While guitar players have been enjoying the resurgent popularity (if not the rising prices) of the funky budget/catalog models of yesteryear, you could forgive mandolin players for a bit of resentment at being left behind. Sure, those folks are typically a conservative bunch, clinging steadfast to their Loar Idyll, but there are more than a few who stray, embracing two-points, reverse scrolls, Mandocasters and even (gasp) five-string, fan-fret electric mandocellos. For those adventurous sorts we present our latest Catch of the Day: a 1970 Harmony H35 “Batwing” electric mandolin.
These hollow-bodied, bolt-on-necked, Gold Foil pickup-ed mandolins are not something you see every day. Although they’re not necessarily impossible to find, this is the first one that we’ve seen with our very own eyes close to home. It sports a spruce top and maple back/sides and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge. The distinctive pickguard gives it that “Batwing” nickname, though the curves do echo in the cutaway and upper horn (not quite a scroll, but certainly suggestive of the class Gibson F-style) and the headstock. We’re also big fans of including the single quotation marks with the ‘f’ hole. All-in-all, it’s mighty clean, albeit not without a ding or two.
Playing-wise, it’s set-up well, but it isn’t easy for someone who’s almost exclusively a guitar player to pick up. The nut’s 1-3/16″, so the spacing is tight and the frets are small. It’s got a nice acoustic tone, a decent bark, but not much volume. Plugged in, that Gold Foil does what you expect a Gold Foil to do (it is just a repurposed guitar pickup, after all) – it’s clear, bright and chimey; the pots are smooth, clean and useful, rounding off the edges and beefing up the bottom, if you’re so inclined. Sitting in front of a ’66 Super Reverb it was easy to feel the potential energy, though lacking anything approaching passable mando chops we took a conservative approach to the test drive.