1920s John Bencic Kontra (Irish Bouzouki Mod)

I know everyone will want this, so just to be quick about it -- nope, it's not for sale. This has a long story, but 7 years ago I bought this and sold it when I was on a tamburitza instrument binge. Two years after that it came back for resale and the current owner bought it and used it now and then for recording. He sent it back to me as trade bait/possible return to him around Xmas-time and it's sat awaiting work ever since -- but is now returning to him post-work.

The long and the short of it is that until now it's basically been in an "as-is" condition. The neck angle was too shallow and so I'd rigged-up a downpressure bar and very low bridge to make it work despite itself. This week I did all of the work to make it play like a modern bouzouki-style instrument, however, and boy does it sing it out proud after all the fussing!

Tamburitza-family instruments (that's what the kontra belongs to -- an Eastern European group of instruments vaguely-related to Greek bouzoukis and middle eastern sazes) tend to be played strumming and then with rapid single-note melody playing in mandolin fashion. The overall effect is "Zorba the Greek" but very much not Greek. They're usually tuned in 4ths and this would've had a similar range to a DGBE-tuned tenor guitar strung "as it should be."

Of course, I don't tend to string things that way and I've always strung it for GDAE "Irish bouzouki" tuning -- which retunes to a beautiful modal GDGD open G tuning or GDAD "trad Celtic modal D" tuning nice and quick.

What's nice about this family of instruments is that they're often built with a "domed" top that's "built under tension" like Larson-style guitars. This "arches" them without being carved to that shape. That gives the high-end some real muscle and bite when you dig-into the higher frets on the treble side. Flat-top or canted-top mandolin-style instruments of similar size and scale tend to fizzle-out on the higher notes and this zip-and-zazz is a really nice feature to have because it makes the instrument more useful for melody work that can actually be heard.

Repairs included: a slipped-back neck reset (the only way to do it with a Spanish heel -- the back slips over the heel to change the angle and then there's a lot of trimming and filling to do at the seams), a refret with jumbo stock and then a level/dress job to get everything even, new compensated bone bridge, general cleaning, and a good setup.

Setup notes: it plays perfectly with hair-over 1/16" G  and 1/16" DAE action at the 12th fret. The neck is straight and I've strung it very light with gauges 38w, 26w, 13/13, 9/9.

Scale length: 24 3/4"
Nut width: 1 1/4"
String spacing at nut: 1"
String spacing at bridge: 1 7/16"
Body length: 14"
Lower bout width: 11 1/4"
Side depth at endpin: 3 1/2"
Top wood: solid spruce
Back/sides wood: solid flamed maple
Bracing type: ladder
Fretboard: none -- pearloid veneer over bare neck
Bridge: bone, compensated
Neck feel: deep U-shape, flat board

Condition notes: clearly, I modified the back to do the neck reset. The original frets are all gone save the ones over the body, there are three replacement tuner buttons on the original tuners, and the bridge is new. 

I love the look of the engraved tuner plates.

The pearl inlay in the outgassing celluloid veneer looks so cool.

A 1/4" bridge is about twice the height of a normal tamburitza-family instrument bridge (they're built with very low ones for whatever reason -- perhaps to get slapping from the pick on the top?) and about thrice the height of what was on here before when it was limping-along.