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Italian Bowl-Back Mandolins

Here are instruments photos and videos from past restoration projects "gallery only"

, for instruments available for sale please see page "Instruments for Sale"

Raffaele Esposito 1895

Raffaele Esposito, son of Giovani Esposito worked as Violin Maker between 1883(?!)-1894 (then 1895 - 1910 Mandolin Maker). Often mentioned alongside Vinaccia and Calace as a important instrument maker for Napoli, according to sources he was usually making Gagliano style violins but as modern copies labeled "Raffaele Esposito in Napoli anno 18888" were being made, it suggests he must have been making viloins in own style as well. Karel Jalovec in his book Italian Violin Makers mentions same label but under name Giosue Esposito (then aforementioned label under it) - Mandolin Maker 1890-1900 but in my opinion he has mistaken Giosue with Giovanni his father not Raffaele himself, also dates given are unprecise as instruments with labels dated as early as 1869 (Viola listed on auction in 2011) and as late as 1906 (mandolin) were found. As in late 19th century Neapolitan Violin makers started to struggle selling their instruments due to many old instruments being available on market and with Germany making cheaper and good sounding instruments in places such as Markneukirchen, they had to seek other opportunities to make a living out of building instruments. As at that time mandolin was at the beginning of it's golden age it was easily understandable why so many violin makers focused more on mandolins. So was Esposito, first making his own mandolins at Vico Lungo Pontecorvo 27 Napoli around 1890's, but later has become a student of Vinaccia continued making Mandolins until late 1900's (mandolin with label dated 1906 has addition of "Allievi di Vinaccia" but still at same address). There is an easily distinguishable difference between two mandolin mentioned. The one dated 1895 has "premium" parts used - Brass tailpiece and brass tuners with button having ornate lead covers, bowl is slightly larger and deeper. Latter one, made under Vinaccia eye is very similar to all other mandolins made under "Allievi di Vinaccia" (Maratea, Rubino, D'Isanto and Fratelli Gaetano & Achille Vinaccia themselves) all having same parts, most likely drawings and templets, basically using same source of materials. It is possible that students were obliged to use parts and materials sold/sourced by Vinaccias if they were to use their name on the label. There were two brothers Gaetano and Pasquale Esposito also Vinaccia students at that time but it is not known if there if any family connection to Raffaele Esposito. ​ About the instrument itself, I was very amazed when finally got to play the instrument as how well it sounds, it has beautiful rich, deep and ringing tone and best intonation I have come across on a bowl backed mandolin from that period. As mentioned before this instrument was made before he has worked with Vinaccia family and although it seems lacking precision in some aesthetic elements Esposito had used his knowledge well in making well sounding mandolin. The bowl is made of 15 maple ribs and is slightly larger than similar Vinaccia mandolin, it is more similar to Calace mandolins with the bowl deeper towards the neck. The Soundboard is well selected thin spruce which produces good volume and sustain, the angle of the neck is parallel to the soundboard which allows low and comfortable while having thin fingerboard and what goes with it thinner neck. It was one of the more difficult repairs I've done so far which required complete removal of table in order to bring it back to original shape, the purfling has been replaced, fretboard completely re-fretted with T bar brass wire, tuners cleaned and lubed, tail piece cleaned and polished, whole body was gently sanded using fine to micro fine grades sanding sponge. Bowl and neck has gloss shellac finish where as table has little shellac polished to mat, in a all over appearance I was aiming at refreshing finish whilst maintaining antique character. Original bridge was beyond repair so I have made a copy using ebony and cattle bone, also new pin was made in place of hook on head (though it'll serve as ornament not a hanger). Mandolin is fitted with new set of Pyramid Silver wound strings (.009-.032)

Raffaele Esposito
Raffaele Esposito
Raffaele Esposito
Raffaele Esposito
Raffaele Esposito

Pasquale Angara & Pasquale D'Isanto
Allievi di Vinaccia
Napoli 1896

Antique Neapolitan Mandolin labelled Premiata Fabbrica di Strumenti Armonici con Medagli a D'Argento e Diploma - Pasquale Angara & Pasquale D'Isanto, Allievi di Vinaccia (students of), Corso Garibaldi No.169, Napoli, year 1896. Mandolin is in a very good condition and did not require any structural repairs. Everything is kept in original aged state apart from fretboard/frets which were too worn to work with and slight modification of bridge and new nut to adjust height due to fretboard swap. Finish throughout remains untouched. Structurally it is very similar to mandolins made by Vinaccia with strutting ending before lining, not supported by it which allows soundboard to vibrate more freely and produces more mellower tone. It's fitted with a premium set of strings - Optima Goldin specially polished SET2125 Mandolin specification: Soundboard – Solid Spruce with wooden pick-guard  Bowl – 15 maple ribs and rosewood side slats Neck – U shaped, made of maple with rosewood veneer Fretboard – New Ebony with MOP inlay  Nut – new bone Bridge – original, ebony with bone saddle Frets – 17 1.1mm crown width, Japanese Nickel-silver Instruments measurements are as follows: - total length 59cm - body width 19.4cm - body depth 14cm - from nut fret to 12th fret 168.5mm (total scale length 337mm) - Neck width at nut is 29.4mm, at body merge 34.7mm

Angara & D'Isanto Mandolin
Angara & D'Isanto Mandolin Label
Angara & D'Isanto Mandolin

Antique bowl-back Mandolin

Raffaele Calace

1923 Naples

The mandolin made by the most famous mandolin maker and composer Raffaele Calace in 1923 at Via Egiziaca a Piazzofalcone 75, Napoli, Italia. It has an additional label of importer or shop in Switzerland where this model was very popular, eventually it found it's way into UK going from Italy – Switzerland – Germany and now England. The instrument is in very good condition for it's age and has all original parts, there are no splits to soundboard or to bowl, neck and fingerboard are all sound (gold mother of pear has been added to back of headstock), frets were showing little sign of wear so had to be levelled and crowned, tuners were cleaned and lubed (though as many brass tuners turn bit hard when reaching final tension). There are two barely visible hairline cracks on the soundboard where the fretboard ends but it does not affect the instruments playability and isn't structural concern. The finish is mostly original apart from soundboard where it had to be removed and replaced with light protective layer of shellac. Mandolin is fitted with new set of strings - Calace Dogal RW92B soft tension. ​Approximate measurements are as follows: - total length 62.5cm, - body width 19cm,- from nut to 12th fret 165mm (total scale length 330mm) -Neck width at nut is 26.4mm, at 10th fret 37.8mm

Raffaele Calace
Raffaele Calace
Raffaele Calace
Raffaele Calace
Raffaele Calace
Raffaele Calace
Raffaele Calace

Umberto Ceccherini

A well regarded mandolin maker from Naples, producing very good quality mandolins and guitars from late 1870's till late 1910's. His mandolins were mainly imported to UK by Alban Voigt & Co. a company based in London, 14 Edmund Place. Mandolin virtuoso Leopoldo Francia is thought to have played exclusively on Ceccherini mandolins. Umberto's instruments also have been distinguished at Esposizione di Milano in 1881, “The Italian National Exhibition of 1881, or also the Italian Industrial Exhibition, was the first major industrial exhibition that could really be defined national and that followed the much smaller one that took place in Florence in 1861, the year of the birth of the new Kingdom, unified Italy. The Exhibition was held from 6 May to 1 November 1881 in an area now occupied by the public gardens of Porta Venezia and in the premises of the Royal Villa. With 7150 exhibitors, of which 314 from Sicily, the Exposition took on a truly national character for the first time. It had over one and a half million visitors and definitively consecrated Milan as the capital of Italian industry. Five additional exhibitions were added to the actual industrial exhibition, including an exhibition of fine arts hosted at the Palazzo del Collegio Elvetico, now Palazzo del Senato, and whose honorary president was the historian Cesare Cantù” (text borrowed from Da Wikipedia It.) ​ This particular model resemble those of De Meglio at first glance however it differs from it few small details. Headstock is made in more traditional style,soundhole is larger and of course an addition of internal soundboard installed in an area between soundhole to tail block under the main soundboard. String tensioners are a 4 separate screws, one for each course of strings rather than wooden bar across all strings. Bowl, almost identical but without holes on sides, feels much more precise and finely finished. Mandolin was in excellent condition for it's age therefore interference in it's antique state was only minimal. Restoration included the following: Frets re-levelled, crowned and polished. Fretboard lightly reconditioned, tuners and tailpiece cleaned. Soundboard lightly cleaned and re-finished with french-polish, rest of body only cleaned up, shows a little wear but is mainly intact. Original bridge has been slightly modified by replacing fret saddle with compensated bone to improve intonation. Action is set to 1.5mm on E side and just under 2mm on G side and so it's very comfortable to play with clean buzz free tone. Mandolin is fitted with new sets of light strings – Fisoma 3010 Silver wound ​ For sound sample see video below (video to follow shortly) ​ Soundboard – Solid Spruce with Tortoiseshell pick-guard inlaid with M.O.P and Silver Internal soundboard – also solid spruce Bowl – 15 Rosewood ribs & 2 side slats Neck & Head – Maple with rosewood veneer Fretboard – Original Ebony with MOP inlay Nut – Original brass Bridge – Original with added bone saddle Tuners – Enclosed with bone buttons Frets – 17 Original, possibly silver Additional accessories – Engraved tail guard ​ Instruments measurements are as follows: - total length 61cm - body width 19cm - body depth 14.5cm - from nut fret to 12th fret 168mm (total scale length 336mm) - Neck width at nut is 27.7mm, at body merge 37mm

Antique Roman Style Mandolin

Unknown Maker

circa early XXc.
 

An exceptional mandolin, likely of Italian origin, unfortunately no label is present therefore exact place or date of make in not possible to establish. Unusual bowl with a shape that has a mix of German and Roman characteristics but with ribs continuing through to neck and ending just before headstock. Soundboard has beautiful Mother of Pearl inlay, edges finished in M.O.P. and abalone binding with a very ornate ebony arm rest at bottom. Mandolin has now a new bone nut with equal spacing and low action at first fret, a new ebony bridge with bone saddle, compensated and set up for very low action – 1.5mm at 12th fret over treble side, raising to 1.9mm on bass side making it very easy to play. It has a nrrow V shaped neck and extended fretboard with 21 frets. Mandolin has deep yet crisp and powerful tone with very good sustain, a sound sample to follow shortly. ​ Mandolin is restored to fully playable condition and following work was done: New Rosewood fretboard fretted with 1.1mm crown width frets and original M.O.P. transferred from old to new one. Very small split in soundboard repaired (next to fretboard, just above soundhole), there's a little deformation around this area as well which does not affect structural strength. Pickguard had few splits but apart from cosmetical imperfections it's holding well. Tuners work fine only requiring good clean and so did tailpiece. Bowl only had little shrinkage split between ribs which is now repaired and almost invisible. Original finish throughout the body was lightly cleaned, re-touched with shellac and polished to semi gloss. Mandolin is fitted with new set of light strings Ernie Ball .009 - .034 ​ Original case is present however it's in poor condition so only good enough to provide extra protection during shipping. New wooden hard-shell case can be added at extra £80, original case is included free of charge. ​ Soundboard – Solid Spruce with plastic pick-guard inlaid with M.O.P. Bowl – 15 rosewood ribs & 2 side slats with added M.O.P inlay and ended with tulip-wood strip. Neck – V shape made of maple with rosewood ribs and tulip-wood Fretboard – New Rosewood with MOP inlay Nut – New bone Bridge – New Ebony with bone saddle Frets – 21 Japanese Nickel silver1.1mm crown width ​ Instruments measurements are as follows: - total length 61.5cm - body width 20.5cm - body depth 14.5cm - from nut fret to 12th fret 165mm (total scale length 330mm) - Neck width at nut is 24.7mm, at body merge 35mm

C. & V. Carabba

CATANIA

Premiato e Brevettato Stabilimento Musicale (Awarded and Patented Musical Establishment) C. & V. Carabba, Corso Etneo 244 Catania. Label also carries medals awarded at – Esposizione Nazionale del 1891 in Palermo & Esposizione Italo Americana 1883. There's an actual video on Youtube on National Exhibition in Palermo showing how great and celebrated this event was at that time, see link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4WeFyGc47U Carabba company was making all sorts of musical instruments from string through brass to pianos. It is mentioned in an advert of Annuario D'Italia, Calendare Generale del Regno dated 1893. Mandolins label does not carry a date of make but label appears to be of an earlier style therefore estimated mandolin date would be somewhere 1890's. Craftsmanship instantly shows that it isn't just another mass produced mandolin in style of other luthiers but an attempt to create something original and a quality instrument for serious players. First element that grabs attention is an unique head stock with tuners mounted on sides with string posts directed outwards. A less obvious elements are tuned braces and a longer scale length of 340mm. Wood appears to be cut slightly thinner compared to most mandolins with a soundboard sitting in a body where side slats are acting as a binding rather than sitting on top sealed with biding strip around as per usual standards. Tonal qualities feel more balanced, soft and warm, with good volume and sustain. For sound sample please see video below, as always music has been recorded on this very mandolin with raw, unedited audio. ​ Carabba mandolins are rather scars and rarely seen so when restoring it I was aiming at retaining it's natural aged appearance with minimum interference in original parts whilst bringing it to fully playable state. Mandolin is structurally fine with no cracks to soundboard, there was some movement between ribs at back as in places they are not aligned correctly but still hold tight together. Bowl did not require gluing but any gaps have been filled in as a precaution to prevent from further movement. Neck is at correct angle, original frets were high enough for reconditioning so re-leveled and crowned. Fretboard was in very good condition only requiring good clean up. Tuners were cleaned internally to ensure they work smoothly but I decided to keep outer plate of tuners and tail-piece in it's natural aged condition rather than polishing them to shine. Whole body has been cleaned and finish surface retouched to revive wood grain and bring more gloss. Mandolin has new bone nut and compensated rosewood bridge as both nut and bridge were missing when I got it. ​ Playing action is set to 2mm at 12th fret and despite very gentle twist it is comfortable to play even more advanced music. Bridge height is 4mm therefore gap between strings and soundboard is rather tight (which is common for mandolins from late 19th c.). ​ Mandolin is fitted with new ultra light set of strings - Fisoma F3010 Silk & Steel ​ Soundboard – Solid Spruce Bowl – 25 rosewood ribs, Neck – Maple with rosewood veneer Fretboard – Rosewood with MOP inlay, Nut – New bone Bridge – New rosewood, Frets – 17 ​ Approximate measurements are as follows: - total length 63.5cm, - body width 20cm body depth 14.2mm, - from nut fret to 12th fret 170mm (total scale length 340mm) - Neck width at nut is 29.9mm, at body merge 36.9mm

Francesco Salomone

Antique Italian Mandolin labelled Francesco Salomone, Fabbrica di Mandolini, Napoli via Chiara N.16 Date of make not present but may be estimated to early 1900's. Mandolin is in fully playable condition with new fretboard, bridge and nut, set up to low action of 1.5mm over treble side and 1.9mm over bass side making it very comfortable to play. Bridge is made in traditional Italian style but with a modern saddle allowing string compensation to provide correct intonation. ​ Soundboard is made of solid spruce, beautifully decorated with lots of Mother of Pearl around it as well as inside the tortoiseshell pick-guard. Soundboard has some age related wear but has no splits or cracks. Bowl is made of 26 Rosewood ribs with addition of Tulip-wood strips on sides. There were two splits between ribs and one rib cracked, all now repaired. Original finish was mainly intact therefore only refreshed using shellac to revive wood grain. Tuners and tailpiece cleaned of rust and lubricated, all working fine. Fretboard has been replaced with new thicker ebony to allow better set up and to increase a gap between soundboard and strings, it is fretted using narrow 1.1mm Japanese Nickel-silver fretwire. ​ Mandolin is fitted with new light set of strings – Optima Silver 2145 ​ Sound sample available upon request ​ Soundboard – Solid Spruce with tortoiseshell pick-guard and M.O.P. inlay Bowl – 26 rosewood ribs & 2 side slats, ended with tulip-wood strip Neck – V shape, made of maple with rosewood veneer Fretboard – New Ebony with MOP inlay Nut – New bone Bridge – New Ebony with bone saddle Frets – 17 Japanese Nickel silver1.1mm crown width ​ Instruments measurements are as follows: - total length 60.5cm - body width 19.2cm - body depth 14.3cm - from nut to 12th fret 166.5mm (total scale length 333mm) - Neck width at nut is 29.5mm, at body merge 38.2mm