c.1930 Stradolin Mandolin

Let me first say: this is one hell of a mandolin! It has bark, bite, dark and woody tone, and loads of volume. The playability is excellent, it's durable (as evidenced by the many prior repairs before it got into my hands), and it's pretty much the ideal bluegrass mandolin: great worn-in character, and that "Gibsonite" A-style sound (though I must say, I prefer this mandolin to a Gibson any day).

Though unmarked, this mandolin matches up with other mandolins marketed under the early Stradolin name. It also features the early quality of those mandolins: all-solid wood! Maple neck, sides, flamed maple back, spruce carved-top, etc. Dyed pearwood fingerboard, rosewood bridge and nut. And plenty of good vibes! Needless to say, it's fled the depression down south and now lives in backwoods Canada!

This mando has a 14"+ scale (can't quite remember) and a nice wide fretboard. These plain light Martin 80/20 strings sounded great on it. Pearl dots.

Original fitted bridge.

Tailpiece missing its cover.

Simple headstock with bone nut. Tuners were originally a set of damaged Waverlys. Now they're generic c.1925 bakelite mando tuners, but they work just fine.

As you can see - a lot of wear and tear, but still lookin' fine. This whole mandolin had bright scratch marks all over it and cloudy finish head-to-toe (especially on the back) which I managed to clean up and minimize. I had to reglue portions of the back (which had apparently been reglued before) and also portions of the top, which had become loose.

Here's the back, with the big long crack that was repaired before my time. This entire back surface was practically white with clouded finish, extra glue, and yuck. Notice the missing heel cap.

"New" '20s tuners.

Yeah-huh! Someone loved playing this guy.

Glam shot: the fingerboard extension combined with the double-bound oval hole looks really nice. Original pickguard, too! One neat thing about this mando is that the vibrating length of the string from the tailpiece to the bridge is just right so that when you pluck a pair of strings below the bridge they correspond with a note (in tune!) of the open string after the string you're playing. Thus: pluck the D string course below the bridge and it's an A, the A string course below and it's an E... etc. This makes for some very interesting solo and sympathetic styles if you want to get right into it (which I did, as I used this mando briefly for a production of the musical Woody Guthrie's American Song).

And last but not least -- real purfling as opposed to a pinstripe of paint gives this mando some class!


Peach Rose Girl

Well, I'm back with another (I know!) banjo song, so without further ado, here's the sound of a nice thin skin and a double-spun rim:

"Peach Rose Girl"


c.1930 U-King Banjo Ukulele

Here's a U-King banjo-uke I just finished off. It's fun, with a chromed or nickel-silvered aluminum rim, 14" scale, Gumby headstock, and a bright and loud sound. The head is original as is everything save the bridge, strings, and a replacement (but period) bakelite tuner button. Plays nicely (under 1/8" at 12th) after setup, too!

Most of the overhaul on this uke was setup and polishing: that rim is blinding now! The hooks have some tarnish but it doesn't reduce the effect of the bright rim.

It's too bad the picture is so light: in reality the black paint of the fretboard and headstock really is a nice dark, shiny black, and the neck is a worn but warm deep reddish brown with plenty-shiny finish.

Frets have been polished and are just fine.

Interesting tailpiece and it works quite nicely, unlike a lot of "standard issue" banjo-uke tailpieces which are ill-fitting for gut or nylon strings. These strings happen to be brand-new Martin fluorocarbons.

Back. Colors are a little more true in this pic.

The "tonering" part of this is a lot like an old 1880s-style Dobson banjo, a "donut" ring... raised and curved. Also, the designers fortunately decided to curl the bottom of the rim too and include an integral bracket band -- all making this a cozy, light uke.


Neck join -- can't quite tell the wood type.

Back 3/4 -- a nice proportion to this uke.

Front 3/4.

Some of that kitchen-pot sheen!

And here's the tailpiece again. Like I said -- a well thought-out banjo-uke with a simple and comfortable design. Not super-fancy, but it definitely gets the job done and feels quite solid in the hands.

c.1885 Lyon & Healy Lakeside Parlor Guitar

Please excuse my banjo overdose for the last few posts -- but when it rains, it definitely pours! Today I have something special for you: my favorite guitar ever. It's not fancy, it's not big, and it's not super-loud, but it hits close to home for my taste and my hands -- and they're gonna hold onto it!

This is a mid-to-late 1880s "parlor" guitar made by Lyon & Healy and branded (literally) with the Lakeside name -- one of their entry-to-mid-level lines. It has what looks like an Adirondack spruce top, quartersawn oak sides, oak back, and a neck of some indefinable wood (it looks like several different things to me, so I won't take a guess!).

It was built for gut strings and is lightly transverse-braced which brings out a very full, rich, and bell-like tone in the top register, and a warm tone in the lower register. I've got Aquila nylguts on it, which really bring out some decent volume. It competes very favorably with similarly-sized steel strings of the era that I've had a chance to play. On a sidenote: check out that grain on the headstock!

I'm really not sure what the fretboard is made of -- but it's some sort of dyed wood, perhaps pearwood (which would be typical). The bridge and nut are genuine ebony, though, as are the bridge pins (which are replacements).

No binding whatsoever -- I love the clean and simple look! The soundhole rosette is a nice red/green/white/black mix, and you can see it better if you click the image to enlarge it. Very tasteful and elegant.

Here's the Lakeside brand in the soundhole -- and also a previously-repaired crack that was there when I got it.

Ebony bridge with original bone saddle.

And as you can see, the finish is in superior shape!

I've restored these tuners and their bone buttons. After removing the tarnish, the aged-in brass looks excellent! These old tuners also work fabulously well, which I can't say about a lot of modern tuners.

Heel join is nice and tight with an ebony cap.

And here you can see the lovely quartersawn oak. I'm used to seeing this on Bob's Hoosier cabinets in the store, but not on instruments as often.

Full back.

Back of headstock.

The oak back is equally as impressive and all the oak gives this guitar a very interesting color (and tone).

Full side.

Ebony strap button and insert looks very nice.

All in all, I'd have to say that this guitar is not for everyone, but for my relatively slow fingerpicking and as backup to my voice, I think this is just about perfect. I really love the sound of the nylguts, and in fact, all of these old American guitars built specifically for gut -- it's a very powerful, encompassing, but also delicate tone. Very different from steels of a couple decades in the future and Spanish-style classicals. Here's a video of my song "Home to Be" played on it:


c.1920 Unmarked Banjo Ukulele

Here's a fun little banjo uke that I've restored for a local customer. It was his Grandmother's instrument and she was apparently left-handed as it was strung that way to begin with. These first three pics are the "before" pics. Here you can see the headstock with its mismatched tuners -- the two (original?) black bakelite ones are just fine but the two replacements (probably c.1960) are eating away at the headstock.

Grimy frets -- and every single one needs to be filed at the ends so as not to rip the fingers up while playing up the neck.

Pot has tarnish and some ancient tape is on the heel. Parts are in generally good shape, though. This all just needs shining up. The head will need to be properly tensioned, as well.

And here are the "after" pics:

Looking a fair bit healthier already, no?

She's all spruced up! Original bridge was fine but the string spacing was a little narrow for a uke. This Grover non-tip has been recut and now gives proper uke string spacing.

Headstock. I've removed the old washers and used new brass washers, for starters. I've also recut the nut a little for better play.

And here I've used my parts-bin to solve the other problem: I removed the two old replacement tuners and used some 50s-era tuner shafts, button, and screws, combined with some top-side ferrules, to make an efficient and "vintage" looking replacement pair. I'm pretty convinced that this uke had wood pegs originally, as I've seen this same model of uke almost exclusively with wood pegs in deteriorating shape in many online auctions.

Polished and lookin' good -- also the fretboard conditioned nicely. These are the new Martin fluorocarbon strings that I'm enjoying quite a bit lately. They sound pretty much the same as clear Worths and are well worth the $3.50/$3.80 or so. I turned my back on nylon a long time ago!

Here you can see the newfound cleanliness of the pot and hardware.

Pot inside.

Glam shot!

And here you can see how a certain bit of ancient tape is thankfully missing!