1920s Lyon & Healy Style A Carved-Top Mandola

The Lyon & Healy carved-top mandolin family strikes me as being composed of super-refined versions of the Gibson oval-hole A-style mold. How is this carved and braced? -- almost the same as a Gibson mandola from the same time -- but thinner and lighter and with a little more nuance. How does it sound? -- like a good Gibson mandola that's even better. The back and sides are all heavily-flamed maple instead of birch, too, and the whole instrument exudes "high class violin." The fancy scrolled headstock with its top-mounted tuners is just icing on that cake.

The high-grade L&H mandolins are rare enough (though the cheaper Washburn-branded, Regal-made ones are not too rare), but mandolas like this one are even harder to find. This one came waltzing in with a local customer, who carried it in a beat-up old tenor banjo case. I was truly surprised to see this pop out of it. It looked ding-dang clean, too, until I saw the severe punched-in area under the tailpiece. Ouch! Fortunately that was the worst of it aside from a couple interior glue drips and a detached main brace.

Work included fixing that brace, installing a rosewood "helper block cleat" over the cracked-up area near the endblock, giving it a fret level/dress, and setting it up. The bridge is compensated for 2-wound, 2-plain strings (and I looked back in my L&H Washburn book to see the original catalog drawings which also show that compensation -- usually mandolas are compensated for 3-wound, 1-plain), so that's what I strung it with -- 40w, 26w, 16, 11 gauges -- like a heavier mandolin set. It's tonally and structurally happy with the tension of this set, but I think it could be bumped a gauge to 42w, 28w, 17, 12 as I tuned it up to DAEB above standard CGDA with the strings on it and it seemed just fine.

Frankly, this instrument -- as art -- is just glorious. As an instrument the cover matches to content, too. These L&H instruments had ideas that were all sorts of ahead-of-their-times.

The tuner cover and pickguard are vulcanized rubber and the pickguard itself clamps down to the top with only one bolt securing it. The top is all tight-grained spruce and it's cut delicately. Under the fancy tailpiece cover is a little string-ratcheting gizmo that seems to act as a "buzzstop" for the string-ends. There's a "knee stand" socket retainer in the side. It's wild.

The nut is 1 1/4" in width and the fretboard has about a 10" radius to it. This is another one of those "modern innovations." Radiused mandolins were not common in the '20s. The board and bridge are both ebony, too.

The board is bound in black celluloid and the neck has a medium C/V hybrid shape. It's bigger but comfortable -- it feels substantial instead of clumsy.

That fretboard extension is pretty grand, too.

Here's the original bridge with its mandolin-style (2-wound, 2-plain) compensation. I've long been a proponent of plain D strings on mandolas, but most aren't responsive enough (they're built too heavy) to sing with them. This one is!

Action is spot-on at hair-under 1/16" at the 12th fret and the neck is dead straight.

The nut is bone.

The flamed back and sides are gorgeous and, as said before, evoke the fine violin world.

Check out that carve!

This is the insert for that knee-stand device (which is missing).

The tailpiece had apparently been re-installed several times and the screw-holes were worn. I took the opportunity to install a vintage-style strap button.

Here you can see the top with the pickguard off and the brass insert to mount it.

This is the tailpiece with its cover removed. Note the ratcheting device to make the strings fast at the end of the tailpiece.

Here's the brutal bit -- this is repaired with what I call an "endblock extender" -- a block of rosewood that rubs-up against the block and supports the mess. It's stable under tension but not pretty. When this instrument came in this whole area was collapsed down and the seams at the endblock were burst-open. There were several old "repairs" that hadn't taken, so this was the best I could get without serious surgery.

So far, it's strung-up and happy -- and I think there's no reason to assume it'll be any different years later.


Nick R said…
Here is Dave Apollon playing one of these mandolas.


I used to know a man- a top luthier who had met Dave back in 1930 when he came to the UK. He had been able to meet him backstage at the London Palladium when he first arrived. He was, I believe, booked for two weeks but word got around that he was sensational and he stayed for 26 weeks instead!
Unknown said…
WOW ...awesome sounding and looking instrument .breath-taking indeed..