8/01/2015

1900s Larson-made Ditson Victory Bowlback Mandolin




This pearl-trimmed beaut was made by the Larson Brothers in Chicago for Ditson who marketed this for sale as their "Victory" model. I've worked on several Ditson-branded Empire bowlbacks that I'd thought were Larson makes, but this "Victory" even has the usual Larson-style number stamping on the brace below the fretboard extension. Fair enough!

Like other Larson bowlbacks, the tone is rich and sustained, sweet, and has excellent note clarity. The best bowlbacks are really engineered for exceedingly-nice tremolo playing (as that's what they often  do in ensemble situations), and this excels at that. Its voice also suits folk-style melody picking, too, and it records without fuss.


This instrument is crack-free save for a 1" seam separation on the back of the bowl that was glued-up many moons ago. It's also all-original save for a new compensated bone bridge that I made up and the "cloud" tailpiece cover which is a little later than the instrument but the same as would've been on it originally (though I'm guessing the original was probably engraved).

Can you see that gorgeous pearl trim? It's greeny-yellow and rings the top edge and soundhole. Whiter pearl is inlaid in the celluloid pickguard. It's very pretty.

My work included a fret level/dress (to remove mild relief in the neck/extension), the new bridge and replacement tailpiece cover, tuner lube, cleaning, and a quick setup with 32w-9 GHS A240 strings -- these are the gauges I always use on bowlbacks as they're closest to tension used on contemporary mandolin sets and are safer for the instruments.


The headstock veneer is Brazilian rosewood. The original nut is bone and the tuners are recessed, quality units.

This has a standard 1 1/8" nut width and 13" scale length.


The ebony board has hairline dryness cracks but is otherwise unmolested. The inlay is pearl and the board is bound in cream celluloid. Those frets are the original, thin/small bar frets as typical for the time.


Gotta love that rosette!



I made this new, compensated bone bridge to replace the original ebony one which was a bit shot. I thought I could reuse it but found out that it had a hairline split on the base so I made this one instead. I generally replace missing/damaged bridges on bowlbacks with bone because of the slight volume, clarity, and sustain-boost one gets with the material.




The absurd number of Brazilian rosewood ribs assures one of the quality-level of the instrument. This would've been securely in the professional grade of the Ditson line.


The engraved coverplate for the tuners is a nice touch.


The neck is mahogany and the neck joint is in good order.






Here you can see the multiple edge bindings. Pretty neat.

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