View Full Version : The Big Dog Octave

Steve Sorensen
Oct-15-2015, 2:25pm
Last year, I was thrilled to get a call from Darren Nicholson (Balsam Range) which started our conversation on a custom Octave Mandolin build.

I pitched the idea of using "The Californian" archtop guitar style, which had worked so well when transitioned to the initial "Big Hammer" mandocello build I had done with Lee Roy, and we were off to the races!

While Darren has a little dog at home, it seemed appropriate since Darren's current solo bluegrass hit is, Why Don't You Love Me Like My Dog Does? to build a "Big Dog".

Darren asked for a dark, traditional sunburst, rounded D neck and a built-in K&K pickup, but left a lot of the rest of the build up to my discretion. What a fun build!

We finally got together at IBMA this year for the hand-off. Luckily, he was kind enough to let me keep the instrument at my booth for several days, which allowed a bunch of players to run it through its paces. Here are a few pictures to fill out the story --

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Darren's Big Dog Octave features --

Scale - 21-3/4"
Top - Sitka Spruce
Back, Neck and Sides - Curly maple
Tuners - Rubner
Peghead, Fingerboard, Binding and Armrest - Ebony
Bridge and Tailpiece - Sorensen Killer

I also made a "Killer Case" for safe travels --


Cool to see Darren get this puppy out in the world right away. Here is a shot from a recent show at the Isis Theater in Asheville --


I've got to say, I loved noodling around on this octave myself and am looking forward to building many more!


F-2 Dave
Oct-15-2015, 3:10pm

Eric F.
Oct-15-2015, 3:49pm

Oct-16-2015, 2:35am
Nice! Gorgeous back on that one...

Oct-16-2015, 3:04am

Skip Kelley
Oct-16-2015, 10:29am
Steve, The Big Dog is the coolest octave ever! I love it!

Oct-16-2015, 11:40am
Man, you really know about beautiful flow and curves. I consistently love your designs.

Ivan Kelsall
Oct-17-2015, 2:42am
Steve - That's absolutely astounding !!!. Everything about it looks 'right'. Darren's a great mandolin player - i'm a great fan of Balsam Range & i hope he uses your Octave on a few future cuts. WOW !!!,:disbelief:

Steve Sorensen
Oct-18-2015, 11:26am
Thanks for the enthusiastic responses! I'm looking forward to getting some sound/video from Darren for this one for sure.

Here are couple more glam shots from before she headed out into the real world --

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PS - I'd also like to give a super-plug for the Rubner tuners -- Outstanding quality at reasonable prices.

Steve Sorensen
Oct-27-2015, 11:23am
First video from the Isis Theater in Asheville -


Oct-27-2015, 2:29pm
Aaahhh, and my buddy Griff. I got to put a pick to the "Big Dog" a few weeks back. Nice instrument.

Skip Kelley
Oct-27-2015, 4:43pm
Steve, the Big Dog sounds great! Nice video, good picking!

Oct-27-2015, 5:58pm
Really sweet!

John Soper
Oct-27-2015, 6:25pm
That Big Dog has a Big Growl!

Steve Sorensen
Nov-07-2015, 11:11am

Steve Sorensen
Jan-28-2016, 12:41pm
Darren just sent me a new video featuring his solo rendition of Ashokan Farewell which gives a really nice feel for tone of his Big Dog Octave --



Eric F.
Jan-28-2016, 12:45pm
Holy jamoley, that thing's alive!

Jan-29-2016, 10:58am
Fabulous looking and sounding instruments. Great to hear Darren make the Big Dog growl. They make a great combination. Man does that sucker ring.

Jan-29-2016, 11:26am
I kind of want an OM. Do you make a, "Fatt-Dad?"


Jan-29-2016, 12:42pm
I kind of want an OM.
I'm not a doctor, but that's the first symptom of the disease. You should have that looked at.

Steve Sorensen
Sep-02-2017, 9:54am
The newest Big Dog octave.

Bearclaw Sitka spruce, Curly Claro walnut, Bubinga appointments.

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Scott L
Sep-02-2017, 11:34am
Beautiful work, Steve. That walnut is stunning!

Skip Kelley
Sep-02-2017, 6:38pm
Steve, that is beautiful!!! It's a real work of art!!!

Ivan Kelsall
Sep-03-2017, 2:59am
OMG !! - Now i've got BDOMAS !!!!!!!.

Seriously awesome craftsmanship & design there Steve,
Ivan :disbelief:

Lord of the Badgers
Sep-03-2017, 4:27am
I've said it before, but the walnut one.... i think it's the most beautiful thing i've seen from a luthier :) Steve I'd love one. Sadly my days of spending are officially gone :(

Ivan Kelsall
Sep-04-2017, 3:59am
When i see craftsmanship of this standard,i wonder ''where does luthirie end & visual art begin ?''. IMHO - Steve's BDOM could pass as a sculpture any day. I've seen some totally incredible instruments on here,some simply ''wonderfully understated & sonically superb'',& others such as this one,which to my eyes is more like a 'Symphony in wood'' than anything. It's most certainly one of the most beautiful stringed instruments i've ever seen,& i've got several books of instruments ie. ''The Chinery Collection'',with it's array of ''Blue Guitars'' - https://youtu.be/uadXz7Nsmqk,

Sep-04-2017, 8:28am
Will you have that instrument with you at IBMA this year, Steve???

Steve Sorensen
Sep-04-2017, 10:48am
This one was a custom build. Headed to its new (and very patient) owner soon.

PS -- Thanks all for the kind words. This was definitely a treat to build.

Eric F.
Sep-05-2017, 11:50am
Holy moly, that is one beautiful Big Dog! I'm drooling like a Newfoundland looking at a lamb shank.

Steve Sorensen
Feb-09-2018, 10:04am
Nick Dauphinais playing "Castle Kelly" --



Jim Garber
Feb-09-2018, 10:44am
Fantastic playing on a wonderful sounding instrument!

Feb-09-2018, 11:34am
Boy, I'll say! A perfect match of musician & instrument.

Steve Sorensen
Apr-27-2018, 9:24am
Darren was kind enough to share his Big Dog octave mandolin with Danny Roberts for the next CD from The Grascals --


The hand-off --


Ready to work --


Can't wait to hear what comes from this!


Steve Sorensen
May-10-2018, 10:48am
Re-posting a couple of videos that don't seem to be linking from Facebook --



And the video from Nick Dauphinais --