c.1895 Vega Bowlback Mandolin

This is an early Vega bowlback in incredible all-original condition. The serial number 12xxx dates it to around 1893/4 but I put the "circa" at 1895 because serial number information isn't exact science for Vegas at that point.

My only real "work" on this instrument was to lightly level and dress the frets and clean the instrument. The setup right "out of the box" was spot on, even after 115+ years. In addition the only crack is a not-through tiny hairline to the treble side of the pickguard. I always see them in this spot and I assume it's a pickguard-area shrinkage crack that'll probably seal up in the more humid summer months.

All in all -- a good find! ...and I may have to hold onto this one.

Woods are pretty "standard" for mid-grade Vegas -- ebony fretobard, rosewood bowl and headstock veneer, spruce top. One interesting change vs. later Vegas is that the interior doesn't have any paper or cloth backing so you can see the rosewood back right through the soundhole. It has a couple of thin "straps" of fabric in the middle but is otherwise held together simply by the glue at the rib seams.

The scale is a hair over 13" -- also note that unlike later Vegas the bridge is on the "top" side of the cant.

I've strung it up with a spare set of Thomastiks. Ebony nut. Ivoroid tuner buttons.

Pearl dots in the board and original, tiny, bar frets.

Nice herringbone rosette. The binding has aged to a cream color. The pickguard is inlaid celluloid in a "tortoise" look. Pretty typical.

Original ebony bridge.

Unlike most cloud tailpieces this one has an aluminum cover with some stamped ridges on the bottom edge of it.

The finish polished right back up with a little buffing from a soft cloth.

Pretty rosewood!

Waverly tuners work just fine. I lubed them, too, for easy turning.

Here you can see the "ridged" tailpiece cover. This tailpiece also snaps on from the sides rather than slides down from the top. It's a curious alternate version of the very-successful cloud tailpiece.

Here's the label (it's a reflective gold/black) and you can see those exposed ribs in the back. A nice touch and certainly removes a little weight. This thing is light as heck.


Anonymous said...


Do you have to make any physical adjustments when playing a bowlback versus a flatback? They are so beautiful and yet look so awkward.


Antebellum Instruments said...

Typically they're held "in classical position" in the lap, with the neck more upright like a classical guitar and pointing upwards. This makes them a lot more comfortable to play that-a-way.

To play on stage I prefer a strap and one sort of holds it uke-style with the wrist/lower arm over the tailpiece and the strap hung from the tailpiece to the headstock to give it better support than a neck-area strap hanger.

It just takes getting used to. The main mistake people make is trying to hold one like a flatback mando, in which case it rolls out from under you and gives the hand cramps.