Custom A-Style Mandolin #39 170

Completed January, 2017

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


Like the last two A-Style mandolins that have been such a hit, this one features: a red spruce top; curly maple back, sides and neck; radiused fretboard with gold Evo frets; ebony fretboard and headstock overlay; ivoroid celluloid binding; Golden Age hardware; and gloss nitrocellulose finish over a vintage sunburst. Hardshell case.

After a visit by a good friend and excellent musician, I have some new sound clips for this mandolin.

This is a demo model, but is also for sale. The list price on this one is $3,950, but I'm offering it for $3,450. 48-hour approval, PayPal accepted.


Construction Photos

The first step is to prepare the center joint of the top and back wedges. As you can see in these photos, the joints are not clamped together; rather, they're perfectly fitted, then glued with hot hide glue. The glue penetrates the wood, then as it dries pulls the plates tightly together. Mahogany head and tail blocks are fitted. The maple sides are lightly misted with water and bent to shape over a pipe heated with a light bulb. The ribs are placed in an external form, and the blocks are glued in place.

Kerfed mahogany lining is cut and glued to the ribs. The plates are cut to shape, and the edge thickness is defined on the router table. Excess wood is removed with power plane, and a shop-built duplicating carver removes even more surplus wood from the plates.

At this point, raw wood has been converted into rough components; these, in turn will be refined into finished parts. A post-and-stop configuration on the drill press is used to establish a uniform depth to the recurve. The top is refined with scrapers and sandpaper. The graduation is laid out on the back; a "spine" of slightly thicker material is left in the center to counter string tension.

Thicknessing holes are again drilled, and the wood is removed from the inside and the proper graduation is achieved. The f-holes are marked and cut. The tone bars are fitted and glued in place. Hot hide glue is applied to the ribs and to the edge of the top and allowed to dry. The parts are clamped together, and the glue is rejuvenated with steam.

This specialized fixture allows me to measure the deflection of the separate tone bars under a defined weight. Using this value, and comparing it to the tap tone, the tone bars are brought to a final shape that provides a perfectly tuned top. Fret slots are cut in an ebony blank. Mother-of-pearl position markers are installed, and the blank is sanded to a 12" radius.

The fretboard is cut to shape. An extension is glued to the head block to bring it up to the level of the neck. The dovetail is first cut on the table saw, then it's further fitted on the bandsaw and ultimately by hand. The truss rod slot is cut, and the neck is cut roughly to shape.

The end result is a perfectly fitted dovetail joint that is properly aligned in all planes. Binding, Evo frets, and side markers are applied to the fretboard. Matching recesses are cut in the fretboard and neck to receive the carbon fiber reinforcing bars. The truss rod is installed, and the ebony veneer is glued to the headstock.

The back linings are glued in place. An acrylic template is affixed to the headstock with two-sided tape, and the binding ledge is routed. The excess wood is cut away on the bandsaw, and celluloid binding is glued in place. The binding is temporarily held with tape, then wrapped with rubber bands until the glue has fully cured. The logo is cut from gold mother of pearl, cutting the inside portions first.

It's beginning to look like a mandolin. The inlay shape is marked on the peghead, and a recess is routed to receive it. The inlay is set in epoxy.

When the epoxy is cured, the headstock is sanded level. Turning my attention to the back, I establish the recurve depth with a series of holes drilled to a stop. The outside is refined with scrapers and sandpaper. The graduation is marked on the inside, and a series of thicknessing holes are drilled. Excess wood is removed with finger planes.

The back, like the top, is evaluated for weight, thickness, and tap tone; the values relative to those of the top are also taken into consideration. The results are carefully recorded and compared with past instruments. The peghead is sanded to finished thickness, and the neck is shaped.

Holes for the tuners are drilled. A shop-built jig assures that the neck is properly aligned in all planes as it's glued to the body. The label and signature are applied, then covered for protection with low-tack tape. Hot hide glue is applied to the mating surfaces on sides and back, then allowed to dry. The parts are clamped together, then the glue is reactivated with a jet of steam.

 The recesses for the fiber-reinforcing bars are extended through the head block. A "dentist's-tray" arrangement assures that the router remains vertical while the binding slots are routed. The binding and 15th-fret crosspiece are glued into place. An ebony fretboard extender is shaped and glued to the bottom of the fretboard. The ebony finger rest is formed and temporarily attached to the fretboard to check the fit.

 The fretboard is glued to the neck. The bindings are scraped level with the surrounding wood. The entire instrument is sanded to 320 grit. As a final step in tuning, the f-holes are enlarged to achieve the desired resonant frequency for the body cavity. Since I'm both more accurate and quicker at masking than scraping, I mask the bindings before staining. Stain is applied, beginning with a central amber hue.

 Brown, melding to black at the edges, is applied, and then the warmer red tint is filled in. The masking is removed and the binding is cleaned up anywhere stain might have leached under the masking. The instrument is given a coat of vinyl sealer and allowed to hang overnight.

 The next day, it's given the first of two series of three coats each of nitrocellulose lacquer and again allowed to dry overnight. The process is repeated the following day. When the two series are complete, the finish is sanded perfectly level. Then it's given two more thinned coats of lacquer, then allowed to cure for 10-14 days. When the finish is fully cured, the instrument is wet-sanded with increasingly finer grits of MicroMesh paper, then it's buffed on a flannel wheel.

 The frets are dressed and the fretboard is cleaned. Tuning machines, tailpiece, and endpin are installed. A bridge is fashioned and fitted, and the sculpted ebony finger rest is installed. A bit of setup, and it's ready to go.

Thanks for watching this project


All content and graphics © Skipper Custom Instruments