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Thread: Nondescript, but sounds good!

  1. #1
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    I picked up this mandolin on eBay last year for about $130, I think. The photos were terrible, and so was the description. There's no name, no label. A number of companies sold mandolins that looked like this. Any ideas? Thirties, I think, judging from the black tuner knobs.

    Anyway, there were problems. There were two loose trusses that needed to be reglued. There was no bridge. The nut was made of wood. There was a hump in the fretboard over the body. I tried to file that out, but was left without enough fret. So I started pulling the frets and off came huge chunks of the fretboard! It was like lauan mahogany, terrible stuff.



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    Rather than try to remove the fretboard with heat, I just filed and sanded it off. The fretboard was too low anyway, so I didn't remove it all. I left a couple millimeters of it. Took about ten minutes. I had an extra ebony fretboard from another project. I bound and fretted it. It was a thick one, and part of the ebony showed below the binding. Oh well. So I glued it on. The finish turned out to be sticking out a bit on the sides, so I had to scrape them off. I need to but some stain on there, but I haven't got around to it. But the action is great. Very nice frets.
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    I made a nut out of some bone I had on hand. I strung it up and found that the intonation was a mile off. I had to make a new bridge out of a scrap of ebony, and look how far I had to move the bridge: about an inch south! But finally it was just right, and the action was wonderful.
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    The sides and back had a dark stain, and there was no nice wood under there.
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  5. #5
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    The brass tuners needed to be taken apart, cleaned, and lubed with Tri-Flow. Then they worked fine. They are brass.
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    When I had it done, to my delight and surprise, it sounded good. I set it aside in a corner behind a bunch of other mandolins.

    So yesterday, a good six months later, I pulled it out. It was still in tune. I was thinking about giving it away, but I was shocked by how good it sounded. Since then, I've played this nondescript no-name mandolin for about four hours. It doesn't have the volume of my '23 F4. It's relatively quiet. But the sound is round, deep, smooth, but with a bite, too. Everywhere I play it, it sounds good. I'll have to keep it. It reminds me of the cheap mandolin Skip Gorman plays in his great CD "Mandolin in the Cowcamp." Great for playing Stephen Foster tunes.

    I'm sharing this just to remind you that there are lots of old mandolins out there that don't cost much and will repay a slight investment and ten or twenty hours of pleasant labor with something worth having. Now if I were to put this up for sale on eBay, I'd have a hard time getting any more than I paid, but it's rescued! Some mandolins can't be saved, but there are a lot that can be improved greatly and brought back to life. It's a labor of love, but what's wrong with labors of love?
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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Nice find/effort! I would keep it especially since you put so much of yourself into it and it turned out so well. It reminds me of the Martin bent-top that Norman Blake showed off on his instructional video. He has a Loar, his signature Lyon and Healy and some great Gibson A's, but he says he does most of his mando practicing, writing and arranging on that beat-up old Martin, which he keeps sitting on the couch in his house.

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    Unrepentant Dilettante Lee Callicutt's Avatar
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    I think those tuners look really nice. 'Course the Batwing is cool as well . . .

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    It looks, by the placement of the bridge, like you put a standard 13 7/8" fretboard on this mandolin. The normal placement would prob be nearer to the cant (fold in the top). Normal scale would be closer to 13 inches.

    This looks like a Chicago-made instrument, Lyon & Healy or Regal. I have seen a few under the Supertone (Sears) brand. Here is one that Elderly had for sale some time ago:





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    I like the way your mandolin turned out. I did a doubletake on the bridge position. It reminds me of one of my favorite mandolins. I also bought the same style mando off of our favorite auction site that needed a a new fingerboard. In making the new part, I somehow increased the scale a hair so that the bridge now sits just behind the bend in the top. I know it's not correct, but the action is great, it plays like a dream, and the sound works for everything but bluegrass. I have a few others, but this is the one that I reach for the most. I hope you enjoys yours for a good long time.
    Ejkauf99

  11. #11
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    The only think I would be concerned about in terms of bridge position is that there may not be enough support under that bridge. There is orobably a crossbrace right under the soundhole. I don't knwo what bracing there would be near to where the new bridge is positions.

    I would also use light gauge strings on this in any case but I suppose you could experiment and see what happens.



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    Oh, I'll bet that's the problem! It's a standard 13 7/8" scale because it's a standard pre-slotted fretboard. I don't know if it even occurred to me, as I had sanded off the old fretboard before getting out the new one. Well, anyway, if you are tempted to do what I did, now you know that it works. The bridge in its new position works just fine, with great sound. The top is solid, but the sides and back may be a laminate. Yes, I was thinking that Regal was the most likely to have made it, and it probably sold for about $5 in the early thirties. May have been purchased from the Sears catalog. I've just played along with Butch Baldessari's "Instrumental Hymns" CD, the whole thing, and it sounded just right for that.

    In my experience, there aren't many mandolins from this period and earlier that don't need the frets dressed if you want good sound. This is something that the average person who is good with tools can learn to do, and it doesn't cost much. You wouldn't want to try it on your high-end mandolin masterpiece, of course, but if it comes down to doing it yourself or letting the mandolin end up screwed to the wall of a restaurant, you can do it.

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