Stahl Flat Back, Bent Top Mandolin, made by Larson Brothers , c. 1917

Stahl Flat Back, Bent Top Mandolin, made by Larson Brothers ,  c. 1917

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Item # 8222
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Stahl Model Flat Back, Bent Top Mandolin, made by Larson Brothers, c. 1917, made in Chicago, serial # 25853, natural finish, rosewood back and sides, spruce top; mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard, black chipboard case.

From the beginning of the 20th century up until WWII, August and Carl Larson's small Chicago workshop turned out a dizzying assortment of exceptionally well-crafted instruments -- guitars, mandolins, the occasional ukulele, and even harp guitars. The catch is, they never put their name on them -- the Larsons showed comparatively little interest in marketing. Much of their output was contracted to sell under other brands. When building to order the Larsons made what was requested, but always to their own lofty standards.

One of their most prominent accounts was William C. Stahl of Milwaukee, a virtuoso mandolin player who had turned to authoring instruction methods. Around 1906 the Larsons began supplying mandolins and guitars to Stahl, who claimed himself as the maker, a deception common in this "patent medicine" era. Wm. C. Stahl was one of the Larson's big accounts in the 'aught years and 'teens. If Carl and August seemed reticent to promote themselves, William Stahl was the opposite: garrulous, confident, and endlessly chatty.

His ads scoff at "machine made" instruments, insisting his are strictly "handmade ... reasonable in price and perfect as human hands can make them" and built under his "personal supervision". This would have been quite a trick, as the Larsons were building in Chicago while Stahl's offices were in Milwaukee! By late 1912 Stahl ads picture this style of flat-back mandolin alongside the traditional-bowl backs. For some reason Stahl called them "English Model" and referred to them as the "squashed egg ... We have flat back models ... for those who want them". Similar designs like the Martin A-E, Weymann Mandolute, and Lyon & Healy "Leland Mandos" appeared around the same time, signaling the imminent demise of the bowl-back old-timers like Stahl preferred.

Despite his apparent diffident attitude towards them, Stahl's flat-back mandolins, mandolas, and mandocellos are beautiful and extremely well-made instruments. The thin but slightly arched straight-braced tops render them more responsive than Gibsons, with a more refined classical sound. Built with ensembles in mind, Stahl's mandolins have a distinctive and somewhat delicate sound, with less overtone character than the typical Gibson but plenty of volume.

This particular Stahl mandolin is a higher-end model with a Brazilian rosewood body, spruce top, and laminated mahogany neck. It is very artfully trimmed with celluloid on the top and back edges, with the top ornamented with colored wood marquetry trim and a pearl sound hole ring. The bound ebony fingerboard has shaped pearl inlay, while the headstock has a pearl floral pattern and tuners inset from the back. The tailpiece cover and tuner coverplate have neatly incised floral decoration, and the inlaid pickguard has a pearl floral pattern across the center.

The Larson Brothers' work has become better known in recent years, but their mandolin family instruments lag behind the guitars in appreciation. We feel their version of this type of mandolin is the about the best ever made, and well worthy of attention from more players and collectors. Although very much outside the familiar Gibson realm, this Stahl is a lovely and very fine instrument in its own right with a great history and distinctive character all its own. Wm. Stahl claimed -- in no uncertain terms -- that his wares were the best that could be had: "no instruments can be made any better". In engaging the Larsons to build them, he fulfilled that promise.
 
Overall length is 24 1/2 in. (62.2 cm.), 9 1/8 in. (23.2 cm.) across at the widest point, and 2 1/2 in. (6.4 cm.) in depth at side, taken at the end block. Scale length is 13 in. (330 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/8 in. (29 mm.).

This mandolin is in fine and completely original condition overall, and remains a very nice-playing and sounding instrument. The finish shows some typical fine checking, and light play wear here and there. The only repair is a slight dimpled-in area to the top just inside the binding edge, above the 15-17th fret area. This has been visibly repaired and is solid, and looks more like a spot of wood shrinkage than an impact scar.

Other than this one blemish, the instrument shows no repair and remains in very fine structural condition, with an excellent neck angle and no signs of folding up, as many lesser similar period mandolins do. The frets show some wear but not enough to impede play. All-in-all an excellent testament to the Larson Brothers' craftsmanship and one of the best of this flat-back, bent-top style mandolins ever designed. Excellent Condition.