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Thread: Vinaccia disection

  1. #1
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Vinaccia disection

    Moving on to Neapolitan mandolins which are at least a bit more familiar to me, this Vinaccia recently came in looking all nice and minty, but with one top brace short of a pair, and the other badly repaired with something all sticky and gummy. A badly distorted top too.

    I know some of the bowl-heads around here like to see how these are constructed so I hope you'll all indulge me here...

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    Sadly, no real choice but to pull the top:

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    That actually shows the "good" side - the other side of the brace was covered in the sticky stuff - thankfully it did all come apart and clean up OK.

    Notice though the chunk missing from the brace where a knot was: Vinaccia might be first family of mandolins, but they were clearly happy to use a bit of "funky" wood in there!

    Here's the label for posterity:

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  3. #2
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    One more bit of destruction before I can start putting her back together... the pickguard had been glued back on with a thick layer of the horrible black gummy stuff, I hadn't wanted to remove this, but the glue layer was so thick and rigid that I would never be able to flex the top back into shape otherwise:

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    Some mechanical cleaning up and the pickguard was finally transparent again:

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    Unfortunately the darn thing doesn't fit the hole at all - I suspect the top has shrunk across the width which is probably what caused all the issues in the first place, so in addition to everything else I guess I'll have to trim down the pickguard to fit.

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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    But it's so pretty.
    Not all the clams are at the beach

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  6. #4

    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    But it's so pretty.
    We used to say the same about Italian cars, and for similar reasons. Anyhow, the gunk looks a bit like RTV silicone, which was sort of a wonder material years ago. Given the totally missing brace, with no glue residue left behind, and a brace with what looks like a trace of fabric, it might not have even been original - a thoroughly poor prior repair. Neck finish also? Glad you were able to flatten it in one piece.
    Was the pick guard celluloid, or organic? Don’t know if the latter shrinks or swells over time.
    Glad it’s in very good hands!

  7. #5
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Woohoo, John.
    This is more fun than watching summer baseball or a trip to the movies!
    You know how much I love Vinaccia mandolins.
    Keep the photos and narrative coming, amigo.
    Mick
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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    So, John, now that I've had a chance to pour over your photos and description, I've got a couple questions for you, too.

    1. I notice the fairly sharply sloped front (existing) brace from bass side to treble. And then some scalloped carving at the treble end of the brace.

    What are you thoughts on this? Fairly common practice? Vinaccia-n in any way?

    2. The missing back brace is also oriented at a distinct angle which I have seen on various mandolins including my own.

    This prompts me to ask you your thoughts on bowlback bracing design altogether, from your experience?

    How do you see the braces working, particularly in relationship to the induced cross curvature of the top, which isn't such a pronounced feature (where it exists at all) on US made bowls?

    I guess some of this is what makes Italian bowls what they are.

    3. Last question for this round: There appears to be some detritus on the underside of the top north of the soundhole. Are these stubborn bits of the neck block that came along for the ride when you removed the top?
    Did Vinaccia ever include anything to reinforce this area as did CF Martin and Embergher?

    I'd love to see a photo of the bowl interior as well as you are working on this.


    My Vinaccia, which seems about the same 'quality level' as this, has nearly as good of intonation as I could wish for. Certainly not to be taken for granted with the numerous MOR Italian bowls I have had. So the Fratelli's quality does show up there.

    Mine arrived missing the carved head, finial, gargoyle on the headstock and also missing the scratchplate, so I'm keeping an eye on that bit of your work, too.

    I don't know if was originally MOTS or wood veneer, which the Fratelli certainly used on their more modest mandolins.

    I love mine: the tone, playbility, intonation and projection are all super.

    This one almost looks like a template for many a Vega mandolin. At least superficially. Obviously, the Vega neck / bowl construction was independent and there's that Louisville Slugger neck profile and iconic neck / headstock transition that's so different from Italian bowls in general.

    But to my ear, Vega mandolins are some of the most responsive, "Italian" sounding of US mandolins so perhaps some of that Vinaccian inspiration carried through.


    Thanks, again, for getting this tale started. Always a pleasure when you wade in the water here.

    Keep it coming.


    Mick
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  10. #7
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard500 View Post
    We used to say the same about Italian cars, and for similar reasons. Anyhow, the gunk looks a bit like RTV silicone, which was sort of a wonder material years ago. Given the totally missing brace, with no glue residue left behind, and a brace with what looks like a trace of fabric, it might not have even been original - a thoroughly poor prior repair. Neck finish also? Glad you were able to flatten it in one piece.
    Was the pick guard celluloid, or organic? Don’t know if the latter shrinks or swells over time.
    Glad it’s in very good hands!
    Pick guard is good old fashioned fingernail (keratin), whether it's fancy endangered species keratin (Hawksbill Turtle) or synthetic keratin (faux-tortoiseshell) I wouldn't like to say, I believe both were in use more or less interchangeably in this period.

    Anyone have any thoughts about flattening out tortoiseshell? It's pretty warped having been badly glued to a warped top for some time. I was thinking of warming it up in hot water and then clamping between cauls. I assume that's unlikely to do any harm?

  11. #8
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    So, John, now that I've had a chance to pour over your photos and description, I've got a couple questions for you, too.

    1. I notice the fairly sharply sloped front (existing) brace from bass side to treble. And then some scalloped carving at the treble end of the brace.

    What are you thoughts on this? Fairly common practice? Vinaccia-n in any way?
    Fairly standard Neapolitan shape, but better carved than some, including the "student of Vinaccia" instruments which have more or less square-profile braces, where as these are tapered towards the top as per more modern practice.


    2. The missing back brace is also oriented at a distinct angle which I have seen on various mandolins including my own.
    Yup, pretty standard Neapolitan design again.


    This prompts me to ask you your thoughts on bowlback bracing design altogether, from your experience?

    How do you see the braces working, particularly in relationship to the induced cross curvature of the top, which isn't such a pronounced feature (where it exists at all) on US made bowls?

    I guess some of this is what makes Italian bowls what they are.
    Indeed, the Neapolitans have the pronounced arch, and rather tall braces, where as the US bowls have a much flatter top with smaller braces.

    Sound wise the Neapolitans as you know are much more emphasised towards the treble range - essentially it's a case of "cut through at all costs". The US bowls I tend to see more in the tradition of the parlour guitar (parlour mandolin?), a much more well rounded
    sound that lends itself more towards solo playing.


    3. Last question for this round: There appears to be some detritus on the underside of the top north of the soundhole. Are these stubborn bits of the neck block that came along for the ride when you removed the top?
    Did Vinaccia ever include anything to reinforce this area as did CF Martin and Embergher?
    Yes, there was a spruce "hump" glued on there and also attached to the sides: the latter made it impossible to remove the top, so rather than force things I worked the reinforcing "hump" off the top. I lost a few fibres from the top doing this, so I've inset a patch which will be hidden once the "hump" goes back on.

    Here's the "hump":

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    Not too much of interest in the bowl - the usual paper lining, hitchpin holes in the tailpiece, and locator pins in the neck block (which seem to common to both Vinaccia and "student of" instruments):

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    Meanwhile the top gets 30 minutes clamped to a damp cloth, then clamped up between 2 cauls to (hopefully) straighten it out, once I have this side straightened out I'll do the same on the bass side. The plastic sheet is to stop any residual re-activated HHG from sticking to the cauls:

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  13. #9

    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    From Wikipedia:
    The initial processing involved separating the layers of the scutes from the animal's carapace by heating, softening the plates by boiling them in salt water and flattening them under a press. Two pieces could be fused by use of a hot iron, but like the earlier stages, great care had to be taken not to lose the color. Finishing and polishing was done by various techniques mainly in Europe or in the US.[2][3] Craftsmen in various Asian countries have also perfected this art.

    So,originally heat and moisture, but chemical changes could have happened over time, so go slow.

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  15. #10
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Top all patched up, I rather enjoyed copying someone else for a change when carving the new braces:

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  17. #11
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    I think that you can safely thin those braces to more of a triangular shape, also take some off the ends, and reduce the height of the cleats and center reinforcement a bit.

    You might take a look at some pictures of cant-top top bracing that's still in original condition. Here's a link to an early Martin bowlback: http://www.fretboardjournal.com/colu...le-5-mandolin/
    Observe that the outer ends of the bracing are carved down to 1/16" or less in height.

    The idea is to reduce the weight of the braces, and feather the ends down so the top acts more like a loudspeaker cone.
    Last edited by rcc56; Aug-16-2022 at 3:05pm.

  18. #12
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    I think that you can safely thin those braces to more of a triangular shape, also take some off the ends, and reduce the height of the cleats and center reinforcement a bit.
    US made bowls have really tiny braces compared to Neapolitans - they sound wonderful but often have rather saggy tops IMO. Besides the idea is to put this one back to as near original condition as possible, not to build a different instrument, and the new braces are already tapered rather more than original Vinaccia ones. 'tis a fine line between "restoration" and "improvement".

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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    OK. I was not aware that the Neapolitans were braced heavier than the Americans.

  20. #14
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    OK. I was not aware that the Neapolitans were braced heavier than the Americans.
    Thought there was a picture somewhere: Vinaccia top with all it's original braces.

  21. #15
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    US made bowls have really tiny braces compared to Neapolitans - they sound wonderful but often have rather saggy tops IMO. Besides the idea is to put this one back to as near original condition as possible, not to build a different instrument, and the new braces are already tapered rather more than original Vinaccia ones. 'tis a fine line between "restoration" and "improvement".
    I wonder if the deeper braces on the Italian bowls were in support of the induced curvature on the tops?

    That link you have to the "original" Vinaccia bracing is illustrative.

    That top is really curved.

    Like a pre-tensioned beam in my line of work.

    Most of the problems I've seen with the tops of US made bowls is the same as what I've encountered with Italian bowls....the top giving in to a greater or lesser extent between the soundhole and neckblock.

    That's quite a reinforcing slab in that area on the Vinaccia!

    Mick
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  23. #16
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    How thick is this top Tavy? It’s doesnt even look lime 3mm from the photos. That would explain the bracing.

  24. #17
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Quote Originally Posted by sebastiaan56 View Post
    How thick is this top Tavy? It’s doesnt even look lime 3mm from the photos. That would explain the bracing.
    2.5mm, pretty standard for Neapolitans.

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  26. #18
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    I forgot to post some "finished" photos, so here we go:

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    Sorry about the fuzzy photos, I knew my camera needed replacing, but didn't realise how much!

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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Nice job! It was fun to follow your progress.
    Richard

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  30. #20
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    I forgot to post some "finished" photos, so here we go:

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    Sorry about the fuzzy photos, I knew my camera needed replacing, but didn't realise how much!
    Great to see this restored, John.

    Ready for the next 100 years.

    How does it sound?

    Mick
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  31. #21
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vinaccia disection

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    How does it sound?
    I'm a bit rusty at playing these round thingies, but I did record this one:


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