Back to Work

Oh my, been a very busy weekend-plus. Been away in Texas for a wedding and Texas was super hot and sweaty, as expected. Real work will continue again tomorrow, so if you've all been hanging on for some fun instrument pics, write-ups, etc. -- get ready!

I just finished mixing the new album today. Artwork will be done for it real soon so I can get sleeves screenprinted. I'm really looking forward to letting everyone in on the new tracks. I had a lot of fun while working on this one. Kind of honky-tonk meets folk rock.

In other news, I think I'm going to be in Randolph tomorrow opening? or playing? for or with? Mr. Rick Redington.


New Album Soon

I've been stealing time to work on a new album lately, working title "Dark Old Wind" -- but, just to tease all of you, here's a song off of it...

"Big Old Storm" (click to download/listen)

I wrote that one after Irene. The album is all recorded, but mixing needs to be done. Look for it sometime in November!



Inventory has been updated -- lots more stuff coming soon -- but also lots of stuff sold, so I hope none of you had your hearts set on the bunch of guitars and other instruments I had up until very recently...!


c.1890 Carlo Albertini Milanese or Lombardic Mandolin

Well, these certainly are not seen around these parts very often... nor in such good shape! This was probably built around c.1880-1890 or so, and bears the label of Carlo Albertini out of Milan. Eh, so what is it?

Lombardic or Milanese mandolins are relations to the earliest types of mandolin-family instruments -- essentially diminutive lutes. They're single-strung, 6 course instruments (though one finds older double-strung instruments with 12 strings), and are strung with gut/nylon/nylgut, what-have-you strings.

They're essentially the same size as a bowlback mandolin but tend to be a little wider and shallower front to back, with a neck join more towards the nut. Standard tuning was GBEADG (or at a modern pitch, FADGCF) though... many (if not most) modern folks tune these an octave up from classical guitar at EADGBE (these are all "low to high"). I've done the latter, using Aquila Nylgut strings... and the tone is... fabulous!

This takes fingerpicking or plectrum playing (as originally intended) equally well and has a voice that easily cuts in a crowd. I was playing it a bit in a group jam today and it held up quite nicely in a throng of guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles.

This mando is also in fantastic shape: the only crack is a small, tight, and now-glued-up hairline below the bridge (and above it) on the bass side. It's good and stable now and hardly noticeable at all.

The finish is all original (though I've polished it just a hair to remove surface grit) and the top has that flat, just-barely-finished soundboard typical of Italian-made instruments from the time.

The pegs are new violin pegs (4 originals will come with this instrument) that I had on hand. Everything else is original.

Note the scalloped board and bar frets. I had to do a fret dress and setup at the nut on this as well as glue up and fill a fretboard hairline.

The inlaid pickguard is pretty fun, as is the "moutache" bridge. I tied knots behind the bridge to string up rather than tying it off in classical guitar fashion. The scale length is just a tiny bit shy of 12" so the fingers really have to get used to this wide board. Chordal players used to guitar scale length will have to relearn positions for some chords, but as this instrument would typically be playing a lead part, this is not such a huge deal. This is much the same sort of "squeeze" as one would associate with a bandurria.

Oh right, the woods! Beautiful maple ribs on the back with a good spruce top.

This is one of the lightest-weight instruments of this size I've ever handled. It feels like you're holding absolutely nothing.

An elegant headstock!

...and a cute label to top it all off. Note the individual strips of canvas rather than an entirely canvas reinforcement.


c.1980 Daion Mugen Mark I Dreadnought Guitar

Update 2016: My buddy Rick bought this off of me in December 2011, had a K&K pickup installed, and has been rocking it at gigs ever since. Check out these updated pics of the guitar!

This is a kick-butt dreadnought. Solid cedar top, laminate mahogany back and sides, mahogany neck, rosewood bridge and fretboard, fun rosewood headstock veneer and rosewood pickguard, clean and simple one-ring rosette, 3-ply purfling, and bound in black on the top, back, and fretboard. This guitar exudes confidence, too -- with a '60s-style Martin-ish neck profile and sound to match it. It's loud, warm, rich, and has tremendous sustain.

Ah, and yes, these adjectives all describe my typical experience with Daion flattop guitars. For a mid-level Japanese import from the late 70s and early 80s, these Yamaki-built guitars sure are cannons.

My work on this guitar included a setup, slight saddle adjustment, cleaning, and a replacement (vintage) set of Schaller tuners. The original Yamaki-style Gotoh sealed tuners had broken casings on a few of them, and to boot, these sealed Schallers lighten the headstock and look more "vintage" as well.

When I get my next parts order in, these plastic pins are going to be replaced with ebony.

I didn't think I'd be a fan at first, but the rosewood pickguard has grown on me. The pretty medium brown-tan, camel-y color of the cedar looks really pretty next to that light-colored (holly?) single-ring rosette as well.

Good large-size frets. MOP dots in the rosewood board. Note side-dots and black-bound board edges.

Fun headstock with embossed logo.

Labels in soundhole -- note the clean workmanship -- and also note the music store located in... Palestine! Very cool.

The lam mahogany back/sides are all curly/flamed which looks pretty nice with the coffee-brown finish.

The guitar is crack free, too.

Original plastic end pin.

Adjustable truss rod and serial -- serial dates it to 1980.


Inventory Updates!

I've updated the inventory again, now with SOUND CLIPS!

Lots of gorgeous stuff including the chitarra battente I just posted about.

Check it out by clicking here or using the link from the link list at right.

c.1920 Oscar Schmidt Chitarra Battente Italian Guitar

Rare bird alert! I've only seen (personally) one other example of this instrument.

This is what's called a chitarra battente ("beating guitar") and it's a folk guitar from southern Italy. Typically these are pounded on behind singers and strung in a re-entrant higher register tuning of ADGBE... which is guitar minus a low E. I believe all plain strings are typically used, yielding a lower B or G course than the D&A courses.

....however... I've strung it as a 12 string guitar minus the low E, with octaves on the first 3 courses. This makes it conveniently useful for folks walking into the shop to try it out and also means I can retune it to GDGBD which is an old blues open G tuning that Mr. Keith Richards has borrowed for the length of his career. It's also the same as 5-string banjo tuning (essentially) and as Mr. Richards would tell you, kicks butt.

The story on this particular guitar is that it was made in Jersey City, NJ in the Oscar Schmidt factory around 1920 or so. There were tons of Italian immigrants working at OS so it's not that far-fetched that they'd make a guitar like this. It's built in the traditional style with a ribbed, bent-arched back (sort of like some Mexican folk instruments, some flat-back lutes, and many Renaissance guitar-like instruments) and a mandolin-style, canted flat top -- with a bend right behind the bridge which adds tremendous strength.

Like most OS products from the time, the build is very lightweight but also very sturdy and workmanly, and produces a beautiful mellow and sweet tone though with a good amount of volume. The top is solid spruce and the back, sides, and neck look like dark-stained solid birch to me, with strips of rosewood or ebony between the back ribs. The fretboard is thin and rosewood and bears nickel-silver frets.

Original rosewood nut as well.

Only 10 frets on this instrument and the fretboard is flush with the top.

My work on this instrument included: gluing up most of the back/side seams as well as recutting the side/back overlap to fit flush and masking that alteration, a neck reset, fret dress, replacement bridge (original was too low after the reset), cleaning, and setup.

It's a darn cool looking instrument. It's a shame the center rose is missing, though!

The two smaller soundhole roses are still intact -- after re-gluing them -- and these are made out of paper and recessed in lute fashion. The rosettes are decals in true Oscar Schmidt tradition!

New rosewood mando-style bridge. Fun decal below the cant!

See how pretty that arched ribbed back is? I love it. It also makes this instrument unusually deep in its mid-section, but it's still quite comfortable to hold.

Original tuners, all lubed and ready to go.

Neck join is good and sturdy.

Also regarding the neck -- it's a nice D-shaped neck with a sort of gentle wideness at the nut. The neck is actually quite a bit more comfortable (though deeper as you go up the neck) to my hands than more modern Martin 12 strings. It just fits nicely under the fingers methinks.

Simple mando-style tailpiece.

Sound on this is full, lush, and warm. Very sweet and inspiring for instrumental pieces. I'm very curious to hear what it'd sound like in traditional stringing with all plain strings -- probably super jangly. If one searches "chitarra battente" on YouTube you can pull up some good videos of a more traditional stringing.

I think of the tone of this instrument as very similar to mandolin-ish richness with a sort of subdued presence.