5/19/2018

1920s Harmony-made Shutt-style Carved-Top Mandolin




This is the cleanest Shutt-style mandolin that I've seen. The last one through the shop, though, was admittedly a bit beat-up. Like that other one, this one is screaming-loud and punchy and -- though you can't quite hear it in the soundclip -- sweet and round at the edges of its sound. It's certainly a professional-sounding and quality-materials instrument.

I worked on this one for a customer and it got a neck reset, fret level/dress, and fitting of a new Cumberland acoustic bridge. The neck joints on these instruments aren't the best and during steam-out the bottom of the heel split as it snagged on a crumpled-up old shim that was in the joint while my clamp was applying pressure to the heel. That's happened  to me before, but it sure is annoying when it does. It didn't look like the instrument had work done to it in the past and the joint was loosey-goosey, which made it even more frustrating.

On the other side of work, the mando is now healthy and holding-pat with the customer's requested 40w-11 strings. That's a gauge heavier than I'd suggest, but the neck itself remains straight which is amazing for a '20s Harmony product. They usually can't take more than 10s and this is a long-scale instrument, too. When you're tuning-up for the first time, these mandos make all sorts of terrifying, terrible creaks and groans as the top settles back into position. This is because the tops are carved like a violin or Gibson-style mandolin but they are unbraced. This is both the strength of the design (as the top generates a ton of drive and volume as well as a mellow tone) but also its major weakness, too.

After work on these you have to wait a couple days with the instrument at tension before making final setup adjustments. I have a feeling I'm going to have to trim the (already-trimmed) bridge down a bit more before shipping it home as I can visibly see that both the endblock area and neckblock areas have compressed a little under tension (as in these areas are not exactly 90-degrees to the top anymore) as it's sat for the last 24 hours at pitch. At the time I took the soundclip, though, it seems to have stabilized. I think this compression is mostly due to the top not having any extra length-wise stabilization via bracing.

All that said and done, these are super-de-duper boxes and rare as heck, too. The tops, as said, are carved spruce and the back and sides are flamed, solid maple. The neck is mahogany and the fretboard is "ebonized" maple. The new bridge is ebony, however, and adjustable.

Specs are: 13 7/8" scale, 1 3/16" nut width, 31/32" string spacing at the nut, 1 17/32" spacing at the bridge, hair-under 1/16" action at the 12th fret (with a straight neck), 10 1/4" lower bout, 6 3/4" upper bout, and 1 3/8" side depth.



The nut is original and bone and the headstock veneer is ebonized maple as well.



The pickguard is awesome, no? I moved it just a hair so it'd clear the bridge and shimmed it up underneath near the fretboard extension to make sure it remains off of the top. It was damping a lot of sound when it was resting on its felt pad near the bridge.




I have foam under the tailpiece cover to damp string overtones behind the bridge.



Nice maple, right? In a cool twist, the instrument has black back binding and white top binding.


The tuners look much like ordinary tuner plates under this cover, though they're set in a recessed chamber. Harmony almost never fixed them to the headstock with screws under the coverplate, however, so I installed some inside to keep the tuners from moving around as they do without them.






It also has its original case.

3 comments:

Nicholas Ratnieks said...

This is the mandolin that sold on ebay in late March- same far more recent case but the sticker has been pulled off it. What a beauty! I think it unlikely another in this condition will show up again- although I suppose mandolins can be stashed away and forgotten about- but who would stash one of these away and forget about it? I'm sure the new owner is thrilled with it and it is great that Jake got to work on it so we get an analysis.

Jake Wildwood said...

The case is actually period, but yeah, I must've missed this on the 'bay!

Nicholas Ratnieks said...

That case must have been Supertone's cheapest option beyond end-opening canvass! Mind you, the mandolin was for its time quite expensive, so the original buyer had probably spent all his dough on the mandolin- with just a tiny bit left for the case! I suppose that flat strap- and the interior colour do show it is old- it just looked like a cheapo 60s example with a quick glance. In fact, when I first saw this mandolin on ebay, I wondered if it had not been a reissue or copy as it just looked so pristine- but there are a few signs of wear and tear but even so, it's a real beauty and quite a catch. I'm jealous!