F-5 Mandolin # 33 100

Completed December, 2011

(click any of the thumbnails for a higher-resolution photo)

It's difficult to capture in photographs the way the abalone purfling lights up the perimeter of this instrument -- body, fretboard, and headstock. The back and sides are also gorgeous with the tortoise binding with fine white purfling. The total effect is even more stunning than I'd imagined, so it's easy to sit and look at it and forget about the sound -- deep, powerful, and balanced. Bottom line, it's all I'd hoped from this special 100th instrument. This is a professional-quality instrument with more oomph and subtle bling than you can imagine.

Specs: Adirondack spruce x-braced top, both tap tuned and deflection tested. Newfoundland sugar maple back, sides, and neck. 1-1/8" nut width. Two-way adjustable truss rod plus full-fretboard-length carbon fiber bars. Evo gold large fretwire, 12"-radius fretboard. Tortoise celluloid binding with white-line side and back purfling. Abalone (solid shell, not Abalam) top, fretboard, and headstock purfling. Abalone-and-brass position markers, MOP side dots. Custom fern-and-wire headstock inlay. Ebony head and back plate, fretboard, and sculpted pickguard. Loar-style adjustable ebony bridge. Engraved gold James tailpiece. Gold Schaller tuners. Tobacco brown to amber sunburst. Gloss nitrocellulose finish. Hardshell case.

Here are a couple of fresh sound lips by talented musician Ron Webb:

This instrument was for sale, but as I've sold a few of my personal instruments, I'm claiming this one for my own.

Construction Photos

This F-model mandolin is my 100th instrument, and I intend for it to be special both in materials and with all the skill and experience I can bring to the project. The rib maple is dead quartered and gorgeous, but neither bends well nor has adequate strength. For that reason, I'm laminating the entire rib set with an inner layer of unfigured but very stable maple. The top is a special piece of Adirondack I've held back over the years for a very special project, and this is it. A blank is glued up and roughed out on my homemade duplicating carver. It's noisy, dirty, low-tech, and works perfectly -- it gets rid of lots of wood fast and lets me get back to more important things.

This red spruce is pretty "stripey," but it has a tremendous tap tone, and the instruments I've built from this same billet were outstanding. Given the choice between an aesthetically perfect piece of wood or an acoustically perfect piece, I'll go for the sound every time. I'm planning a dark color scheme that will even out the inconsistencies. When the outside profile of the top is completed, I move inside to thickness the top. The depth is roughly gauged with a pattern of holes drilled just short of final depth. As I approach final graduation, I move from plane to scraper, then to sandpaper. A dial indicator is used to arrive at exactly the right profile.

The X-bracing is fitted to the inside of the top and glued in place. The neck blank is laminated and prepared for shaping. The tortoise-and-white celluloid point protectors are fitted before the top is glued to the ribs. The neck is routed for the truss rod, roughly shaped, and the peghead "ears" are attached. The dovetail is cut primarily on the tablesaw, using handmade jigs that assure the neck is centered and at the correct pitch.

The X-bracing is tuned using sophisticated computer software that guides me to the correct pitch and resonance, and a deflection testing jig that allows me to dial in the proper stiffness. When the bracing is fully tuned, the back linings are glued in place. The back is cut to shape and roughly profiled on the duplicating carver.

When the graduation is complete, the box is closed. The mandolin is now ready for binding. The binding recess in the open areas can be cut with a router, but around the scroll and neck, it's all handwork.

When the recesses for the binding and purfling are cut, the first celluloid purfling line is glued in place. Pieces of paua abalone are first fitted to the curve of the mandolin, then cut to width and glued in place.

When all the abalone is in place and the second white purfling line is in place, the outer tortise binding and white side purfling line are installed. When the front is finished, the recess is cut for the back bindings. Again, the white purfling line is laid in first, and then the tortoise binding is glued in place.

When the body binding is complete, work begins on the headstock inlay. The pieces are first cut to shape and arranged on the ebony overlay. The pieces are mortised into the wood and secured with black epoxy. The overlay is cut to shape and a rabbet is cut for the abalone purfling.

The first white purfling line is added, then the abalone purfling is cut in, and then the second white line. After the final tortoise binding is applied, the overlay is ready to be glued to the peghead. First, the truss rod is installed, and matching recesses are cut for the carbon graphite fretboard supports. A short piece of carbon graphite is also inlet into the peghead to keep the scroll from breaking off, as so many F-5 scrolls are prone to do. The ebony peghead back veneer is glued in place, using a rubber caul that matches the curve of the "thumb stopper." The fretboard is cut to profile, radiused, and rabbeted for the purfling. The abalone and white purfling lines are set in place, then the fret slots are cut. Then the tortoise binding is applied to the fretboard.

The neck is shaped with hand tools. With just a few more details -- fretboard extension and finger rest -- the mandolin is ready for final sanding and finishing.

This fixture holds the neck at the proper angle and aligned with the centerline while the dovetail joint is glued. I've shaped the sculped ebony finger-rest and attached it to the neck. After final sanding, the maple is coated with a proprietary formula that both accents the curly grain and seals the pores. The stain is applied over the bindings and the instrument is given a vinyl sealer coat.

When the stain and sealer coat are dry, the long, tedious process of scraping the bindings clean begins. When that's finished, the instrument is given another coat of vinly sealer, and the lacquering process is underway. The finish coats are on! After 10-14 days of curing, I'll wet sand the instrument, buff it out, and set it up.

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