Bruno Mandocello | From the Top Shelf | Scott Freilich

Bruno | Mandocello | SN:unknown

Stahl | Mandobass | 1912 | SN:unknown

Luthier Scott Freilich has been owner of Top Shelf Music since its inception. Scott currently authors the monthly “Oddballs” column for 20th Century Guitar magazine and is a past member of the price guide staff for “Vintage Guitar “magazine. He has contributed to such books Epiphone, The House of Stathopoulo, Washburn, 100 Years of Fine Stringed Instruments and ‘Burst 1958-’60 Sunburst Les Paul. Scott trained at Gibson’s old Kalamazoo plant, and his clients have included the Goo Goo Dolls, The Black Crows, Ani Di Franco, 10,000 Maniacs and Melissa Ethridge. He is also a member of The Buffalo Musician’s Hall Of Fame and an active bassist currently performing with the jazzabilly group The Headers.Scott is now a regular contributor to guitarbench and will be authoring a monthly column on pawn shop finds.

Stahl | Mandobass | 1912 |  SN:unknown

Carl and August Larson were an odd couple of luthiers. They toiled away in anonymity for their entire careers, never once applying their names to an instrument constructed in their shop. Much of their production was sold under the Maurer, Euphenon, Dyre, and Prairie State names, though it was well know that they produced some instruments under other monikers including Stahl, and Stetson. This creates some problems in definitively identifying who actually made some of these instruments, as not all of them were made by the Larsons.

Bob Hartman, a grandson of Carl Larson, has done extensive research and written 3 books on the instruments. Each successive book corrects misinformation found in the previous addition and adds additional information and intrigue to the legacy left by one of the most creative manufacturers of stringed instruments in the early 20th Century.

“a mandolin is basically a violin pitched instrument with frets”

Here we have a Bruno labeled mandocello. According to the latest edition of  “The Larson’s Creations, Guitars and Mandolins in America”, Hartman has deduced through research that the Larsons produced some Bruno instruments. Bruno was a name used on instruments sold by C. Bruno and Son, a large distributor of all kinds of musical instruments and related products.

According to Hartman, this is the only mandocello of it’s kind to ever surface, and it compliments perfectly 3 similar Bruno labeled instruments that recently surfaced; 2 mandolins and a mandola. While it shares some construction features with other Larson made instruments that I’ve owned over the years, in many ways it is very different. Since it may be the only one of it’s type, I guess that is not unusual. It was well know that the Larsons produced quite a few custom instruments, including 1 for Les Paul that had no sound holes.

Stahl | Mandobass | 1912 | SN:unknown

Everything about this mandocello is unusual. While it is similar in size and shape to a Gibson K-4 mandocello, in terms of materials, construction, and tone it might as well be from a different planet.

The Larsons perfected a construction technique they termed “built under tension”. All of their instruments featured this type of construction. All Larson instruments have slightly arched tops and backs. Unlike Gibson’s carved or other companies’ steam bent tops and backs, the arch was created by forcing the tops and backs to be glued against curved braces.

This created an instrument that held up much better against the tension produced by steel strings. In fact, Larson flat tops were among the first to be issued for use with steel strings. This mandocello has a built under tension spruce top, beautiful Brazilian rosewood sides, and a built under tension rosewood back. By comparison, a Gibson K-4 had a carved maple or birch back, birch sides, and a carved spruce top. Sonically, they are nothing alike. The Bruno has a soft, warm, woody tone, while a K-4 has the loud lower midrange bark of an archtop guitar.

Bruno sourced items for distribution from many manufacturers. It has been widely rumored, but often refuted, that Martin made some instruments for them. I have owned several Bruno labeled instruments that were made by Oscar Schmidt, some of which had Bruno labels pasted directly over the original Stella / Oscar Schmidt labels. Bruno must have turned to the Larsons for their higher end items, as all of the Bruno labeled instruments that appear in Hartman’s book are high quality instruments. All in all a great instrument, and an amazing pawnshop find.

That’s about all for this month’s Pawn Shop Find. I welcome any questions or comments.

Stahl | Mandobass | 1912 |  SN:unknown

Scott Freilich

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