Saturday, April 12, 2014

Alan's Mandolin

This week saw the completion of Alan’s mandolin. It’s the seventh of my “Standard” series, but with a couple of custom upgrades- the head inlay and my design of tailpiece (as seen in the previous post). Here are a few more choice photos of the finished instrument.
A brief spec:
  • Red spruce soundboard (Adirondack)
  • Bubinga back and sides with maple bindings
  • Sapele neck with carbon-fibre stiffeners, rosewood compound radius fingerboard with side markers and gold evo frets
  • 30mm nut, 352mm (13 7/8”) scale length
  • Schaller tuners
  • Rosewood bridge with removable bone saddle
  • “Nava” handmade tailpiece
  • Open-pour shellac satin finish
The mandolin is being shipped on this space for a video treat!

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

How did people make things before they had 3D printers?

“How did people make things before they had 3D printers, Grandpa?” is a question that one day, young Jacob might ask me and I’ll dust off a rusty tool box and show him a bunch of archaic saws, chisels and files...........
..............Mark, a new client, came over to the workshop on Friday to discuss his mandolin commission and as I said to him, "I’m very proud that everything is made by hand within these 4 walls."
And this batch of freshly made tailpieces illustrates that; there is at least 30 hours of hand work here, not a sniff of a CNC machine!
“Same but different” is the best way to describe these tailpieces; each one designed to complement its mandolin.
The rosewood one is Alan’s Standard; he’s opted to upgrade from a “Gibson” style and this will match the rosewood fret board and head overlay.  
The ebony one will match the ebony fret board and bindings on David’s Standard Plus, and he requested that his initial be somewhere on the instrument. The shape of these two tailpieces also echos the head design.
And this one is for Jeff’s twin-point; he has opted for an F style head and the curves here will complement that too.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

How many instruments do you make at a time?

I’m often asked, “How many instruments do you make at a time?” Well, at the moment there are four on the go. As all of my instruments tend to be custom built, I never have the opportunity to build them in batches. So, although four might be built at the same time, they are still treated as individual, unique instruments.
 There are stages in making when you might spend an hour or so fitting or joining two components together, they’re then glued together and ideally left until the next day to thoroughly dry. Also, I feel that if you thickness a piece of wood, for example, from 5 to 2.5mm it’s sensible to allow it to rest/acclimatise before going on to the next stage.
So, at the moment the day starts by lightly sanding Ian’s guitar which then has polished applied at various intervals throughout the day.
In between those intervals other things happen……..
Maybe the fingerboard is fitted and glued on to Alan’s mandolin; the next day the fingerboard will be sanded level and cambered, the position dots glued in and cleaned up and fretted the following day.
The linings have been going into the rim of David’s mandolin; 8 individual pieces are bent, but only two can be glued on at a time, in other words they go in over the course of 4 days. 
Similar is true of the bracing; one or two pieces at a time…….
And then towards the end of the day I’ve been making up the neck blank for Jeff’s walnut twin point. Here you’ve got three stages over three days.
Day 1
 Day 2
 Day 3

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A favourite design

One of my favourite rosette designs uses the pearl dot and diamond motif; this design goes way back. You can see it on the famous Stradivari “Hellier” violin, and also the 19th century English guitar maker Louis Panormo (amongst others) was quite fond of it.
 Firstly, the brittle pearl has to be glued on to some veneer for extra support. 
Then it’s cut into narrow strips. There are a few mandolins in the order book that will use this rosette design so I thought that whilst I was in the zone, I’d cut a few extra strips! This rosette is for David’s walnut and cedar Standard Plus.
A simple mitre-box style jig is used to cut the individual diamonds.
The recess for the rosette is routed into the soundboard and the two outer rings of purfling carefully fitted. 
Once the glue has dried, the purfling is taken down flush with the surface and the dots and diamonds are carefully positioned.
Then comes the messy part…………
……..after 24 hours drying time and about two hours of gentle sanding the ugly duckling is transformed!
And finally the sound hole is cut out.

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Saturday, March 01, 2014

Big Clean-up

This week has seen Ian’s neck carved and the guitar get its big clean-up prior to French polishing.
You can see my favourite tools for neck carving below.
I like to carve my necks last of all. At this point the fingerboard is on and fretted and you can get a really good feel for what the finished instrument will be like to play.
And here we are ready for grain filling………….

Nava Archive
I’ve added a few more instruments to my archive blog, so please take a look if you’re interested. And if you have one of my old guitars (pre-digital cameras era!) I’d be delighted to see a photo of you and the instrument so that I can include it.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014


It surprises me that there is a bit of a trend to leave some instruments unbound. The bindings serve the very real function of protecting the delicate edges of the soundboard and back, and to me, leaving them out is inconceivable. Obviously, it’s a stage which takes a fair bit of time, care and skill to carry out, but is essential to the longevity of the instrument. Even my “Standard” mandolin is fully bound.
You can see here, on Alan's mandolin, how the rebates are routed into the edge to take the binding. 
I like to use solid wood which has to be bent using the bending iron. There’s nothing wrong with plastic materials, it’s simply that wood is currently my preference.
Cloth tape is the method that I like to use to hold the bindings in place whilst the glue dries. You can get a great deal of pressure with the tape and ensure a good bond. The only drawback is the 10 to 15 minutes that it takes Amanda and me to get it all untangled, once the glue is dry!
There’s a fair bit of cleaning up to do as all the binding is over-sized; it has to be scraped down flush with the rest of the instrument.
And here we are all bound up!

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