Italian Mandolins

Here are instruments photos and videos from past restoration projects and it is a gallery only, for instruments available for sale please see page "Instruments for Sale"

Antique bowl backed 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

Calace
Calace
Calace
Calace
Calace
Calace
Calace

Raffeale 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
 

Antique Italian Fluted Bowlback Mandolin

One of the most beautifull Mandolin I had a chance to work on so far with fluted rosewood bowl, mother of pearl inlayid tortoise shell pickguard and engraved closed tuners. Obtained this mandolin from a person who brought it from Italy for restoration, it had no frets and looked like someone gave up the process. Fretboard has been refretted with modern brass frets, body finnished with Linseed oil then French polish and Tru oil.

Fluted Bowl Mandolin
Fluted Bowl Mandolin
Fluted Bowl Mandolin
Fluted Bowl Mandolin
Fluted Bowl Mandolin
Recording in the background is my own arragement of Scarborough Fair for Mandolin

Old Bowl-backed "Pocket" Mandolin


 

“Mandolino Tascabile” a rare mandolin called pocked size however not as small as name suggests. The bowl may be tiny but length of instrument and scale size is exactly the same as standard bowl-backed mandolin. Although there's no label present it's most likely to be of Sicilian origins and made no older than 1950's.

Mandolin was in very good state, free of any cracks and splits. Repairs were mainly focused on fretboard/frets and bridge to get the mandolin in good plying order.

Fretboard has been cleaned, frets re-levelled and crowned. Tuners were also cleaned and lubricated, work smoothly and hold tuning fine. Original bridge was a bit poor therefore new one was made of Ebony. Original finish was intact with some minor signs of wear so only required good cleaning.

Mandolin is fitted with Nylgut strings – Aquila M1 Red Series

 


Instrument measurements are as follows:

- total length 60cm - body width 12.5cm - from zero fret to 12th fret 166mm (total scale length 332mm) - Neck width at nut is 29mm, at body merge 36mm

Pocket Mandolin
Pocket Mandolin
Pocket Mandolin
Pocket Mandolin
Pocket Mandolin
 

Giuseppe Puglisi

Although the label does not indicate date of instrument it is possible that this is rather earlier Mandolin as since about 1904 Puglisi labels included also his Sons – “G.Puglisi Reale & Figli”. Label quotes date 1820 however this is only a date suggesting when Puglisi family has established their business.

This particular mandolin is very unique to what is usually available on the market. At first I thought that holes in the soundboard were just an experiment of previous owner but having looked inside I realised this is actually how the mandolin was made originally. It appears that there is some kind of box created under those holes, another piece of spruce is added on to sound bars covering only area between two struts which are placed between sound-hole and cant.

 

Instruments measurements are as follows:

- total length 61cm - body width 20cm - from nut to 12th fret 168mm (total scale length 336mm)

- Neck width at nut is 30mm, at 10th fret 38mm

Giuseppe Puglisi
Giuseppe Puglisi
Giuseppe Puglisi Label
Giuseppe Puglisi
Giuseppe Puglisi

Antique Italian Mandolin

Rafaelle Disantino

Very elegant looking mandolin made by Rafaele Disantino, a Neapolitan maker who produced good quality instruments. The is no date quoted on the label however judging by style of make it is likely that mandolin would have been made around 1910's

His instruments must have been very popular in France as even the labels (some) were written in French rather than Italian. It is not clear though whether he was making instruments in France or just labelled them in a way to be sold there (or moved from Italy to France at some point).

 

Mandolin is fitted with Nylgut set of strings "Sugar Reds" by Aquila - it is a test  set that is still in development and is not yet available for sale.

 


Approximate measurements are as follows:

- total length 60cm - body width 19cm - from nut to 12th fret 165mm (total scale length 330mm) - Neck width at nut is 28.3mm, at 10th fret 36.7mm

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Stridente Mandolin

          Stridente Fabrica di Mandolini, Via Antonio 22 Napoli - around 1900's Italian bowlback Mandolin. Although bought in quite good condition it has new fingerboard with steel T-bar frets, new bridge, bowl finished with french polish and top just with beeswax to maintain natural wood look.

Stridente Mandolin

Stridente Mandolin

Stridente Mandolin

Stridente Mandolin

Stridente Mandolin

Stridente Mandolin

Stridente Mandolin

Stridente Mandolin

Stridente Mandolin

Stridente Mandolin

 

Antique Italian Bowlback Mandolin

Unknown Maker

circa early 20th century

Although no label is present, the mandolin was built in a style of de Meglio. It has all similar features like additional sound holes on both sides of the bowl, scratch plate fitted on top of table and inlaid with silver and mother of pearl, closed tuners, square shaped head, tensioner behind the bridge and lastly other type of finish used on bowl. There is a stamp on the table that says "Specialita Napoli Brevettata"  - which would be something like "Special Neapolitant patent" (stamp itself is barely readable but having compared similar looking instruments, that is the closest match).


Mandolin had two cracks on table which are now repaired, new tailpiece had to be fitted (original missing), tuners cleaned and lubed, frets and fretboard cleaned. Original finish has been maintained and only thin layer of Tru oil throughout was added for protection and to give it more gloss. Although usually I tend to remove old finish completely and do French polish I decided not to do this on this mandolin as it has different type of finish than other Italian mandolins. The bowl is actually covered with veneer which then had something applied to it to make it look more "milky" (some who saw restored de Meglio probably noticed that the bowl is much darker where finish was completely redone) so I wanted to retain original colors.

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Giuseppe Puglisi Reale & Figli

Antique Bowlback Mandolin
Catania
1915

Fashionable mandolin made by one of the best instrument makers in Catania Giuseppe Puglisi. This particular instrument has a label dated 1915.  Mandolin has 29 rosewood ribs, mother of pearl fretboard, beautiful butterfly scratch plate, sound hole and edging all inlaid with MOP

The instrument has been finished with shellac on bowl, neck and head plus sealed with Tru oil, table is finished with two thon coats of Tru oil. Soundboard has slight warps near soundhole, also because the table is quite thin it couldn't be sanded to remove old stains and marks (see photos)
Apart from beautiful look it also sounds very good, thanks thin soundboard it has richer and louder tone.

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A. Cappellani & C.

Antique Bowlback Mandolin
Catania
Circa early 20th century

Unique mandolin with exceptional ornate peacock inlaid with mother of pearl. Instrument has been finished with shellac and copal manila mixture to give it extra gloss.
New fretboard has been made as old one was beyond repair, it has modern narrow style frets which are very comfortable and do not cause intonation problems (like too high frets)
Apart from beautiful look it also sounds surprisingly good, see video below.


 

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Barazzi Piero

Antica e Premiata Fabrica di Instrumenti Musicali

Luino del Poppino, Lago Maggiore Italia

Circa early 20th century

 

Interesting Mandolin made by Piero Barazzi (on label second a in surname was changed to o but the reason for that is unknown) from Luino region which is very close to Switzerland's boarder so very far from main mandolin production cities like Naples and Catania. This definitely had an impact on it's more original look that combines Neapolitan style mandolin with some other features similar to Calace – round sound hole, plastic binding, extended fretboard and different shape of scratch plate.

Mandolin has been carefully restored to fully playable condition. The bowl and has been finished with French polish and table with Tru oil. Fretboard was cleaned and frets levelled, tuners cleaned, lubed and work very well. Scratch plate was missing some plastic inlay elements and a pearl imitation has been used instead.

I have decided to fit it with Nylgut strings (newly developed nylon strings by Aquila) for two reasons, first it is a lot kinder to the instrument of tht age as tension is much lower and second, as the action is usually higher in old bowl back mandolins it is a lot easier to play on nylgut strings because they are much softer, this is certainly an advantage for players who do not like fighting with high tension when playing.

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Barazzi 1

May Flower

Neapolitan style Bowl back mandolin made by Antone Valletti, Napoli for Harry J. Flower, a businessman from Chicago, an agent for May Flower brand distributed in U.S.A. (same person who was in business with Andrew Groehsl who is linked to origins of Kay instruments) In early 20th century. Luckily a copy of catalogue is available which helps estimating date of make. Closest match seems to be Style 6 Mandolin where Thos. M. Sims. On 18th June 1901 makes a comment on it – see PDF below for further details

 

Mandolin has been restored to playable condition and following work has been done: new Ebony fretboard and brass frets, new nut made of cattle bone, new bridge made of zabrano wood and cattle bone saddle (compensated for G and A strings), new tail piece, tuners cleaned and lubed – working excellent, whole body lightly sanded and refinished with Tru oil, finally – mandolin is fitted with new set of light Phosphor Bronze  stings (10-34)

Comfort of playing is easy and the mandolin is suitable to all levels of playing (action at 12th fret 2.5mm)

Instruments dimensions: Neck at nut 28mm and 38.5mm at 10th fret, Nut to 12th fret 164mm, Total length 59.5cm, Body width at cant 205mm

May Flower
May Flower
May Flower
May Flower
May Flower

Antique Italian Bowl backed Mandolin

Circa early 20th century

Unknown Maker

​​​

An antique Italian mandolin restored to fully playable condition. The Bowl is made of Rosewood, Soundboard is made of tight grained Spruce inlaid with Mop around the sound hole and beautiful scratch plate with image of Ponte di Rialto, Venezia.

Restoration included following work: Replacing frets with flat brass wire – levelling and crowning, repairing splits in the bowl, repairing one split in the soundboard (supported from inside), refinishing the body and neck throughout with Tru-oil (with prior sealing), repairing tuners – one gear and bolt had to be replaced, then cleaning and lubricating (though some pegs still turn little hard at some point), old nut replaced with new bone and also old bridge replaced with new ebony one.

Mandolin is fitted with Nylgut strings by Aquila which gives it a lot different sound than standard steel strings, also makes it a lot easier to play (action is just below 2mm at 12th fret on E and little higher on G for cleaner tone).

 

 

 

Approximate measurements are as follows: - total length 63cm - body width 19.5cm

- from nut to 12th fret 166mm (total scale length 332mm) - Neck width at nut is 28mm, at 9th fret 36.3mm

Nylon Strings Mandolin
Nylon Strings Mandolin
Nylon Strings Mandolin
Nylon Strings Mandolin
Nylon Strings Mandolin

Carlo Lorenzo Mandolin

(my fisrt restoration project)

Carlo Lorenzo, Stabilimento Musicali, Strada de Onorio, Napoli - a bowlback mandolin form around 1900's - because of it's rather simple built it was a great material for a first restoration project, as you see on first photos from the video the condition of this instrument was really bad with many cracks to the bowl but with a lot of hard work it's working again.

Italian Bowlback Mandolin

Restored unbranded bowlback mandolin. Piece being played on this instrument is an old Traditional Tarantella.

 

F.lli Ferrari & Co.

Fabrica e Deposito di Mandolini Napoli

Made in Italy

Fitted with Steel Strings
Fitted with Nylgut Strings

© 2014 - 2020 Lucas Sobieranski All Rights Reserved

Photo by Monika Karpiej, Manchester United Kingdom 2017

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