1910s Larson-made Stahl Flatback Mandolin

Last summer, a customer of mine asked me about this mandolin which was offered for sale by Intermountain Guitar & Banjo in Utah. She wound-up buying it and I'd never seen it until Friday. She brought it in for a checkup and I gave it the fret level/dress, compensated saddle, and setup it needed. Otherwise it was in really good health and quite clean for an oldy. It only has a couple of very tiny hairline cracks on the top.

Larson-made gear like this (I've worked on many similar Larson flatbacks under various brand names) is classy stuff and always sounds and feels excellent. Their necks are a little more substantial than other makes of the time and -- for me -- they're a much better fit. I find a lot of period necks are a little on the thin and skinny side as far as flatbacks are concerned.

Tonally, these are clean, clear, but lush-sounding. They have a good, warm, low-end response but aren't mushy or tubby like a lot of flatbacks. Materials-wise they're nice, too -- this one is solid spruce over solid Brazilian rosewood and sports a mahogany neck, ebony fretboard and bridge, and bone nut and saddle. It's entirely original as well.

The neck is straight and after work it plays spot-on with hair-under 1/16" action at the 12th fret.

The action was a bit low when it came in, so I shimmed-up the bone saddle slot in the bridge and compensated the saddle at the same time. Strings are 34w-10 gauge or similar.

A back that covers the heel and features binding around its edges is very much a Larson-made trait. The owner was worried about the center-strip on the back being off-center at the heel. I chuckled and explained that -- indeed -- this is handmade. Lots of old instruments are askew in many ways, no matter how well-made they are or how high-end, too.


Nick R said…
Yes, hand made means minor imperfections- CNC machines mean "perfection"! I have the last mandolin that famous archtop maker Dick Knight built in 1982. You can see a few flaws in its binding which is multiply. I do know a world class instrument expert (and maker) and he commented on how good the hand-carving was on it. Dick Knight was an exceptional man and he had had a nasty accident in 1935 where he severed all the fingers on his left hand, making the bodies Lagonda cars. The last time I saw him, he told me that a 1935 Lagonda had been at the church over the road from his house- a bride's wedding car. He went out and talked to the chauffeur who owned it as well- and he said he told him all about the car. He then said: "Can I look in the boot (trunk in the USA)? The owner enquired why he needed to look into it and Mr Knight said: "Oh, I lost my fingers in the boot of one of these, they might be there!" He then held up his hand! He was a great guy. His daughter said to me recently. "Oh, we've had Barney Kessel in this room." And the rest of them, too! As she says: "I've had 80 years of guitars- my whole life!"