To quote Michael Wright of Vintage Guitar Magazine, “There are bad accidents and there are good, or “happy” accidents. Bad ones are when you bend over, your rear-end knocks over your axe, and suddenly you’ve “created” a headless guitar. An example of a happy accident is the invention of the Alvarez Dana Scoop.” Another example of a happy accident is finding a Gibson F-5 mandolin in an old barn that was signed by Lloyd Loar on February 18, 1924..
-Discovering a “Relic”
As reported by Gilchrist Mandolins & Guitars, this Gibson Master-Model F-5 Mandolin was found in the mid 90’s “wrapped in plastic, in its case and stored outdoors for years”. Identified by its factory order number (11965) the life of this F-5 started in 1923 at the original Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, MI. All wood pieces (Top, Back, Sides, & Tone Bars, F Holes) were carefully handcrafted by Gibson’s luthiers under the watchful eye of Loar. Each piece was then tap-tuned by Loar and paired with pieces that would produce a perfectly harmonious frequency. Loar adapted Stadivarius’ technique of “Plate-tuning” (tap-tuning) each piece in perfect harmony, ultimately providing an instrument with more volume and better freq. balance. Today(2019) tap-tuning plays a major role in acoustic guitar manufacturing. Without the creation of Loars Master Model Series instruments, more specifically the F-5 Mandolin (& L-5 Guitar), todays “Sound-Box” instruments might have a different voice. Of the (311) F-5 mandolins that have passed through the hands of Loar in his first floor laboratory at 225 Parsons st. this mandolin is (1) of (247) recorded by Daryl Wolfe (Wolfes F5 Journal).
-Restoring a piece of history
Recently DSR, INC, Master Luthier Dana Sutcliffe had the unique pleasure of restoring an instrument known as the “Holy Grail” of mandolins, a 1924 Master Model F-5 Gibson Mandolin, signed February 18, 1924 by, none other than, Lloyd Loar.
The damage looked obvious, as the back soundboard was coming apart from the heel and binding, as well as cracks starting at the tail guard screws. But to understand what was creating the issue we needed to see what was happening on the inside. For this task a high definition borescope made it simple for Master Luthier Sutcliffe to identify that defective adhesive was allowing the back soundboard to peel apart from the heel block and was starting to expose the Kerfling. And upon further review, the top soundboard was separating from the sides/heel block, the back soundboard center seam was starting to separate, the fret board was severely damaged w/ binding falling off, and the frets were in terrible shape. All things considered this repair was now a restoration and we had to make plans for our new guest.
First step in repairing the bonding issues, was designing a custom jig and clamping system for securing areas needing bonding with an even amount of tension Then after cleaning and prepping each interior area Master Luthier Sutcliffe applied protocol specific adhesive from inside the instrument while monitoring his progress via borescope. As soon as the curing process was completed it was on to the fingerboard.
The fingerboard and frets showed a lot of wear, which was great to see as this means the current owner is an active player. Loar would be pleased. Nonetheless this part of the restoration required securing the binding, carefully removing the frets, planing and slotting the fingerboard. The customer chose a player specific fret size for installation. Prepping frets for installation includes measuring, cutting, and bending fret wire by hand so all 20 frets, plus 9 on the tongue, to match the fingerboard radius for a safe and secure installation. As soon as the 29th fret was installed Master Luthier Sutcliffe resecured neck binding to Loar’s protocol.
-The “Loar” – Protocol
In 1918 on the first floor of 225 Parson rd, The Gibson Co. witnessed the introduction of an iconic new mandolin that featured among other things a longer neck with 12 frets clear of the body, violin style f-holes, a distinctive shaded ‘Cremona’ finish and most importantly “Plate-Tuning” (aka “Tap-Tuning”) which would change the protocol of how Gibson instruments would be made for years to come. Under the scientific guidance of Lloyd Allayre Loar, soundboards and backboards for Gibson’s Master Model mandolins, mandolas, and guitars were carefully graduated from their thickest to their thinnest regions. For mandolins, this called for soundboards and backboards to be carved to about .110″ in the thinnest or- “minimum area” (about 1″ in from the perimeter) and about .180″ at the center. Since these components were later “tuned,” the final thickness would differ from instrument to instrument depending on the stiffness of the wood, grain distribution, density, etc. Soundboards were also arched to give them strength. The graduation from the center outwards provided for a means of efficient distribution and transfer of energy (from the bridge outwards). This carving technique, often called “Stradivarius arching,” allowed the soundboard and backboard to “pump” like the paper cone of a common speaker, generating greater compression and rarefaction within the instrument’s air chamber; a movement that provided theses instruments with greater amplitude then their former counterparts. Longitudinal tone bars were also “tuned” by thinning them to adjust the stiffness of the soundboard. The bass bar and treble bar were positioned in a non-symmetrical manner, and sized differently so that the treble side and bass side of the soundboard could be separately adjusted (i.e. the two tone bars were not symmetrically positioned). By removing wood from the tone bar, the soundboard would become less stiff, resulting in a lowered pitch. By tuning the tone bars to a specific note, Gibson engineers could be assured of likewise adjusting the soundboard to a known and very repeatable stiffness. The tuning process is so controllable that a whole-tone difference could be attained between the two tone bars. As a final tuning step, the f-hole openings were also “tuned”. To do this, the size of the f-holes was adjusted after the instrument was assembled, to achieve the final tuning of the instrument. As the f-holes were made wider (larger), the pitch of the air chamber would be raised until the proper note was achievable. Loar followed the teachings of Hermann L. F. Helmholz (1821-1894) who studied the resonant frequencies of variously sized air chambers. Loar carefully sized the air chambers and f-holes of the instruments he designed to provide a correctly tuned space for each type and size of instrument. Since an adjustment to one part of the instrument effects the tuning of another part, one can appreciate the hours of trial and error that preceded the development and subsequent finalization of the dimensions of Gibson’s “Master Model” instruments. As final proof of the hand-tuning process, Loar gave his signature on a label inside the instrument attesting that “The top, back, tone-bars, and air-chamber of this instrument were tested, tuned and the assemble(d) instrument tried and approved ___(date)___.” (Siminoff, Instrument Design)
-Restoring History – Cont.
Once the restoration process was complete it was time to level, crown, and polish the frets for balance string frequency and no string buzz. Removal and replacement of the existing nut which included leveling the nut slot and hand crafting a new bone nut. Installation of new D’Addario EJ75 strings, carving string slots to support the gauge of each string and correct placement of the bridge (13-15/16”) for accurate intonation. The current book value on this F-5 is $156,000 while street value is almost as high as $175,000.
This has been one of the utmost wonderful restoration experiences we at DSR, INC have had the pleasure of completing. Our goal at DSR, INC is to preserve the history of every instrument within its original design protocol.
I have a large amount of hard to find Crate / Ampeg amplifier and speaker parts. Most are from the the mid 90’s to the mid 2000’s. Handles, feet, knobs, fuses, foot switches, input jacks and mixing board parts. If you need a part that doesn’t appear on the partial list above please send me an E-mail.
A fun read for everyone – featuring Dana’s new shop in Ardentown, Delaware! Read about a very unique, one-of-a-kind guitar: The Spectrum, which features a faux-snakeskin finish and texture. Great photos, and kind words from all. Only complaint is that Weston did not use dana’s website as a link… grrr.. AND when I tried to register to leave a comment.. it wouldn’t work. Other than these small things, great article! Please read and share!
My great grandfather gave me a bass guitar around 5 years ago and I cannot find any information about it. I’ve searched high and low on the internet and even been to several music stores and pawn shops and no one can give me info on it. It has your name on it, so maybe you can help? It is a four string bass, it says Alvarez Dana series on it and the only thing I can find out about it is, it’s circa ’91-’92 and it’s said to be from their offset series. It has active pickups and a custom fit hard case, 3 way channel selector, 2 tones, 1 volume it plays and sounds amazing! I love it, I just wanna know more about it and what the thing is worth. Could you please help me with any information? It would be greatly appreciated!!!
The bass was made in late 1991 or all of 1992. It was called the Alvarez Dana Offset bass. The active tone controls are a 3Khz treble cut and boost and a 125hz bass cut and boost. Half way up is flat on both controls. The body is made of sugar maple. The neck is hard rock maple and SE Asian rosewood. All Dana basses are rare. Most in mint condition sell for over 500.00. The retail was 999.00 in 1991. The radical body shape was replaced with softer edges and corners in 1993. Still called the Offset bass.
If you need more information please let me know. I offer restoration packages on all Dana guitars over 20 years old.
Vintage Guitar Magazine
The Alvarez Dana Scoop
by Michael Wright, The Different Strummer
January 2010 Vol. 24 No. 03
The Alvarez Dana Scoop
by Michael Wright, The Different Strummer
There are bad accidents and there are good, or “happy” accidents. Bad ones are when you bend over, your rear-end knocks over your axe, and suddenly you’ve “created” a headless guitar. An example of a happy accident is the invention of the Alvarez Dana Scoop.
As a brand, Alvarez was a name originally used by St. Louis Music (SLM) for its Japanese-made acoustic guitars beginning in 1966; Alvarez-Yairi models were built in Kazuo Yairi’s workshop, while Alvarez models were built elsewhere. Beginning around 1970 – maybe slightly earlier – SLM began importing electric guitars from Japan bearing the Electra brand. Many were made by the legendary Matsumoku Moto plant. In ’83, SLM entered into a joint venture with Matsumoku, and in ’84 transitioned the Alvarez brand to Westone, which had previously been used by the Japanese manufacturer. Matsumoku had started as a builder of sewing machine cabinets, and in ’87, the company was purchased by Singer Sewing Machines. It’s not entirely clear, but Matsumoku may have continued making guitars until 1990. With it went the Westone brand, and SLM’s electric line became Alvarez. During this period, SLM began moving some production to Cort, in Korea.
“Dana” is Dana Sutcliffe, who at age 13 got a guitar with four of the worst pickups ever made. So he set about making his own replacements. Thus began a lifelong interest in electronics, and his subsequent experience with guitars eventually landed him a job at the ill-fated Renaissance guitars. There, in 1978 or ’79, under the supervision of John Marshall, Sutcliffe earned a master’s degree in lutherie.
Following the Renaissance experience, Sutcliffe began repairing guitars, building custom guitars, and developing more pickups, including the active units that would make him famous. He did a lot of work converting Gibson guitars for use by Delaware rocker George Thorogood. One of the people who called on him was the local sales rep for SLM, a non-musician who would seek help in adjusting the settings on his Crate amps. Sutcliffe would use a guitar with his pickups, but the rep returned red-faced, claiming Les Pauls and Strats didn’t sound good at those settings. So Sutcliffe started using those guitars while testing the amps. But it was this sales rep who alerted Tom Presley, guitar-brand manager at SLM, to Sutcliffe and his hot pickups, circa 1987. A relationship between Dana and SLM ensued, and by ’88, Sutcliffe had his own “line” of Dana Westones outfitted in his shop with his electronics.
That was when the happy accident occured. In ’88, one of Sutcliffe’s employees was operating a pin router while working on a Matsumoku-made Westone body. The router hit a knot in the wood near the treble cutaway, damaging the body, which was then set aside. But overnight, another employee put a neck on it. The next day, it became the joke/”gash” guitar. Sutcliffe picked it up, played it, and hear amazing first – and – second string tone with no phase cancelation. He worked with it a little, including expanding the gash – and the Dana Scoop was born. As he experimented more, he discovered that the resonance he wanted only happened when the scoop appeared at the 24th fret.
Since his guitars were part of the SLM Westone line, Sutcliffe regularly attended the NAMM shows as part of SLM’s displays. At the Summer ’89 show, he displayed his new “scoop” creation – that is, until Bernard Kornblum, SLM’s owner, came over and forcefully urged Sutcliffe to put the guitar away. Kornblum had a feeling they could do something with the eye-catching design. Sutcliffe was allowed to show it to guitarists individually, but otherwise it was kept under wraps.
The following week, Kornblum and Sutcliffe agreed to develop the guitar for SLM. Kornblum had been urging Tom Presley to consolidate the electric guitars under the Alvarez banner, but Presley – and more importantly, pro guitarists – wouldn’t have it. However, the Scoop was a radical new idea, and it might just carry the change. Sure enough, the Alvarez Dana Scoop was introduced at the ’92 NAMM show, where it won the “Guitar of the Year” award. Rockers loved it, and a number of custom guitars were built, including one for Eddie Van Halen and three for Lita Ford, who endorsed the model. That year, the guitar was played by Marc Ferrari in the movie Wayne’s World, and it took off. Cort required a bit of time to get everything right, but by ’93 they were making what Wayne himself might grinningly call “Excellent!” Scoops.
Soon, SLM wanted more. So Sutcliffe set about designing the L.A. Scoop – a Strat-styled guitar – and the Nashville Scoop – a (what else?) Tele-styled model. These were made from 1992 – ’94.
Unfortunately, just as things looked brightest, the ride began to skid off track. Sutcliffe began paying more attention to projects with Crate and Ampeg than with Alvarez. Then, SLM began making changes he hadn’t authorized; the Modulus Graphite necks and the three-coil Tri-Sonic pickups were not his ideas. Cort, by the way, had purchased Mighty Mite pickups, so the Tri-Sonic was probably a descendent of the three-coil Motherbucker. Money issues began to come up, and in ’94 Sutcliffe attended his last SLM sales meeting. By ’95, the Alvarez Dana Scoop was history.
Alvarez Dana Scoop guitars are not especially rare, but they have a fairly rabid following. Between 2,000 and 3,000 regular Westone-shaped Scoops were produced, along with another 500 to 700 of the L.A. and Nashville variants. There were quite a few custom-made, as well, including many with graphics and carvings. Not a bad run for an accident!