Post Number: 3
|Posted on Monday, September 05, 2011 - 12:34 pm: |
Well the time has come to pass a treasured instrument to a new owner. This is a one of a kind Stars Guitars electric Mandocello. I purchased the instrument in 1997 from an individual who had picked it up in Tokyo around 1980.
First about the construction - One look at the crafting, styling and woodwork of the instrument reveals its relation to the Alembic luthier techniques. The body is a three layer lamination with a very figured bookmatched walnut top. The main body appears to be a figured mahogany and sandwiched layer is likely a light colored maple.
The neck which passes completely though the body is comprised of 5 different woods likely maple / unknown / purple heart / unknown / maple). Two additional layers are added once the neck enters the body. The neck is substantial. Not a baseball bat, but far from a slim profile.
The headstock construction is incredible. 7 different layers interface on the back of the neck and 3 on the top. (See photos as it is really difficult to describe!) The original Stars Guitars nameplate is still intact and the serial number is embossed on the headstock tip. The tuners are mini Schallers with the pearl like knobs.
The fretboard is ebony and has pearl dot inlays with dots also on the side. The nut is brass (which I believe is original). I also have a bone nut that was made for the instrument.
At some point, a different tailpiece and bridge were made for the instrument and the originals were replaced. As you can see in the photos, the custom bridge is multi-laminated wood and looks very good with the instrument. The tailpiece is a little cheesy as it is just an aluminum angle. I had always planned on getting a new tailpiece made, but too many projects and not enough time! There are a few holes that were filled on the body. It is unclear whether they were from the original tailpiece or strap buttons. Either way they were done professionally, don't affect the instrument and aren't noticeable without close inspection.
The electronics are as follows: Pickup is a Bill Lawrence L500. The active electronics is a Bartolini TBT active bass and treble preamp. The volume knob can be pulled outwards to split the pickup to single coil mode. This provides a means for getting a very wide variety of tones. From more acoustic sounding with the single coil setup to almost synth-like sounds from the full pickup output when the gain is cranked. Cool!
Overall the condition of the mandocello is really good. The neck and body are in great shape. A few scratches and dings that you'd expect from an instrument of this age. There is no hard case, but I will include a gig bag for protection.
So officially this is a mandocello, but I often tuned it as a mandola since I am a guitarist who cheated and never learned much of the mandocello tuning. Either way you can get sounds from this instrument that I haven't been able to recreate.
Over the years I spent a lot of time trying to learn the history of this incredible instrument. eMando has a small section on this instrument. The photo was actually one from the previous owner (http://emando.com/builders_inactive/StarsGuitars.htm) Early last year, by complete chance I finally stumbled across the information I had been seeking for so long. After seeing references to on his site, I contacted Brandt Larsen of Machashaifeh Guitars and learned the following!
"...your mandocello was built at Stars Guitars in 1979-80, it was one of four built to send to Japan. James Verhoeff and I, Brandt Larsen built all the new design instruments at stars. James is now deceased, but we both had previously worked at Alembic in Cotati ca. Your instrument originally had no pick guard and had a "star drive active bass and treble circuit with a DeMarzio single pickup. I think we used New Guinea walnut on the tops, it had a tung oil varathane finish. We built many electric mandolins as well, some 4,5, and 8 string models, but mostly built long scale basses and guitars. As far as I can remember we only built 5 mandocellos, one was for a collector, the other 4 (yours being one of them) were for sale."
Wow, after all these years, the dots were finally connected. My hope is that someone out there will enjoy this instrument as much as I have and that the history of it will never fade again.
Tons of photos here: http://photobucket.com/starsguitarsmando