Friday, August 11, 2017

Brendan's Rim

I’ve just completed the rim for Brendan’s new mandolin. As you’ll see from the photos, the sides (and the back) are made from Macassar ebony; I’ve had this beautiful wood in stock for many years and I’ve no doubt it will make a stunning instrument.
It’s always a relief when the sides are bent, particularly on a type of wood that you’ve not bent before and are a bit unsure of how it will behave.
The plywood tail block and mahogany neck block are shaped to fit and glued in place. 
Then comes the linings- there are a number of styles- solid, kerf, reverse kerf and tentallones; the general function of all of them is to increase the gluing surface area between the sides and top or back. I’ve used all of them and these days I’m committed to double thickness solid ones as they make the rim far more rigid than any of the other types. I say committed- a good word to use, as 8 separate pieces of maple (my preference) have to be prepared, bent and glued in place.
And after a bit of committment.....................
The crowning glory is the end graft- a hint of what’s to come!

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Monday, August 07, 2017

Ol' number four

I’ve just put this old Stanley No. 4 smoothing plane back in to use. As far as I can tell, it was made in the late 50’s. One thing that it works incredibly well on, is shooting the joints for mandolin backs and soundboards. I always make my joints slightly hollow (maybe a shaving or two), to compensate for any future shrinkage that might cause a joint to come apart at the ends. Not quite as easy with my usual No.5, which has a longer sole. Here’s Brendan’s soundboard getting the treatment.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Archtop mando update

I’ve just complete the back plate for my archtop mandolin project. If you follow the blog, you’d have seen the project bubble to the surface on occasions. Don’t worry it’s not a commission- there’s not some poor client somewhere waiting years and years for his instrument!
However, I have been thinking about the design for literally years, and now that  I’ve covered all the elements in my head and on paper, it’s high time to make some real progress.
Here are a few photos of the back plate carved, scraped and sanded and the rim. 
You’ll notice that I’m using mahogany for the back and sides, this wood is being re-used; it was originally a desk top. It’s extremely good quality wood and would be criminal not to give it a new life.
Here’s a little video that Amanda and I put together for your entertainment!

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Head Inlay

I’ve said it many times before and I make no apologies for saying it again- one of the greatest compliments you can get as a luthier is a past client coming back for another instrument. So, Amanda and I were delighted when Brendan decided to commission a new mandolin from me.
 Many of you will know Brendan for the wonderful video that he posted, playing what was then his new Nava cocobolo twin-point. That was about 5 years ago and since then Brendan has become a good friend and confidant.
You’ll have seen the neck blank in the previous post, well that’s for Brendan and over the coming months you’ll see his rather special build unfold.
He set me a little challenge for an inlay in the head overlay. Here’s a sequence of photos- A few stages are missing; once I'm in the zone, I find that I can easily forget about taking photos!
Many hours’s the final result. The red and green are made from reconstituted rock and the N from black pearl.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Making a Neck Blank

I thought that I’d show you how I make my mandolin neck blanks. For this one, I’m using some of my very old Cuban mahogany stock. It’s a “recycled” lid from a Victorian grand piano- I like the idea of a new musical instrument rising phoenix like from an old one. Unfortunately, I’m running out of it so not too many more!
It doesn’t look much at this stage but here’s one that I’ve been French polishing; beautiful!
 I always laminate my necks; this gives a much more stable neck compared to a single piece of wood- you’ll note that the central piece has its grain running opposite to the two outer ones.

After gluing the three pieces together they’re squared up and the head joint is prepared. I’ve always used a spliced head joint; it’s a far superior method as it eliminates any short grain in the head itself.
It’s a bit tricky to glue up; because as the glue joint isn’t perpendicular to the force applied by the clamps there is a tendency for the two pieces to slide apart. You can see below how I stop this.
Once the head has been glued in place and the blank trued-up again, the next step is to fit the carbon fibre.
I’ve been using carbon fibre to reinforce mandolin necks for well over 10 years now without any problems- I feel that an adjustable truss rod is unnecessary on such a short neck. The CF is epoxied in place with a strip of wood on top of it. These strips are to allow extra surface area for gluing the fretboard on with Titebond.  One thing that you must do is leave a small gap at either end of the carbon fibre to allow the excess epoxy to escape when applying clamping pressure. Why? Before the epoxy sets it’s a liquid and you can’t compress a liquid, so if it can’t escape the pressure will build-up and the neck can split- you only make that mistake once!
And here’s the neck blank awaiting its head overlay……….more anon.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

David’s Standard mandolin

David’s Standard mandolin has now been completed and was shipped out to him earlier this week. I think we were both delighted with it!

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Sunday, July 09, 2017


By way of a change…………..