3/25/2018

1920s Stromberg-Voisinet/Kay 2-Point Flatback Mandolin




I've worked on two very similar Kay/Stromerg-Voisinet mandolins but both were slightly fancier than this one. They're almost always unbranded or vaguely-branded but this type was definitely made at the SV (later renamed Kay) factory in Chicago. It screams that -- especially since it has the same Gumby-style headstock and back-stamp cut as those used on their guitars.

I'm receiving this in trade, but considering that it's in lieu of work and parts, I figured I would get this done alongside the projects it's been traded-for. It's a good-sounding box with a voice that reminds me mostly of good-quality bowlback mandolins along the lines of Vega-made products. It's a little less complicated, though, and has just a touch of that flatback, lower-mids breathiness that says, up-front, "I can play old-time and folkie stuff, too!"

Work included a poor man's neck joint reinforcement via a hidden bolt, a fret level/dress, side dot install, hairline crack repairs confined to the back (it has one long one and several other shorter ones -- all cleated and/or sealed), bridge fitting and compensation, and a good setup with 32w-9 GHS A240 strings. I like this set as it runs light enough for older mandolins yet not spidery-thin like some other lighter-than-light-gauge strings can be.

Specs are: 12 7/8" scale length, 1 1/8" nut width, 29/32" string spacing at the nut and 1 1/2" spacing at the bridge, 9 3/8" body width an 2 1/4" depth at the middle. I have the action dialed-in at a hair-under 1/16" at the 12th fret across the board. The neck is straight, it's stable in service, and plays great. The back profile of the neck is a medium-sized V-shape.


It has a canted-top like on most flatbacks through the '30s. The bridge straddles the fold in the top and thus gives some good drive in the tilted-down portion of the soundboard which is where all of the resonance happens on these instruments, anyway.

The top is solid spruce while the back and sides are solid birch. It's bound on top, front, at the soundhole, and at the headstock with cream celluloid. It's also 100% original as I managed to save the dilapidated/worn slots in the original bridge and re-use it.


The headstock shows-off these cool, individual, weirdly-recessed tuners. They work just fine but the vulcanized rubber inserts do not allow access to them and look a little bit like you really wanted souvenir-sized chocolate-glazed donuts.


The frets are low and small but still have a ways to go before replacement.

Note also that the pickguard is supported by two pearl-dot-encrusted guitar-style bridge pins. They're friction-set into the mounting holes to hold the pickguard down.


The fretboard and bridge are both made from ebonized maple.



The Waverly cloud-cover tailpiece is useful for keeping the string-ends from jabbing the fingers and also as a place to add foam to mute the string-afterlength behind the bridge.





The dark dot of fill hides access to a neck-bolt that I installed. The neck joint was on this fine, but I don't like to send things out into the world with a question-mark before them.


Here's a shot of the main crack repair on the back. This particualr one runs from the neckblock to the endblock, though I've stabilized it and it has cleats on the inside.




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