As with any repair the process starts with the general assessment of the instrument what we are dealing with, what is general condition, what are the problems in need of medication, what is the value and the originality of the instrument. This piece was bought by my customer on eBay, missing all of its original appliances such as tuners, tailpiece, bridge so there were already originality issues of the instrument. Further problems were: some self-appointed luthier touches trying to nail on the separated back onto the sides, so there were some nail-holes and crushing to deal with, separated joint on the back , missing bindings, broken-off fingerboard end, cracked fingerboard, white fungus in the varnish as presumable this mandolin was kept in a wet basement for many years. The main objective was to restore the mandolin as close to its original form as possible. Based on the serial number the mandolin could be dated to mid-1910s.
As there were no major structural problems I decided to remove only the back. This gave me the possibility for easy access to the separated back joint and the opportunity to clamp is easily back. From a personal perspective I examined the structure of the instrument, how was it built, what are the inner dimensions. Measured top and back thicknesses, noted the extremely thick sides (nearly 4mm thickness, one must wonder how did they bend it… and not even properly sanded, sawmarks still inside the sides) As there was layers of dirt and dust deposited inside the mandolin after the removal of the back it possible to properly clean it carefully preserving the original label. With the agreement of the customer I removed the uneven inside carving of the top and the back, here the main objective was not to thin the tops but rather to create and even surface as the original carving was rather rudimentary. At that stage -as the back has been separated from the sides for a maybe period of time possibly as it was shrunk maybe shorty after it was newly assembled and would not fit back to sides which were too long- I had to decide to partially disassemble half of the sides from the top and end block and cut slightly shorter, there was no other way to glue back the back flush to the sides and this was the best way to remove any unnecessary tension from the instrument. As the top binding was not in the great shape either and there were some noticeable shrinking issues with the top too, this was the best solution. The strap button inlay was also damaged and partly missing so after gluing back the sides only the end block it was also replaced. Missing lining blocks were replaced before the back was glued back. The nail holes were as precisely filled as possible but unfortunately as there was some crushing and rot around the holes without creating even bigger holes the only solution was to use some wax filling. It was not easy to source imitation aged yellowed celluloid bindings, but finally after several runs I managed to get a convincing colour match completing the body repair.
There was a bigger issue with the fingerboard with a long crack lengthwise and broken off end. The decision was to replace the fingerboard. Establishing the original scale length was rather problematic as whilst it was close to what it supposed to be still it was not an exact match to any imperial or metric scale. I decided to use what the literature attributes to these instruments as it was close indeed reasoning the difference to maybe different fret calculating methods at the time as they try to divide the full scale including some compensation…. The old baked maple fingerboard was removed and a pre-slotted, pre-bound ebony fingerboard was precisely glued on. It was followed by fretting.
The mandolin was ready to have its lacquer repaired. It was previously established that it had a rather cheap shellac finish (also hide glue was used to assemble so it was followed during the repair process) I tried to keep the original varnish trying to cut carefully back the fungi/mould infested areas. It looked promising at the beginning seemingly disappearing after a light sanding so I applied a clear shellac coat, restored all the missing colours where it was needed (brush retouch) and French polished on top. Unfortunately after a couple of days the white mould was reappearing, I tried different fungal treatment I could think of, but none of them worked, the shellac on top was affected. Unfortunately there was not way -or rather any reasonable way within budget- to keep the original finish and I had no other option than cut back the original shellac coat, luckily the base colour was intact and could be saved. After these failures with the agreement of the customer it was nitrocellulose lacquer used to replace the original varnish. (in case of a higher value instrument or without the instructions and consultation with owner of the instrument I would never do such treatment but in this case this was a reasonable solution)
High quality replica tuners were sourced, a new ebony bridge identical to the original was made and fitted and after some research I was able to source a replica tailpiece with the original engravings. The request of the customer was not to fit a fingerrest. Finally an old mandolin was brought to playable condition, maybe it was not even the case when it was first made hundred years ago. Finally it was properly measured and documented, and a happy owner enjoys the truly amazing sound it produces.