7/16/2017

1910s Larson-made Ditson Victory Bowlback Mandolin





I've worked on a lot of Larson-made bowlbacks and 3 or 4 of them have been Ditson-branded products like this one. Ditson seemed to use the "Empire" and "Victory" model names interchangeably for their bowlback line as the decorative touches seem to not have any specific relevance. There are Empire models that are fancier than Victory ones and vice-versa. Either way, these instruments have many-ribbed, rosewood-bowled bodies and high-quality fittings, workmanship, and bling. I've pretty-much stopped buying any bowlbacks for my own sales other than Larson and Vega products as I think they're the cream of the American bowlback crop.

This one is a customer's instrument, however, and was in for repair. It came in beautiful condition, but did need its frets addressed. The fretboard extension was ski-jumping past the neck joint and my original plan was to pull the frets, plane the board, and refret it. This turned-out to be hazardous, however, as the board is completely-dried-out, mealy, chip-prone ebonized maple.

My new plan involved removing the binding, cutting the board at the neck joint, removing the single fret (it's bar stock, too), and then removing the extension so I could shave it down and reglue it in the same plane as the board on the neck. The binding went back on, the fret went back in, I patched the chipped-out mealy board, the frets got a level/dress, the bridge got a reshaped "saddle" area with proper compensation, and it got a setup. It's playing perfectly with a straight neck, 1/16" action at the 12th fret, and is strung with 30w, 20w, 13, 9 strings (similar to the GHS A240 set). Tone is full, precise, robust, and rich -- just as expected!


This instrument's multicolored purflings still show a lot of their original, brightly-dyed colors. It also has no cracks and is in incredibly good shape, finish-wise and structurally.


The headstock has a rosewood veneer and the mahogany neck is black-finished. The recessed tuners got a lube and are now working a lot better. The nut is original and bone.


Thick, luxurious binding and fancy purfling is something the Larsons did very well. While these original frets are quite low (this is how they came from the factory), they do make sliding, violin-like tremolo effects easy.



The ebonized-maple bridge wasn't compensated to begin with and had a celluloid-insert saddle as well. I had to cut it down a little, so the saddle disappeared. After that I added compensated slots like on a modern mandolin bridge.

Note that the Larsons (like Vega) positioned their bridges below the cant in the top. This places them on the less-stiff portion of the top and seems to improve tone compared to other makes that have the bridge 1/4" forward on the upper part of the soundboard.


While you can't see it, I always stuff muting foam under the tailpiece cover to cut down on overtones.



That's a pretty pile of Brazilian rosewood, isn't it?


I love seeing the engraved tuner covers on these old bowlbacks. Note the cool "volute" at the back of the neck.






It has the usual Larson (meaningless?) serial number stamp on the below-fingerboard brace.

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