4/20/2016

1954 Levin Model 54 "Taranto" Flatback Mandolin




A surprising number of people have been pestering me about this mandolin, so I decided to finish it up. It's a Levin (Swedish-made) model 54 mandolin that's both flat-backed and flat-topped and has a serial that places it at 1954. The top is solid spruce, the back and sides are solid birch, and the neck appears to be maple with a "walnut" fretboard.

There was "old work" done to it including some functional, if not beautiful, hairline crack repairs to the side and back. I, myself, repaired the hairline-cracked "center seam" on the top and cleated wherever I could (though the tall bracing kept me from cleating both top/back hairlines on the severe "lower bout" area). The mandolin also got a board level and refret (with medium stock) and a brand-new rosewood, compensated, bridge.

The result of all this fuss is a mandolin that handles perfectly and is powerful and full-sounding and has volume and punch comparable (but very different tone) to many great carved-top instruments that've come through the shop. It's certainly a bruiser in terms of how it'd sit in a jam or band setting and that surprised me greatly.


The looks are humble but the horsepower is not. Don't you love it when it works-out that way?

I think part of the oomph is because the ladder-braced top allows the bridge to vibrate the lower portion of the soundboard below it very efficiently since there's, basically, no bracing "down there."


The instrument is all-original save the new bridge and the nut is yellowed plastic 1 1/8" wide. The neck profile itself is a slim V-ish shape similar to old Martin flatbacks.


After leveling the board, I lightly stained it back to the original cherry-ish color it came to me with before refretting. I used "medium" stock frets so they'll wear better and, as expected, their extra mass gives notes extra clarity and punch. The dots are faux-pearl.

This has a 13 1/4" scale length which gives it the feel of older, 1920s-30s mandolins. I used standard 34w-10 "light" strings which is the heaviest I'd go on this.



My new bridge is rosewood and styled like old bowlback bridges, though compensated. It has a slight "arch" cut out of the middle which gives it two-foot mounting. I did this to more-easily span a slightly-disturbed top area. Someone had glued-on a bit of pine as a bridge with an added, glued, "foot" of cardboard (why does this happen so often? Grr...). It took some fuss to get the material off of the top but the new bridge mostly hides the worn area.


The Levin tail is pretty cool and I've stuffed muting-foam under its "cover" to mute the extra string length.



Here you can see that longish, repaired, hairline crack on the back. Note also the minor scuffing and use-wear throughout.


The tuners -- after a lube -- are surprisingly-good and have nice, odd, original buttons. One D-string knob's shaft is bent but functional. Note also the weather-checked and cracking finish -- something one sees a lot on old 50s Gibsons as well.



Here's that back crack in detail. It was filled before it came to me, though I cleaned up the look slightly and added cleats on the inside.


The top edge and soundhole are bound in white/cream celluloid.





There are a couple of old repairs to side hairline cracks near the tailpiece. They're good to go.



The model number and serial are stamped up here at the headstock.

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