Friday, 12 April 2019

Number 38, an octave mandolin

My Building Philosophy

My aim is not to produce “perfect” instruments with flawless varnishes and CNC-perfect joints.  Indeed, go into any high street music store and there will be plenty of those types of instruments, mass-produced and, in my opinion, bland and characterless.  Of course, they have the “name” and all that goes with that and if you want to buy an instrument like that, that’s fine.  I aim to offer something different.  I like my instruments to show the hand of the maker.   I find that, in my experience, perfection is elusive and a pretty exhausting goal to try and aim for.  You could say, I aim for my instruments to have soul.  I aim to for my instruments to have the feeling of an antique where patination can give the owner a sense their item has had a long, rich life.  I want my instruments to have a sound of times long passed, of those crackly old vinyl records we loved when we were young.  You may wonder “is this just an excuse for sloppy workmanship?”  I should point out that the surface of Stradavari violins, if observed closely, show tool marks.  Clearly, he wasn’t a mediocre craftsperson.  It’s just that he only had access to hand tools: hand planes, chisels, hand saws and knives.  Back then there were no computers or modern conveniences like sandpaper.  Indeed, I find that I prefer to do as much as I can with only hand tools, of which I have a large collection gathered from many sources over decades.  Of course some jobs are more easily done with machine tools, and I have some of those too.  I like the best of both worlds. 

So I hope that goes some way to explaining why I do what I do, and how I prefer to my work process to be.  I rarely deliver an instrument on time.  I believe, please indulge me, that the more time I spend on an instrument the better it will be.  I’d like to point out, though, that I could be making a lot more money in another profession, given the hours I work and the time it has taken to develop my craft.  I’m not expecting to get rich doing this and that fact doesn’t really bother me.  I do try to keep my prices as low as I can, but the reality is that my instruments are only going to get more expensive if I am to maintain this in the long term.  I do, however, get a great feeling when a player tells me how much they love playing one of my instruments and I believe that this result cannot come from cutting costs or keeping to strict deadlines.

I want my instruments to send out good vibes into this sometimes bleak world.

Number 39

This is a mandolin I'm currently working on for a customer in the USA.  It has a flat top and back but is braced differently to my previous flat-top mandos.  I got the idea from well-known builder Graham McDonald, but I made some detail changes to make it my own.  The soundboard is Sitka Spruce and the back and sides are Western Australian She-oak.  The first two pics show the top and back and the second two were taken during a pause when bending the sides.  The She-oak will look spectacular after I apply the finish.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Number 38

Pictured above is number 38, a just-completed octave mandolin.  An octave mandolin is tuned an octave lower than a "normal" mandolin and is the size of a small guitar.  This one has a 530mm scale length and the sides meet the neck at the 14th fret.  There is no re-curve where the sides meet the neck, unlike many other instruments of this type.  I wanted to keep it simple and affordable.  As you can imagine, with it's longer scale and lower tuning, this mandolin's voice is much more bassy than other mandos I have made.  However, the body is not as deep as some other octave mandolins so it sounds brighter than others.  The Bunya Pine soundboard works great in this application giving a powerful tone and is also much more resistant to abrasion than Spruce or Cedar, meaning that players who use a pick won't have to worry about marking the soundboard when strumming.  Some pics: