July 28, 2010 at 4:51 PM
It’s been a while since we’ve had a new one here. Four years, in fact, which was my new violin. This one came from my husband’s family, an inheritance of sorts. He told me about it, over the phone, from his family’s house in Claremont. When he brought it home the next day, in its odd, teardrop-shaped case, I couldn’t wait to see it.
I opened the case as if it were a treasure chest. Two things hit me: the dark, mysterious beauty of the mandolin, and the smell. Oh, the smell inside that case. It was foul—a toxic mustiness, moldy and obscure, like Cheetos meets old sneakers, or the wet towel in the gym bag that goes unnoticed for a week. Or the truffle I once bought in Italy, shocked by its horrible smell. Which, in turn, reminds me of the time I bought a bottle of fine red wine that had gone bad, where the taste was still quite good but the bouquet grew more unsavory by the hour. I told myself fine, don’t breathe in when you take your sip, but after a while I thought of how sad that was, how sniffing appreciatively is part of the experience. The savoring at all sensory levels. So it is with playing a musical instrument. (Would we still tolerate the violin, after all, if it weren’t such a pretty instrument, with such smooth curves and sumptuous tones, emitting that faint whiff of quality wood and pine rosin?)
I lifted out the mandolin, examined it and tuned it. I tried to pluck out one of my fiddle tunes, but the instrument felt foreign and ungainly in my hands, and there was that horrible smell wafting from it again. I set it right back down and tried to scrub the lingering smell off my hands. That was it for two weeks. Eventually I braved the bad smell once again and pulled the mandolin from its case. I bought it a little stand and now it’s sitting here with me in my office.
It’s a vintage instrument, a circa-1925 A-style Gibson mandolin. It’s far more pedigreed than my violin. It has history. It has been a part of my husband’s family all his life. (He said the case had that horrible smell back when HE was a kid. Hoo boy, that’s a smell that’s not going to come out.) The finish is dark, close enough to black that the wood looks almost like ebony. An ivory-colored binding around the body’s periphery resembles a purfling, and there is a double ring of actual purfling around the center hole. The body has a teardrop shape and the pegbox seems comically oversized, like those clowns wearing size 25 shoes. That said, the tuning pegs are mechanical and thus effortless to use. There are six pearl dots on the fingerboard whose significance I’ve yet to discover. A pick guard—another baffling feature and concept—is pinned into the fingerboard and screwed into the side of the instrument.
I want to do this instrument some justice, if only in picking it up from time to time and strumming it. Tuned like a violin, with frets to help me find my way on an unfamiliar neck—why wouldn’t I want to try? And yet it feels so impossibly odd and heavy in my hands (not to mention the lingering smell I hope will dissipate with time). So, I turn to this community for help. Anyone out there play both mandolin and violin? What do I do with this thing?
Care and feeding instructions, please?
© 2010 Terez Rose
I don't play mandy. I tried a Gibson once, but the strings felt really high off the fingerboard, unyielding and stiff in the left hand, so I never got into it. Maybe someone else knows how to de-stink a mandy...
I would pitch the case. If it has smelled that bad for that long, there's probably no salvaging it.
Guido has "Old Violin Smell." (Smiley face here)
>Guido has "Old Violin Smell."
Was that off-putting at all, when you were shopping for violins? Guess when it's love, it's love, regardless of smells. (One invariably argues the same point when one chooses a spouse...)
Yup, the case is now in the garage, with a dollop of Febreeze sprayed in (and to be sprayed regularly and kept in the garage). It's the original case so we dare not toss it, but I'm certainly going to splurge on a new one for regular use. Although it sounds like a mandolin can be kept out of its case, on a stand. Or maybe that was just one person's opinion that I happened to read. If anyone believes otherwise, let me know!
Guido's Old Violin Smell can be experienced if you put your nose next to an F-Hole and take a sniff. So, no, it's not strong, or off-putting.
I doubt Febreeze is going to get rid of many decades of rank case stink. Charcoal or baking soda are great for absorbing odors. Febreeze will only cover it up for a little while.
How much sentimental value does the case have? Because most old cases aren't worth many rubles, especially stinky ones. (Smile) It might not be worth the effort...
If you haven't played a steel string instrument before, it might take awhile to build some calluses up and it might decrease your sensitivity on violin. Should be fun to play around on, tho.
Gibsons are quality, and some of the older models are quite valuable. The case and anything else contemporaneous with it could increase value to a collector substantially, even if annoying to non-collector. You might want to have it appraised before carting it around town- here's a link to Gruhn's, one of the leading sellers of vintage instruments in Nashville. Check out the mandolins in the "Inventory" tab.
How interesting. Time for you to get interested in klezmer. A mandolin can come in handy for that sort of music. You should consider taking a few lessons just to learn more about how to play it.
>Gibsons are quality, and some of the older models are quite valuable. The case and anything else contemporaneous with it could increase value to a collector substantially, even if annoying to non-collector.
Sorry, Anne - I'm deferring to Tom Bop's opinion here (which is also my hub and his siblings' opinion, as they think it might have some significant value. For a mandolin, that is. Not for us sticker-shocked violin folk).
Tom H - ah. The only flaw in your design is time. The time I don't have to put the proper amount into my poor violin practice. (We won't even discuss time to clean house, do laundry, pay bills. I just skip those.) But, time aside, sounds like a plan! ; )
Oh, and Tom B, thanks for the comments, suggestions and link. Will go check out the site.
"...might have some significant value. For a mandolin, that is. Not for us sticker-shocked violin folk"
nada. I hope you have to eat your words (haha)- some of these older Gibsons will give a violin a good run for its money. Might be Antiques Roadshow material. There was a noted luthier at Gibson making violins in the '20's, and if it's one of his could be valuable. Good luck!
I love Antiques Roadshow - so much fun to watch the ones that win big. My husband got a few other knick-knacky things from his parents' estate that we joked might be one of those Antique Roadshow winners. Actually, I hope the mandolin's not too much of a winner, b/c then my husband's four siblings will come at us and demand its return and/or compensation and oh, the fun will start then. : /
Fine, I will defer to Tom. I had no idea old mandy cases, eeky and reeky or not, were worth anything. I've had plenty of occasions where a violin shop will ship and sell a decent violin in an ancient banger case (but not eeky and reeky) to toss and replace with a decent safe case. And a case with New Violin Case Smell, to boot. So those experiences were why I made my incorrect assumptions.
Maybe if the mandy with stinky case is worth a good amount, you could swap it for a Vuillaume...
>I had no idea old mandy cases, eeky and reeky or not, were worth anything.
Only if this eek and reek case was its original and forever home, thus functioning as an original set to collectors. Which means, quite possibly, we're talking a 1920's eek/reek as well, which will surely bring up the value even higher. ; )
>Maybe if the mandy with stinky case is worth a good amount, you could swap it for a Vuillaume.
Now we're singing my song!
In the vintage guitar/banjo/mandolin market, old cases and anything else original with the instrument are highly sought after and serve as provenance in a way. Most decent instruments came with a case made for that instrument.
Of course, that's not generally true with violins; the couple times I've bought violins in older cases I couldn't wait to ditch them. They were nothing special, though, just old generic cases that didn't protect at all by today's standards and smelled funny....
My mando is hanging on the wall, and I have a soft backpack case that works just fine. So different from a violin, which really needs much more protection! I find it to be an entirely different animal, despite being strung the same way!
Tom B, thanks for your continued comments - I'll be bringing it in next week to the music store where I take my violin lesson. They're big on vintage guitars there; they sounded eager to see the mandolin and help me clean it up (seriously in need of restringing, for starters). And I will be sure to bring in stinky case as well (but I'm not putting the instrument back in; I'll carry it!).
Laurie - I was reassured by this comment:
My mando is hanging on the wall, and I have a soft backpack case that works just fine. So different from a violin, which really needs much more protection!
Good to know it can "hang out" while in the home. I rather like seeing it here, like an odd piece of artwork, on its stand in the corner on a desk. I'd rather not enclose it back in a case.
What about Nature's Miracle? It's marketed more for cat pee, but it works on that . . .
> What about Nature's Miracle? It's marketed more for cat pee, but it works on that . . .
I've never heard of this product before. Googled it and read this:
Dogs, Cats, Small Animals, Share your experience & help fellow pet owners decide .
Now I have this mental image of a bunch of dogs, cats and small animals shuffling up to the keyboard to tap out their personal experiences. : )
Seriously, tho, thanks for the tip, and I'll ask about its safety on the old case at the music store.
I used to own a beautiful potato backed mandolin which my grandmother brought with her from the Old Country. One day I opened the case and found that it had shattered to smithereens. I cried a lot. Years later I bought a newer mandolin, Harmony model, and played around with it for a while. Then I upgraded to a cheap Gibson A-type in good condition. I took a brief class in Mandolin for Violin Players given by Paul Orts, and it helped. Taking a few lessons or hanging out at jam sessions and having people show you how to play it are two good ways to learn. (Personally, I favor the latter.) I never developed much skill with my mandolin. I use it to learn chords by feel, and now I play a lot of double stops when I jam on my fiddle. I also use it to learn new songs from recordings. The violin is often too loud for that. Sometimes I just sit with my mandolin on its strap around my neck while I'm at my desk working. Since I almost always have music playing while I work, I can strum along whenever the Spirit moves me. That does not make my work go faster, but it does make me happier while I work. Have fun with your new instrument. You'll get the feel of it easily. Let us know about your progress.
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