1/02/2012

c.1916 Larson-made Stahl Flatback Mandolin





This is a William C Stahl-branded flatback mandolin that was almost certainly made by those famous Chicago Swedes, the Larson Brothers, around 1915 or so (the label inside has February 17, 1916 handwritten on it). This style of flatback mandolin, with its tight-grained gorgeous spruce top and rosewood back and sides, is very close to Lyon & Healy's "L.H. Leland Brilliantone" instruments, which are also known to have been made by the Larsons -- thooooough -- this model is a bit fancier than the Lelands.

Stahl instruments are also well-connected to Larson lore so it's all a good fit.


As one would expect, the workmanship is phenomenal and after necessary work it plays very well, is very loud, and has a beautiful wide-ranging tonality which fits perfectly in old-timey, Classical, and Celtic-y genres but probably doesn't have the honk needed for bluegrass.

This instrument's original tailpiece was damaged and missing its cover, so my first bit of work was to recover this (slightly later) tailpiece from my parts bin, which looks pretty decent with the instrument. This mando had also been "oversprayed" with some sort of ugly varnish, so my next task was to lightly sand down to the original layer and then polish up the finish all over until I was back to a more period look -- and I can say that it looks quite nice, now, with that hand-finished and polished look I expect from these.

After that, a cleaning, fret dress, slight bridge recutting, and setup brought it back to peak performance.


Very pretty rosewood headstock veneer. Original bone nut.


Bound ebony fretboard with pearl dots. The fretboard extension tipped ever so slightly "up" towards its end, but the fret dress I did on it leveled the frets out so the action is ideal and playability is, too.


Cool Stahl label.


This bridge is actually dyed rosewood with a one topper and is original.


Note the fun Chicago-style marquetry purfling/rosette. This was more vibrant when it was made (originally had bright green and red and yellow) but has aged in to these nice amber tones.


The inlaid celluloid tortoise pickguard is real cool, bowlback style. Note the tiny pickguard crack to the bass side of the guard. Perfectly stable and not-through.


Not the best tailpiece but works far better than the (broken) original -- which would have been a "cloud" style two-piece unit.



This is just a lovely instrument to both look at, play, and listen to. It's got it all.




Bound top, back, and soundhole, as well as fretboard.



Inset tuners with a cover hold up a lot better than mated-to-the-rear ones and also look stylish. The knobs follow the curve of the headstock and are ivoroid.


A typical Larson-style heel where the back goes right over the neck block area. This makes for a really secure joint. Note also the slight leavings of the "overspray" varnish which I've mostly removed. It was thicker on the back so it's much more visible there than anywhere else as I didn't want to sand right down to the wood or anything like that. My goal was to sand down to the original finish layer and then polish out.


Though you can't see it, there are 3 two-to-three inch long hairline cracks on the back, all glued up. There's also a couple on the sides, also all secure.






When I removed the old tailpiece and installed this one, there was one visible old screw mount hole below the neck tailpiece. I used its placement to install a strap button with felt cushion. If the new owner finds an old cloud tailpiece to replace the original, he/she could then mount it and it and reuse this button with it.

Note also my blue foam "mute" under the tailpiece cover area. As usual, I install these to mute the extra string length to cut down on overtones. A totally optional piece of gear.

No comments: