Mandolin Orchestra of the Past

Clifford-Essex Bass Mandolin (Mandobass)

This is a rare Clifford-Essex Bass Mandolin (mandobass).

In 1965, I was playing upright bass with a folk group called “The County Set”. I went to John Alvey Turner’s shop with the banjo player to buy some banjo strings. While we were there we started chatting and Max told me about a Bass Mandolin built by Clifford Essex. I was immediately interested because I thought it would be great to use with the group. It wasn’t at the shop so I arranged to meet him where it was stored. If my memory serves me correctly it was stored in a small brick room underneath the Peabody buildings in Hammersmith. As soon as I saw it I was hooked and bought it. It was and still is a beautiful instrument. It was in an old canvas case which had seen better days, the leather straps were disintegrating but at least it had kept the dust off the instrument.

It needed new strings and Max told me the place to get them was Goddard’s Piano Ironmongers who I think were in Tottenham Court Road. Max told me what gauge I would need (which now I can’t remember), I ordered them and soon had a set of beautiful copper round wound strings. To be honest I think they were actually piano strings. It wasn’t the easiest of instruments to play as Max explained that normally a large leather hand plectrum was used and I didn’t have one. But I found my way round it and really loved the sound of it. Starting in November 1966 we had a three month gig on the Holland America Line cruise ship the “Rotterdam”. I took the Bass Mandolin with me and we cruised the Carribean and did a couple of gigs in New York. Shortly after our return to the U.K. I left the group and have played the instrument very little since. There wasn’t and still isn’t a lot of call for a bass mandolin player!!! Consequently the copper strings are still on it. Max told me that the instrument was the one used by “Troy and his Mandoliers” who played at the Savoy Hotel in London and also toured England. At the time I purchased it there was a photo of “Troy and his Mandoliers” on the wall in the the shop. I asked Max if there was a chance I could purchase that as well, but he wouldn’t part with it.

Robert Hay-Smith
(received 9/2011)

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