1900s Larson-made Ditson Empire Bowlback Mandolin

I'm almost certain that Larson made many of the Ditson-sold bowlbacks of nicer quality (like this one). It certainly has their design stamp all over it and this fancy-grade version of the "Empire" model is certainly something to be proud of: she's a beaut! Ironically, most "Empire" models I've worked on seem to be mid-level professional instruments, but this one is a lot more like the recent "Victory" model I worked on. It's got bling!

This is a customer's mandolin and it came to me in pretty good shape. There was a seam separation that needed addressing on the bowl, a replacement bridge was needed, cleaning too, and a fret level/dress and setup to alleviate a tiny bit of bow in the neck. All that's done and it plays spot-on, has that rich, lingering, precise classical tone (to a T), and looks gorgeous.

The pearl trim is classy and understated (just the way I like it). This instrument is crack-free save the seam separation fix I had to do on the back. It's also entirely original save for me new bone bridge.

Rosewood headstock veneer, fancy recessed tuners, and original bone nut.

Pearl dots in a bound ebony board... also take a looksie at the multi-ply wooden purfling. Nice!

I size and style my new compensated bone bridges on old Italian-style bridges and try to use the most "vintage looking" bone in my pile to match the aesthetic. They always improve a bowlback's sound in terms of volume, clarity, and sustain... which is why I replace missing bridges with them standard, these days.

The tailpiece is lightly engraved.

Tons of ribs! Brazilian rosewood, of course...

During cleaning I lubed the tuners as well and made sure they were secured well and ship-shape.

The engraved tuner cover shined-up nicely after cleaning.


Unknown said…
Hello, My name is Karen Schiffhauer and I live in NJ. I’m doing some research on my mother’s Mandolin she’s had for a long time. Before she passed away in July of 2017, she let my daughter know that it’s hers if she wants it. Of course, she wanted it, she loved this old Mandolin ever since she was young. I recently came across it when my daughter was moving out. She had it just laying in a closet on top of stuff! That kinda of upset me being disrespectful to a beautiful instrument. This Mandolin had a brass tag on the front, inlaid and says,

J. Howard Foote
It is an 8 string. I was wondering if you could shed some light on the history of this brand. It also needs a lot of work, an I’m not to happy about that. It was in better shape before my daughter took possession of it! I was wondering what the cost would approximately on repairing and new strings would be, or direct me to the proper company.

You can reach me by email at: leocarol104@gmail.com

Thank you,