?

  20. #18

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    Someone has messed with it- or modified it with a view to making enhancements.

  21. #19

    Default Re: Is this a Depression-era kit mando?

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    Someone has messed with it- or modified it with a view to making enhancements.
    Oh yes. I understand now. Thank you!

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •