Good morning all. I started to chime in here a couple times and couldn't put the right words together. First, I think its great that another luthier (young luthier?) is building a mandolino... especially at a reasonable/affordable price. We should all encourage his efforts and I hope that someone buys his fine-looking instrument.
Eugene's point about it being perhaps his "own model" is, I think, also correct... the difference between mandolinos and vihuelas being... (and I think this is one of Alex' points) that there are lots of surviving mandolinos on which to base a copy. Some of us would like to see more of those models available. At the same time, an affordable "student-model" mandolino would not be a bad thing to have in the marketplace either. The trick is that a good student instrument ideally should be representative of most of the instruments out there.
I happen to own both a Larson/Lambert mandolino and a close copy of the Cuttler-Challen Strad so perhaps I'm an expert! :-) My own Strad-copy (by Christopher Challen, the previous owner of the original) was my first mandolino... and though I love it dearly, it certainly represents a statistical outlier in the overall inventory of surviving mandolinos (and a steep learning curve). Because it is one of Strad's precious surviving instruments (and because Christopher Challen founded the West Dean School of Luthiery), it has been copied perhaps more than any other mandolino.
Compared to the surviving literature for the instrument, the Strad is relatively early (1680) and its size makes it a real challenge to hold and play (with good tone) for most. The Strad is not something I'd recommend as a general-purpose mandolino, or a good starter instrument. Unfortunately, too many people tried to start with this model of mandolino a few years back... and quickly gave up... either abandoning the mandolino all together, or opting for unrealistic modern embellishments on the model and technique.
The important thing for me is getting at the original playing techniques for the music written for the instrument. To do this well, short of playing original instruments, I need the most accurate representation of what a mandolino was in the 18th century. Again, there are plenty of examples to choose from as patterns in collections and museums around the world. The Strad is a worthy instrument to copy too and it deserves our understanding... we just need to encourage more variety in the mandolinos that are available.
Remember too that luthiers are just putting food on the table like everyone else (they're some of the bravest people I know... employing a 16th-century craft in our crazy 21st-century world). The time and work involved with building a mold for a new model of lute or mandolino means that luthiers tend to build what they've built before. At the same time, luthiers will ultimately make what people want to buy. Someone should buy Mr. Hopkins' mandolino... someone else should commision a close copy of a surviving instrument that peaks their fancy. In the luthier studying that original instrument, and in the buyer playing the copy, we will all get closer to the truth about the mandolino.
"The effect is pretty at first... It is disquieting to find that there are nineteen people in England who can play the mandolin; and I sincerely hope the number may not increase."
- George Bernard Shaw, Times of London, December 12, 1893