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Monthly Update 
 February 2011
In This Issue
Product Highlights
Luthier's Tip
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Luthierie Camp
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View our videos on YouTube
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, 


I'm hopeful that you are checking our Facebook page for our instructional videos. We're making an effort to post a new instructional video about once every two to three weeks. We are limited to posting short videos so you may notice that some of them are serialized (sequenced). Our current videos are about preparing the V joint - the first segment on preparing the neck and the second on preparing the headblock. These videos are a great place for you to see our V-joint tools in action. The next two videos will be about preparing the dovetail joint. Again, one video will be devoted to preparing the dovetail in the neck, and the other to preparing the dovetail in the headblock. I am excited that Facebook enables us to bring these instructional videos to your home, and I do hope you find them beneficial. Please let me know if there are particular aspects of construction that you would like to see.  


Our next Luthierie Camp is about Tools and Fixtures and is a two-day event on the weekend of March 26-27. This Camp will focus on how to make parts in dedicated tools and fixtures as well as how to build the tools and fixtures. If you are interested in attending, please email Kali. And if you have questions about this Camp, please don't hesitate to either email me or call me at 805.365.7111. (If you would like to see a 2-minute video about the Tools and Fixtures Camp, please visit our Facebook page.) Hope to see you there! 

NAMM 2011

In January, Kali, Ken, and I went to the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention in Anaheim, California. This event is where manufacturers of musical instruments, parts, cases, strings, and accessories come together to show their products to dealers and resellers. I've been attending NAMM conventions since 1973 and have watched them grow year after year. And this year, even in a down economy, it proved to have wall-to-wall people wherever you looked. The NAMM show encompasses all four convention buildings at the Anaheim Convention Center, and the basement of building D. The exhibitors are segmented (as well as they can be), in the five exhibit halls and are organized by electronics, orchestral instruments, guitars and amps, keyboards and drums, and acoustic string instruments and accessories in the basement of building D. I don't believe the actual headcount has been tabulated yet, but I heard that the attendance was somewhere around 50,000 visitors during the four-day period. Access to NAMM is members only (sorry, we can't invite you), and we really had to hustle to get to meet with all of our industry contacts. On Thursday afternoon, Ken and I did squeeze in a little time to play some of Gibson's new mandolins. It was an exhausting but worthwhile few days.

A few months ago, we offered some of our scrap hardwoods available at a special offering of $16.00 for a box 6˝x11˝x9˝. The price included a minimum handling fee for us to get the wood into the box and to ship it Priority Mail. The boxes contained scrap pieces of ebony, curly maple, spruce, mahogany, rosewood, etc. The offer was well received and many folks have asked if we'd do it again. So, I'm pleased to announce that for our email newsletter readers only, you can purchase a box of wood scrap in one of two sizes: 6˝x11˝x9˝ for $16.00 or 6˝x12˝x12˝ for $19.00. This offer is not available on-line, so drop me an email, and I'll tell you how to order.

Lastly, I am excited about the new products we are presenting this month (and we have more in store for you). We make a major effort to bring you valuable tools and parts that will make a positive contribution to your luthierie experience. I hope you like what we are making available to you.

Thanks for building with us...




Figuring out Figure

From the earliest days of luthierie, instrument makers have always strived to build works of art with the goal of producing an instrument that looks great and sounds even better. Artistic challenges included elaborate bindings and inlaid edging, multi-colored marquetry decorations, hand-carved lattice-work coverings for soundholes, mother of pearl and abalone inlays, hand-shaded finishes, and highly figured woods.

In addition to utilizing beautiful secondary materials to decorate instruments and take advantage of the color of each species of wood, luthiers strive to promote the visual wonders inherent in the wood's figure and grain.

Figure and grain are two different things. Grain is a result of the tree's natural growth and is a pattern caused by the tree's annular rings. Each year, a tree in normal seasonal climates adds one growth ring around its girth. (In the tropics, where seasonal climates are erratic, trees can add two or three growth rings per year.) The rings are comprised of dense, darker, small cells called "summerwood" and more widespread, softer, larger cells called "springwood." These rings are plainly visible when a log is cut across its width. When cut lengthwise, the rings appear as lines of various width through the board.

Figure in wood is a natural phenomenon that, while beautiful, is actually a disfiguration of the wood. There are several types of figure including curl, burl, quilt, bird's eye, and spalt. (I'll focus on curly figure this month since it is the most popular figure used in mandolin and mandola construction.) Curly figure is caused by a tree sagging to one side that forces the wood on the compressed side of the tree to buckle or curl, much like the skin below your hand when it is bent. Although curly figure is most prominent in maple and sycamore, it occurs to some degree in virtually every species of wood. I had an incredible piece of curly oak from New Jersey that I made into a handrail for our home, I've come across some beautiful curly redwood, and I have found some beautiful curly ebony that makes wonderful peghead veneers.

The curly figure in maple is known by many other names including tiger, tiger-stripe, flamed, and fiddle. Of these, the lumber industry only recognizes "curly" and "fiddle:" Curly maple figure is measured by curls per foot, and fiddle maple figure is measured by curls per inch. Some subsets of the lumber industry consider curly maple as two or three stripes per inch, and fiddle maple as four or more stripes per inch.

From an acoustic standpoint, the curls themselves have no affect on the tonal properties of the wood. However, maple with curly figure is more flexible than the same species of maple with no figure. As a result, maple with curly figure is a bit more supple - a good attribute for backboards.

From a structural standpoint, the flexibility of curly maple can present a problem when used in instrument necks, especially the long thin necks of 5-string banjos. Since the curly figure in wood is basically wavy grain, necks with very high figure are like a long spring and can be a real problem to keep straight, even with the best of truss rods.

Loar F5 Backboard

Cosmetically speaking, while many builders strive to select fiddle maple for F5 and H5 backboards, all of the early Loar-signed instruments had rather modest curly figure. Here's a photo of the backboard of a Loar-signed F5 mandolin. While it is attractive, it is not elaborately figured.

Illustration - Curly Maple

The illustration above is from my book Siminoff's Luthiers Glossary and shows how the curled grain (right side of board) causes a ripple-like "curl" figure that is visible on the top of the board. The left end of the board shows the normal annular rings. If you are interested in this kind of information about woods and luthierie, it might be worthwhile for you to have a copy at your workbench.
Product Highlights

Ivoroid Crosspiece· Ivoroid Crosspiece The crosspiece is that part of binding that goes under the fretboard from the bass side to the treble side of the instrument. On an F5 and A5 mandolin, the 15th fret of the neck aligns to the crosspiece. On the H4 mandola, the 13th fret aligns to the crosspiece, and on the F4 mandolin, the 12th fret aligns to the crosspiece. We now have grained ivoroid crosspiece binding that is ˝" high and .090" thick. A minute detail, but a perfect match for the binding on the edges of your instrument. The part is #408-A and is $4.00 plus P&H.


Fish Glue· Hard (Fish) GlueHot hide glue has been the traditional adhesive for luthiers. It is made from natural animal parts, dries rock hard, and it can be thinned or softened with warm water. The drawback of working with hot hide glue is heating and maintaining a pot of glue. Hard (fish) Glue has the same attributes but does not need to be heated as hide glue does. Hard (fish) Glue is made from natural fish parts, dries rock hard (as hard as hide glue), it can be thinned or softened with warm water, and, like hide glue, it has great tack. Our Hard (fish) Glue comes with an applicator brush and can be used for attaching wood to wood, wood to plastic, and for joining many other combinations of materials. The 2 oz. bottle is part #803 and is $5.95 plus P&H, and our 4 oz. bottle is part #804 and is $10.95 plus P&H.


Tuning Fork· Calibrated C=256 Tuning Fork - If you are serious about tap tuning, you've undoubtedly searched for a way to calibrate your tuners to C=256 (A=431Hz). We now offer these C=256 tuning forks personally calibrated by Roger Siminoff to within +/- .5Hz. (Note: medical tuning forks are not calibrated even though they are stamped "C=256"). If you want to learn more about why C=256 tuning is important, you can download a free white paper from our web site entitled What Was Loar Hearing?, the 9th item from the bottom of the page. Our calibrated C=256 tuning forks are part #821 and are $18.95 plus P&H.

Luthier's Tip: Removable Backboards


Like anything else we do well, practice makes perfect, and the key to success in luthiere comes from both testing and building. The more you test and build, the more you will learn. To this end, you might consider building a mandolin or two that are dedicated test instruments FYEO (for your eyes only). These are instruments to which you can make dramatic changes so you can evaluate the results and learn as you go. We have half a dozen such instruments around the shop, and while I am not proud of them from a luthiere standpoint, I am very excited about them from an experimentation and learning standpoint. They hang on our wall and are ugly, and I'm not the least bit ashamed to show them to our guests.

Removable Backboard 

Two key areas of focus for me have been in soundboard and backboard graduation, and tone bar tuning and positioning. In order to accomplish either of these tests, I was confronted with the need to constantly attach and remove the backboard. I could have used hide glue, but even though hot hide glue separates easily, it is still time consuming and requires some cleanup before a backboard can be re-attached.


Making a paper shim is simple and a backboard can be popped off in a fraction of a second by placing a razor blade into the paper and merely slitting the paper open. The paper shim is glued in place with Titebond Regular Glue® and the paper provides a very strong bond when the instrument is strung up. This photo shows an A-model instrument whose backboard has been attached and removed a dozen or so times. When the pieces of the paper shim become cumbersome and get in the way of re-gluing, I just sand them down to the wood again and start over.

Product of the Month: Peterson StroboClip® 


StroboClipWe think that this tuner is the best thing since sliced bread! The Peterson StroboClip® is an easy-to-use instrument tuner that has a multi-directional clamping mechanism so that you can swing the tuner into any position for easy viewing. It's very fast and it's very accurate. And, the screen has a large display with a digital version of a strobetuner wheel that makes it very easy to see whether you're sharp or flat from a distance - on the end of a mandolin neck or way out on a 5-string banjo neck.  And, it's backlit for tuning on those dark festival nights. For the month of February only, we are going to knock $10.00 off the price. Our regular price is $69.95 ($85.00 list price) but if you order on-line and enter code 10clip, you can get one for $59.95 plus P&H.  

$10 Off!  
$10 off Peterson StroboClip®

February's Product of the Month: $10 off a Peterson StroboClip®. Not valid with any other offers or promotions. Use the coupon code 10clip when ordering online. Limit one per person.
Offer Valid: February 14, 2010 through March 11, 2011