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Paul's Flat Top Mandolin Cello Project - The Restoration
Porch Swings and Other Things
This page will give you an idea of the ordering and building process of an instrument. This process example is for an F style mandolin.
The customer will let me know what they want in the instrument. The basic mandolin starts off with curly maple back, sides, and neck along with a spruce top. If non figured maple is used, the final price is reduced accordingly. Other standard features include round mother-of-pearl fretboard markers, bone nut, Grover nickel tuners, flat rosewood fretboard, stamped steel tailpiece, solid binding and custumer's choice of color dyes and laquer in high gloss or satin finish.
Some options that can be included in the build are gold hardware, electric pickups, special inlays, ebony and radiused fretboards, etc.
Generally, F models will finish out around $2000, A's $1800 and Flat Tops $850. Price is for the mandolin only and does not reflect the case, shipping or insurance.
Construction starts with figured maple for the ribs, back, and neck. The head block, tail block and point blocks are also cut from maple.
The maple stock starts out about 1" thick and 6" wide and anywhere from 30" to 40" in length. The rib material is ripped in lengths of about 30" and thickness sanded to 2.5 mm. I hand bend my sides using a 1" black pipe heated with a propane torch. After the sides are bent, they will be clamped into block forms until they are cool and dry. They are generally left in these forms for a day after they are bent. A body form is used when gluing up the ribs. The kerf lining is cut using a band saw and glued into the rib assembly. This rib assembly is then thickness sanded for uniform height. This way the kerf lining and ribs are all level.
The spruce that I use for my tops are cut from spruce billets that are about 7/8" thick and 5 3/4" wide. The edges are jointed and glued. The outline of the body is then drawn on the top. The top is marked to allow for the height of the binding using a cutter wheel mounted in the drill press. I like to use short pins placed in the head block and tail block to keep the top and rim in alignment while I carve the top and scroll. I rough out the top using gouges then graduate the top to the proper thicknesses using a graduation punch. The punch and a dial indicator caliper allows me to measure the for the proper thickness as I scrape and sand the top. After the top is carved, I'll cut out the "f" holes and install the tone bars. The top is then glued to the rim, tuned then routed and bound.
I use several templates for the neck and peg head. The neck starts out by laminating two pieces of curly maple to make the neck blank. This lamination adds strength and stability over the standard one piece necks used by many manufacturers. The blank is squared and a channel is cut down the length. This channel is where a carbon fiber truss rod is placed. The carbon fiber truss rod is epoxied into the channel and capped with a strip of red oak. It depends on the model of mandolin being built, but there is about twelve pieces of wood that go into the neck and peg head. After the basic shape of the neck has been cut out with a band saw, the pieces that were cut away are used to make the ears of the peg head. The neck and peg head are then dressed to the final shape with rasps, files and bench sander. I cut the peg head veneer and bind it before it is glued to the peg head. After binding, the peg head veneer is then sanded to its final thickness. The logo for the peg head is hand cut from mother of pearl blanks. The veneer is glued to the peg head and routed for the logo. The mother of pearl logo is then inlayed into the veneer.
The finger board is also cut, bound and routed to accept the mother of pearl fret markers. It is then thickness sanded and the frets are installed along with the sided markers.
The neck joint is cut into the body to accept the neck. I use a jig to clamp the body into and cut the joint with either a router or hand saw. The body and neck are then glued up in a jig that allows for proper neck angle while keeping everything straight. The neck joint is then pinned with maple dowels. The fretboard extender is made and glued and pinned in place.
The back is made much the same way as the top. After the back is carved it is glued to the body and the binding channels are cut. The back is bound at this point. The instrument is sanded to prepare for the dyeing and finishing.
In the white
When it comes to dyeing my mandolins, I use aniline dyes thinned with spirits and hand applied to the instrument. This brings out the details and character of the wood's grain.
Front after being dyed
Back after being dyed
The standard finish is laquer in either a high gloss or satin sheen. The laquer is wet sanded and buffed. After the finishing and polishing the instrument is ready to be set up to play.
F style finished A style finished
John M. Saxon