1920s Larson-esque Flatback Mandolin

When I first saw photos of this in an email from a customer, I'd assumed it was a Larson product. After working on it, however, it's become more suspect. It's quite a nice mandolin and even has the "wraparound" binding on the back of the heel, but it's likely that it's not a Larson instrument. Sigh!

While the body shape and styling of the top-edge purfling and wraparound binding is correct for a proper Larson build, the ebonized-maple (rather than ebony) fretboard, non-bar-frets (for this period), and slim/narrow-nut neck shape (the Leland-style Larson product I'm used to have wider nuts and bigger necks) are things that don't add-up for me. The volute at the back of the headstock, fancy trim, some of the bracing choices, and nicer-than-average tuners are a vote in Larson-made favor, though. In fact, this instrument is making me confused on my own assessment of another mandolin I worked-on this time last year.

Anyhow, this instrument was due a good amount of work. The plan was to give it a neck reset, refret, taller bridge, and set it all up. However, I wound-up compromising on that due to the very fragile fretboard. If I wanted to reset the neck, I would have to take the board up to deal with the joint -- and if I did that, the board would disintegrate and need replacing as this ebonized maple becomes very chip-prone and fragile as it ages. The entails a whole round of extra time and resources to get it up and running. So...

Work included: a board plane and refret, securing the tuners and lubing them (as much as possible), compensation and modification of the original ebonized-maple bridge, cleaning, and a setup with 32w-9 gauge strings. The neck is straight, it plays with bang-on 1/16" action at the 12th fret, and it sounds woody, sweet, and clear.

Scale length: 13"
Nut width: 1 1/8"
String spacing at nut: 15/16"
String spacing at bridge: 1 5/8"
Body length: 12 3/4"
Lower bout width: 9"
Side depth at deepest: 2 3/8"
Top wood: solid spruce
Back/sides wood: solid Brazilian rosewood
Neck wood: mahogany
Fretboard: ebonized maple, pearl dots
Bridge: ebonized maple
Neck feel: slim C shape, 12" radius board

Condition notes: it's all-original save the new frets and some replacement pearl inlay at the 5th fret. There's no cracks but plenty of wear and tear. The soundhole has the usual small-amount of distortion that all of these round-hole flatbacks get over time (I've never seen one without some form of it), but none of the bracing is damaged and it's stable in service.

Ah, I forgot -- I added a new nut, too. Note that the tuners are the neat, higher-quality type with the bulbous top of the shafts. This is a little nicer than the usual Chicago-style straight shafts.

The owner was looking for a snowflake in the board, but after mucking my last two pearl blanks on hand (pearl-cutting is not my forte), I inlaid a cluster of dots to achieve much of the same effect. 

I love the inlaid pickguard and the fancy purfling and rosette. Unfortunately for the bridge, to have it compensated correctly, it needs to straddle the cant in the top.


Nick R said…
We had that interesting discussion about which firm made that other mandolin. Clearly, this one is very similar but with different appointments. I certainly was happy to agree that it was made by Larson- you mention that inside, there are other aspects that can make one draw that conclusion. What is certain, is that there are many similarities on the surface if one is seeing a Harmony made Supertone that had previously been a model made for Sears by Larson. I think that only having the instrument in your hands and having the opportunity to look inside can lead to a definitive view- and then one may be less than 100% certain. With regard to the other mandolin- this is the 1923 Supertone catalogue page which shows that model- be it still made by Larson at that time- or perhaps by then a Harmony made version: https://www.banjohangout.org/archive/325415