F-5 Mandolin # 34 122

Completed July 2013

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


This tone-bar braced mandolin sports a master grade red spruce top and gorgeous flamed maple back, sides and neck. Peghead overlay, fretboard, pick guard, and bridge are of ebony. The three-ply bindings are ivoroid celluloid. The custom headstock overlay sports an abalone fern with fine-line accents, and the abalone position markers are set off with brass. Schaller tuners and an engraved James tailpiece complete the hardware. Nut width is 1-1/8", and the fretboard has a 12" radius with larger fret wire. The action is low and fast, with lots of room for adjustment in either direction. Nitrocellulose lacquer finish. This is a New Vintage II instrument, combining traditional materials and processes such as all hot hide glue construction with computer-assisted tap tuning and carbon fiber reinforcing and hidden but significant design innovations developed in my 28 years in lutherie.

Though this mandolin is brand new, just strung up, it already has tremendous volume and a great "growl." The highs are clear, strong, and clean all the way to the end of the fretboard; the mids and lows have lots of punch. It's ready to compete with any high-end instrument out there, and will only get better from here. If you haven't yet tried a Skipper, this one will make a believer of you. Hardshell case. $4500.

This instrument sold to a customer near Portland, Oregon. I sent it to him on a 48-hour trial period. Here's a small part of what he had to say:

"One word: WOW!!! You're not getting it back. Beautiful workmanship, tone, playablity and other stuff I can't even think of. Love the way, especially on the g-string, the tone stays the same all the way up the neck, unlike most mandos -- they start losing it aroung the 7th fret."

For more of this unsolicited report, and for those of others, visit our testimonials page.

Construction Photos


This F-5 mandolin is for my own inventory, rather than a custom build, so I haven't taken as many construction photos as I normally would. For a full series of construction photos of other mandolins being built to this point, using all the same processes, visit other instrument pages in our Archives. At this point, the instrument is structurally complete and the bindings are completed. I'll set it aside and allow the binding cement to fully cure before I proceed. Work resumes with the cutting of the peghead inlay. The inlay is fitted into the bound headstock overlay.


A slot is cut in the headstock for a carbon-fiber scroll reinforcement, and it's epoxied in place. Abalone-and-brass position markers are inlaid into the fretboard. The overlay is glued to the headstock, and the headstock is cut to shape. Frets are set in place in hot hide glue; this gives an absolutely positive seat between fret and fingerboard, yet allows for easy replacement. This NVII (Second-generation New Vintage) instrument has in place of an adjustable truss rod a carbon-fiber reinforcing bar epoxied down the center of the neck. Two more bars are inset into the fretboard and insure straightness and stablilty for the life of the instrument. The neck is shaped and sanded.


The 15th-fret crosspiece is installed, and the slots for the fretboard reinforcing bars are extended through the head block. The bindings are scraped level with the body, and the instrument is sanded. A special jig holds the neck in perfect vertical and horizontal alignment while it's glued to the body with hot hide glue. A one-piece ebony fretboard extender is shaped.


An ebony pickguard is fashioned, and celluloid binding attached. The carbon-fiber reinforcing bars are glued into the back of the fretboard, and the fretboard extender is permanently attached over the bars. The fretboard/pickguard assembly is glued to the neck. The mandolin is sanded to 320 grit in preparation for finishing. After final sanding, the size of the f-holes is adjusted to properly tune the air chamber. The fretboard is masked off, and the f-holes are stuffed with tissue.


The amber base coat of stain is applied by hand to accentuate the grain of the wood. The red is then built in with a spray gun, followed by increasingly darker brown. When the color is to my liking (it's never as dark later as it seems just now) I shoot it with a coat of vinyl sealer to keep the colors from bleeding.


Now the laborious task of scraping stain from the bindings commences. I begin in the most challenging area -- the scroll -- so that when my attention wanes, as it inevitably will, I'll be in more forgiving territory. When the bindings have been scraped clean, the instrument is given another coat of vinyl sealer. Then the instrument is sanded perfectly level,


and the final coats of lacquer are applied. Now it will cure for 10-14 days before final sanding and setup. Then the finish is wet sanded with Micro Mesh abrasives and buffed on a flannel wheel.

Thanks for watching this project

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