Saturday, September 12, 2020

Archtop #4- In the white.

This week, I completed setting up archtop #4 and got it playing “in the white”. In case you’re wondering, “in the white” is a phrase pinched from violin makers. They get their instruments playing before applying the finish, which of course transforms them from white (i.e. natural colour of spruce and maple) to that orangey brown that they like. Funny though, I thought that if the back and sides of this mandolin had been made from, say quilted maple, some makers would stain it, to get the same colour as the sapele.

In case you’re wondering, the blue tape is to stop any oil from the new tuners seeping into the unfinished wood and contaminating it.

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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Just getting on..........

 I’m in the middle of applying the finish to Allan’s e-mando. It’s had a number of thin coats of Tru-oil applied and you can see how the grain is already greatly enhanced. A few more and we’ll be there!

Tip of the week! - I just made up this thingamajig, inspired by a fret-rocker, from scrap acrylic.

When carving a neck (archtop #4 in this case) you need to use a straight edge to ensure that there are no bumps or dips along the neck’s length. No problem on a guitar, but on a mandolin the distance between where the neck starts to curve into the heel and the angle for the head is comparatively short, so 150mm rulers etc don’t work; they’re too long to rest only on the neck, hence the thingamajig. Super handy!

And below is the finished neck- some lovely flamed maple, laminated with black veneer and sapele to complement the body.

So that’s the construction of #4 done- on to the setting-up etc.

As an aside, my favourite tool for shaping necks is a Japanese Shinto rasp and one that I’d unreservedly recommend. I noticed that my one hasn’t been cutting as efficiently lately, losing its sharpness, so I just bought a new one- and there’s quite a difference. 

Shan’t complain as the old one lasted 77 necks! Yep, I record that sort of stuff.

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Friday, August 14, 2020

Setting-up the e-mando

With all the “woodwork” completed on Allan’s e-mando, it’s time to get it set-up and playing. Setting-up an instrument is an iterative process; you’re constantly checking against an ideal and modifying until you get the desired result.

The nut has its slots cut roughly to depth (always too shallow, never too deep!). 

These days I prefer to use Tusq for nuts; being a homogenous material it is far less likely to chip or split whilst working on it. This is more of a problem on a mandolin’s nut than a guitar’s; as the string slots are so close together and the grain runs lengthways, pieces easily break off between the slots. Does Tusq affect the sound? No!

Then the bridge has a test fit. As Allan doesn’t require an under-saddle transducer, it makes sense to make an adjustable bridge. Small lengths of off-cut string are placed under the strings to get the exact break point for correct intonation.

The bridge can then be removed and refined.

With the bridge sorted, the action at the 12th fret can be set and then the nut can be worked on. 

Each slot is filed deeper and progress checked with feeler gauges until the desired action at the 1st fret is reached. 

As an aside, I’ve been using these special gauged nut files for years, and just storing in them in a drawer and then rummaging around to find the correct one. Not doing as many commissions has removed the pressure of time from me, so I took an hour or so to make this storage rack.

So much easier to find the file that you want- should have done this ten years ago! A lesson to be learnt!

Anyway, after toing and froing between the bridge and nut, the action is now at what I consider to be the optimum. I tend to leave and instrument for good few days to settle. If it’s ok and nothing’s changed then the finishing process can start.

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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Two, again

Both now fretted and awaiting the necks to be carved.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020


Monday, July 06, 2020


And here we are, purflings and bindings on the archtop mandolin complete!

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Saturday, July 04, 2020

Eliminate Downtime!

You have to have at least two instruments on the go, to eliminate any downtime whilst waiting for glue to dry. Particularly important when, as now I’ve been working on the bindings and purflings on the archtop. Each piece is glued on individually and left, in most cases, overnight to dry, so you need another project to work on.
Around the top I’ve used rope purfling and I’ve made up some bindings with the Macassar ebony (that I’m using elsewhere) and some fine sycamore veneer.
 So, during the many hours of “in between time” I’ve had the opportunity to make good progress on the e-mando. The pearl logo inlay and head overlay had been made and glued to the neck blank, the head cut-out and tuner holes drilled. 
Also, the body has been contoured and had a jolly good sanding and is looking quite lovely!