Old "Tater Bug" (Neapolitan Bowlback) Mandolin

Well, it may not be a great mandolin, but it sure looks cool ...
While shopping for new "cheapie" mandolins, I kept seeing these old Neapolitan Bowlback (aka "Tater Bug") mandolins.  When I saw this one going cheap, well, I just had to try it.
  One question I had was, why call it something icky, like "Tater Bug"?

One web site said that this was a deliberate effort by Gibson (who didn't make this style) to hurt the competition, that they were the first to suggest that this style resembled "potato bugs".

Here you see the basic distinction between a modern A-style mandolin (right) and the classic Neapolitan Bowlback (left).

No self-respecting Venetian gondolier would be caught dead with the one on the right.  On the other hand, what self-respecting bluegrass player would be seen with the one on the left?

(Well, okay, the bluegrass player would probably be playing a much nicer F-style, but you know what I mean!)

OK, so I knew this wasn't in the best of shape ...

For the price I paid ($37.50 plus $12.50 S&H, plus $7.85 to buy new strings, for a grand total of $57.85), I knew this wasn't going to be in great shape, but I was surprised to find it was impossible to play in tune, since the bridge appeared to be glued in place.  The frets on the fingerboard are laid out assuming a certain string length from nut to bridge, and the further I went down the fingerboard, the sharper the notes got.

That's when it hit me -- the bridge had not been intentionally glued in place, it had simply stuck to the instrument's finish.  As with the ultracheapie "Snowking" and the somewhat better "Infinity", it was actually moveable -- and was up waaaay too high!  I guess the previous owner had either been tone deaf or had set it up just for looks. 

But it was easy to pop the bridge loose and reposition it.  (In the first picture, you can still see a lighter horizontal line in the finish above the current bridge location)  Then, by cleaning the peg mechanism, putting on new strings, and repositioning the bridge by comparing the first harmonic to pressing the 12th fret*, it became somewhat playable.  It's every bit as stiff and hard on the fingers as the Infinity, though.  Oh, and the sound is pretty thin as well.  But it is playable, and it does look pretty cool ... 

* POSITIONING THE BRIDGE USING HARMONICS:  If you lightly touch a string near its exact center and pluck it, you get a note exactly one octave up from its fundamental.  This is the same note you should get while pressing the string at its 12th fret.  This is the method I used for determining when the bridge was correctly placed.

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