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Monthly Update 
 July 2011
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Product Highlights
Luthier's Tip
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Luthierie Camp
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2011/12 Luthierie Camps...

        Oct. 9-14, 2011  
        April 22-27, 2012
        July 15-20, 2012            Oct. 14-19, 2012         
Tap Tuning:
         Nov. 12-13, 2011
         Nov. 3-4, 2012

Tools & Fixtures
         Mar. 24-25, 2012

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

Dear Luthiers, 


Summer warm weather is upon us and there's a heat wave across the country; we've had a few 104 days here in Atascadero but, fortunately, the shop is air conditioned so we are happy as a clam - or should I say "cool as a cucumber." Warm weather also brings concerns for wood storage and instrument transportation. No matter how much we write and talk about exercising care during the summer, we get at least one owner a year who comes to us with an instrument that was accidentally left in a trunk. The temperature in the trunk of a car in direct sunlight can easily exceed the ambient temperature by 20 or 30. For instruments made with hot hide glue or fish glue, seams will creep when the temperature reaches about 140F. Vinyl straps will raise havoc with finishes when temperatures reach about 120F. Varnish finishes get a bit sticky around 110F and are prone to attracting impressions and fibers from cases. Always consider the weather when you park your vehicle while transporting and storing your instruments, and be sure to tell customers you've built instruments for to exercise care on the warm days. It is also a good idea to check that your finishes, cleaners, and solvents are stored away from direct sun or warm areas. Suffice it to say that an ounce of prevention goes a long way.


A production environment is quite a bit different from the ideal luthierie environment. In a production environment - like our shop - we're moving along at an aggressive pace, machines buzzing in the background, production schedules on our mind, sawdust all over the place, and more. The ideal luthierie environment - also like our shop (when everything else stops) - is a slow-paced quiet workplace with music in the background, birds chirping at the window, and a glass of lemonade on the workbench. This year, we've tried to have the best of both possible worlds, and we have set aside a day every other week to focus on only building. (Of course, for us, having production tools available takes the grunt work out of building and helps to expedite things a bit.) So, I'm excited to announce a few instruments Ken and I have completed and are ready for sale. These are an F5 mandolin, H5 mandola, and an H4 mandola. If you or a friend are looking for a new instrument, drop me an email, and I'll be glad to provide specifications and prices.


We have a few postponements in our next couple Luthierie Camps (October, 2011 and April, 2012) and now have some openings, so if you are interested in joining us or being on the standby list for either October or April, send an email to Kali so she can have you name and contact information handy. We have some benches open for our Tap Tuning Camp in November, 2011 and some benches open for Tools & Fixtures Camp in March, 2012. July 2012 Camp is now open and that is a "Pick Your Instrument Camp" where you can build an F5, F4, H5, or H4. There is no obligation for you to get your name on the regular Camp list or standby list.


I'll be doing a workshop on mandolin building at the Bluegrassin' In The Foothills bluegrass festival in Plymouth, California, during the weekend of September 16-18, 2011. This is a truly great music event in California's scenic gold country. If you make it there, please come by and say "hello." 


Lastly, if you are traveling through California, we'd love to have you stop by and say "hello." We enjoy having visitors. Just give me a call ahead of time so we're not knee-deep in the middle of something and will be able to give you our full attention.


Hope your summer is going well...



Thanks for building with us...




To X or not to X, that is the question. 


The issue of using X-bracing on a carved-soundboard/backboard mandolin comes up often and is a topic worthy of a lot of discussion.


X-bracing was originally designed for flattop steel string guitars as a means of counteracting the +/- 160 pound torque-load of the strings at the bridge, and keeping the soundboard from distorting under the load. The two lower arms of the "X" straddle the bridge plate (the cross-grain support piece inside a guitar that is directly under the bridge) and prevent that area of the soundboard from twisting out of shape, and the two upper arms extend around and beyond the soundhole. Ideally, the soundboard should have distortion around the bridge; it is a sign that the soundboard is properly loaded by the strings' tension and ready to be responsive to the longitudinal energy driven by the strings towards the bridge to make it rock back and forth. The idea of X-bracing was initiated by C.F Martin I and was embellished upon by many manufacturers and private builders since.


While the X-brace system works well for a flattop acoustic guitar from a structural standpoint, there are a lot of things about the X-brace method that is not ideal from an acoustic standpoint. (The ideal brace pattern for acoustic guitars, in my opinion, is the fan-brace pattern used in classical and Flamenco guitars.) If that comment raises some eyebrows or conjures up the question, "What's wrong with an old herringbone D28?" I would answer, "Absolutely nothing - after all, it is the standard by which other guitars are measured." But the fact that an old D28 sounds great also means that it is a sound we've become accustomed to and one we identify with bluegrass and with specific artists. It doesn't mean that it is the greatest sound that can be had from that body shape and style.


Unlike the flat soundboard of an acoustic guitar, the carved and arched soundboard of a mandolin is very strong because of its curved shape. In fact, an arched soundboard doesn't need braces; you can build an F5-style mandolin without any braces or tone bars and it will hold up just fine. Of course, since mandolins feature a tailpiece and a movable bridge, there is no torque or twisting load imposed on the center of the soundboard; the mandolin's soundboard is subjected to a downward load and doesn't need braces to keep it from twisting as a guitar's soundboard does.


Another important feature of a graduated soundboard is that it is stiffer in the center and becomes increasingly more supple near the edge of the soundboard.


Tone bars and braces are two very different things: braces are for structure; tone bars are to adjust the stiffness (tuning) of the soundboard. Therefore, the tone bars used on a mandolin soundboard are there to adjust the tuning of the soundboard, not to support or strengthen it. (F4 mandolins and H4 mandolas feature a cross brace below the soundhole, and it is there to strengthen the soundboard and prevent it from cracking where the oval soundhole is cut across the soundboard's grain.)                       


One structural feature of an X-brace system is that the center of the "X" is typically higher than the extensions or ends of the braces (Fig. 1). In this regard, it is a structure that is stiffer in the center and weaker at its extremities. These same attributes can be given to the arched and graduated soundboard of the mandolin (Fig. 2). However, to put X-bracing on a graduated soundboard doubly stiffens the soundboard at the center and makes it excessively stiff and heavy (Fig. 3).


If a builder was using a laminated soundboard on a mandolin, or a soundboard of even thickness across its entire width and length (Fig. 4), then an X-bracing system could be made to work.


Another concern I have for X-bracing on a mandolin soundboard has to do with the location of the bridge feet. Ideally, each of the two feet of the bridge should sit over the tone bars (as it does on an F5 mandolin - Fig. 5). Unfortunately, unless an X brace pattern is laid out in a very unusual way, but still intersects in or near the center of the soundboard, it is difficult to get the mandolin's bridge feet to sit over the legs of an X-brace system.


I'm not saying that X-bracing on a mandolin is a "bad thing" just that it is an unusual soundboard support system, and when one considers the design and purpose of X-bracing, it was intended for an entirely different purpose. And, the use of an X-bracing system on an arched soundboard mandolin will produce a different tone than two longitudinal tone bars (which is not necessarily a bad thing). However, as always, I think you should experiment and test different possibilities. I just wanted to share some of my thoughts about using X-bracing on the arched soundboard of a mandolin. 


Product Highlights

Men's Shirt  Men's T-Shirts  Going to a festival? Well, you have to be properly attired and there's no better way than to wear one of our luthier's shirts. Our T-shirts are of made of high-quality olive-colored cotton and are silk screened on the front and back. The front of the shirt boasts a front-end-view illustration of the F5 mandolin, and the back of the shirt shows the butt-end (as if the mandolin is going through the shirt). Shirts come in adult S, M, L, XL, and XXL, are part #2110 and are $14.95 plus P&H.

Women's Shirt  Women's T-Shirts  -
 And, we've just added women's shirts. Women's shirts are crew-neck fitted shirts made from soft navy cotton. They come in M, L, XL, and XXL, but as you will see when you go on line to order them, we suggest that you order at least one size up (they run a bit small) unless you like them very snug. Women's shirts are part #2115 and are $14.95 plus P&H.


Sweatshirt  Sweatshirts  Last, but by no means least, you can't stand around jamming on those cold summer evenings if you're not wearing a Siminoff sweatshirt. These sweatshirts come in XL or XXL and are made from high-grade brown colored cotton. The sweatshirts run a bit small so if you might want to think about getting the next size larger. The part number is #2120 and they are $21.50 plus P&H.

Luthier's Tip: A Way to Hang Them


It's hard to finish an instrument that needs to be coated on its entire surface and find a way to hold them as well. Well, the job can be made easier by putting an eye-hook into the tailblock and using it as both a handle and a hang-up device.


The first thing I do when I have an instrument in white-wood ready for stain or finish is to screw a ˝ eye hook into the tailblock. I first position the tailpiece where it will go and mark the end-pin hole. Then I drill it with a 3/16˝ drill and thread in a ˝ eye hook that is 5˝ long and has an closed eye at the end (as opposed to one with a hook at the end).

Hanging Instrument 

When I'm coloring and staining, I can just lay the instrument on the bench or on my lap as I work. Whenever I pick up the instrument, I grab the eye hook just in case I have any wet stain or dye on my gloves. When doing spray shading of the instrument (left), I can grab it anywhere because I know my gloves will be dry, but when spraying on lacquer, I hold the instrument by the eye hook (because I don't want to touch the instrument where it might be wet). Finally, when the instrument has been sprayed and is ready to be hung up to dry, I merely place it on a hook attached to the ceiling (right).


When the instrument is done, I remove the eye hook from the tailblock and prepare the eye hook's hole for the end pin. 

Product of the Month: Plain Maple Necks


neckWe recently made a run of plain-maple mandolin necks for one of our customers and have some overstock. If you can use them for one of your building projects, you can save a whopping $35 on plain maple mandolin necks with square pegheads

 (no truss rod installed) while the supply lasts. These necks are pattern carved to the F5 shape (and flare up slightly wider at the fretboard plane so you can shape the neck wood to the binding once the fretboard is attached). All you do is go to our on-line store (Necks & Services) and select an " A5/F5 Plain maple " neck (part #321) from the "Necks" section and use promotion code 35plain when you check out, and you'll save $35.00. And, you can add other services like  truss rod installed, F5/A5/F4 , peghead veneer attaching , peghead shaping , and V-joint or dovetail joint if you like (but those services are at the regular prices). The neck and any services are plus P&H.

$35 Off!  
$35 off Plain Maple Necks 

July's Product of the Month: $35 off plain maple necks. Not valid with any other offers or promotions. Use the coupon code 35plain when ordering online. Limit one per person.
Offer Valid: July 22, 2011 through August 24, 2011