c.1910 American Conservatory Bowlback Mandolin

Yes, yes, I know! Another mandolin. This one's also newly finished and what a beaut and what a sound! This has that very old-time American bowlback sound down to a "t" -- precise, sustained, loud, clear, and with a lot of rich overtones. The Brazilian rosewood can't hurt, neither can the ebony fretboard, nor the aged-in spruce top! This mandolin was built by Lyon & Healy and bears an "American Conservatory" brand in the canvas-lined bowl. This was one of their mid-range lines, though compared to what could be considered mid-range today, this thing's tops!

I've done a fair bit of work on this: reglued some back separations, reglued all the top braces and corrected some severe top sink, restored the hardware, replaced a bit of binding, and set it up. The fretboard reconditioned nicely and the frets are low but in good shape. This thing plays beautifully, I might add, with a perfectly straight neck.

Nice light colored mahogany neck, ebony nut, and ebony board. The light mahogany gives some beautiful contrast.

Pearl dots. Frets polished well.

The ornamentation on this mandolin is perfectly subtle: simple mulitcolored, thin rosette, nicely shaped celluloid tortoise pickguard (I love that color of old tortoise), and simple, tasteful binding.

Interesting brass tailpiece.

Binding and join detail.

Ah! And there's the lovely rosewood! The mix of light/dark contrasts is pretty good on this mando. The finish is all original and in pretty good condition.

Nice tight join.

Original tuners: these use friction to mate the gear to the shaft which is interesting, but troublesome for repair work. I had to glue a couple of shafts to their gears (lightly) to prevent them from slipping as the shafts no longer wanted to hold onto the gear.

Another 3/4 shot.

Here's that tailpiece. Very simple and straightforward.

And here's the label!


Brian Dean said...

Nice work you're doing Jake, glad to see you're doing (very) well at this stuff. If you're ever up in Canada you should get in touch. I build new bowls (sometimes).
Take it easy,

Antebellum Instruments said...

Thanks for the kudos Brian! And as far as kudos for you I can't say enough: your mandos are pretty much the most impressive I've seen around. I (may) be coming up towards PEI at some point this year (we hope) and if given the chance I'd love to shoot the breeze with you!

Anonymous said...

I was presented with an American Conservatory bowl back mandolin that looks just like the one you have pictured.
Can you recommend where to get the machine heads? This one is missing three of the knobs, they just cracked and broke.
Thank you.
Adrian Lopez

Antebellum Instruments said...

Hi Adrian -- you may be able to simply replace the buttons. Often times on these old mandolins the tuner shaft spacing is longer than on modern tuners, which makes replacement very difficult. If you're willing to spend a little more, I know there are mini "rotomatics" which are individual tuners with sealed backs, and they might pan out for you. If you want to pop an e-mail with some photos of your headstock (and some measurements) I might be able to offer better advice. Jake

Anonymous said...

I was just given a circa 1910 Lyon & Healy bowlback mandolin from a relative whose father was the original owner. (I play and own several guitars.) It looks a lot like this but has a different tailpiece (or maybe just also has the tailpiece cover) and the tuners are hidden behind an engraved nickel plate. It's in pretty good condition.

A) What do you think it is worth?

B) Its tuners need some oiling and or work - should I renovate it?

Scott M.

Antebellum Instruments said...

Scott: No harm in taking the tuners off and oiling them. Often times they come right back and work perfectly after they're cleaned. As far as value -- can't do appraisals on an instrument unless it's right in front of me, sorry. Jake

Robert said...

Hello Jake. I am the lucky owner of this very same mandolin. I love it. Thanks so much. Robert.

Antebellum Instruments said...

Hi Robert, great!!! :)

Lucas Sorbara said...

Hi there,
Am I ever glad to find this thread. I have a dearly cherished AC bowlback that I received for a birthday many years ago and enjoyed playing until the tuners gave out 4 or 5 years ago. I have been searching with out luck to find a replacement set. The reproduction tuners from Stew-Mac for the old 1920s Gibsons are just that much too long. Any suggestions? I could redrill the headstock to fit the Gibson A style tuners but it kind of feels like butchery. I'd love to find original or reproductions that would fit. I guess the mini rotomatics would do in a pinch but I'm not sure there's enough real estate on the head piece to accommodate them. Any recommendations for tracking down replacements?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jake,
Don't know if you'll remember me but I was the guy restoring an AC mandolin that needed tuners etc. I finally had to fill in the headstock, laminate the front and back to cover repairs, and finish it with nitro cell. It looks great and sounds good too! Only one problem that I hope you can steer me in the right direction on. After tuning and playing for a few days the back has developed a separation between two of the pieces of rosewood that the back is made out of (between two pieces of the rosewood and the binding / filler that is almost white in color in between them). I have no idea on how to patch that up. It can be squeezed together and forced closed but requires a bit of pressure. How would you hold it while the glue dries and would it even stay? On guitars I would open the separation further (slightly though) and glue in a piece of the same material where the separation / crack is and cleat it inside. Is that the same with a bowl back instrument? Sorry for the long winded comment but I am in need of some instruction from someone like yourself on this. Thanks in advance for your help.

Loren Halloran said...

Hi Jake,
I also have a bowlback that is very old. It was passed down from my Grandmother who would have been 106 yrs old if still alive. The label reads AMERICAN CONSERVATORY
I don't see a date though. How would one know the date? My mand has a metal cover over the place where the strings attach on the bottom of the unit, otherwise it looks like the one in your picture. Can you suggest something?

Thanks...Loren Halloran Vancouver Island, B.C.

Anonymous said...

Hi Loren,

If you look into the sound hole toward the neck, you should find the serial number stamped on the end of the fretboard or support. This should give you a good start in identifying the age of your instrument. There may be a book or web site that categorizes the serial numbers by date.

Antebellum Instruments said...

FYI, there are almost never serial numbers on these guys and due to factory records having been destroyed for L&H much of what is extant isn't accurate. It's actually best to date these via period catalog descriptions/drawings/photographs.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jake,

How did you repair the "top sink"?

Love your site!