ODE mandolin
ODE by Tut Taylor Music, 1970s. $1,350.
The late R. L. "Bob" Givens earned a stellar reputation for the mandolins he built under his own name, mostly while living in Idaho. He was also involved in the design, if not every detail of the building, of the ODE line of mandolins, made in Nashville as a joint venture with Dobro legend/instrument dealer Tut Taylor. There are multiple versions of the complete story of ODE mandolins, which I won't attempt to sort out.
     This particular ODE is a copy of a Gibson snakehead oval-hole instrument. It bears the ODE logo in the headstock, while the label reads: "TENNESSEE: manufactured by Tut Taylor Music, Inc., Nashville, Tenn. O, Serial No. 75140." Single-bound spruce top; sides and unbound back of figured maple with faint curl. Dark tobacco sunburst. Unbound soundhole, unbound ebony fretboard with no perceptible wear. As far as I can tell, the adjustable ebony bridge, plain tailpiece, ivoroid endpin and tuners are original and in good shape, although the tuners are a little stiff. The scale length is the standard 13 7/8" and the nut is 1 1/8" wide.
     Curiously, this mandolin appears to have no internal bracing: no X, no tone bars, no transverse brace, no nothing. The top isn't sinking or sagging; I can only guess that Tut and Bob were experimenting here, perhaps by leaving the top a little thicker than usual.
     I acquired this mandolin from a violin shop in Fairbanks, Alaska, where it evidently hung on the wall for years and was jostled about from time to time—though in overall good condition, it has small nicks and dings here and there, and light surface scratching—but wasn't played a ton. And that's a shame, because it has a strong tone and projects well. Some ODE mandolins reportedly are too heavily finished and rather quiet as a result, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. It's suitable for all of the standard applications of an oval-hole mandolin, and could even handle some bluegrass in a crisis.
   It comes with a rectangular Saga-style case with bright yellow lining, and would make an excellent instrument for someone who wants a snakehead but can't afford the nearly $3,000 that a vintage Gibson can fetch. Like that vintage Gibson, this ODE is a piece of mandolin history—just a somewhat more obscure piece. See more photos, or for more information. $1,350 plus shipping. 48-hour approval period.