You can view our archived newsletters
Jul 27-Aug. 1, 2014
Upcoming Luthierie Camps...
Oct 19-24, 2014
Tools & Fixtures
Please visit our website or email Kali for more information about these programs.
It seems that bad weather continues to plague a good portion of the U.S. and is keeping folks with shops in their garages, sheds, barns or other away-from-the-house places from getting to their luthierie. Hopefully, the April showers will bring May flowers and get you all back on track with your building projects. If you do have separate facilities like that, bear in mind that an illuminated 100w light bulb will go a long way to reducing humidity in your shop.
I've had some folks ask about slight differences between my drawings in The Ultimate Bluegrass Mandolin Construction Manual
(2006) and those in my first book Constructing a Bluegrass Mandolin
(1974). The drawings in my first book were done by hand and the artist did the best she could to prepare accurate images from the Loar-signed F5 she was working with.
The drawings in my second book were prepared on a computer with much great accuracy and better definition. Further, the drawings in my second book had the advantage of allowing me to average some measurements taken from several other Loar-signed F5 mandolins during the 30 year gap between book one and book two. So, there are some differences between the drawings in the two books, and if you have both books, I urge you to follow the drawings in book number two; The Ultimate Bluegrass Mandolin Construction Manual
. Regarding any question of the differences in the drawings between book number two and our ProSeries Drawings
, these drawings are identical. The only difference is that our ProSeries Drawings
have a lot of supporting details and information because they are not attached to a published book. And, because the ProSeries Drawings
are produced on a short-run basis, they can be continuously updated with supplemental information - something we cannot do to a book in print.
As I continue my adventure into luthierie, I've gotten to a point where I am pretty stayed in my ways - and tools - but every once in a while something pops up that attracts my attention. At the NAMM show this year, Kali brought me to one of our vendors to see a new tool she was excited about.
It is hardened-steel detail knife, or "Luthier's Detail Blade
," with a small square handle, extended point, and a very sharp and sturdy blade. My first attraction was how comfortable and controllable it felt in my hand. Then came the visions of all the things this knife can do including: shaving binding when fitting miters, cleaning out fret slots and inlay cavities, scraping binding after staining, getting into those tight corners wherever, and more
. Unlike an X-ActoŽ knife with #11 blade, the Detail Knife blade can't move since the entire unit is one piece (making the blade very sturdy), and the body is more controllable than the round handle of the X-Acto tool. Of course, it is a fixed blade, so it will need occasional sharpening.
When Kali saw my delight in handling this tool, she immediately ordered a bunch to make them available to you and she's going to post it below
in this month's newsletter. I now have one at my bench, as do Ken and Nolan. Check it out - its great and its pretty reasonable.
In a recent posting in MandolinCafe
, I noted that we will be beginning a series of monthly webinar programs where I can interact live with those of you who sign on. This will be a great opportunity to talk about the various facets of instrument building and to be able field questions during each of the webinar sessions.
Our first webinar topic will be Setting-up Your Mandolin
, and will be in late May, and Amy will be limiting attendance to 50 seats. For those of you not familiar with a webinar, you'll log on to a designated web page, provide your password, and get connected to our session. The programs will about an hour long and the cost is only $19.95 for our newsletter subscribers. If you would like to be on our email list to be alerted to these events, please email Amy
Our next Luthierie Camp
is July 27 to Aug 1, 2014. We have one bench open and this would be a good time to sign up and grab it. As I mentioned a few months back, Kali has instituted an audit program
where we allow one additional Camper per Camp) to spend the week with us, participate in all the sessions, presentations, demonstrations, and meals, but not build a kit. This is a great opportunity to listen and learn, and take advantage of the instructional aspects of Camp at a greatly reduced cost
. If you are interested, please contact Kali
for more information or to reserve your seat.
See you next month...
Thanks for building with us!
What if Shutt was in a Barbershop?
In 1941 Bill Monroe was in Miami, Florida and spotted a mandolin in a barbershop window just waiting for the right purchaser to gobble it up. It was a Loar-signed Gibson F5 with the serial number #73987. But things might have been really different if on that magic day Bill Monroe spotted a Shutt mandolin in the barbershop window instead, and chose it as his favorite sidekick.
Had that happened, you'd be building very different mandolins, and I'd be providing you with very different parts.
Although a distant possibility, it could have happened. While we sing Lloyd Loar's praises for having developed the first f-hole mandolin with arched soundboard and backboard, an elevated narrow fretboard, and staggered tuners, Albert Shutt had already patented his mandolin design with these features by the time Loar was beginning to shave.
Albert Shutt (1877-1963) was born in Pennsylvania and moved Topeka, Kansas with his family when he was 12 years old. In addition to being a composer and performer on banjo, mandolin, and guitar, he was a prolific luthier who designed and built unusual guitars and mandolins. Patented in March of 1910, Albert Shutt's mandolin boasted all the features we've come revere in Gibson's F5, but Shutt's mandolins didn't have tone bars or braces, and the air chambers weren't tuned (a major feature that set Gibson's mandolins apart from all others).
Shutt's design was not only ahead of its time, but it was ahead of Gibson's time. But unfortunately, Topeka, Kansas-based Shutt didn't have the marketing power, and possibly he lacked the funding, that Gibson had when they set out to build f-hole mandolins in the early 1920s. And, the term of Albert Shutt's design patent was only seven years placing its expiration at 1917, just in time for the folks in Kalamazoo to get on the bandwagon - so to speak.
The announcement of these design important design features in 1917 makes one wonder where Loar and the folks at Gibson got the impetus to announce similar features five years later. We'll never really know if it is dark tale, or coincidence.
Only our imagination can tell us what Rawhide would have sounded like with Monroe's fingers wrapped around Shutt's neck.
Luthier's Detail Blade
Here's a cool NAMM Show find. This beveled (2-sided) and precise blade is our new favorite for those tricky scrolls and all sorts of binding challenges. Take command of the binding process and prepare for success; along with our best-selling mini-scraper set
, this is an essential "sharp" for detail work. Order Part #890
($16.95 plus P&H)
ˇ Ebony Fretboard Extenders (F-style and A-style)
Fretboard extender (fretboard support) is gaboon ebony, fully profiled and shaped in our shop in Atascadero, CA. The original F5 mandolins featured an ebony fretboard extender. After 1925, Gibson (and most luthiers today) turned to maple extenders. Though more difficult to manufacture and a bit pricier, our ebony fretboard extender has almost twice the mass and rigidity of its maple counterpart, which is why we stand by ours, to improve sustain and timbre by inhibiting damping at the end of the fretboard. Order Part #338 (F-models)
or Part #338-A (A-models)
(Both models $48.50 plus P&H).
You'll love our custom Siminoff all-in-one fret cutting and fret tacking tool to expedite the fretting process and reduce tool handling. Our fret cutter and positioning hammer enables one-hand operation for cutting and tacking fretwire in place in preparation for fretwire press; this is the same type of cutter/hammer used by Gibson/Kalamazoo's fretting group. Order Part #882
($43.95 plus P&H).
Check our YouTube channel for an F-model rib and block set assembly video...coming soon!
Luthier's Tip: Mastering the Volutes
There are a few elements in the finishing of an F5 mandolin that I consider to be on the important side. One is binding; a process that takes more practice than artistic appreciation, and the other is carving and preparing the scroll's volutes; a process that takes both practice and artistic appreciation.
The design features of Orville's original F- models mandolins take their lead from the Florentine art style which had its birth in Florence, Italy during the Italian Renaissance which ranged from the 14th century through the 16th century. It was a vital period of art development that was highly influenced by the curvy and flowing visual elements of Nature include plants and animals.
These design features reveal themselves in the flowing lines of the F-model mandolins and it is quickly evident that the only flat spaces or straight lines we see - by necessity - are found on the fretboards and peghead planes of our instruments. All other shapes are beautifully curved areas and flowing shapes.During our Luthierie Camps, as our Campers are ready to do the final shaping and sanding of the volutes (the center peaked ridge) of their scrolls, I bring into the shop a leaf with a volute-like peak from a plant that grows near our shop, and I remind our luthiers to study the leaf and think of themselves as Mother Nature's agent, crafting the volute as if it were part of this plant. It presents a different mindset than just being a woodworker making a curved peak.
Having seen several dozen original Loar-signed F5 mandolins, I have experienced that none of them had identical volutes. After all, they were all built by hand, finished by hand, and made by different luthiers over time; they have to be different. This difference is not a mistake or a failure on the part of Gibson's inspection team, rather it is the beauty of the individual craftsmanship that sets these instruments apart and makes them special.
Not only are no two original F5 mandolins the same, but even Loar's personal F5 mandolin, pictured here, had different shaping and treatment of the front scroll from on the back scroll; the volute on the back of the mandolin is more exaggerated than the one on the front. Not wrong, just different.
Most importantly, it is important to appreciate that the volutes are typically more subtle than prominent. They are delicately prepared and feature concave curvatures on either side of the peak. They are graceful, and not overbearing. And, they typify elements found in life and nature. Treat them as if you were a sculptor.
|Q & A: Readers Ask|
: Is there any truth to the story that changing the type of bridge pins on a guitar will make a difference on its tone and loudness?A
: The guitar bridge pin discussion is an interesting one, and focusing on the contribution of the bridge pin(s) to the tone and amplitude of the guitar has validity. As with the mandolin and banjo, the guitar's bridge is the main link between the string's energy and the soundboard, and anything related to the material, design, structure, size, and mass of the guitar bridge - as well as the bracing and bridge plate structure beneath the bridge - can have an affect on the instrument's sound. There has been a wide variety of materials used for bridge pins including bone, wood, brass, steel, aluminum, ivory (now illegal to use), as well as various types of plastics (Celluloid, Bolteron, Corean, Xydex, etc.) and each of these has a different affect on the instrument's tone. The guitar bridge works in a twisting or motion that torques the soundboard back and forth. Adding or decreasing weight at the bridge greatly changes how it reacts to the string's tension, and this results in a change in amplitude (loudness) and tone. Since every guitar features a different construction of the variables previously mentioned, there is no single "right" material - each has to be tested for its own merits on each particular guitar.
Have a question? Be sure to send it in and we'll answer it in an upcoming issue. We won't post your name, and chances are, if you have a question, someone else probably needs the same answer!