Stahl Mandobass | From the Top Shelf | Scott Freilich

Stahl | Mandobass | 1912 | 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:unknownBack in the day, and the day I am referring to was sometime in the early 20th Century, musical instruments were often sold by the music teachers who played them. In fact, manufacturers like Gibson would not even set you up as a dealer unless you taught the instrument you were selling. Gibson also sold their own lesson books to help teachers set up programs, and no doubt to add to their own bottom line. Different eras of the century saw the rise and fall of different classes of instruments. Right now, the guitar reigns supreme, but it wasn’t always that way.

In the earliest part of the 20th Century, the most popular instrument in the US was the mandolin. My best guess is that the European immigrants who made up the bulk of our population brought mandolins with them, as most of the mandolins made in the US in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries resembled their European counterparts. In order to keep their students motivated and create additional interest in playing instruments, motivated music teachers would set up orchestras made up of their students.

Obviously an orchestra made up exclusively of mandolinists would lack fullness, so mandolin manufacturers followed the example of violin makers and designed mandolin style instruments to cover the same range of tones as the comparable violin family instrument. After all, a mandolin is basically a violin pitched instrument with frets. Why not make a mandola to cover the viola range and a mandobass to cover the bottom end? Presto, you have a mandolin orchestra.

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

Here we have a Stahl mandobass. Made by the Larson Bros. sometime around 1912, it was designed hold the bass position in the mandolin orchestra. With a body wider than a ¾ size upright bass and a 42.5” scale length, this thing is a monster. I can’t even imagine how big the trees needed to be to supply the spruce top.

While the body looks like rosewood, it actually is maple with a faux finish made to look like rosewood. This was not uncommon on instruments made in the early part of the 20th Century, and was very common on Stahl labeled Larson instruments..

While mandolins, mandolas, and mandocellos work quite well, I have yet to find any mandobass that lives up to my expectations. The Stahl is no exception. One would think that an instrument of this size would produce bass notes that would drown out every other instrument in the orchestra.

But that is not the case. No matter how hard it is plucked, the volume is unimpressive and the tone lacks bass response. Not at all a great instruments, but an interesting piece of history and definitely a great 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 guitars@topshelfmusic.com
©2009

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Photos ©2009 Scott Freilich.

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