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Thread: Tom Ellis Mandolins

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    Default Tom Ellis Mandolins

    I notice that Mr Ellis employs several luthiers in his shop. Does he build his mandolins himself or are some built by other employees under his guidance?
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    Tom stops by here from time to time and might come along and give you the breakdown of how his shop is run, but he also runs Precision Pearl Inc., he has quite a lot of machinery including numerous (I assume) CNC mills for cutting pearl inlay and for making mandolins. The usual multi-luthier shop is set up so that each individual specializes, to one degree or another, and nobody actually builds instruments start to finish. My guess is, Tom spends most of his time on the phone tracking down parts to maintain and repair equipment, talking to customers, and just running the business. His mandolin business is very automated, with machines doing much of the work.

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    Registered User Danny Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    being an Ellis dealer i remember Tom telling me if i remember correctly ,he still carves all the top and backs,other work such as binding ,and finish is completed by someone in the shop, that is there specialty,Ellis are great sounding mandolins and the workmanship is second to none.
    Danny Clark

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    The CNC machines do the majority of the plate carving, Tom probably just does the graduations. Things are always subject to change, but last I knew, the finish work was done out of house by a former employee working on contract.

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    Registered User dcoventry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    Tom Ellis has certainly figured something out, that's for sure. However he produces such beautiful looking and sounding mandos is perfectly fine with me. If he does everything or very little, it doesn't particularly matter to me. I'm paying for the the finished instrument, not necessarily how it got there. If Tom is the best plate carver in the shop, I would like him to do that part. If someone else is a finishing savant, let that person do it. As long as no one get s bored and the quality slips, let folks specialize and really get good at certain aspects.

    Whew, they certainly are real nice nice right now.

    Yankees1, if the Ellis' sound better than a Northfield, they certaianly cost more, too! But are they worth it? Only you know that for sure.
    Last edited by dcoventry; Jul-23-2011 at 9:52am. Reason: cross post info
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    Registered User Dan Margolis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    When I visited Tom's shop in November, he introduced me to his right-hand man, who pretty much was the CNC wizard. The only other folks I met that day were the staff in the office and one person who was sorting inlays for PPI. When Tom sees this thread, I suspect that he'll weigh in.
    Last edited by Dan Margolis; Jul-23-2011 at 12:04pm.
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    Registered User doc holiday's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    "if the Ellis' sound better than a Northfield, they certaianly cost more." Tom Ellis is a first rate musician who has an established reputation for building great mandolins since the mid 70s.....Northfield seems to be the current flavour of the day. I'll leave out the chasm of economics between a three person small shop in Texas and builds in China.

    Dan....When I was there I visited with Tom during the Collings Gathering as well & I did meet Pava with whom Tom builds. As mentioned above, it's a team effort.

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    Registered User dcoventry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    "Yankees1, if the Ellis' sound better than a Northfield, they certaianly cost more, too! But are they worth it? Only you know that for sure. ""

    I wrote this as a cross post as Yank had asked about the comparison the Northfield thread, And they are a bit apples and oranges for comparison.

    ""Tom Ellis is a first rate musician who has an established reputation for building great mandolins since the mid 70s.....Northfield seems to be the current flavour of the day. I'll leave out the chasm of economics between a three person small shop in Texas and builds in China.""

    Doc,

    Well of course. I have nothing but respect and awe for the Ellis mandos. You had a hint of miffed in your post, and I wanted just wanted to clear up I was only answering Yanks inquiry.

    And I still think it's true that for most folks, something is only worth what they are willing to pay for it. I don't have a problem paying up for nice things at all, but it's my definition of nice. Ellis' fit my version of nice and worthwhile. For sure.
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    Registered User doc holiday's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    DC,....not miffed.....I just find the comparison to be apples & oranges. All good :-)

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    Registered User Dan Margolis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    Both Northfield and Ellis mandolins sound better than apples or oranges.
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    I think the earlier posts are all accurate. Briefly, my idea that I came up with starting about 7 yrs ago, was that I could build the ultimate mandolin by doing it in a way that no one else ever had done. More or less, the 2 common ways are handbuilding or set up a factory. Both methods have SERIOUS FLAWS when it comes to F5 mandolins. No need to elaborate much on that, too many hours in the mandolin, or made quickly by people who are talented but not masters. It was my idea to combine the best of both and avoid the worst of both. At the time I had about 25 yrs experience with both methods, to be able set this up. The main requirement for my system and the thing that makes it work is that I have the 3 best people in the world working with me. Pava Knezevich is the best mandolin maker in the world and has assembled, bound and shaped all of them as well as building the Collings MF-5's #60-#120, before coming to work for me. Nathan Arrison does all the programming and jig making and engineering issues and machine servicing. Nate is also intimately familiar with instruments even though he doesn't actually participate in the building. He developed all the CNC systems for Collings 15 yrs ago and developed the original Collings A model manufacturing system. The varnish finishes are done by Josh Luttrell in Missouri (though he used to be just down the street). No one can do the lovely yet organic finish that Josh can, no one. What I do is about what John said, talk on the phone. I don't participate in the pearl business much (but for you waiting on logo designs, they're almost done, you know who you are) On the mandolins, I do all the top and back graduations and fit and install and carve the tone bars. After Pava is done with rough sanding the binding down and setting the neck, she and I then both do final shaping of the neck and sanding for finish. When they get back from Josh all polished 4 weeks later, I do all final setup fretjob, make nut bridge, etc. We build 1 mandolin a week. We are ahead of schedule by 3 mandolins right now, but I'm going to the Oshkosh Air show this week and won't be getting anything done for a while. Pava will assemble 2 mandolins while I'm gone. The point is that I have the most advanced CNC mandolin system that there is, but it still only makes parts (real nice parts, I might add). The key is to have the 4 best people in the world turning those parts into fine mandolins. These people are not just working a job. There is no turnover and cannot be. Each is critical to sucess and they know it (and are genuinely well compensated). I'm not and have never been a horn tooter but I 've got to admit I know a heck of a lot about mandolins. Thanks for all the support. Hey, I got a new mandolin too. Its 2 days old and has custom Whooping Crane inlays and a Pernambuco bridge. Here's some quick snaps.Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by ellisppi; Jul-23-2011 at 3:24pm.
    Tom H. Ellis
    Ellis Mandolins
    Austin, TX
    http://www.ellismandolins.com

  12. #12
    Registered User dcoventry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    Tom,

    Thank you for taking the time to chime in with some info. I have had the oppurtunity to play a few of your mandos, and that was a gift. I'm certainly saving my pennies to get one, for sure. I think they are worth every dollar, at least to me, and that's what's important.

    The one in the pictures is STUNNING. Your finish guy is monumentally talented! Just Wow! What you said about his talents is right on. Actually, the past few posts and pics here of your instruments have had just beautifully organic looking finishes that really compliment the wood. It's important to get the most out of working WITH the wood rather than over powering it, I'd think.

    Oh, and BTW, jeez man, your stash of wood for building is just killer...drool worthy...and you honor it in a great way. Kudos all around.

    Thanks again for your time and service to these instruments we love.

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    Registered User Dan Margolis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    Hey, I got a new mandolin too. Its 2 days old and has custom Whooping Crane inlays and a Pernambuco bridge. Here's some quick snaps.
    Wow...
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    Registered User Don Grieser's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    That's some stunningly beautiful work right there. The inlay is very Zen. I second the Wow...
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    Registered User Mike Bunting's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    Cool, Pava built my Collings (MF5, #101)!
    Mike
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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    Tom - I've been an admirer of your work waaaaay before i ever came to play Mandolin,ever since the old 'Frets' magazine did the article on Ellis Mandolins & Ricky Skaggs. In all things,with me,i simply admire the quality of build & the skill of the craftsman,whether its a piece of wooden furniture or a Mandolin,Guitar or whatever. There are many great builders these days,but i'd have to place you in my top 3,the quality of your instruments just oooozes out - totally awesome !,
    Ivan
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  17. #17

    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    That Crane inlay is amazing. Wow.

  18. #18
    Registered User Glassweb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    Love the crane!

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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    Can't give too much praise to Tom E and the work his shop turns out. If you ever are in Austin don't miss a chance to take a guided tour.
    The crane inlay reminds me again how I have never seen mop used with such artistry taking full advantage of the graduations of tone etc. The inlays are just the perfect final touch to his exquisite instruments. I also hope to own one someday.
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    [QUOTE=ellisppi;949918]I think the earlier posts are all accurate. Briefly, my idea that I came up with starting about 7 yrs ago, was that I could build the ultimate mandolin by doing it in a way that no one else ever had done. More or less, the 2 common ways are handbuilding or set up a factory. Both methods have SERIOUS FLAWS when it comes to F5 mandolins. No need to elaborate much on that, too many hours in the mandolin, or made quickly by people who are talented but not masters. It was my idea to combine the best of both and avoid the worst of both. At the time I had about 25 yrs experience with both methods, to be able set this up. The main requirement for my system and the thing that makes it work is that I have the 3 best people in the world working with me. Pava Knezevich is the best mandolin maker in the world and has assembled, bound and shaped all of them as well as building the Collings MF-5's #60-#120, before coming to work for me. Nathan Arrison does all the programming and jig making and engineering issues and machine servicing. Nate is also intimately familiar with instruments even though he doesn't actually participate in the building. He developed all the CNC systems for Collings 15 yrs ago and developed the original Collings A model manufacturing system. The varnish finishes are done by Josh Luttrell in Missouri (though he used to be just down the street). No one can do the lovely yet organic finish that Josh can, no one. What I do is about what John said, talk on the phone. I don't participate in the pearl business much (but for you waiting on logo designs, they're almost done, you know who you are) On the mandolins, I do all the top and back graduations and fit and install and carve the tone bars. After Pava is done with rough sanding the binding down and setting the neck, she and I then both do final shaping of the neck and sanding for finish. When they get back from Josh all polished 4 weeks later, I do all final setup fretjob, make nut bridge, etc. We build 1 mandolin a week. We are ahead of schedule by 3 mandolins right now, but I'm going to the Oshkosh Air show this week and won't be getting anything done for a while. Pava will assemble 2 mandolins while I'm gone. The point is that I have the most advanced CNC mandolin system that there is, but it still only makes parts (real nice parts, I might add). The key is to have the 4 best people in the world turning those parts into fine mandolins. These people are not just working a job. There is no turnover and cannot be. Each is critical to sucess and they know it (and are genuinely well compensated). I'm not and have never been a horn tooter but I 've got to admit I know a heck of a lot about mandolins. Thanks for all the support. Hey, I got a new mandolin too. Its 2 days old and has custom Whooping Crane inlays and a Pernambuco bridge. Here's some quick snaps.Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	74727 Did the shop give you a discount??
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain

  21. #21
    Registered User Cheryl Watson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    I played this fine Ellis mandolin at IBMA and it is mind-blowing in every way! 3-dimensional wood, inlay, and tone!

  22. #22
    Registered User doc holiday's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    There's a great video on the Fiddler's Green Website http://www.fiddlersgreenmusicshop.com/ of Aubrey Haynie & Danny Bishop ripping Leather Britches (not Katie Hill as I first said) on two Ellis mandolins...
    Last edited by doc holiday; Oct-11-2011 at 8:18pm.

  23. #23
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    Not to be picky but I hear Leather Britches in the video......as for the mandos and playing......WOW! Those guys can pick and those mandos have IT. I prefer the F5 but they're both mighty fine sounding!

  24. #24
    Registered User doc holiday's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    Gosh Shaun, Right you are. Here's a photo as penance
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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  25. #25
    Registered User red7flag's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tom Ellis Mandolins

    My F5 Ellis is a 2008 and three years old. I have a number of outstanding instruments, but each time I pick up and play the Ellis there is a sound on the low end that stops me and I then know why I got it. I played a number of outstanding mandolins while at IBMA. But that something special sound that Tom's mandos have seems to separate them for me. He does not try to emulate the "Loar" sound. He has developed his own that has remained fairly constant over time. I went to his booth at IBMA and played all his babies. While each had an individual voicing, I could hear mine in every one. It is that sound that distinguishes his mandos and why after playing all those great builders at IBMA, I came away very satisfied with my F5.
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