I thought Frank's article on the repair of the top sink on a Gibson K-2 mandocello was certainly up there with his usual level of excellence in wizardry. Of course it would be fun reading for most folks (I posit) but for myself, the owner of a 1936 K-1 with the same problem, it was a really interesting piece.
My K-1 is not as serious as the one in the repair article.
On my K-1 when I remove the tension of the D'Addario J78's the top returns to its normal convex contour viewed from the outside. In fact, if I tighten the strings just enough to secure the bridge in place in looks perfect (pic attached).
So, I thinking. I should be able "just" to remove the back plate (like Frank did) and then shore up the top with a new transverse brace under the bridge like he did? There a no end block or neck block issues with mine and I would not have to to the plaster of Paris mold and reshaping the top. So a much smaller scale project I think.
But. And here is my REAL question. By putting a new brace under the bridge, Frank altered the original Gibson design -- of course he HAD to as the original design had proven inadequate.
But if you are going to change it anyway what do folks on this forum think about just X-bracing the top? Maybe even adding X-braces and taking out the original transverse brace? Thoughts pros or con?
I am thinking the X-bracing might make less change to the tone/volume of the mandocello then the extra transverse brace under the bridge. Just a "gut" feeling....1936 Gibson K-1
My knee jerk reaction is that it's is a very large change to the fundamental design of what appears to be a very nice ( aka collectible ) mandocello. I understand that you are already contemplating a shift away from originality but, IMHO, it's not as radical as installing an X brace.
My concern is for the value of the instrument. I am actually in the midst of converting a (low end) old parlor guitar to an X brace but I really don't need to worry much about resale on the instrument in question. In my case, just fixing it will make it worth more than it was before I made the changes. I do not think this thinking applies to your, obviously, very nice mando. I believe your question is really about a conversion when I think your need is for repair.
In the end, it's your instrument but if it were mine, I do not think I would make so radical a change.
Thanks for the thoughts Ned -- much appreciated.
I see this as a kind of "no win" situation. Clearly, doing nothing is not a viable choice because left un-repaired & under the tension from a set of J78's (a bit over 2X the total tension on a 6-string guitar) it will continue to degrade -- this we know from experience.
This logically this means something has to be done if the instrument is to be played. But anything that is done will destroy the originality. This m'cello is not rare enough to be a museum piece -- but its pretty rare since Gibson totally stopped making them in 1940. As well, being a '30's instrument it has a truss rod so the neck is slim, like a guitar. I've never seen another Gibson mandocello with a truss -- but there are a few more out there for sure - but probably very few as I doubt they made but a handful after about 1930 or so.
My logic, and it certainly may be faulty, is that X-bracing might make less impact on the sound then the one Frank went with (mind you, in no way do I compare myself with him). I base this conjecture on having had the chance to play -- back to back -- two Flatiron F-5 mandolins -- one with X-bracing and the other with tone bars. These were in the Famous Old Time Music Center in Cincinnati maybe 25 years ago. The were both there for a few weeks so I played them every time I went in. I really could not see much difference.
Now I do know many claim they can pick out tonal difference in a lot of things --including bracing -- and it could be they can. Be interesting to put to the test a double-blind situation! (LOL!!).
Who knows maybe I am out to lunch here but I wonder -- if you told the buyer we had to fix it because the top was collapsing -- would they care one way or the other how you fixed it? I really don't know I'm asking out of ignorance. Maybe X-bracing would not solve the cave in problem?
As to whether either fix have a big influence on the sound? Again I have no clue. I do know I have to do something. I'm probably not too worried about resale - my estate can deal with that!! LOLl! I bought it in 1972 for $250! (<:
From what I've seen your mandocello is VERY nice. It might not be museum quality... now but it is a nice example of an instrument that is fairly rare in the family.
One aspect of my repairs I usually try hard to observe is "reversibility". The X brace may work but it will not be so easily reversable as the additional brace should someone care more about originality than playability. Another thing to consider is that in my thinking, being able to point to Frank's website to support the addition of a second brace would lend a very large amount of credibility to that repair track with anyone that questioned it.
Hopefully someone with experience making X braced mandolins will kick in and give us some opinions about this too. I just don't know that much about them in archtop instruments. I know that it is a fairly standard technique used on archtop guitars but I haven't worked on any of them.
In the end it's your instrument and your choice.
Well I will just chime in here to let anyone that is interested know. I myself install x braces in my Mandolins and it has been said that it makes the Madolin sound a lot better than strait braces besids in IMO it makes the top stronger . I would not think twice about changing the braces if it is unplayable now. but then it's not my Insterument. so i guess it's up to you Bernie. Bill...............
Just as a matter of personal interest, do you graduate the top any differently for an X brace than you would for a straight brace?
Yes I do Ned I graduate the top in a T. cross shape so you have more wood down the center and across were the bridge sits.But other than that the rest of the top is graduated as usual. And when I carve the x braces I scalp them so they are higher at the x as well as were the bridge sits then taper off to the end. And that is how Bernie should do his x braceing. I Hope this is some help to someone
I've wondered about that but never thought to ask anyone. I've only carved a couple of tops so I'm hardly heavy with experience in graduating the arch. How do you place the X in the body. Is it positioned so that the ends of the bridge ride on the lower legs of the X ?
You got it Ned.Bill..............
Thanks for "chiming" in Bill! (<: Good to hear the view of someone who uses X-bracing. I discussed this mandocello when I brought it over to Will Kimble's shop one day. He kind of started off with the traditional view that the only really solution was to carve a new top. And that's the correct approach for sure. Now if I could get someone like Will to carve a new top......but he has lots of folks wanting a new Kimble mandolin...so he does not have time for repair work. But after he thought about it for a while and looked it over he did venture that X-bracing might be one alternative. On that particular day I was not yet aware of Frank Ford's approach. Yesterday as luck would have it I did make "contact" the person who owns the very K-2 that Frank fixed-- and there are a couple of videos of it on the chowleroo channel on YouTube. I think it sounds pretty good -- Frank knows what he is doing (no surprise there).
But you are right I have to make a decision and I will do something because if I don't it will just continue to degrade. That skimpy brace was probably the biggest "fault" in the Gibson oval mandolin family. Heck, even some of the mandolin tops have collapsed and with a mandocello the expanse of spruce and the string pressure are a failure waiting to happen. Amazingly you do find some OK after nearly 100 years. I have an 88-year old F-4 with a perfect top (knock on wood! LOL). I have to wonder is it the carving? Or is it simply that one piece of spruce that is stronger than average? Would close grain be stronger than wide grain for example? Red spruce stronger than another species?
Thanks again for the comments -- and indeed someone did chime in on X-bracing. I appreciate the thoughts of others on this restoration. On the repair if you ever did reverse it you would have to go with a new top anyway so I don't think how this repair is done would matter as much?
It seems clear with this particular top board that the original Gibson single transverse brace will not support a set of mandocello strings. So the real fix (what Gibson would do) is a new top but that is a lot bigger undertaking -- and in the end you don't have the original instrument anymore either.
I wonder if there is a way to "strengthen" a piece of wood? I am aware of the wood hardeners that are used to shore up weak wood around window sills -- they seem to work in that application. But once you do that you don't really have "wood" anymore -- it impregnated wood -- and I'd hate to venture a guess on how that might sound. But then consider carbon fiber topped instruments -- they sound awesome. Still a lot of unknowns.....
Bernie, I would do the absolute simplest thing possible, and get the axe up and running again. Forget the X brace, forget retopping (with how beautiful your axe is, I would not do it in a hundred years) just do what Frank did . My opinion anyway...