View Full Version : Octave Mando Kit
I just started building one of Don Kawalek's Mill Creek Octave mandolin kit's & thought I'd let you all know my thoughts on it. The wood is very nice black walnut, no figure, but nice grain, the spuce top is excellent, also. He's come up with a great method to use the bolt on neck to glue the sides to the neck block, very ingeneous & easy to do. He has also already installed the truss rod, a very nice touch to simplify the kit. It's similar to his mandolin kit, but with several simple improvements. I think this is going to go together very quickly, this has been thought out very well. If you're thinking about building, I highly recommend one of Don's kits, & he'll help you via e-mail or phone, too.
I got one of Don's kits about a week ago. I have built a few lap dulcimers, but have essentially no experience in real luthierie (not even sure if I know how to spell it). I was concerned about whether I would be able to do this, and whether I would have a playable instrument when finished. The kit is $295 including the tailpiece, tuners, and strings, or $50 less if you want to get your own.
So far, I have finished the body, and it looks really good. This is a quality instrument that has been thought out enough that it goes together pretty well if you read the directions and take your time to think things through. Most of the operations that I might really screw up have been done (truss rod installation, neck joint and body sides angle, fret slots). Don is extremely helpful and always available for consultation, which for me is very important. He never makes me feel like I am pestering him.
Right now I am working on frets; got them pressed in yesterday. I used a thing like a vice-grip that has flat pieces in the jaws, then put wood pieces on the front and back of the fretboard. This allowed be to adjust the amount of pressure and to back off when I thought it was too much. I am a bit worried about getting the frets just right, as I know from my playing years that a high or low fret can reek havoc with buzzes. It seems unlikely that simply pressing them in will get them all level, so I will probably have a local pro go over the set up when I get ready. Or I may simply buy that fretting kit with book from Stew-Mac (about $145, but it may be nice to have around).
So far, so good. As the original poster suggested, this kit has been well though out, and it is going together quite well. I highly recommend it as a way to get into mandolin building. I got the OM kit because I have mandolins, and hopefully this will be something new that I will enjoy playing.
Last week I recieved a Mill Creek OM kit from Don.
I have built a couple of other kits (mando and dulcimer)
from various companies, however I really wanted to build
and OM in a quality kit that did not include plywood.
I am not sure how I came upon Don's website, in any case
I began communicating with him about his workshop and
to my great surprise he was in the process of creating an OM Kit....all I had to do was wait a bit.
During that brief period Don was nice enough to keep me included on how his prototype was coming along and answering my question. He is still answering my questions
and we usually communicate on a daily basis via e-mail.
I have only got to spend 2 short days working on the kit
but I will say I am moving along very quickly and the instructions are a real pleasure to use. You do not have to have experience to understand and he doesn't tell you that you can use books to weight the top down when you glue to the sides like some I have read.
The kit materials are top notch and well thought out.
I was really pleased to find he took the time to include
wedges and wood strips for clamping and on important pieces where centering is very important (such as the butt block) he scores the center line on the piece.
The basic neck assembly is a great piece of engineering. Don even took a moment to angle the side pieces to the correct angle to meet the neck.
All I can say is if you have ever thought about building a Mando or OM from a kit, save yourself time and headaches and order it from Don.
He took great care to prepare this kit and he takes great care to make sure you built it the very best you can.
My only regret is not being able to attent this springs workshop that he is offering.
If you have any questions for me please email me.
I'm in the Mill Creek Octave Mando club too! I just got my kit from Don and I'm chomping at the bit to get started.
It's everything AtlasZ said and more. It has real nice black walnut for the neck, back and sides. Spruce top w/ sound hole already cut out. The bracing comes shaped to produce an induced arch in the top and back. The pau ferro fretboard has a well defined figure. High quality wood through out. The scored centerlies are big help in keeping things lined up.
It's been said before, but Don is a great guy and will help us every step of the way. It's an addictive hobby boys, and we only have Don to blame. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif
Too bad ya can't make the workshop. It is a blast!
OK guys, #Yours checks are in the mail....
Seriously, Thank you and wait till you hear the sound this thing belts out!!
Is there a website for the kit?
I knew the octave mandolin was going to be popular!!You go Boy.
The body is completed and I am now taking a break while the fretboard is being
glued to the neck. The OM is really coming along nicely.
The more time I spend with this kit the more I have learned and have come to
really appreciate the quality of materials and design.
Throughout the process Don has always been right there to assist.
If any of you out there are even remotely considering building a Mando or OM
kit I would buy one now, it's truely a steal. I Compared this kit to many out
there before I bought it and it was a real deal....now having spent time with
this kit I can honestly say its a deal of a lifetime!
Don, as soon as the wife approves you can count me in for a mando kit.
Not a problem...
I finished my kit a few days ago. It turned out very well, even thought his is the first mandolin I have built. Lots of things in the kit were well thought out so that I avoided some problems that could have arisen from my inexperience. It plays well, though I think I will do some more sanding on the neck; it is still a bit too chunky. The sound is very good. I have friend who has a Trinity College bouzouki, and (IMHO) this sounds much better. All around, it was a fun experience in which I learned a lot. A great way to get into building, with a result that I will not hesitate to take to sessions.
I took Don's very first mandolin building workshop and have kept in touch with him since then. We talk about the evolution of his design and share ideas. I was curious to have a look at his octave mandolin, so I payed a visit to his latest workshop. I played the prototype and was really impressed. It had a bright, balanced tone, with plenty of volume. My preference would be for a slightly shorter scale, and I suspect that will be an option in the future.
I think half the fun of building one of these instruments is attending the workshop, but if you can't, crafting one at home is well worth your time and effort.
Greetings to all,
Well I just finished the best instrument I have ever build and by far the best
kit I have had the opportunity to work with.
As a learning tool it has carried me many miles in learning the craft.
But who cares, right...you want to know how it sounds.
Well first of all I had a few conversations with Don and for a slight upcharge
I went with a Redwood top (without soundhole)instead of Spruce. Why...I have
a Trinity College and wanted a different sound if I was to own two OM's.
I am incredibly please with the end result...what a sound!
By this weekend (I hope) I will have an MP3 of both instruments and you can
hear them for yourself, just let me know and I will e-mail it to you.
I also once again want to say that Don was there, always, as your guide and
coach...now he's a friend.
Is there a down side to it all....well yes.
I will have to wait to order one of Don's Mando Kits.
You see once I realized how good this OM was going to turn out I went all out and
bought gold hardware and blew the bank.
On the other hand I have an original and boy am I a happy camper!!!!
PS so I was going to include a pic but I haven't a clue....perhaps in the
OK Then...here it is.
I call the OM "Pumpkin"
For a better pic just ask and I will e-mail one to you.
Nice work A.Z, and great choice in the hole design!
Like the shape of the sound hole!!
I'm working on one of Don's kits too. My back braces are on, and I installed the kerfed lining yesterday. So far, it's been smoooooth sailing.
Did you stain the top of your "Pumpkin"? If so, what did you use?
That looks great. I have to get busy ordering one of those OM kits. Good job.
Hey All, Thanks for all the good words.
Ya know its Don who makes this all happen.
Sailormando...Wait till you get the back and
top attached to the sides...its a great little
drum to play with while you shape the neck.
No spar varnish or stain on Pumpkin....I used
Redwood instead of spruce.
For the finish rather than nitro I used a satin
finish Tongue Oil...allot of coats.
I prefer to feel the wood rather than have it
incapsulated in plastic...just a preference.
I have an MP-3 comparing the Trinity College to
Pumpkin..sort of fun, The TC on the left channel
and the P on the right. Let me know if any of you want
It's loud and it will be heard. What I didn't
expect is the sustain. It just goes on and on.
Now that its finished I guess I should look forward
to getting the yard ready for Spring.
Jeff: have you ordered the mando kit yet? If so, did you order any custom changes to the standard kit?