The Florentine Mandolin

by admin on November 2, 2010

Hi! Hello again and this episode I want to talk about a question that I get asked a lot and has to do with the shape of this Mandolin I’m playing and very often I’ll be playing somewhere and somebody will come up to me afterward and very politely asked:
“Excuse me… But what is that instrument that you’re playing?”
And I’ll tell them:
“Well it’s in fact a Mandolin”
Because they’ll guess it’s a… You know they’ll say:
“Is that a Banjo?”
“Is that a Ukulele?”
And I said No it really is a Mandolin and very often they look at me and disbelief. And they something like:
“Whoa! My grandfather had a Mandolin and it was round and it had a big round back. And it would kind of slide off my lap when I tried and play it.”
And I’d say:
“Well, that is indeed a Mandolin. But that’s a type of Mandolin called a Neapolitan Mandolin or Bowlback or Tater Bug.”
And… Well, the very sweet sounding there. They’re not really the modern style that most contemporary players used. Most players, at least modern Mandolin players in the U.S. are using these types of Mandolins which are… This is called an F-Model, and the shape is… in Florentine which was the style that gives in depth when this particular body shape came about. And actually this… And people are very surprised to find out that this shape in this Mandolin. This style of Mandolin is been around about a hundred years… and was pioneered by Orville Gibson of the Gibson Mandolin Guitar company in the late 1890s. And he was the first company… And he wasn’t such a luthier himself but he was kind of a visionary and he’s Mandolins were built on violin principles. In a carved top and a carved back and its original once had an oval soundhole and were somewhat a teardrop shape. That’s called, what we call now the A-Style Mandolin. But shortly after… He came up with this A-Style Mandolin which usually had a nice scallop in lay pick guard. He came up with a shape that was rather unique, it was the F-Model the Florentine and the original Florentine Model Mandolin actually was called the three point. It had a… It had a stylized scroll up here and kind of mimicking a violin scroll. You’ll see on the head stop but it was strictly decorative… And then a point here… Just you know for ornamentation and also a nice scoop for… When your hand goes up the neck… In kind of rest your hand against it while you’re… You know playing the upper registers.
And then a second point which is kind of nice to rest against your thigh when you’re playing it. Sort of like a little… Sort of like a little… Almost a foot or a stand for to… You know to stabilize the body of the man while you’re sitting down with it. And… But that’s not all… They, they really gives an F-Model s had a third point right behind the scroll and it kind of elongated the body slightly.
Now I’ve heard a few that sound really really good. But along this three point Mandolins are actually very thin sounding. There’s just something about that extra point that makes the body kind of stiff in the sides and kind of clumped with top in the back to a point where… They don’t rest in a quite as nicely. Well, somewhere around 1911 the third point was deleted and we ended up with the shape that we have today. But some other changes when the all thing… The Gibson Mandolins have the 1910 to about 1920 period have this shape. But they had an oval soundhole which gives them a very different sound in the F-Holes in this brightly Mandolin has. So, they actually a pretty successful. There was a huge Mandolin boom during the teens and then were one years… And Mandolin orchestra just bringing up all over the country and if you have an extra few dollars to spend you could upgrade yourself to a really nice F-Model. And which was there the top of the line at the time was the F-4 which I’ll be demonstrating on in some point during my vintage series. But the F-4 was had a nice cherry red sunburst and a big double flower pop and a head stock binding everywhere in the inlay tuners and was quite a striking instrument. A great many of them survived because they were very well built. But that was their top of the line instrument, and back then I believe they cost about a $185 and compared to about $60 for their standard A–Model.
Anyway, about 1921 their man was hired by the Gibson Company to kind of oversee their Mandolin line and he was an acoustic engineer named Lloyd Loar and he and another engineer there named Guy Heart devised the F5 Mandolin. Which was the first Mandolin to be made in larger numbers that had F-Holes on the top like a Violin red and oval soundhole, and… This was intended to become the ultimate Mandolin! That Mandolin that you know… Would really be like the instrument among the Mandolin orchestra. You know, it was designed to really have a… Just a very very loud percussive and yet a sweet sound of little volume… But also have had a lot of power to cut through other instruments, and so the F5 became like the gold standard. Unfortunately it came along at the time when Mandolins were dying out as far of popularity. So, it wasn’t considered very much in success that time they were made. The Gibson to make these Mandolins in and… You know they… They weren’t a total failure but at the same time they were not the growing success that the Mandolins of 10 years previously did. But anyway, the shape is what I’m getting into here.
The F-style shape was originated for over 100 years ago and still in deer us today as pretty much the out standard body style you see on the most upper end contemporary Mandolins, the F-style Mandolin. And this particular instrument is like F7 from 1937th and I’ll play a little something on it and I’ll see you on the next episode of Acoustic Snapshots.


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