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Thread: My Grandfather's Mandolin

  1. #26

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Here are some more pics I just took of it. I had taken the tuners off, disassembled them, cleaned-polished-oiled them but not so much that they lost their patina. Same with the tailpiece hardware. Pick guard came off as well so I could clean, polish and wax the top.
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  3. #27

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by dscullin View Post
    I wonder if the mandolin underwent a refret at some point. The pits in the fingerboard indicates it had the dickens played out of it but the frets look pristine for a mando of this age.
    I've uploaded some more pics. There is a close up of the neck. How can one tell if a re-fret has been done?

  4. #28
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Fair play to you, Greg, that's a lovely instrument.

    And moreso since it belonged to your abuelo.

    The use of the softer fretboard materials on these obviousl led to more erosion of the fretboard.

    But the remarkable thing is that these fretboard divots are a record of his fingers and the music that he played.

    I think that is astounding.

    Someday, musicologists might study the fretboard wear on mandolins and track that against musical trends and diasporae.

    Meanwhile, there's the fingerprints of some real music.

    Mick
    Ever tried, ever failed? No matter. Try again, fail again. Fail better.--Samuel Beckett
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  5. #29
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    This is more of an upscale KM-21. Finishes and colors were batch dependent. Yours has a nicer back and if the top is indeed carved that's a plus. Montgomery Ward had some upscale Recording King (their other brand) guitars built in this same period. It makes me wonder if they actually had a buyer at the time that was a musician and knew instruments as something other than a commodity. Musical instruments weren't a major part of any of the mail order houses inventory. They were just another catalog item. Guitarist John Fahey's Gibson built Ray Whitley Recording King guitar was one of these instruments. Something caused Wards to make the incursion into the nicer instruments and because your grandfather got one you have an instrument that's a little above the average Gibson second line instrument and that's a cool thing. Play it and enjoy it. Try some lighter gauge strings if you want to make it a little easier on your fingers. I'm surprised to see that bridge that low, make sure the bridge top is oriented correctly.

    This is a KM-21 mandolin and John Fahey's guitar.
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    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
    --M. Stillion

    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
    --J. Garber

  6. #30

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Yes, Recording King had its own version of the Gibson Nick Lucas- finished in "black ebony" so less perfect wood with blemishes could be used and these not show. There was a truss rod in the neck but it was not adjustable- just embedded into the neck and can be seen if the board is removed. It sold for $48 which was less than half of the recommended Gibson Nick Lucas price in 1930/31 although that was dropped (from memory) to $90 as the Depression bit into sales. The Ray Whitely jumbo sold for a nickel less than $30 but that was nearly ten years on- and prices continued to fall through the 1930s. Imagine a time when prices fell! That's a big nightmare for politicians who like to bake some inflation into the cake. As I wrote, my luthier reckoned my Wards mandolin to be a very good instrument and he often scratches his head over my acquisitions and tells me there is only one person (initials JJ) he works for that buys a lot of junk like me!

  7. #31

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    Fair play to you, Greg, that's a lovely instrument.

    And moreso since it belonged to your abuelo.

    The use of the softer fretboard materials on these obviousl led to more erosion of the fretboard.

    But the remarkable thing is that these fretboard divots are a record of his fingers and the music that he played.

    I think that is astounding.

    Someday, musicologists might study the fretboard wear on mandolins and track that against musical trends and diasporae.

    Meanwhile, there's the fingerprints of some real music.

    Mick
    I agree completely. It looks like he played the C chord a lot : ). Really glad I finally adopted this mandolin as my own. I've been missing out all these years.

    Irish Ramon Linen Puig! I had to look that up

  8. #32

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    This is more of an upscale KM-21. Finishes and colors were batch dependent. Yours has a nicer back and if the top is indeed carved that's a plus. Montgomery Ward had some upscale Recording King (their other brand) guitars built in this same period. It makes me wonder if they actually had a buyer at the time that was a musician and knew instruments as something other than a commodity. Musical instruments weren't a major part of any of the mail order houses inventory. They were just another catalog item. Guitarist John Fahey's Gibson built Ray Whitley Recording King guitar was one of these instruments. Something caused Wards to make the incursion into the nicer instruments and because your grandfather got one you have an instrument that's a little above the average Gibson second line instrument and that's a cool thing. Play it and enjoy it. Try some lighter gauge strings if you want to make it a little easier on your fingers. I'm surprised to see that bridge that low, make sure the bridge top is oriented correctly.

    This is a KM-21 mandolin and John Fahey's guitar.
    Except for the pick guard, it looks like the same instrument. So, do you think it was made by Kalamazoo and not Gibson?

  9. #33

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Kalamazoo was a Gibson sub-brad- the idea was to create a line of less expensive instruments that were not sold by Gibson's established dealers. There was also Cromwell and Kel Kroydon. Gibson did not want to undermine its main dealer network but to encourage new retail outlets. Some very early Kalamazoo guitars had Gibson impressed on the back of the headstock but that practice was quickly ended as it compromised what they were trying to do. This was all done in the teeth of the unprecedented Depression- to keep the company afloat. The deal with Wards can certainly be seen as key to Gibson's survival as it led to the sale of a large number of instruments.

    This photo from Jake Wildwood's site shows a 1933 flat top guitar- the first year of production with its Gibson origin impressed on the back of the headstock:

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  10. #34
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    As Nick has pointed out Kalamazoo was one of the Gibson 2nd line brand names that they built. They also built instruments for the trade with a bunch of different brand names on them such as the Wards and Recording King brands. If you can snag a copy of Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars they will list many of them. Many were made with no brand name at all but are fairly easy to identify as Gibson made products. Not all Recording King branded instruments were made by Gibson and it's possible that not all Wards branded instruments were made by Gibson. I say it's possible because things like this have a way of coming out of closets and out from under beds now and again. Gibson actually started off the great depression making wooden toys under the Kel Kroydon brand name, added a guitar and mandolin and then dropped the toys and started building private label and there own second line brands as a way to (I think) use up scrap wood (the toys) and then old inventory and it morphed into part of the business model for Gibson. WWII interrupted that process. Kalamazoo re-surfaced for a short time in the 60's as a brand name for Gibson electric instruments and then went away again.

    To answer your question directly, it was made by Gibson and is basically a upscale version of the Kalamazoo. That would include the pickguard having the binding.
    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
    --M. Stillion

    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
    --J. Garber

  11. #35

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Wards also sold Kay and Regal instruments in the 30s. They also sold Kay guitars under the Recording King brand- I think this was before the deal with Gibson. In about 1940 Wards/Recording King parted company with Gibson and began selling instruments made by Kay and Regal under the Recoding King brand only and then WW2 and shortages led to big changes- and in many areas the cessation of guitar retailing on a large scale.

    This is my mid-30s Wards branded Regal- it has the gold label inside:

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  13. #36

    Default Re: My Grandfather's Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by NickR View Post
    Wards also sold Kay and Regal instruments in the 30s. They also sold Kay guitars under the Recording King brand- I think this was before the deal with Gibson. In about 1940 Wards/Recording King parted company with Gibson and began selling instruments made by Kay and Regal under the Recoding King brand only and then WW2 and shortages led to big changes- and in many areas the cessation of guitar retailing on a large scale.

    This is my mid-30s Wards branded Regal- it has the gold label inside:

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    Quite impressive that you guys know this much about these vintage Wards mandolins. Thanks much for taking the time to fill me in!

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