1916 Gibson A-4 Carved-top Mandolin

For round-hole pickers of the A-style fascination, it doesn't get too much better than this ultra-sweet A-4. No cracks, no real issues, and now a fresh board level, refret, and setup... making this play like a modern boutique instrument but sound like a million-bucks vintage one. It has that dry, percussive, woody tone with a lot of crisp attack that only the best of these get... and I've played a lot of them, now. It's loud and Alpha Male in character.

I did the work on this for a customer and I think he's going to be shocked at the transformation. When this came in it had the usual warp/relief in the neck that these get over time and I, basically, considered it unplayable as-is. It had cheese-slicer action. With a lot of patience I coaxed that dried-out, chip-prone board back into playing shape and I'm so glad the owner took the plunge. This is now 100% functional and a joy to hold, play, and see. It drives me nuts how many Gibson owners can't really make use of their old mandolins because they've got a rat's nest of playability issues to solve.


1930s Slingerland MayBell Archtop WW2 Seabees Guitar

I actually worked on this guitar maybe... six? seven? years ago. I hadn't done much to it back then and it sold to a passerby in the shop on the cheap. Leap forward a bit and this came walking back in my door... this time as a consignment piece. It's very cool, for starters, and very distinctive, too. A friend of mine spotted this among the herd of "stuff getting ready for sale" and pulled it aside from himself. Now that his tax return is in... he'll be claiming it, soon, too!

This guitar was (I'm 99% sure) made by Oscar Schmidt for Slingerland. This would've been near the end of the OS factory in Jersey City -- call it mid to late 1930s. It's all-solid wood and has birch back and sides and a spruce top. It also has that very-playable, Gibson-ish, rounded C neck profile with a radiused rosewood fretboard and a "perfect" (for me, anyway) 25" scale length. The Gibson-style book headstock shape is icing on the cake.

Workshop: Mandolin Refret

Update: I've now included "part 2" to this in this original post, instead.

I've had a number of folks ask for some sort-of tutorials on work stuff. Here I'm refretting a nice old Gibson A-4 from the teens which has had the "usual" neck warping over time which will require a fret pull, board level, and refret. I see this a lot on old Gibson mandos after they've been subjected to mandolin 11s (ick), regardless of truss rod or not.

First I had to carefully take off the celluloid binding... which I did with a really sharp angled chisel... very carefully!


Ephemera: Hammin' it Up (1930s)

Despite the 20s dress, this type of (Regal) guitar tells me that this photo was probably from the early 30s. Play it up, Tex! She's hearing you loud and clear...

And now the continuation...

Shop's open again today -- and I'm slowly getting back to emails. See ya soon!


Closed Sat & Sun

This is just a note to local customers: the shop will be closed this Saturday (today) and Sunday for some catching-up on things. Regular hours will resume at 10:30AM on Wednesday.

Another note: this also means this morning's jam is canceled. It'll be back again next Saturday morning!


2015 Greg Ryan Gourd Banjo

This cute thing was made by my friend Greg Ryan out of a chunk of mahogany, rosewood, and an old kid's drumset pre-tensioned head. While it looks a bit "toy-y" it plays well and has a good, somewhat deep, warm sound... which is kind of shocking due to the size.

It's not your typical gourd-style sound. It sort of reminds me of a cumbus-style oud or something like that more than something Americanized. Part of it may be the lower tuning and lots of wound strings, though.


1951 Epiphone FT-79 Texan Jumbo Guitar

I've played a lot of nice flattops, but this guitar is exceptional. It's owned by a local state gov't official (so I call it the "Singing Senator's" guitar) and came in for some work last week. It's pretty beat-up but my eyes lit up on seeing it because actual Epiphone (New York) x-braced flattop guitars are quite rare. There are scores of the Gibson-made 60s models but these ones that share the Epiphone curvaceous archtop-body outline (this is a 16" mini-jumbo shape) are very hard to find.

In fact, the build is like a strange mix of Gibson-sounding x-bracing and top design, Guild-style (arched, laminate) back, and Epiphone curves and neck profile/scale length. The result is a very powerful, focused, and rich sound with plenty of tight bass and oodles of volume. I had to back it off from the mic so you lose a bit of the full definition of the guitar, but I think you can hear it alright.

2011 Martin D-18VS 12-Fret Dreadnought Guitar

I'm a big fan of 12-fret Martin dreadnoughts. For a long time I had a severe crush on an older D-18S from the 60s that I couldn't quite come up with the scratch to purchase. I guess it's all of those old Norman Blake tunes that got me hooked... but something about the way the body and neck are centered on my lap also makes the 12-fret variant on the classic dread so much more comfortable for me to sit and bang on over a long session. It's got standard 25.4" scale and a 1 3/4" nut width.

This is a practically "brand new" D-18VS from 2011 that'll be up for consignment soon. Right out of the box, with a twist of the truss rod, it's in perfect health and setup right on the dot. It certainly has that classic 12-fret D tone: big, full, focused, and lots of bottom. This makes it a great "backing" guitar that's also ideal for "fills" now and then as it has plenty of punch and boom for both. The neck feels a lot like a 50s/60s Martin neck but perhaps a hair faster. I like!


1930s/1960s/2015 Big-Rim Banjo Uke

So, what do you do with a spare old Harmony-made 30s PMICo soprano uke neck and 11" Kay banjo rim from the 60s? You make a super-banjo-uke, of course. This is cobbled together from all sorts of bits around the workshop but the only "new" hardware are the hooks/nuts and head.

While it looks like a weirdo 4-string banjo mandolin (the "official" banjolin or melody banjo), this nylon (well, fluorocarbon) beast is extremely loud, full, and banjo uke right to the end in tone. The immediate benefit of the bigger rim vs. your average banjo uke is a lot more volume, presence, and a much deeper low end. In fact... it makes it sound something closer to a nylon/gut-strung 5-string banjo in effect and it's a super sound for clawhammer use.


1936 Gibson-made Carson Robison KG-14 Guitar

This beautiful old blueser is a customer's guitar and, believe it or not, he and I were bidding on it at the same time on fleaBay -- so I was nicely-surprised when I opened the shipping box and there was the guitar I was excited to work on, anyhow! Despite "Carson Robinson" on the headstock (it was made for Montgomery Wards who also sold Gibson products under the "Recording King" moniker) this was made by Gibson and is exactly the same as same-year Kalamazoo KG-14 models. That is: it's a 14-fret L-00-size body with ladder bracing, solid spruce top, and solid mahogany back, sides, and neck.

These guitars are perfect for old-time or fiddling backup, country blues, fingerpicking, and ragtime sorts of play. If you're a flatpicker looking for some mids-boost to cut through a mix, it'll do that, too. These are almost always very loud on top of everything else.

1910s Louis Sutz-made Unmarked 0-Size Guitar

I'm almost certain that this guitar was made by Louis Sutz in Cincinnati. It has all the hallmarks of the work I've handled of his and also seen on fleaBay and the like. The owner of this guitar (for whom I did work) thought it was a Galiano/New Jersey Italian-built job, but the build is entirely different. This is a stiffly-built, Germanic-style ladder-braced guitar that apes Martin quality but sounds more like a good Washburn (and has a similar bracing pattern to one). I'm sure it was built for gut in mind when it was new, but many years of steel stringing (at one point with a raised extender nut judging by the wear on the fretboard) haven't hurt it too much.

My work included regluing the bridge, a fret level/dress that also ameliorated some neck twist, a new bone saddle (and compensated saddle slot) and setup. It plays quite well and has a radiused board with a typical bigger V/C-shaped neck profile. Wood is solid spruce top over solid curly mahogany back and sides with a mahogany neck and Brazilian rosewood fretboard and bridge.