Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Romanian A-style Mandolin

Story submitted by Karl Catteeuw

I've been to Romania quite often, and in spite of two decades of Mariah Carey tapes, stringed music is still hot there. Anyway, for the abundance of fiddles, mandolins and guitars at every party, there's really only one big place where they make them. And miraculously Reghin's also the brewery capital of the country. Here's something few people know: the Hora factory, the main manufacturer, originally made boats, which wasn't a great idea given the fact that it sits 500 km from the Black Sea. So in the 1950s they switched to musical instruments, which also involved bending woods, but they held onto the sloop logo until the 1990s.

Anyway, there I was, wandering through the town and walking into a record shop, and behind the counter full of CDs and cassettes they had all kinds of musical instruments. Behind the counter, mind you, so you had to ask to be served. Some cheap looking guitars, harps, recorders, and an odd A-shaped mandolin with a guitar pickup on it. Factory installed. I got away with it. Since it was the mid-nineties, it was dirt-cheap for me.

It was surprisingly loud, and an uncle who plays bowl-back in a mandolin orchestra actually liked this flat-back. It wasn't a pretty mandolin, with a varnished fretboard and stamped-in frets, but it sounded good. The pickup worked, but the pots quickly went bad - with some soldering, that's an easy replacement. I even sanded off the original sunburst, installed strap buttons, got it a plaid gig bag and put on a Gibson volume knob. Everything you'd do to an instrument you intend to keep.

And still it got away.

Too many instruments, too little time to play them all. The buyer got it dirt cheap as well, and complained about my postage rates. If not for the mandolin itself, I'd undo the selling because of the buyer. Until I opened up the latest Fretboard Journal, and lo and behold, what was David Lindley toying with?

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