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Monthly Update 
January 2011
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:
July 17-22, 2011
F5 Mandolin Construction:
July 17-22, 2011
Oct. 9-14, 2011
Tap Tuning:
         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,


We were excited to learn that Siminoff Luthierie Camp earned a cover story in the Winter issue of the ASIA quarterly magazine Guitarmaker Journal. The cover photo was taken by our Ken Roddick and is of Bob Mizek working on his mandolin in our February 2010 Camp. Bob is a member of ASIA and did a great job building his F5 at Camp, and he took it upon himself to write the article for Guitarmaker. If you are interested in learning more about the ASIA (Association of String Instrument Artisans) you can read about them on their website.

                Guitarmaker Cover
While on the subject of Luthierie Camp, we still have a few spots open for our Tools & Fixtures Camp, March 19-20, 2011. This Camp focuses on building pattern shaping and carving tools, and fixtures for mandolin and mandola construction and is held at our well-equipped facility in Atascadero, California. Hope you can make it. If you are interested in joining us, please email Kali before March 1.


Last month, I wrote about a Kali model F5 mandolin we recently finished and received a bunch of emails asking for photos. This instrument features an Adirondack red spruce soundboard and a California Claro walnut backboard, ribs, and neck. As I mentioned last month, Kali picked an area of the rim that she liked the color of and asked me to match the soundboard to it. Kali's MandolinThe instrument was finished in nitrocellulose lacquer, diligently wet sanded and polished so that it would be a light coat. Walnut is a wonderful material for backboards and ribs; its suppleness greatly enhances the instrument's mid- and bass-response. Having said that, figured Claro, like the pieces Kali picked out for this mandolin, is hard to find, even right here in the thick of where it grows. But if you want to build a mandolin from some of it, we'll try to find it for you.


I hope you've had a chance to visit us at our Facebook page. We've received many emails from luthiers who have seen our instructional videos and have asked about some of the tools. Of particular interest has been the interchangeable-pilot counterbores that we use for boring the truss rod pocket and for our peghead router fixture. A great source for these and other tools is McMaster-Carr. McMaster is an excellent supplier for machine tool parts as well as a wide array of other tools, clamps, bandsaw and circular saw blades, electrical supplies, and more. McMaster isn't a "woodworker's" supply house per se; they are more of a high-end tool supplier. They are incredibly prompt on delivery, their web site is easy to work with, and I suggest that you check them out here.


Lastly, the current economy has proven to present a hard time for many folks during the past few years. And, for many, being out of work and trying to find a new job has presented more than its share of stress and concern. We've had many people turn to building instruments as a source of comfort and to occupy their minds during these tight times. My greatest delight comes from those calls when someone says "I just finished building a mandolin and someone bought it!" And then they go on to tell me how someone else wants one. And in a few cases, we learn that there are some who are going to take the plunge and adopt luthierie as their new profession. It is not an easy road, and it takes persistence, focus, patience, and dedication, but it is absolutely do-able. Yes, there are a lot of mandolin makers out there, but there are also a lot of folks who want mandolins. If you decide to pursue this path and want to talk through any part of it, please don't hesitate to call me at 805.365.7111.


From all of us here, we wish you an incredible New Year, and hope that you and your family will have a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2011.


Thanks for building with us...



To "kit" or not to "kit", that is the question


There used to be a lot of chatter on the forums about building from a "kit."  While most of that has subsided, we receive occasional calls and emails about building from a "kit." Things like: "Should I build from scratch before building from a kit?" and "Is someone who builds a kit really a luthier?" and "Professional luthiers don't build from kits" are interesting questions and comments that lead to a lot of conjecture.


We've never really liked the word "kit" - it conjures up images of a box of snap-together plastic parts to build a model airplane (not that there's anything wrong with that). However, until we find a better word, "kit" does, as Webster's states, describe a set of parts to be assembled.


The interesting comments are from the ones who suggest that they want to build like the luthiers did at Gibson - back in the old days - who made the F5s, and they infer that those folks began with a raw piece of wood and chiseled, sanded, and carved until they had a complete mandolin. Well, that's not the way it happened, and it's not the way it happens today.


Most major manufacturers of mandolins don't have their builders individually carve soundboards, bend rims, shape necks, and so on. The builders work from a set of parts ready to construct, picking soundboards from one bin, backboards from another bin, necks from another, and so on. In essence, they are collecting a kit of parts and preparing to assemble it.  The builders of the much heralded Loar-signed Gibson F5 mandolins assembled their instruments from a bunch of shaped parts that came from other folks in the plant. That's the way they did it then, and that's the way they do it now.


In the early 1970s I took this photo of a whole bin of Gibson F5 necks already shaped, with truss rod and scroll strengthener installed, just waiting to be used by builders. There were probably 200 necks in that bin. Pretty much part of a "kit", I'd say.


Three years ago, I moderated a panel at a "Loar Fest" event in Bakersfield, CA that was put on by the California Bluegrass Association. The panel consisted of some stellar builders including John Monteleone, Lynn Dudenbostel, Steve Gilchrist, Mike Kemnizter, and David Harvey. Each of them spoke about "kitting their parts," in essence, preparing several parts ahead of time to facilitate their building process. Kitting was very much a way of life for them and an important and efficient part of their building process.


We carve a lot of parts for professional luthiers. It's a very efficient and wise way for them to off-load the heavy and tedious carving tasks, which frees them up to do the things they do best while we do the things we do best. And, there is no glory in getting calluses and eating up a lot of time carving a maple backboard when our pattern carvers can do it so well and so efficiently.


Of course, building from scratch provides excellent insight to what goes into building the instrument from the ground up (and that's why I wrote several books about it). So, you may want to go through the building process from scratch just to have the experience of doing so. But, building from a kit is not a diminished way of building or a technique to be ashamed of. I don't shun folks who build from a kit no more than I shun the early builders who put together the Loar-signed F5 mandolins in the early 1920s.


So, in my mind, the only thing bad about building from a kit is the word "kit." (In fact, if you have a better word, I'd love to hear from you. Email me here.)

Product Highlights


Catalog Reprints CATALOG REPRINTS - I still have a small supply of Gibson catalog, brochure, and flyer reprints that we did at Pickin' Magazine back in the 1970s. In the photo, left to right is 1923 Master Model fold-out flyer, 1923 "Q" catalog, 1934 "W" catalog, 1920 banjo brochure, and the 1919 banjo brochure. The brochures and catalogs are limited supply and this will probably be the last time we promote them before they are gone (we have reprinted the 1923 Master Model flyer, so we do have a supply of those). The F5 flyer is $15.00 plus $5.00 P&H, the other catalogs and brochures are $20.00 each plus $5.00 P&H.  NOTE: Because of limited supply, these reprints are not in our on-line store - they are only available by email order ( or phone call (805.365.7111).

Left-Handed Bridge LEFT HAND BRIDGESFor the longest time, we've been making our highly respected bridges with an optional left-hand saddle. However, we've never included it in our on-line store catalog so it's been one of our best kept secrets! But now they are on-line. Our left-hand bridges are made with the same care and accuracy as our standard bridges. They are made from seasoned Gaboon ebony and are available with nickel or gold hardware. (Brazilian rosewood and Cocobolo are an option, but you have to call us.)  The ebony bridge with gold hardware is part #308-GLFT and is $59.00 plus P&H, and the nickel version is part #308-NLFT and is $58.00 plus P&H.

Binding Tape BINDING TAPE The best way to hold binding in place while the glue dries is with non-adhesive "binding tape." This non-stretchable fabric "tape" is pulled around the instrument to draw the binding into the binding notch. The fabric will not lift the fibers of the wood as masking tape will, and it allows substantial pressure to be applied against the binding, pulling the binding into the notch, and ensuring a tight fit. (Some glue may stick to binding tape, but does not affect re-use.) Our #460 binding tape comes in 8' lengths and is $8.95 plus P&H. Instructions included. 


Luthier's Tip: Peghead Binding


One of the trickiest parts of building an F5, F4, or H5 instrument is preparing the notch for the binding. Back in the late 1960s, I designed a tool to attach to Dremel motor tools to facilitate cutting the binding in the body. For the peghead, I recommended using a Dremel motor tool in a Dremel router base. Both of these tools are the simpliest and least expensive way to cut the channel for first time or occasional builders. If you are gearing up for any kind of production, you might want to consider preparing a router table - which is the way we do it.


We attached a Grizzly laminate router to a small router table and inserted an interchangeable-pilot counterbore into the router. The counterbore we use comes from McMaster-Carr (see above) and is their part #3102A11. This counterbore has a " cutting head on it and also has a " shaft that allows it to fit perfectly into the router's " collet. Depending on the thickness of the binding you use, McMaster has two pilots (that fit into the counterbore). For .060" binding, you'll need part 3103A11, and for .090" binding you'll need part 3103A1. As you can see in the left photo, we ground the tip of the pilot to a taper to allow the tool to work closer to the peghead wood at the upper end of the peghead.

Peghead Routing 

With the tool mounted in the table, the rest is very simple. You move the peghead against the router tip and cut away. Using this set up is very fast and is very smooth and accurate. And, you'll find it much easier to move the work than to move the tool - especially working on a nice flat surface.


If you want to see a video of how this works check out our Facebook page here.

Product of the Month: Behringer CS-400 Compressor 


CS-400 Compressor

If you are into tap tuning and use a 

regular spinning-wheel strobetuner, the Behringer CS-400 compressor helps to provide sustain when tap tuning. This battery-operated device goes between your microphone and your strobetuner or software application to increase the amount of time the tapped signal remains visible on your system (rather than a quick peak and decay, it will sustain the signal for about a second). The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $44.99 - we regularly sell the compressor for $30.00 - and this month you can take advantage of our $5.00 special coupon to buy one for $25.00 each plus P&H (almost 50% off the suggested retail price). The part number is #825. Enter promotional code 5CS400 for the $5.00 offer. Limit one per customer.

Compressor Special!

$5 off Behringer CS-400 Compressor

January's Product of the Month: $5 off a Behringer CS-400 Compressor. Not valid with any other offers or promotions. Use the coupon code 5CS400 when ordering online. Limit one per person.
Offer Valid: January 10, 2010 through February 1, 2011