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Monthly Update 
October 2010
In This Issue
Product Highlights
Luthier's Tip
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Luthierie Camp
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2011 Luthierie Camps...

H5/H4 Mandola Construction:
Feb. 20-25, 2011
July 17-22, 2011

F5 Mandolin Construction:
Feb. 20-25, 2011
Oct. 9-14, 2011

Tap Tuning:
         Nov. 13-14, 2010
         Nov. 12-13, 2011

Tools & Fixtures
Mar. 19-20, 2011

Please visit our website or email Kali for more information about these programs.
Dear Luthiers,

On our way back from a bluegrass festival in Plymouth, California, Rosemary and I headed to Yosemite for a few days of R&R's r&r. We took a trip on an old narrow-gauge logging train and heard a talk about the clear-cutting of the area's sugar pine and ponderosa trees in the early 1900s. The idea of such gross carelessness of this important natural resource was disconcerting. That afternoon, we visited the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park to see a stand of giant Sequoias. It was my first time there, and the contrast between the morning's vision of clear-cut hills and the afternoon's towering age-old growth made me stop and think. I have always had a reverence for wood. I love trees, and I consider their beauty, importance, and contribution to our lives every time I handle a board. I don't treat cutting wood lightly, and it troubles me when we discard scraps. At least using them in a campfire, as I mentioned a few months ago, gives the wood that I have cut some additional value. While I thought my awareness and appreciation for trees was at its highest level, our visit to the Sequoias gave me a new perspective and an increased awareness of Mother Nature's magnificence. Standing at the base of these giants was very inspirational. For a while I stood motionless just reveling in their presence, trying to feel them in some way other than by touch. We are all fortunate that the art of luthierie brings us so close to Nature and gives us a chance to explore and share this wonderful resource.


When I shared with Rosemary what I was writing about in this month's newsletter, she said "If you feel that strongly about it, why don't we give our scraps to builders? There must be good material they can use!" We talked about it for a while trying to see if we could put scraps in our daily packages but the cost of the additional weight was not practical. Then Kali chimed in that we could fill up a USPS Bulk Rate box and just charge for the handling, labeling, and postal cost. Seemed a bit philanthropic, but maybe if we did it just for one month, it would remove some of my "scrap-tossing guilt." So, we'll give it a try. From now until the end of November, we will send you a 11˝ x 9˝ x 6˝ Bulk Rate box of wood scrap that includes random sized pieces of curly maple, ebony, Sitka spruce, red spruce, and whatever else fits in the box for $16.00 - which includes the postage. That's about 4 pounds, 594 cubic inches (a third of a cubic foot) of wood. Since it is a special courtesy only to our newsletter readers, it is not on our web site, and you can either call in your order (805-365-7111) or send me or Kali an email with "SCRAP WOOD" in the subject line, and we'll tell you how to process the order that way. Now we can be partners in being a bit green about our luthierie. (Unfortunately, this offer is available only to folks in the U.S.)

On another subject, our October Luthierie Camp was a great success, and we had six luthiers (our maximum per class) who did an outstanding job building their F5 mandolins. By week's end they were all holding their assembled "white-wood" mandolins (less binding, fret board, inlays, and finishing), and I think it goes without saying that they were filled to the brim with information and very tired (but satisfied). From left to right, bottom row (campers are in tan Camp shirts): Kali Nowakowski, Lo Vaughn, Rosemary Siminoff. Back row: Ken Roddick, Chris Rogers, Joel Gonzales, Mark Jernigan, John Toner, Gary Mellinger, and Roger Siminoff. Please join me in a round of applause for our October Camp luthiers.

Oct. 2010 Camp 

Our next Luthierie Camp focuses on tap tuning and will be held on the weekend of November 13-14. We still have some room, so if you are interested, please give Kali a call at 805.365.7111.

Thanks for building with us...

Tap Tuning

Six years ago, tap tuning was a big "secret" and many builders thought it was a lot of bunk. Luthiers read that Gibson performed tap tuning on its heralded F5 mandolins under the guidance of Lloyd Loar and that legendary violin makers were masters in their tap tuning, but the lack of information about the subject shrouded tap tuning in secrecy. When The Art of Tap Tuning was published, luthiers were slow to adopt the process, but now it is well understood; manufacturers like Peterson make equipment for it, and the true art of tap tuning is well on its way to being commonplace.


Questions still abound, and I get a regular flow of emails and calls from folks regarding tap tuning. I would like to share some answers to a few of the most common questions.


What octave?

Many folks wonder about the octave they are shooting for and my typical answer is "don't worry about the octave." I go on to say that if you are an octave too high or too low, the part will be so ridiculously thick or thin that you'll know about it long before you tap tune it. Listen for the note - don't worry about the octave. Whatever note shows on the strobetuner or on Strobosoft will be the right one.


I can't get to an A#.

If you have tried to tune a soundboard or backboard and can't get to the target notes, first use your judgment about whether the board or tone bars are the right size. If they are, go to the next nearest note you can arrive at. Just make it a whole note that is neither zero cents sharp nor flat.


I don't get the C=256 thing.

There are 12 notes in the musical scale and each note has a specific relationship to the note above it and below it. Today, concert pitch tuning is based on A, but at one time the concert pitch was based on C. It could have been any of the other 11 notes, but C was selected. So, if one knew the frequency for C, one knew how to adjust all the other notes to be in the proper relationship to C. But C was really a clumsy note to use, especially for the grand orchestras where the violinist was selected to sound the first note for all instruments to tune to. The choice fell to the violin's open A string, and the world's orchestras agreed on concert pitch being based on A rather than C. And, when A is 440Hz, C is 261Hz. However, when Lloyd Loar was specifying the tunings for the bodies of F5 mandolins in the mid-1920s, C was then 256Hz, not 261Hz as it is today. (A=440 officially became 440Hz in 1971, 28 years after Loar's death.) To make a long story short, using concert pitch C=256 sets all 12 notes of the scale to be one quartertone off from the notes of the A440 scale, and this is a good thing for tuning the body parts of instruments. In this way, the air chamber and body will resonant equally for all notes played and not pop or be overbearing when playing a specific note of the A440 scale.


No matter what I do, the note does not change.

This is usually the case of tapping too hard or having the microphone too close to the part being tapped. The microphone will get overloaded if you are too close and you will just get a lot of noise. Hit lightly enough to just evoke a tone, and work about 2' to 3' from the microphone.


I'm not really clear on how to set up the Peterson 490 strobetuner or how to use Peterson's Strobosoft.

There is a free download instruction document (written by me) for each of these units on our web site.

I keep getting different readings with Strobosoft.

Peterson's Strobosoft is VERY sensitive and will most likely give a slightly different reading in CENTS each time you tap. This is because it is very difficult to tap in the exact location with the same intensity every time you tap. Being accurate and consistent in how you do this is very important. However, you should be using the Strobosoft Tap Tuning function and set the "averaging" selector to anywhere from 3 and 5 taps.


I'm removing wood from tone bars but don't see a change.

Each removal of wood should reveal a change in the frequency of the part. As you remove wood from a brace or tone bar, the pitch will drop (i.e., frequency will get lower). However, this will only happen if the soundboard is supple enough to be sensitive to the change you have made. Here is an extreme example: If you have soundboard that weighs 5 pounds (i.e., very stiff and very heavy), and you remove a 1 ounce shaving of wood from a tone bar, the relative change you have made to the soundboard is very small relative to the mass of the wood, and the frequency/pitch change will be minimal. On the other hand, if you have a soundboard that weighs 2 ounces (another extreme) and you remove the same 1-ounce shaving from a tone bar, you will have changed the soundboard's mass by 50% and will see a huge change in frequency/pitch. So, sometimes you will see a small change because the entire soundboard is still too heavy in which case you need to remove wood from the soundboard. In the case of guitar soundboards, you will only recognize a change in pitch once most of the braces and tone bars have been reasonably lightened.



I've done everything you said, but the note still doesn't change.

Background noise can be your worst enemy; if you have a refrigerator, air conditioner/heater, fan, loud fluorescent lights, or other ambient noise in the shop, Strobosoft will hear it. And in some cases, it will overpower and/or interfere with the signal. Several months back I was demonstrating Strobosoft at a luthier association meeting, and during our tests I kept getting the same reading. My associate Ken said that he thought there was too much noise from the air conditioner. Sure enough, when we had the AC shut off, our readings stabilized!

Product Highlights

Mandolin Bridge Mandolin and Mandola Bridges - We continue to be excited about the two-footed mandolin and mandola bridges we make. Our bridges are produced from the finest Gaboon ebony and are hand fitted and polished. The intonation notches were carefully positioned for modern strings (compared to most other bridges on the market today whose intonation notches are copied from early Gibson bridges that were intonated for a very different type of mandolin wire). This re-calculation of the intonation makes our bridges intonate clear and true on all frets. Available with either gold or nickel hardware, complete with instructions for fitting the feet to your soundboard. The ebony bridge with gold hardware is part #301-G and is $41.00 plus P&H, and the nickel version is #301-N and is #39.00 plus P&H. We also make these with left-handed saddles, and the left-handed version is an additional $19.00 (left-handed option is only available by emailing or calling us directly).  

Mother of Pearl Buttons Mother of Pearl Buttons -  Our mother-of-pearl buttons are designed to fit Gotoh machines and are beautifully crafted from bright-white pearl. They are a simple slide-on replacement for the standard plastic buttons on all of our Gotoh machines (F5, F4, H5, and A5). These buttons are the same 13mm diameter as the buttons used on the original Loar-signed F5s and H5s. They are part #301-1A and are $78.00 per set of eight plus P&H.

Spool Clamp Set Spool Clamp Set Siminoff Spool Clamps are constructed with a threaded steel shaft that is fitted with two hard rubber collars (spools) that conform to the shape of the soundboard or backboard. The durometer of the rubber collars permits them to be squeezed during tightening and allows them to expand as the glue cures and shrinks - a process that results in constant pressure during the entire gluing process. The spools can be slid in place and will stay until tightened by a single wing nut. Long enough for use on mandolins or mandolas. The part number is #3000, and the price per set of 24 is $39.95 plus P&H.

Luthier's Tip: Keeping out dust and spray

There are two pitfalls that rear their ugly heads when spraying the finish on a mandolin: the dust that is inside the instrument that finds its way outside when spraying (yuck), and any over-sprayed finish that finds its way to the inside of the instrument.

Many guitar makers have tricks to seal the air chamber of their instruments; some use balloons, and others - like Martin - use plastic cups held in place by sponges. The mandolin's irregularly-shaped f-holes make it a bit more difficult to seal easily, unless, of course, you simply tape them shut from the inside.

Tape in f-hole

You can easily prepare some blue paint-masking tape by using one or two little pieces of tape as a handle. Position the tape sticky side up, attach the handle(s), push the tape into the f-holes and then when it is all inside, pull it back up so that it sticks to the inside edge of the f-holes. If you are unsure of how well it will hold, you can fabricate a small piece of wire bent into an "L" shape, stick it into the f-hole before you pull all of the tape up, and use it as a stick from within the mandolin to push the tape to the inner surface of the soundboard.

It works well, it is really easy, and it costs practically nothing.

Product of the Month: Peghole Drilling Guides

Drilling GuideSiminoff Peghole Drilling Guides are exceptionally handy and valuable tools. They are precision CNC machines from  " mild steel and ensure perfect alignment and hole-to-hole spacing for the string posts. The guides are the full length of the peghead and are shaped to the width of the nut at one end and the point of the peghead's tip at the other end. The eight ˝ diameter pegholes are on 29/32˝ spacing and the rows are the correct distance apart, the correct angle from the centerline, and perfect lateral alignment for accurate machine spacing. There are three versions; F5, A5, and F4. The F5 template is part #1100, the A5 template is part #1102, and the F4 template is part #1101. Each template is $37.50 (each plus P&H). Until November 15, 2010, you can save $7.50 per template when your enter promo code pegguide750. That's a 20% savings!


Peghole Drilling Guide

October's Product of the Month: $7.50 off Peghole Drilling Guides. Not valid with any other offers or promotions. Limit three per customer. Use the coupon code pegguide750
when ordering online.
Offer Valid: October 22, 2010 through November 30, 2010