Audey Ratliff K4 mandocello, 1985. $4,500.
Audey Ratliff of Church Hill, Tennessee, has been building mandolin-family instruments since 1982, and has earned a stellar reputation for his work. Audey has built just over a thousand instruments, which are highly sought after and can inspire passionate devotion in their owners. One may find a secondhand Ratliff mandolin or two for sale by major dealers, but a mandocello? Almost never. Until now, that is.
     Based on a 1921 Gibson K4, here's a Florentine mandocello from 1985, early in Audey's career. In fact, Audey says this is the first mandocello he ever built. Finished in tobacco sunburst, it has a Sitka spruce top and figured maple back and sides, adjustable ebony bridge, and nickel hardware. Single-ply binding on the top and back; oval soundhole with triple-ply rosette; floral headstock inlay. Maple neck with adjustable truss rod. Bound ebony fretboard with 22 frets (no extension). It's just back from repair and setup by Audey, who replaned the neck and reseated the fretboard, replaced the nut and tailpiece, glued a seam separation, repaired a crack that runs from the soundhole up toward the neck joint, applied a matte refinish to the top, and installed a new tailpiece. Scale length is 25 inches, and it comes in a shaped hardshell case.
     In general, small-shop Florentine mandocellos are seldom encountered in the wild. And the fortunate few who own Ratliff mandocellos have been uniformly enthusiastic about them. I shall be sorry to part with this one, but since I own another fantastic mandocello of similar vintage, I'm sure someone else needs the Ratliff more than I do.
     Ordered new from Audey, a Ratliff mandocello would cost $7,500; furthermore, he informs me that he's stopped building them. I'm offering this one for a mere 60 percent of the new price. See more photos, or for more information. $4,500 plus shipping.