1890s Regal-made Ditson Bowlback Mandola

I helped a customer of mine find this bowlback mandola from another vendor and she brought it in recently. I actually recorded a soundclip of this but forgot to save it! Doesn't that drive you crazy when that happens?

Said new owner plays classical mandolin and -- with her body of students and friends (almost all playing bowlbacks) -- needed a proper mandola for the group for a while. This one was made by Regal around the mid-1890s and is branded with the Ditson mark. It's a nicely-built, lightweight instrument and features a bowl of mixed rosewood and mahogany and a spruce top.

When I called-up the shop that owned this they'd told me everything was sorted and it was playing fine -- including a hairline crack on the top. Well -- I had a feeling that it wasn't quite right, and that feeling was correct. A brace needed regluing, the crack needed filling/sealing, and the frets needed a level/dress and some seating to get the "deck" level. It was also strung really heavily with modern mandola strings, so I corrected that by using a set of D'Addario "flat-top" (ground-wound) EFT74 mandolin strings in gauges 39w, 26w, 15w, 11. The key here is that the 15 gauge is wound and thus intonates correctly with a mandola setup. Doubling-up a set of Deering Irish Tenor Banjo strings (38w, 28w, 18w, 12) would also work. All modern mandola string sets are pretty much way-over-tense for antique instruments as they're designed to work with the short Gibson mandola scale and the heavier carved tops. This one has a ~16 3/4" scale and so the D'Addario EFT74s feel great on it and have about the same tension string-to-string as the GHS A240 sets I'd use on a bowlback mandolin.

It was really fun to be able to work on a nice old bowlback mandola. They're very rare on this side of the Atlantic.

This has a mahogany neck, rosewood headstock veneer, ebony nut and bridge, and a rosewood board.

Pearl dots decorate the board.

The bridge straddles the cant in the top when it's properly-positioned.

This is one of those hinged tailpieces and, after replacing the set-screw for it, it works nicely. I've stuffed foam under it to mute the overtones from the string afterlength.

Regal did a cute thing on their earlier bowlback instruments -- they added thin strips of red-dyed wood between the ribs of the bowl to make a nice effect.

Here's the Ditson retail label.