Restoration process of a
Donatus Filano
from the year 1766

The pages below show the sequence of an elaborate restoration of an early Donatus Filano Neapolitan mandolin from 1766.
In preparation for the restoration I discuss with the owner of the instrument its future use and purpose. For a collector or a museum, the preservation of a historical object has foremost priority. In such a case only those repairs are undertaken which prevent the decay of the instrument and preserve it as close as possible to the original condition. An active mandolin player however would prefer to have the instrument in a condition suitable for extensive playing. His priority would then be the function, playability and then the preservation of the instrument. As in the case of this Filano, it should sound as close as possible to the original of the 18th century, be easy to play, and be reliable for performing on stage. For that purpose some compromises had to be made, between the preservation of the original condition and the required functionality.


                                                  Fig. right:
                                                  Instrument after the restauration process
Figs. left:
At first glance
the instrument
seemed to be
in fairly good
However, upon closer investigation it became obvious that the soundboard was not only warped, but also cracked, sunken, and greatly out of shape. Such damage can only be reliably restored by removing the soundboard.
After removal of the soundboard, it could clearly be seen that a former luthier had extensively cut down the ends of the braces. Original bracing from the 18th century is much stronger at these points. This meant that the soundboard required new braces. The apparent weak spots of the soundboard itself, the sides of the sound hole and the broken centre joint had to be reinforced, otherwise the soundboard could not withstand the tension of the strings.

The soundboard has been cleaned, the centre joint and cracks glued, and the warped areas brought back into the original form and shape. Then, new braces were made according to the exact measurements that I took from similar braces in other Filano instruments.
The back of the instrument had also previously been repaired. Two ribs had been broken, were warped and gaping open. Open seams along the ribs and linings were also present.

After cleaning the area around the cracks and broken ribs, they were glued and perfectly jointed together. The reinforcement strips of cotton cloth on the inside of the back have been coloured to match the appearance of the originals.
After the repairs to the inside of the back and the soundboard were completed, the soundboard was glued in exactly the original position. Loose parts of the purfling and binding which had been taken off, were reinstated and glued in place.
Missing inlays of mother-of-pearl in the headstock had to be fashioned and reinstated. Many loose inlays and purflings had been reglued and small hairline cracks have been filled.
The holes for the tuning pegs had been badly mistreated. Obviously an amateur in the past had installed metal tuning machines. Therefore the existing holes had to be made good with wood, chipped and broken edges and holes in the tortoiseshell plates were also repaired. The holes for the new tuning pegs were drilled and reamed to size.
After the soundboard had been glued in place, it was apparent that the neck angle had changed over the centuries, so much so, that it was now impossible to set the action of the strings to a reasonable height.

Although the neck was still strongly attached, by glue and the traditional nail, I was compelled to take the neck off. The rusty end of the nail was stuck and could not be removed. The neck was reinstated at the correct angle. This was achieved by using glue and a new wooden joint to secure the neck.
Unfortunately, Filano did cut some of the slots for the metal frets in an inaccurate fashion.

Since the musician of today needs a well tempered tuning, it was necessary to calculate the appropriate scale and cut new slots in the right position. The old slots were filled and the inlays restored accordingly.
Many hairline cracks in the back had to be glued, some bone linings had to be restored or replaced, and bare spots of the wood have been stained or coloured and afterwards lightly varnished.

Since only two of the original pegs were available and the original bridge was too low and broken, new parts had to be made.
After the process of retouching and varnishing had been completed, the strings were fitted. Adjustments to the bridge and nut action could then be optimised. The mandolin was then ready for playing again.

Today, the Filano 1766 delights audiences in many international concert halls, which is probably as Filano would have wished. I am glad that I could be the means for that.
To the right of the beautiful highly decorated Donatus Filano from 1766 is another early neapolitan mandolin from 1777. This is a plainly decorated mandolin, from the same Master. I had the privilege of restoring this instrument too.