Sunday, January 25, 2009


Sunday, January 25, 2009

I started thinking seriously about beginning this project about two weeks ago and began my research via the internet. My very first step was a visit to where I did a search for “mandolin building”. This search brought up a number of books, two of which I ultimately chose to buy but have not yet received. These are “The Ultimate Bluegrass Mandolin Construction Manual” by Roger H. Siminoff, ISBN-10: 0634062859, and “The Mandolin Manual: The Art, Craft and Science of the Mandolin and Mandola” by John Troughton, ISBN-10: 1861264968. The first book, The Ultimate Bluegrass Mandolin Construction Manual, had nine customer reviews where all but one were very complimentary. It appears to me that Mr. Siminoff is highly regarded in the mandolin community for his knowledge and expertise. The other book, on the other hand, does not have a whole lot of customer feedbacks, the two that it does have are vary favorable and led me to believe it was worth getting, too. Similar to Mr. Siminoff, John Troughton is apparently highly regarded, as well. I chose to purchase both, rather than just one, to improve the likelihood that I could bridge any gaps in one with information from the other as well as to have contrasting views on different steps and techniques. This is an approach I have used with other things and have been pleased with the results. As I go through them, I will be sharing my comments and opinions of each book.

My second step was to do a Google search for “luthier supplies”, which brought up, right there at the top, several sites that look like they will probably end up being key suppliers of both information and materials. Two of these are Luthiers Mercantile International, Inc (LMI), and Stewart-MacDonald (StewMac). Having developed an initial list earlier this week of both construction materials and shop tools I could foresee needing (more on this later), I placed some on-line orders with both of these companies yesterday for some initial components (more on that later, too). I found both sites easy to use and pretty hassle-free. Oh, and I also placed on-line orders for both of their catalogs about 12 days ago, but the StewMac catalog is the only one that arrived already. I will likely be placing a number of orders with both down the road.

My third step was to do some additional digging to see what other sources of information and materials might be out there that Google might not have shown me. For this, I started at one of my favorite sites, and probably the best overall site around for mandolinists, the Mandolin Cafe. Here, they talk about everything mandolin and mandolin related, have links to a large number of luthiers, forums to discuss anything and everything about the instrument and lots of great pictures. If you are at all interested in mandolins, this is a site you absolutely must visit. I have developed a great deal of respect for many of the regular members there and have found it to be well managed and controlled. This is a website run by true professionals and frequented by true professionals as well. Ok. Back to my research. Once at the Mandolin Cafe, I went straight to their “Builders” section to see what I could find. At the bottom of the Builders page, I found a list of country links under the header “Select International Queries”, where I chose, shockingly enough, United states. This selection generated a list of 466 companies and/or people, many of whom have web links where you can go to look at their offerings. After spending about an hour or so looking through the various web sites, I determined that this was probably not were I needed to be looking. While there are many beautiful instruments to be found, these are typically aimed toward folks who wish to buy finished guitars and mandolins rather than the piece-parts used to make them. The kind of information I was after was going to have to be found via some other route. I did get to see a number stylized mandolins, though, giving me a taste for some things I might want to try later myself.

I did run across one very valuable thing while looking through some posts at the Mandolin Cafe - a link to a series of by photos from 2001 where a luthier named Lynn Dudenbostel (one of the most respected luthiers out there today) built two mandolins, one for Chris Thile and one for Gary Hedricks. The preservation of this particular series of photos and descriptions is still available, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Buddy Ellis, a luthier himself and regular contributor to the Mandolin Cafe, and one I anticipate using regularly.

Next I went back to Google again, this time using the search words “luthier lumber”. This search brought up a site at the top of the page,, that held the list I was looking for. At the bottom of this page, under the heading “Suppliers”, is a list of folks, along with short descriptions of what they offer, that includes several who have prices that both complete with, and occasionally beat, those offered by LMI and StewMac. One of these, North Ridge Hardwoods, is where I ended up purchasing my back wood, side wood, and neck stock. Check it out.

Somewhere along the line, on a web site I can’t seem to find again, I came across a link to THIS video on youtube, one of several videos, by a luthier named Chris Paulick who demonstrates several techniques he uses when making guitars. I watch pretty much all his videos and found them to be very cool even though they are oriented toward guitars rather than mandolins. I look forward to seeing more from him.

All of this searching and research took me several days and by the time I was done (or at least tired of it and ready to do something else for a while) I decided it was time to work up an initial list of materials and tools I would need to build this baby. To start this, I headed back to MJD’s blog (the guy building the A-style) where I remembered he had a pretty good list of components that were supplied with his kit. From there I was able to generate a pretty decent starting list and then last Friday, when my StewMac catalog arrived and I thumbed through it, I was able to identify a few other items I would be needing. This is the list I have so far:

Mandolin Construction Materials

(1) Top Wood - European spruce, wedge cut
(1) Back Wood - Curly Maple
(1) Side Wood - Curly Maple
(1) Side Bending Practice Wood
(3) Body Blocks - Spruce
(2) Tone Bars - Spruce
(1) Fingerboard - Ebony
(4) Kerf Lining - Spruce - 7/32” x 5/16” x 32”
(1) End Block - Spruce
(1) Neck Stock - Curly Maple - 2-1/2" x 2-1/2" x 16"
(1) Peghead Overlay Veneer - Ebony, 4-3/16" x 8"
(1) Binding - White Plastic - .060" x .250"
(1) Mandolin Truss Rod
(1) String Nut - Bone - 2-3/16" x 7/16" x 3/16"
(1) Fret Wire - Narrow/low, 98 ft (1 lb)
(1) End Pin - Ebony
(1) Tuners - Golden Age - Black knobs, gold, set of 2
(1) Randy Wood Vintage-style Mandolin Bridge
(1) Gibson Style Mandolin Tailpiece - Gold
(1) Inlay - Figured white pearl, sheet
(1) Pre-cut Side Dots - white pearl, set of 10
(1) Point Protector Material
(1) Weld-On Cement
(1) Granular hide, 1 lb.=2pts - 192 gram strength

Shop Equipment

(1) Drill Press - Benchtop Model
(10) Mini Cam Clamp
(1) Soft mallet
(1) Blue Masking Tape, roll
(1) Waxed Paper, box
(2) Plumbers Flux Brush
(1) Glue Stick
(1) Small Vice
(1) Miter box and fret saw
(1) Scroll Saw
(1) Palm Plane
(1) Finger Plane - 25 mm convex
(1) Dremel Tool - 400XPR
(1) Electric Glue Pot
(1) Binding Router Guide
(1) Carbide Tipped Router Bit
(1) Precision Router Base
(1) Peghead Drill Jig - 29/32" spacing

I have included this list on the right side of this page, broken down between four categories, to keep track of those items I have and those that I need while separating shop tool costs from those of the actual mandolin. I intend to keep this up to date with each purchase and each time I identify something else I need or something I don’t.

While I probably should have waited until one or both of my “How-To” books had arrived, I’ve gone ahead and purchased most of my wood, the hide glue and, then last night at an auction, a small vice that I will need for shaping the nut. I’m betting from the research I have done so far that none of these purchases will be a mistake since it seems pretty clear that each of these are necessary components and are types that are commonly used when making mandolins.

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