Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Virzis... Just what are they?

Could someone tell me what a “Virzi” is? Yeah, I could google it but I’d rather discuss it here. I see in some of the old Loars, that they are sometimes removed and I saw a 1925 Gibson L-4 guitar that had one. I suspect it was a sort of tone producer back in the Loar era but not sure.

From what I understand it’s a piece of wood that sits in the body of the mando and is parallel to the top and under the bridge. It was attached with a couple small standoffs of wood. The bluegrass folks generally don’t like them as they reportedly kill the F5 bark. I am sure they did something that some people liked in a mandolin, but bluegrass wasn’t even around when Mr. Loar was making his mandolins. I suspect he was after a different tone than what we have come to love in the old F5s.

I have a great idea. Buy a Loar F5 with a virzi and one without and I’ll come help try them out and see which one you like better :smiley:

[attachment=0]virzi.jpg[/attachment]The Virzi Tone Producer is a thin (perhaps 3/32"), oval piece of wood (straight-grained spruce or fir) which is mounted inside the body cavity of a mandolin (or mandowhatever, or guitar, or violin), suspended directly below the bridge and attached to the top of the instrument by a pair of ‘feet’.

Dangling there, it provides a secondary vibrating surface which adds a new dimension to the sound dynamics inside the instrument’s sound chamber.

It is thought to make the sound response more complex and mellow. It was principally used on violins prior to Lloyd Loar’s employment with Gibson; Loar brought the idea and the rights to use it with him, and it started appearing on some Gibson instruments in 1922.
I got this from a mando site so they might make me take it down .

I have seen F5s for sale where they have been removed. I wonder how they remove them… I am guessing they could destroy it through the F holes and pull it out piece by piece or alternately they could pull the back and get easy access. Either method sounds pretty brutal for a high dollar instrument.

This interview with Mike Marshall is what sparked my curiosity on Virzis:

Question from f5loar: Tell us about your battered and tattered worn Loar. When did you acquire it and do you know any history on it? Has it had any modifications over the years? Why do you like it so much over other mandolins you have played?

Mike Marshall: It’s a 1924 F5 Gibson Lloyd Loar. I’ll never forget the day I opened the case. I was touring with David Grisman then. Tony Rice, Darol Anger and Todd Phillips were there, and we all just flipped over it. So I had to figure out a way to pay the big ticket price at that time.

Todd Phillips and I took the virzi out of it one fool moon night shortly after I got it. We just took a long bent screw driver and a hammer and I held it while he banged the thing until it fell out (not recommended). But I have a recording of this event some place (NOTE: see audio recording below).

We learned after taking it out, that these things are actually held in with a metal pin on one of the three legs and the other two are inlaid into the tone bars so they are pretty difficult to remove. But we were determined.

Thanks Mike and Ken for your posts.

Wow… banging on a Loar with a hammer and screwdriver! That could have had a different ending! By the way, I saw Bill Monroes Gibson that had a bad run in with an angry person and a fireplace poker. Gibson took the pieces and put it back together. I seem to remember reading in Bluegrass Magazine at the time it was worked on that they even came up with special glues. When I looked at it, you couldn’t tell anything so drastic had happened to it.
Just curious, how iffy is it to remove the top on an old mandolin?