Confessions of the Mandolin obsessed

Restorative Mandolin Fever

By Annette Siegel

Mandolin_groupIt all started back in January of 2011. Trying to stave off the after Christmas/Holiday blues I felt compelled to look inside the little mandolin case my husband had around the shop for many years. There was a cute little “bowl back” mandolin called a Giuseppe Pettine Special made by Vega that I thought of as a “she.” So very cute and such a beautiful sound…the only argument, her bowl back was difficult to keep on my lap. It got me thinking about adding a different voice to the music I was playing. So I dived into the Internet world looking for and discovering other mandolins. I found out that these round backs were called “tater bugs” have a European heritage and are generally more suited to classical playing. Also found out about the golden age of mandolin building/making in the early 1900s here in the US. Gibson was at the forefront of this, bringing the “F” shape to the mandolin that most people would recognize today, especially if you’ve attended a bluegrass festival or seen the latest Geico commercial. There is also an “A” shape that is round, but not the “bowl back.”

In further pursuit of mandolins, my husband Nowell and I made a couple day trips to look at the local and not so local music stores. We had not much success until we got to McCabe’s Guitar Shop and that is when I fell in love and I fell hard.

She was a little old Gibson F2…her sound was so warm and wonderful…(sigh) the only problem was her price tag of $5000.

Pettine_special_pegheadWell not one to be deterred from a goal, I started a journey that has turned into a bit of an obsession to find a Gibson F2 project. (It does help that my husband Nowell is a Luthier).

Finally, I found the Mandolin Café, which is THE site for everything to do with the mandolin. I placed an ad in the classifieds, asking if anyone had an old F2 that needed some work – and it wasn’t long before I received a reply from a luthier in New York. He had one and it had been around the shop for a while. He was willing to sell. Checking with Nowell to see if he thought it would be the one to restore, and after receiving his blessings, I struck a deal and arranged to get it shipped out. After extensive restoration that F2 is now a fully restored and functioning instrument that is a joy to play.

And so began my journey looking into the Internet spaces where old, abused and broken Vintage Gibson Mandolins were to be found. The next find was a 1900s Gibson “White face” A3, with a neck like a ski slope and then a mandola, a mandocello, a mandolinetto another A3 one of the first ones to come out of the Gibson factory oh so long ago, with a beautiful inlaid pic-guard and those gorgeous Handel tuners that send me over as well, a “Loar Era” F4 and A4 and the latest and greatest find was a Torch and Wire 1910 Gibson F4.

F2_resize_cropI guess at first I didn’t realize that a special kinship with these old mandolins had evolved. As a cancer survivor I understand what it’s like to be beat up dealing with the big “C” and all that it entails. I can’t help but be cheered when I play or can help restore mandolins. They are cheerful in tone and also in size…they are so darnn cute…it’s hard to be blue when you play the mandolin.

Learning to play them has also been a good journey. While it has helped being a guitar player… this instrument has its own special features and history.

Again I looked for answers in the Internet and stumbled onto a website where you can learn to play the mandolin online. I began lessons with a great teacher and an incredible mandolin player in his own right: Mike Marshall. It’s propelled my playing farther along than I thought possible, though the journey never ends with playing. Yes it’s important to learn but it’s also important to have fun along the way, something that only great teachers can bestow. I even have dabbled in Irish mandy with Marla Fibish and classical style with Caterina Lichtenberg, both wonderful mandolin players/teachers in their own right.

And so it goes with the mandolins in my life…when things seem dim and very blue, the mandolin isn’t far away. Even when I got the recent news that the doctors found out I have an inherited gene that causes a condition called “Lynch syndrome” (what caused my cancer in the first place) and found that it increases my chances of a reoccurrence as well…..oh wait a minute, I think I hear my mandolins calling me.

Annette is one half of Living Tree Music & The Seagulls with her husband Nowell. She also holds a “Day” job working for the Bob Hope Estate/Family for the last 18 years. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.