Custom A-Style Mandolin #38 165

Completed October, 2016

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


This instrument is the second in my new line of A-Style mandolins, and to the best of my ability is identical to the last: red spruce top, curly maple back and sides; ebony peghead overlay, bridge, finger rest, and fretboard; and Golden Age tailpiece and tuning machines. The radiused fretboard is fitted with gold Evo frets for great tone and long wear. 1-1/8" nut width. Mother of pearl logo and position markers. Ivoroid celluloid bindings. Gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish. Hardshell case.

Since I used the same wood and specifications as the last mandolin, it's no surprise that this one has the same monster sound: big, throaty D and G string, with clear and strong highs all the way down the neck. To my ear, it sounds like a much larger instrument.

Here are a few audio clips that will give you an idea of this instrument's tone and volume:

Construction Photos

As with nearly every instrument I build, construction begins with the joining of the red spruce top and maple back plates with hot hide glue. The maple sides are sanded to thickness, then bent over heated pipes of varying diameters and placed within the external form. The head and tail blocks are shaped and glued into place.

Mahogany lining is cut to size and kerfed on the bandsaw, then glued to the ribs with hot hide glue. The plates are cut to shape, and the edge thickness is established on the router table. Excess wood is removed from the outside of the plates with a shop-built pattern router.

Thicknessing guide holes are drilled around the perimeter of the top, and the shape is refined with a scraper. Sandpaper puts the finishing touches on the outside as the surface is examined in raking light. The graduation map is laid out on the inside, and thicknessing holes are drilled partway through.

Excess wood is removed with a plane until the holes begin to disappear. Then a scraper is put to work, and constant measuring of the thickness begins. The laptop is brought out, and the tone is analyzed using a program designed for that purpose. The tap tone informs me of the top's stiffness, and therefore the proper graduation and the size of the tone bars. Weight is checked to assure it's within norms. Measurements are carefully recorded for future reference. The f'-holes are marked on the top.

The holes are roughly cut on the router table, then refined with sanding forms. The tone bars are fitted and glued to the top with hot hide glue. Hot hide glue is also applied to the top and to the ribs. When it's dry, the parts are clamped together and the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam. The shaping of the back proceeds much as did the top's.

When the outside of the back is refined with scrapers and sandpaper, the profile contour is laid out on the inner surface and thicknessing holes are again drilled. This simple router assembly removes excess wood quickly, so I can to to work with small planes and scrapers on the inside.

Meanwhile, the head block extension is glued to the rib/top assembly. The back is evaluated for weight, thickness, and tap tone, and all measurements are carefully recorded for future reference. I turn my attention back to the top. The top is both deflection tested -- measuring the amount of deflection of the separate tone bars under a specified downward force -- and tap tuned, using a computer program that freezes the note so that it can be evaluated at my leisure for fundamental tone, harmonics, and sustain. The tone bars are shaved to achieve my target values.

A maple neck blank is partially roughed out, the truss rod slot is cut, and the dovetail joint is cut in both neck and body. Machine tools get it close, and the final fitting is done by hand. An ebony fretboard blank is sanded to a 12" radius.

Fret slots are cut, along with matching slots in neck and fretboard to receive the carbon fiber reinforcing bars. Mother-of-pearl position dots are inlaid into the fretboard, and celluloid binding is glued on. Frets are cut and pressed into the slots, each fret set in just a bit of hot hide glue. The ears are glued to the peghead. The truss rod is installed, and the ebony peghead overlay is glued to the peghead.

A template is affixed to the overlay with double-faced tape, and a slot is routed to receive the binding. The binding is glued into the slot. A paper copy of the "Skipper" logo is glued to a slab of mother of pearl, and the logo is cut out with a jeweler's saw. The logo is inlet into the ebony headstock overlay and set in epoxy. The headstock is cut to shape, and the edges are sanded.

Tuning machine holes are drilled. The headstock is sanded to finished thickness. The holes are recessed for the finish bushings. Slots for the carbon fiber reinforcing bars are extended through the head block. The neck is shaped with rasps, planes, and scrapers. The neck is glued to the body, utilizing a jig that holds everything in proper plane and alignment.

The mating surfaces are coated with hot hide glue and allowed to dry. Then the back is clamped to the sides, and the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam. The binding slot is routed, and celluloid bindings are glued in place. A piece of ebony is shaped into a fretboard extender, then glued to the bottom of the fretboard. The fretboard is glued to the neck.

An ebony blank is fitted to the fretboard extender, then shaped into a sculpted finger rest; it's checked for proper fit. The bridge is fitted to the top. The bindings are scraped level with the surrounding wood. In a final tuning process, the f-holes are enlarged to bring the aperture tuning to the proper frequency.

I accidentally deleted from my phone the pictures of the staining and binding-scraping processes. I could probably get them back with some effort, but since the process was excactly like that on the prior mandolin, I won't bother. The instrument is given a coat of vinyl sealer, followed by series of nitrocellulose lacquer, with a day's drying between each application. After two series of three coats each of lacquer, the instrument is sanded perfectly level. Then the finish is allowed to cure for 10-14 days before final rubout and setup. When the finish is fully cured, the instrument is wet sanded with Micro Mesh paper. Then the instrument is buffed on a flannel wheel. The bridge is shaped and fitted to the top.


Tuning machines, strap button, finger rest, tailpiece, bone nut, and strings are installed. A bit of setup, and it's ready to go.

Thanks for watching this project

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