My Family’s Mandolin

A post about Andrew Healey's mandolin.

The Healeys aren’t very musical. And, as far as I know, I’m the only muso in the clan. During my childhood, though, an ornate bowl-back mandolin always hung centre stage on the living room wall. As the story goes, my father’s uncle (whose name I don’t know) purchased the instrument in Italy during the Second World War.

Last year, my parents suggested I look after the mandolin. After all, being a guitarist, maybe I could learn to play the thing. So, I’m now the custodian of this venerable family heirloom.

I must confess that I know next to nothing about mandolins — other than they are extremely difficult to fret due to being much smaller than guitars. And, I’ve never really made much effort to learn about them. Right now, though, I’m working on an album of original songs, and I’m keen to explore new sounds. So, I reckon I should try to make some music with this thing.

What I know about the mandolin

I’m no mathematician, but World-War Two ended in 1945. The year is now 2020, so that makes my mandolin at least 75 years old. Imagine the stories it could tell!

Here’s what’s written on the label inside the instrument:

Stridente

Fabrica DI Mandolini

Vi Antonio, 22

Napoli

Some history

Apparently, the mandolin, which is part of the lute family, was invented some time during the 18th century. Back then, it was pretty popular. But, after the Napoleonic Wars, the instrument kind of disappeared. During the late 19th century, the mandolin came back into vogue, thanks largely to a musical group from Madrid called Estudiantes Españoles (Spanish Students). During this time, the maker of my mandolin, Stridente, was a leading Neapolitan musical instrument manufacturer.

My mandolin

There is some fret wear on my mandolin, so it’s obviously been played a bit during its life. At first glance, it looks to be in fairly good condition. However, after I restrung it and attempted to play a few chords, the sound wasn’t very good. My lack of skills might be the reason. However, upon closer inspection, the neck is a little warped, so it may need the skills of a luthier to get it into playing condition.

I’ll persevere and try to get a decent sound, but I suspect that my mandolin may end up on display in my music room, which is fine because it’s beautiful.

I love the sound of mandolin, particularly when blended with the warm timbre of acoustic guitars.

Canyon Wind by the W Lovers.

The Sun is Up

I can imagine mandolin on my song The Sun is up. I reckon it’d sound great. However, if my mandolin isn’t up to the task, I don’t think I’ll purchase a new one — I still have to buy more microphones and a bass guitar. Instead, I’ll probably achieve a similar sound using my ukulele.

I’m well aware that I’ve been talking a lot about my songs, and I haven’t provided any recordings yet. Well, soon, I’ll have a couple of days free to do some serious recording, so for my next post, I intend to include a recording so that you know where I’m heading.

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