4/03/2014

c.1920 Vega Cylinder-back Mandola




Talk about rare! ...and talk about wear!

This super-rare Vega (serial dates it to 1920) cylinder-back mandola (15" scale) is owned by a local "old-timer" who'd been using it for the past 20 years strung as a mandolin. That explains part of why it's so abused... and why the top has sunk a bit on the treble side. Since this is going back to a fella who wants it as a mandolin I've used a pretty light gauge set of strings (30w-9) to get it strung up to mandolin GDAE pitch rather than its supposed-to-be lower CGDA pitch.

Fortunately, because the scale is so short (15" vs. 16"-17" which is more typical) it can be strung up this way without too much complaint which is probably the only reason it's survived so many years strung up (mistakenly) as a mandolin. As a side-note, most National reso mandolins feature a 15" scale.




Spruce top, canted, over mahogany back and sides. It's also got a mahogany neck and ebony fretboard and bridge. Check out that intense playwear near the pickguard!

Work included fixing a bad side crack ("lower bout" treble side), fret level/dress, extra bridge shim/adjustment, brace reglue, cleaning, and setup. The top is unfortunately sunken/distorted from years of over-stringing and the bridge had been shimmed up in the past. I retouched that shim black to match the original bridge and then fit the bridge a little better to the top to counter the "old sinking feeling" going on.


Rosewood headstock veneer, original bone nut (slightly chipped). The tuners are reverse-working which is slightly frustrating but "oh well" as they're original to it.


Bar frets in an ebony board. Pearl dots. The neck is dead straight (which is slightly amazing). Then again, it's a Boston-made Vega which means... quality!


That rosette must've been pretty colorful when new.



The cloud tailpiece is actually aftermarket but the original would've been the same.


Nice cut, huh? I love the look, feel, and sound of these cylinder-backs. When I was tuning up I left it in CGDA for just a little bit to get a sense of what this thing should sound like... and mwah, plenty of bottom end warmth here. It's also darn loud.




The "cylinder back" is what gives these mandolins such a cool profile and (to my ears, vs. standard Vega flatback models) gives them their big old sound.


The tuners got a lube. Note the hole at the headstock -- apparently added at some point for a strap.




Here you can see that "swell."

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