Restoring a mandolin from 1911
The Story of the Mandolin
It’s April 1980 … a cool late morning in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
I’m sitting on my crate plank ‘easy chair’, sipping my coffee and looking out of the curtainless window of my combination kitchen and workshop…slowly letting the day seep into my life.
Outside the bushy countryside of Lorraine (that part of town) is visible and of course, my pride and joy, my 1958 Borgward Coupé that I built up a couple of years ago while studying Architecture at The University of Port Elizabeth.
It’s not running right now but I am just about done with repairing the engine damage resulting from a blown head gasket that occurred two months ago as a result of a burst radiator hose. I had to use all my savings from guitar repairs over the past months to buy spares and pay for the engineering… …a serious setback for me that came at a critical time.
That money was going to buy Rosewood and Spruce for guitars that I’m building for my first public exhibition on 25 June in Johannesburg at the Classical Guitar Society of South Africa. Lee Goodman, the chair lady, and I have been writing letters just about weekly to get this in place in time, exactly a week before I have to start military service on 2 July. This is going to be a great evening for me with the opportunity to meet Dave Hewitt, Tessa Ziegler and other classical guitarists.
The Great Helping Hand must have had a look at this lot and thought: “We’d better assist down there!”
In the following week I got 3 orders for new guitars, complete with deposits and all (which is why I can afford coffee with milk and sugar this morning) and I immediately ordered the guitar wood from LMII in California which picked up from the Walmer Post Office yesterday, on the way back from my 10 Km walk to Pelegal’s Music in North End where I had bought some violin bridges, strings and violin bow hair for repairs. This type of work is a life line while I build new guitars. It takes me approximately 300 hours per guitar in my workshop which is completely without any power tools.
I enjoy the coffee in the realization that even though I have lost some time, everything’s back on track again. I have the wood and I can complete the orders as part of my exhibition and deliver the guitars in time just before I go to the Army…. if I never sleep!
I’m back on my normal night shift routine of working from 6 pm to 6 am, nice and quiet and focused…only the sound of hand tools on wood and the smell of fresh shavings on the floor.
I’ve only had electricity in the workshop since February when I had enough money saved to pay the Fifty Rand connection fee. Until then I had done all my delicate inlay work at night because it required little space and I could light 12 candles in a circle around the working surface, yielding enough light for young eyes.
The quiet of the night gets disturbed brutally and spectacularly every night at exactly 2 am by the train that comes by on a line that runs directly past the back of my house, 10 metres away. The level crossing is about 100 metres further and the train has to blow the whistle right behind my house as part of the safety routine when approaching the crossing.
My first night here, 6 months ago, was an absolute horror show. At the time my corrugated iron house and workshop was missing its back wall (my bedroom wall on the side where the railway line runs) which had been stolen years before and I had not yet had the time to re-build it as stipulated by my rent agreement with the owner.
I went to bed with my revolver, cocked in my hand, under the pillow, in case some unwelcome visitors may decide to walk into my wall-less room from the bush on the other side of the railway line and required a special welcome.
Well, I woke up instead from a train which was definitely heading straight for my bed and blew its whistle (which wasn’t a whistle but the loud hooter of a Diesel Electric Unit) when it was right on top of me.
I nearly shat myself. I would have preferred 12 burglars instead.
I will never forget those first nights as long as I live.
I lay in bed, curled up with my blanket pulled over my head and my ears blocked as well as I could but nothing could block out those rumbling wheels that shook my house and still feel like it’s going to run over me….
Every night at exactly two o’clock.
To be continued.
The Story of the Mandolin. An Autobiography.
Restoring a mandolin from 1911