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January Update 
 January 2013
In This Issue
Product Highlights
Luthier's Tip
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Luthierie Camp
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Upcoming Luthierie Camps...

 April 7-12, 2013
       July 21-26, 2013            Oct. 20-25, 2013

Tap Tuning:

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

Dear Luthiers, 



We hope that all of you had a great holiday season and are off and running on
your luthierie projects for 2013. I continue to be enriched by how many people are building instruments and are engaging in the art of luthierie. And, while on the subject, please take the opportunity to share your work with us, either by email or on Facebook. We'd love to see production photos or photos of your finished instruments. Keeping in touch with your work and letting us know of your success and progress is very important to us.

We have another Luthierie Camp coming up this April 7-12, 2013. If you are considering building a mandolin, this would be a great opportunity to do it in our shop, with our guidance, our tools, and our fixtures. You'll leave here with a fully assembled and tap tuned "white-wood" mandolin by the end of the week that just needs binding, fretting, and staining when you get home! Ken, Nolan, and Kali share the instructional workload with me in our Camp and help to make it a rich, well-rounded program. We're excited that many Camp attendees have gone on to build mandolins for a living. If you are thinking of joining us in April, now would be the ideal time to contact Kali and reserve a bench. Hope you can join us.

I'm excited to announce the addition of another key team member. Amy Sullivan joined us at the beginning of the year to focus on marketing and business management, borrowing a few duties from Kali who will still be managing our Luthierie Camp program, as well as overseeing on-line sales and order fulfillment. AmyThe two will team up on managing production schedules, order processing, and social media, and they will assume some additional business management functions. I am excited that their fresh approach will bring us many new ideas and directions to help fuel your interest in luthierie, and I am hopeful that Amy and Kali will help relieve me of a few of my daily business chores so that Nolan and I can focus on things in the shop. In addition to Amy's love for 5-string banjo, she has a great background in marketing. So, with huge drum roll - or should I say "mandolin chop" - and a round of applause, I'd like you to help me welcome Amy to our team - we're excited that she's with us.

We're heading to the NAMM show at the end of this month. NAMM stands for the National Association of Music Merchants, a 100+ year-old organization that provides a showcase for instrument and accessory manufacturers from
around the world for a four-day event in Anaheim, California. In our next email newsletter, we'll give you an update of the goings on, or you can follow along with us on Facebook and Twitter (@SiminoffMandos).

Lastly, I am delighted to report that I have been selected as the central focus for a documentary about the life and work of Lloyd Loar being video'd and produced by Joe Weed of Highland Publishing. Joe and his daughter Katie have spent several days with us going through Loar documentation and Loar artifacts for the video. The interview segments with me were filmed at our shop on January 9th (which coincidentally was Loar's birthday - a good omen). The documentary should be released in early 2014.

From all of us here at Siminoff Banjo and Mandolin to all of you, here's wishing you a healthy, prosperous, and incredible New Year.

Thanks for building with us...


Sycamore vs. Maple  

Forestry is a challenging and exacting science, and most who are in the business
of managing woodlots, harvesting trees, and selling lumber have a pretty good
idea of the nature, region, value, and structural merits of the materials they are
engaged with.

For the untrained botanist, it's very easy to spot the difference between
deciduous and evergreen trees. While most people can pick out the maples from
the oaks (during the summer with leaves intact), determining the specific species
within families of trees gets a bit more difficult. And, once the leaves and bark
have been removed, it takes a reasonably well-trained eye to separate poplar
from cherry or black spruce from yellow spruce.

Trees are classified into various genus (groups) and species (sub-groups) and
are given Latin names to more precisely define their scientific classification.
For example, Picea is the genus of spruce, and sitchensis is species of Sitka
spruce. Red spruce is Picea rubens. (By the way, there is no tree or wood named
"Adirondack Red Spruce" even though we hear so much about it. This wood is
more properly called "red spruce" and was given its "Adirondack" nickname by
the CF Martin Organisation whose Nazareth, PA facilities are at the southern
end of the Adirondack Mountain range, and who at one time, got much of its
soundboard wood from that area.)

Of the four common members of the maple (Acer) genus used for luthierie, three
of them are not often confused, but the fourth one is. The common maples we
use are sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red maple (Acer rubrum), and big leaf
maple (Acer macrophyllum). Then, there is the odd ball, (Acer pseudoplantanus);
more commonly known as Sycamore. "Pseudoplantanus" actually means false plant which leads to why this wood is often mistaken for maple. (Acer pseudoplantanus is the common sycamore in Europe. Plantanus is the common sycamore in North America.)

Sycamore weighs 44 pounds per cubic foot compared to 47 pounds for sugar
maple. And, while it is very common to find curly figure in sycamore, the striping
is typically very consistent and regular, with close parallel curls. These close
parallel curls are what most luthiers refer to as "fiddle maple" with the wider,
more irregular stripes being referred to as "tiger maple" or "flamed maple."

So, sycamore is a member of the maple (Acer) genus and is often sold as maple
but its hardness, stiffness, and weight are quite different from red or sugar maple.
(From a weight standpoint, sycamore is more similar to big leaf maple.)

When we were building the prototype F5L mandolins at Gibson in 1978, we were
using sycamore, and most of the F5L's produced by Gibson up to about 1983
had sycamore backboards. Here's a picture of the backboard on one of the first
three F5L prototypes (left) compared to an original Loar-signed F5 (center).
Notice the very straight and parallel figure lines on the sycamore backboard
compared to the more tiger-stripe appearance of those on the original F5s.
Sycamore vs Maple

The mandolin on the right is one of ours from 2012 and features a backboard
made from big leaf maple. Big leaf maple has unusual curly figure, and if you
carefully study the figure of the original F5 mandolin (center) to the big leaf maple
we used (right), you see huge similarities in the irregularity of the figure. Many
luthiers suggest that Gibson used sugar ("hard") maple on the original F5s, but
if you study both the grain and figure carefully, and if you take into consideration
the abundance of highly figured big leaf maple that is and was available in
Michigan - surrounding Gibson's Kalamazoo plant - you'll quickly come to the
conclusion that these Loar-signed mandolins featured big leaf maple backboards
(which contributed greatly to the instrument's dark and woody tone). Big leaf
maple is ideal for mandolin backboards because it weighs quite a bit less and
is more supple than red or sugar maple, and these attributes lend themselves
greatly towards improved mid-range and bass response of the instrument.

Using sycamore isn't a bad thing. Since sycamore is in the weight class of big
leaf maple, it produces similar results. However, I much prefer big leaf maple
because of the wonderful irregular appearance of its curly figure. I don't like using sycamore for necks though, because it doesn't have the rigidity of red or sugar

Some wood dealers are providing sycamore today in place of maple. Technically, they are selling an Acer, but while the figure may be very pronounced, it is not the same wood that was used in the early Loar-signed F5s.

To make a long story short, if you get some maple with tight straight figure and if feels a bit on the light side, it's most probably sycamore, not maple (even though it's a member of the same genus).
Product Highlights

Abalone Dots · Abalone Fretboard Position Dots 
- We are excited to offer our new colorful abalone position dots to embellish and customize your fretboard. Our green abalone dots are 1/4" diameter and come in a set of 6. Abalone Fretboard Position Dots are part #557 ($3.90 plus P&H).

Tortoise Crosspiece · Tortoise-Shell 15th Fret Crosspiece 
- We have gotten several customer requests for a tortoise-shell crosspiece to go with their tortoiseshell binding and we are happy to be able to offer this as our newest product. This crosspiece also matches our tortoise-shell binding (see below). Our 15th fret tortoise shell crosspiece is made of real celluloid and measures 1/2" x 2-3/4" x .070". This is part #408-B ($4.95 plus P&H).



Tortoise Binding · Tortoise-Shell Binding - Celluloid tortoise-shell binding is perfect for the builder looking to bind their mandolin with something a little different from the ivoroid/black/ivoroid binding. Our tortoise-shell body binding is 1/4" x .070" x 54" (two pieces are needed for mandolin body). Matching tortoise-shell binding for your peghead is also available, 3/32" x .070" x 24", (one piece is needed for peghead). Tortoise-shell body binding is part #412 ($15.05 plus P&H) and peghead binding is part #412-A ($5.55 plus P&H). 

Luthier's Tip: Installing Frets on Fretboard Extenders

It's pretty easy to install frets on a fretboard that is off the mandolin or mandola.


You can easily place the entire fretboard on a hard, flat, smooth work surface and drive in all the frets - from first to last - with ease. This is the ideal way to install frets when making new instruments.

But the plot thickens when re-fretting a mandolin. The neck and headblock region can be supported when driving in frets #1 through #17 or #18, but how do you drive frets into those last few slots that hang over the fretboard extender? One thing is for sure, you can't risk "driving them in."
          Luthier's Tip
When we do a re-fretting job, we squeeze the last few frets in by using a modified ViseGrip®. As you can see in the photo, the bottom finger of the ViseGrip has been ground down to allow it to fit between the fretboard extender and the soundboard (into that space under the extender). Then with the fret in the slot, we place a steel bar over the fret and squeeze the ViseGrip until the fret is seated. This photo shows the use of a straight steel bar, but a curved steel bar could be used when installing frets on a radiused board.

This tool is pretty easy to make, and it really helps installing frets in the delicate end of the fretboard.

Product of the Month: Tap Tuning Microphone 

Tap Tuning Microphone  

We are offering our #826 Dynamic cardiod, Behringer XM1800 Tap Tuning Microphone at a discount of 25% off (over $10 off!) for this month's special. This microphone is modified by us, making it a bit more directional which is ideal for tap tuning. We include our #827 3' XLR-to-phono cable, with swivel stand and hex mounting bolt. This microphone is also excellent as back-up instrument microphone. When ordering online enter jan1mic at during checkout to receive the discount.
25% off! 

Product of the Month: 25% off Tap Tuning Microphone

January's Product of the Month: 25% off one Tap Tuning Microphone. Not valid with any other offers or promotions. Please use coupon code jan1mic when placing your order online.
Offer Valid: January 22, 2013 through February 28, 2013