Catch of the Day: Circa 1920 Lyon & Healy Style C

Circa 1920 Lyon & Healy Style C

Lyon & Healy started making carved top mandolins sometime around 1912, a little more than a decade after Orville Gibson introduced the new concept to the musical public. Up until then Lyon & Healy, under the Washburn brand, was the largest US builder of bowl-back mandolins, a style of instrument that was slowly being supplanted by the louder, easier to hold Gibson template. Lyon & Healy introduced three carved mandolins at first, the fancy A, the moderately ornamented B and the plain C, the model here. Lyon & Healy's carved mandolins were beautifully made and pretty much every one I've ever played has had a sweet, delicate tone that still has enough oomph to be heard in a living room Irish or old-time session. They also sound great for classical and jazz but they aren't really loud enough for bluegrass.

It's hard to tell from the photo but the detail work on these is just amazing. Gibsons from the same period are certainly well-made, but when you see a Gibson A style next to to a Lyon & Healy it just looks a little crude by comparison. The finish on the Lyon & Healy is a little thinner, the binding is a little more elegant and the top carving is a little more refined. I don't know for sure, but I wonder if Lyon & Healy used violin makers to build their carved mandolins. They have a subtle glow about them that I don't see on a lot of other fretted instruments. They do have one very odd feature, one that I believe is unique to Lyon & Healy mandolins. The pickguard is made of vulcanized rubber. Happily, this style seems to be very durable but if something happens to it, it is impossible to get a replacement for it. By 1920, the year this style C was made, the mandolin in general was losing popularity to the ukulele and the 4-string banjo, so, even though they did a great job of making these mandolins, they just didn't make very many of them. This style C looks to be in excellent condition and the $2150 price tag is fair for an instrument of such high quality. If you'd like to adopt this little lovely into your home, the fine people at Spruce Tree Music will be happy to help you out.

A detail from the circa 1918 Lyona and Healy catalog.