Custom A-Style Mandolin #37 163

Completed July, 2016

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


Several of my customers have urged me over the years to develop a line of A-style mandolins, and I've finally accomplished their wishes. Like my F-style models, this , mandolin features: a red spruce top; flamed maple back, sides and neck; ebony fretboard, bridge and headstock overlay; sunburst finish; all-hot hide glue construction; celluloid ivoroid bindings on body, neck, and headstock; mother-of-pearl logo and position markers; and a nitrocellulose lacquer finish. Golden Age relic brass tuners and tailpiece perfectly complement the sunburst, and a sculpted ebony finger rest is out of the way and comfortable to play, yet still protects the top from picks and fingernails. 12" radius fretboard with Evo gold frets, 1-1/8" nut width. Hardshell case.

I couldn't be happier with this mandolin. It's voice is just as big as those of my F-style instruments, and just as complex and pleasing to the ear. Everything about this instrument is clean and sharp, and I don't seem to be able to stop admiring it.

This one sold almost before the finish was fully cured, but I'll be starting another soon. Don't miss it!

Here are a few sound clips recorded on a hand-held recorder in the midst of a festival (please forgive the peripheral clutter) by a couple of outstanding musicians.

After playing this instrument for a few months, here's what the owner has to say about it:

Well it's going on 5 months now that I've had this Skipper A-style mandolin and let me say first that it is an incredible mandolin. Tone, volume, depth, and playability are all excellent. The tone is bright, clear, and resonant from the low open G all the way up the neck to a G fretted on the 15th fret of the E string. The volume is somewhat deceiving in that I didn't realize just how loud it could get until people at jam sessions came to me from other rooms and complimented on the sound. It's difficult to describe depth other than to say that each string and note has great girth.

In terms of playability I am so thankful you put a radiused fretboard on this mando. I had played a flat fretboard for 5 years and the change was like going from driving a Conestoga wagon across a rocky field to driving a BMW on the Autobahn. Terrific!

Let me also say that it is gorgeous. The sleek lowered pickguard; the curly maple back, sides, and neck; and the headstock overlay adorned only with the name Skipper. All top notch, professional, and 2nd to none. And it's only 5 months old. I may have to give you another report in 7 months at the year mark. That Adirondack top will have opened up even more by then.

Truly special.

Thanks Roger
Ron Webb

Construction Photos

Before I do anything else, I choose and join with hot hide glue the red spruce top and maple back. Then it's time to draw a plan and build an external form. The maple ribs are sanded to thickness and bent over a hot pipe. The mahogany head and tail blocks are glued into place.

Mahogany lining is kerfed on the bandsaw, then glued to the rim with hot hide glue. Since I intend to make more than one of this model, I'm creating carving templates that will allow me to use my shop-built duplicating router to quickly remove excess wood from the top and back plates. The templates are made of sugar pine, which is hard enough to stand up to repeated use, yet is relatively easy to carve with planes and scrapers.

The grain in the pine creates a "topo map" that gives me a visual reference to progress. The first job for the front pattern is to partially carve the back pattern; the back pattern is then finished by hand. The red spruce top is then carved. A power plane is used to remove excess wood from the maple back before carving.

The outside of the rough-carved top is finished with scrapers and sandpaper. The outside of the back follows the same process. Graduations are laid out on the inside of the plates, and thicknessing holes are drilled.

A finger plane is used to remove wood until the thicknessing holes disappear, then I switch to scrapers and begin measuring thickness as I proceed. Tap-tuning software is utilized to evaluate the stiffness, pitch, and resonance of the top as it approaches final dimensions.

The top is also weighed, and all pertinent information is recorded for later reference. The f-holes are cut on the router table, then refined with sanding forms. The holes are left a bit undersized to allow for later aperture tuning. The tone bars are perfectly fitted and glued in place with hot hide glue. A head block extension is made from maple and glued to the head block.

The top is glued to the ribs. When the glue has set, the body is removed from the external form. The tone bars are tuned by shaving the bars while testing the top both for deflection under a load and for the characteristics of the tap tone.

An ebony fretboard blank is sanded to a 12" radius and fret slots are cut on a dedicated radial arm saw. More specialized jigs are used to cut a matching dovetail in the neck blank and in the head block. A bit of hand work results in a joint that is neatly fitted, mechanically strong, and in perfect alignment.

The "ears" are glued to the peghead. The truss rod is installed, and the ebony peghead veneer is glued in place. The fretboard is cut to shape, and mother-of-pearl position markers and celluloid binding are installed. Recesses are routed in the back of the fretboard to receive carbon-fiber reinforcing bars.

Gold "Evo" frets are chosen both for their good looks and also for their durability. The tang is nipped off the ends to clear the binding. The frets are precut, then pressed into place in a thin bed of hot hide glue. The kerfed lining for the back is glued to the ribs.

A paper copy of my logo is glued to a mother-of-pearl blank, then cut out with a jeweler's saw. A pattern is affixed to the headstock with double-sided tape, and a groove is routed to receive the headstock binding. The binding is wedged into the groove and glued into place. The logo is recessed into the headstock and set in epoxy. The head is shaped and thicknessed on the bandsaw and spindle sander.

The neck is carved to shape. Tuning machine holes are drilled and recessed for the bushings. Carbon-fiber reinforcing bars are glued into the upper portion of the neck, and matching slots are cut in the neck to receive them. The neck is glued to the body, then clamped in a fixture that assures proper alignment while the glue dries.

Next I return my attention to graduating the maple back. The back is weighed and measured and the tap tone analyzed just as I did with the top. Hot hide glue is applied to the back and to the ribs, and allowed to dry. My label is glued inside. The parts are clamped together, and the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam. The aperture is tuning by gradually enlarging the f-holes until the cavity resonates at the proper pitch.

The binding channels are routed. Vinyl sealer is brushed on to prevent glue from wicking in the end grain. The binding is glued in place, then scraped level with the wood surface. The fretboard extender is fashioned from ebony and glued to the fretboard. Though it has a traditional appearance, this piece of paper demonstrates that it doesn't touch the top, leaving it free to resonate and produce music.

The fretboard is glued to the neck. The grain is raised with a misting of water, and the instrument is sanded to 320 grit. I mask off the binding and fretboard before staining the instrument. Even though the masking on the binding isn't perfect, it only takes a few minutes, and it saves a lot of scraping. The instrument is stained, the masking is removed, and the bindings are spruced up with a little bit of scraping along the edges. The instrument is then given an additional coat of vinyl sealer. The following day, a series of lacquer applications begins.

After two series of three coats each of lacquer, the instrument is sanded perfectly level, then two more thin coats of lacquer are applied. The finish is then allowed to cure before the instrument is buffed out and set up. When the finish has cured, the instrument is wet sanded with progressively finer grits of MicroMesh paper, then buffed on a flannel wheel. Tuning machines, truss rod cover, tailpiece,

end pin, and finger rest are installed. The bridge is shaped and fitted, and a bone nut and strings are installed. A bit of setup work, and this one is in the box and ready to go.


Thanks for watching this project

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