1994 Alvarez A-100 A-Style Mandolin

Sound clip in a bit...!

For a student, all-ply mandolin, this really isn't too shabby. After leveling/dressing the frets, fitting the bridge a bit better, and giving this a good setup and stringing with 10s, it plays spot-on and has a convincing tone. It's certainly no Gibson, but it sure is a lot better than your average Rogue-style product.

The previous owner told me it's circa 1994 and that makes sense: that's around when most of these models were made. It's quite clean save a couple finish weather-cracks... the most obvious 3" finish crack being right under the pickguard.


1920s Stromberg-Voisinet 2-Point Flatback Mandolin

While this is labeled "Victoria" in the soundhole, this is clearly a product of the Stromberg-Voisinet (in 1930, Kay) factory and follows the stylings of their 2-point guitars and tenor guitars in mandolin form. I worked on a fancy mahogany model in 2010, and like that one, this one has a sturdy feel in the hands and a good, midrange, cutty old-time sound. It's in good shape and all-original except for a new pickguard (which replaced a similarly-styled "aftermarket" pickguard) and a missing tailpiece cover.

Work included bolting the heel (with countersunk evidence at the back of the heel's bottom), giving it a fret level/dress, compensating the original bridge, and a general going-through, cleaning, and setup. At the same time I reinforced a damaged under-fretboard-extension area on the top with a "strapping brace" (thin and wide like a bridge plate) as there were a few hairline cracks under it and to the side of it.

1975 Gurian S3M 000-Size Flattop Guitar

X-braced, 000-size, long scale, light build: this is certainly intended to go head to head with Martin 000-18s of its day and it sounds like a more-refined version of one, too. I'm betting the wide waist and rounder shoulders help to give it a mellower tone vs. its Martin counterpart which would tend toward punchy in the mids. The slender neck on this guy gives it a playability edge for most players over a standard Martin neck, too... though I have to admit the below-soundboard hidden truss access above the soundhole is bothersome to get at.

I worked on this for a customer and it does what these high-class Gurians are supposed to do: it sounds great and plays great. It's a quality guitar.


1946 Martin 0-17 Mahogany Flattop Guitar

This is a consignor's 0-17 and while it's had some rough times in its life it's now buttoned-up, ship-shape, and humming. This one has a very rich and big sound despite the 14-fret 0 body size and easily outpaces my own Gibson B-25 (an inch wider and slightly deeper) both in volume, bass response, and projection. Part of that is the longer Martin scale, part of it is the era of build (the 40s were a good time for Martin), and part of it is the simple fact that this was played-in.

My work on it included a fret level/dress (the original brass frets were pretty worn), replacement bridge (you can see the hack-job first replacement here), cleating and repair of a 5" back crack, a new saddle and new pins all around, rehab of the remaining original tuners (new buttons, lube) and a replacement tuner of the same vintage type from my parts bin, much cleaning, and setup.


Ephemera: 2-Point Spotted!

Not only is the 2-point Kay/Stromberg-Voisinet guitar she's holding extremely rare... but what a very cool and spooky Adams Family-style snapshot. This could be right at home on any new retro-style album cover from these days.

Workshop: Pesky Old Bridges

Four bolts installed through a classical-style poplar bridge installed on a 40s Martin steel-strung 0-17. I mean, come on. This kind of stuff is just irritating to remove. Generally because the glue sets up against the bolts you have to chisel away at the bridge until you have leverage on them to turn them ever so slightly with pliers from the top and free them up.

It's all fixed, though, and in the morning the new/old "belly" bridge will get a brand new bone saddle.

1930s Regal Size 5 Spruce/Birch Tenor Guitar

I work on a lot of these and I'm going to be honest: the ones that have been beat to heck and washboarded all over from pickwear are the ones that sound the best. This one, rigged up with standard CGDA strings, sounds awesome. It's much fuller and warmer than you'd expect from a box this size. I'm continually surprised by that with these size 5 little critters.

This is a customer's instrument and didn't need the usual neck reset (yet), but it did need some cracks shored-up as well as a new bridge, fret level/dress, vintage geared pegs installed, and general setup and cleaning. It plays spot-on, now.


1930s Regal-made MayBell #32 Flatback Mandolin

While this "tain't no A-Century" like the mando I posted earlier today, it's still a respectable little machine despite a past full of hard times. I worked on one of this same model a couple years ago that was in better condition but after doing a bit of work (re-reglued some seams and braces, gave it a fret level/dress, new rosewood bridge, some replacement parts for its tuners, crack cleating/fill to the top, etc.) it plays like a champ. It's also quite loud and has a good, solid tone without the tubby lows you might expect from a flatback. I'm hoping this one's owner finds this as fun as I do when he picks it up.

Regal-made mandolins tend to have a 14" scale by the mid-30s which feels "at home" to a Gibson player's 13 7/8" standard length. They also tend to have wider nuts and somewhat beefy necks which means that they hold up pretty well over time, too, and folks who get cramped on the average narrow mando neck will find these a lot more comfortable. I do!

1950s Harmony-made Silvertone Baritone Uke

Yep... one more Harmony baritone. This has the bone nut and saddle which signify a 50s build. The mahogany is pretty stuff with some flame and curl... especially on the back. It came to me looking pretty clean except for an old hugely-botched attempted neck reset which had removed too much material and was looking to remove more. The solution was to shim it all up and reset it with a combination of glue and a big old bolt-through at the heel.

1937 Gibson A-Century Carved-top Mandolin

Our soundclip today is played by guest Mr. Paul... who owns this mandolin! He brought it by both to show it off to me and also get some minor fret and setup issues worked-out. It was already playing quite well when it came in but now that it's dialed-in... mwah, what a nice'n.

These things are totally rare (this is called a "Century of Progress" model and these were originally meant to feature at the exhibition of the same name) and this one is in the even rarer condition of nearly-unplayed. The frets hadn't been worked on before and showed only the tiniest wear... though a few were out of alignment with one another. Aside from age-related finish crackle and a couple tiny hairline cracks on the back, it could be a nearly-new instrument. It's amazingly clean. The factory order number stamped at the neckblock is hard to read but either says 1303C, 1803C, or either of those with a "G" after the number. Considering that there's an A-Century logged into Spann's Guide to Gibson as 1303C, I'd have to guess that it's the same instrument. So... we'll call it a '37.

1960s Harmony-made Bakelite-rim Tenor Banjo

This banjo has been knocking about at the Quechee Antiques Mall for at least a year and a half. I've passed it by over and over and over and finally snagged it this last time around after the price dropped $20. Isn't it funny what makes a tipping point for investment of time and resources? The profit margins for old student-level vintage instruments are not as wide as one would like! I also felt, well... bad for it. I like to recycle viable instruments and aside from a busted head and rust/tarnish on the hardware... it was in fairly good shape. My work was only a fret level/dress, adding a replacement head and bridge, and general cleaning and setup.


1920s Oscar Schmidt-made FHCM Parlor Guitar

Let's face it: this was not built from the get-go to play "Spanish" or "regular" style. It's branded with the First Hawaiian Conservatory of Music label inside and bears evidence of old "fretboard pitch marks" which are usual for lap-style (ie, Hawaiian-style or raised-string slide playing) guitarists learning the ropes. It was made by Oscar Schmidt for the Hawaiian craze and would have been one of a bunch of instruments just like it made under various other marks, too. After all, lap-playing guitars were very popular.

Fortunately, after work, we modern guitarists can enjoy these for "Spanish" style, too. This had already had a neck reset before I touched it (I worked on this for a customer) and the few cracks had already been cleated and somewhat-filled, too. My work was really more on the setup side and included fitting a new rosewood pyramid bridge, making a new bone nut and saddle, leveling and dressing the frets, some seam repair work, and general setup. It plays spot-on and has that mellow, percussive, and mids-rich tone that makes OS builds from this time particularly attractive to modern players in the folk and blues vein.