F-5 Mandolin # 35 133

Completed June 2014

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


One of the best sounding mandolins I've ever built was built from these same billets of blistered sugar maple and red spruce; the sound of this one is even better. Though it's just been strung up, it already has a tremendous bark when chopped, with a bell-like top end, growling bottom, and superb balance. Quite simply, this is the best sounding mandolin I've ever had in my hands.

Specs: Red spruce top, blistered sugar maple back, sides and neck. Tone bar bracing. Ebony peghead overlay, fretboard, and pickguard. Ivoroid celluloid bindings. Flat fretboard with medium fretwire; 1-1/8" nut width. Neck is slim and fast with slight modified vee. Gold Schaller tuning machines. Loar-style adjustable bridge and tailpiece. Gloss nitrocellulose finish. Custom abalone and mother-of-pearl inlay. All hot hide glue construction. Amber-to-tobacco brown sunburst. New Vintage II construction. (Check our Mandolin Design page for full details)Hardshell case.

By every consideration -- quality of construction and materials, fit and finish, tone, volume, resonance, playability -- this is an absolutely top-tier instrument. This instrument has no misshapen scrolls, graceless lines, filled joints, oddly angled necks that result in too-low or too-high bridges, splotchy stain jobs, or too-thin components that won't endure. The lines are clean. The action is low and fast, with a full range of adjustment in either direction. The sunburst is dark enough to give it the traditional F-model appearance, but transparent enough that the wood grain is visible all the way to the binding. It feels, looks, plays, and sounds great.

At a recent bluegrass festival in Parsons, WV, this instrument attracted more attention than any I've ever introduced to the musical community. I'd lined up some great musicians to record some sound clips of several instruments, but a torrential storm wrecked our plans, sending attendees scurrying for cover or for home. Superb mandolinist Jack Judy still was able to lay down a couple of tracks on this instrument. This was done under an awning in a rainstorm, with a generator running closeby, so please forgive the background noise.

Construction Photos

Construction begins with the joining of the plate with hot hide glue. The top and back are cut to shape, then the excess wood is hogged off on a shop-built duplicating carver.

The blistered maple in full side thickness is nearly impossible to bend; it bends in segments, like a belt made of half-dollars. I'm bending it at half thickness and laminating it to an inner ply made of unfigured maple. The sections are shaped over a hot pipe, then glued together with hot hide glue and clamped together until dry.

When the sides are removed from the forms, they're very stiff and perfectly shaped. Mahogany blocks are cut to fit at the scroll, tail, and points, and are glued to the ribs. The balance of the scroll is marked and cut. Kerfed lining is cut and glued to the ribs.

The neck blank is fabricated with a .010" black veneer between the halves. The top lining is sanded level with the sides. The scroll is roughly shaped with a gouge, and the top is scraped and sanded to its finished dimensions. A post-and-bit arrangement is set up on the drill press, and thicknessing holes are drilled to assist in graduating the top.

The inside of the top is shaped first with a plane, then with scrapers and sandpaper. As it approaches finished dimensions, the graduation is carefully checked with a dial indicator. The f-holes are marked and cut. The exterior of the back is brought to final shape with scrapers and sandpaper.

As with the top, thicknessing holes are bored in the back. Wood is removed first with planes, then with scrapers, and finally with sandpaper to bring the back to its final graduation. Before the plates are glued to the ribs, while one can still work on a level plane, the binding slot is cut in the scroll area.

The celluloid point protectors are glued in place and shaped to meet the curves of the ribs. The tone bars are dimensioned and fitted to the top, then glued in with hot hide glue. Hot hide glue is applied to the mating surfaces of the rim and top, then allowed to dry. The parts are clamped together, then the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam. The binding slot is cut in the back scroll. The head block extension is glued on.

The neck blank is roughed out, and the ears are glued to the blank. The dovetail joint is cut first with sliding fixtures on the table saw, then finished by hand for a perfect, tight fit. Fret slots are cut in the ebony fretboard.

Matching grooves are cut in fretboard and neck to accommodate the carbon fiber fretboard stiffeners; a larger carbon fiber bar is inlet down the center of the neck. The fretboard is cut to shape. I discover I'm nearly out of position markers, so I take a few hours to convert on the lathe some of my scrap mother of pearl and abalone into rounds of various size. Mother-of-pearl position markers are installed. The ivoroid binding, side dots, and carbon-fiber fretboard stiffeners are glued in place. Frets are glued in with a bit of hot hide glue,

then pressed firmly in place. The ebony peghead overlay is cut to shape. Elements of the mother of pearl and abalone inlay are traced onto paper and glued to the shell, then cut with a jeweler's saw. The pieces are soaked in water to remove the paper. The pieces are traced onto the ebony, and recesses are cut to receive them.


The pieces are glued in with a mixture of epoxy and ebony dust. A carbon fiber scroll reinforcement is recessed into the peghead. When the epoxy is cured, it's again sanded level. The celluloid bindings are applied, and the completed headstock overlay is once again sanded to thickness.

The overlay is glued to the headstock, and the headstock is cut to shape and the holes are drilled for the tuning machines. Using a combination of deflection testing and electronic tap tune monitoring, the tone bars are reduced to dimensions that provide both the desired stiffness and tonal qualities.

The neck is shaped to its finished dimensions. An ebony pickguard is cut to shape, and celluloid bindings are glued to the edges. The channels for the carbon fiber neck reinforcing are extended through the head block. The kerfed linings for the back are glued to the sides. My label is glued in, and hot hide glue is applied to all the mating surfaces and allowed to dry.

The back is clamped to the sides, and the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam. A recess is cut around the perimeter for the bindings. After a considerable amount of hand work, the bindings are glued in place with a mixture of acetone and scraps of celluloid. Cloth strapping and tape hold it in place while it cures. Small wedges are used inside the scroll. Since the adhesive swells the bindings as they're applied, when the bindings are completed, the instrument is set aside to cure before scraping the bindings level and staining and finishing.

A fixture holds the neck in proper alignment while it's glued to the body. The ebony fretboard extender is fashioned and glued to the fretboard. While the bindings are still curing, the fretboard is glued to the neck. After the bindings are cured, a long day of scraping and sanding leaves the mandolin nearly ready for finishing.

The fretboard is masked off, and the instrument is stained and a thin coat of vinyl sealer is applied. The bindings are then scraped clean of stain, and it's given another coat of sealer. Then the application of the lacquer begins, with adequate drying time between series of coats.

The instrument is given a thorough sanding, and the last coats of lacquer is applied. Then it's hung to cure for 10-14 days before final rubout and setup. When the finish is fully cured, it's wet sanded with progressively finer grits of Micro-Mesh cloth. This one will be ready to go very soon, so if you're interested, contact us.

The instrument is buffed on a flannel wheel. The tuning machines, tailpiece, and pickguard are installed. One more session, and this one will be making music! Done!


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