Some of you may have followed my posts while I was building my Stew-Mac campfire kit for a few months (it took me a while to get it done). There were lots of mods made and I am genuinely pleased with the way the instrument turned out. I wanted to post some thoughts a couple months after I've been playing it steady for those considering building one of their own.
First of all, I really like this mandolin. I really like the way it looks and have no regrets with the choices of options I went with. It was tough figuring out just what options to go with, since I didn't want to get tired of looking at it the way it was.
It is structurally very sound and should hold up for the long haul.
I had a Kentucky KM380 when I built this flattop. But after the flattop was built I sold the Kentucky. I do think the Kentucky sounded better and was a lot louder. But in fairness the flattop is a much different animal and from what I've read flattops are generally more mellow than most any F-hole, carved-top instrument.
I found myself playing the Kentucky more than the flattop and really wanted to give the custom a fair shot at an everyday player, so I offloaded the Kentucky. I can always get another Kentucky one day if I chose.
I've been through a few sets of strings on the flattop as well. I tried some Thomastiks and the instrument really didn't perform well at all. I had strings buzzing and bottoming out and the tone was generally muffled overall. This thing seems to like plain old Martin light 80/20s. I've got a few other sets coming through the mail and I'll try them out as they come.
Using a thick pick gives the flattop a nice full and rounded tone. Using something thinner tends to make it more "chimy" than I like.
I am really enjoying playing it and I am really glad I built it. The tone isn't as "complex" as I was hoping for, but I'm also hoping than in time it will get better and better with use. I think upgrading the tailpiece at some point might help, but for now I'm just going to play the thing and enjoy it.
If you're considering building a Stew-Mac kit, I would encourage you to take your time, build it slow and make it the one you want for the long haul. If I had to do it over again, and if I knew that I would actually end up with a "real" instrument, and not a toy-like novelty item, I would have went with the carved-top A-style kit, but this flattop is very nice and will make a fine mandolin for any player.