1921 Bacon Professional

The Bacon Banjo Company was not strictly defined by its name, but it showed relatively little interest in other instruments. As banjos became less popular in the 1930s, Bacon did introduce a range of guitars and mandolins, but these were all sourced from Regal rather than being built in-house. The company did actually create its own line of mandolins for a brief period in the early 1920s, but these were probably abandoned as the tenor and plectrum banjo became a hot commodity.

The lineup consisted of three models: the Amateur, Professional and Artist. Unlike most of the competition, these all featured carved tops and backs – an acknowledgement that Gibson had cornered the market for mandolins by that time, if not so much guitars and banjos. There are some discrepancies between the catalog description and surviving instruments. For example, the Artist model has four points but the catalog shows a two-point body; interestingly, a 1921 ad shows the correct four-point body. Additionally, the Professional model has a birch back but the catalog describes it as maple.

The mandolins all featured a high quality of construction and sound; this professional could easily be mistaken for a contemporary Gibson in a blind test. If the birch backs were cheaper than maple, they were not detrimental to the sound (as many other builders realized at the time). The long scale and thin tops gave them more sustain and volume than the flat-backs which were still the norm in the early 1920s. The lightly bursted finishes were thin but durable enough to protect the instrument.

Although there are many surviving mandolins from this line, and although there is some original documentation, nobody is quite sure who built them or where. Some people find it unusual that a banjo manufacturer could introduce expertly-crafted mandolins without prior experience, leading to suggestions that the mandolins were sourced from other factories; Vega and several other companies in the northeast have been suggested, but nobody in particular appears to be a sure fit. If the mandolins were built in-house in Groton, the question becomes who designed them and trained the workforce to carve the tops and backs. Bacon did sign up the popular mandolinist William Place to endorse the instruments and sign the labels, giving him credit as the designer, but it seems improbable that a player with no previous design experience could have designed these as his first creations. All the labels are dated 1921, which suggests that Place signed them all at once and actually spent minimal time at the Bacon factory.

This particular mandolin had quite literally fallen apart at the seams when I purchased it. Most of the glue joints had failed, releasing the top and back from the rim. There were also top cracks and loose binding. I had the instrument reassembled and reinforced where necessary, and it now plays quite nicely and sounds excellent. All the hardware is original except for a reproduction pickguard; I have the original, but it warped too much to be usable.

 

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