View Full Version : A Heartfelt Thank You

Mar-04-2004, 4:28am
Today, I strung up my first F5, in the white. The experience of hearing it in my hands was tremendous. While it has its cosmetic flaws, the sound is so much better than what I have been playing. I have learned a lot on the quest so far.

Mainly, I wanted to send a big thanks to everyone who has given me advice and helped me at every turn. Without your assistance, I would have never got this far. So, from one novice builder to so many others with more experience--thank you so much for your help and patience. Its been an incredible journey so far. Now, on to the finishing process.

You all are an inspiration!

Scotti Adams
Mar-04-2004, 7:42am
..I have said many a time that this is a great place....many nice, knowledgeable people.Nice thing for you to do Crawdad...Im sure they all appreciate it...and they know who they are http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif hey...let us see your new baby.

John Zimm
Mar-04-2004, 8:55am
That's awesome Crawdad. Congratulations, and I hope you have many hours of good playing on your new F5. Will you post pictures? I am curious to see how it turned out.


Mar-04-2004, 1:33pm
I'll post some pics when I get it finished...but be warned--its got its flaws!

Mar-04-2004, 2:41pm
Hey crawdad, I'm right behind you with the completion of my first. Mine has it's flaws too. There were some where I worked to correct them entirely, others I felt were there to stay and thus I moved on. Better to learn from them and get on with another instrument rather than spend endless hours trying to fix something that is there to stay. Still, I'm very proud of my first effort as I'm sure you are too. I can't wait to see pictures of yours. I'll soon be posting mine as well, complete with flaws.


Mar-04-2004, 6:16pm
Good deal, crawdad. Glad to hear it's together now. Congratulations!

I'm right with you too -- strung up #1 in the white a few days ago and it didn't implode. But I don't like the sound -- too tinny, even though the recurve is fairly thin -- thinning the top seems to be improving it, so all is not lost.

I bet I can out-flaw both you and Brookside with my #1; can you beat asymmetrical F-holes, wood putty, and sanding through the white part of laminated binding? I may chicken out on the pics, unless you need somebody to "lower the bar" for fit and finish. The only thing that came out just right was the neck angle, and it's dead on with what I calculated. And the frets, which I'm fairly experienced at, are nice. But there are a LOT of things I don't intend to repeat next time, which is the whole point of #1 I guess.

Mar-04-2004, 6:59pm
Grats Crawdad an getting the first one to the white stage. Nice feeling eh. Hurts when you do it but scew ups do teach you repair work. And we all do em.

Good for all of you for doing your first mando.

Mar-04-2004, 8:31pm
I'd bet pound for pound I've got you beat on wood putty.

The three of us should start our own company and sell mandolins to small children and blind people.

Mar-04-2004, 8:35pm
Hey Crawdad: I just strung my up in the white too, pretty exciting, and nerve racking at the same time. Congrats!!
Mine sounded good too, however I was not pleased with the string spacing so I made a new nut today. Thanks for your help too, you have helped me a lot!! #JD http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Mar-04-2004, 10:51pm
Well, other than my neck angle problem, my A model is "near" flawless. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif # Uh, by the way, what brand of wood putty do you all recommend? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Mar-04-2004, 11:45pm
Hey Yonkle,
#How's that one sound? If I remember correctly you were going to thin the top more? Did you do that? Are you more pleased with the sound of this one than the past ones. The last one I built, which was number 5 for me, I thinned the top to #about .9 in the recurve and .190 in the center. It was some tight grained wood though but it is a serious tone monster. I am very pleased with it. Don't be afraid to go thinner than what Siminoff suggests. Just don't go to extremes... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif # Good luck on it and it looks great from what I saw. Definetely a keeper...

Mar-05-2004, 12:08am
All those wood putty jokes have me feeling a little better guys! I got to the point where I realized that #1 was not going to be flawless about a month ago. I have a list of mistakes not to repeat, if possible. For me, some of this undertanding acquired is after the fact--I had to get through the forest to see the trees again, but its all good. When I look back to when I started, I can see I've learned a ton--yet more to learn.

I'll tell you what, though--its a wonderful feeling to actually string it up and play, knowing this instrument in hand was made by the same hands that play it. Relief--the top didn't split and the neck was set right. Those were two of my biggest concerns. Whats so cool is that I will have an instrument I can take out and play; and if I get tired of it, no problem--I'll just build more. I actually want to build an A next, and then tackle the F5 again to see if I can get it closer to "really right".

Until then, I'll just keep lying to myself that wood putty is part of the secret recipe for Loar tone! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Mar-05-2004, 12:22am
Yes Crawdaddy this one is LOUD, and I am thinning the top down, been doing it about three days,and I am having trouble Typing because I have BANDAIDS on my fingertips. I've sanded tonight until they started to bleed on the tips. Ouch, now they are throbing.
I cut a new nut and installed it too, did'nt like my spacing job on the other. It came out with a few good raps with a hammer, made a clean break. I think I will ready by Sunday to do the first Yellow Stain. Keep me posted on yours JD http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif

Mar-05-2004, 3:31am
Yonkie--OUCH! You are the model of dedication, for sure! I hope that in time I can approach your craftsmanship. You are an inspiration.

Tonight I've been staining my once pristine white mandolin. I'll tell ya, staining is what separates the men from the boys.


A boy!

Mar-05-2004, 7:23am
Ah, Grasshopper,
You have begun your journey.....LOL
I wish you many more rewards and may your "stringing up" never come to an end in this lifetime or the next. #You are good person and will be a fine Luthier!!


(You Go Boy)

Mar-05-2004, 12:56pm
The last one I built, which was number 5 for me, I thinned the top to about .9 in the recurve and 1.9 in the center. It was some tight grained wood though but it is a serious tone monster. I am very pleased with it. Don't be afraid to go thinner than what Siminoff suggests. Just don't go to extremes...
This sounds pretty extreme to me! Are you sure these measurements are correct? A top that is 0.9mm at the recurve and 1.9mm at the center is surely way too thin. Even if you doubled the thickness to 1.8mm at the recurve and 3.8 in the center this is still a bit thin in my book.

Mar-05-2004, 1:59pm
"Typing because I have BANDAIDS on my fingertips. I've sanded tonight until they started to bleed on the tips. Ouch, now they are throbing."

And you thought the reddish sunburst models were planned to look that way; now you know what really happened. Yonkle, if you started a thread of "post a picture of your bleeding fingers", maybe somebody would step forward to buy you a random orbital palm sander before the whole mandolin turns red. Don't hurt yourself, dude!

John Zimm
Mar-05-2004, 2:43pm
Maybe Yonkle has hit on an interesting way to get that sunburst look. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif


Mar-05-2004, 5:05pm
I'm sorry, I meant roughly .9 inches in the recurve and .190 inches in the center. This was some very stiff wood and I'm glad I got it that thin because it has a huge sound. The top is perfectly stable and it's been strung up with J75's for about 5 months. It has a little more pronounced arch to the top than normal, but due to this, the sound is more woody and big. Here is a quote from the MIMF from Mario Proulx talking about thickness in tops...

Mario Proulx - 02:51pm Jul 2, 2001
MIMForum Staff

Keep the recurve around .100"-.110" or so, but the center can go much lighter than Siminoff's plans; .180" is a starting point, and you can take it from there.

Mar-05-2004, 5:18pm
I think what I have gained from my experience in building these suckers, is that, the back is the most crucial component to the tone that you want. I have found that thinning the recurve on the back to .75-.8 in. to .175 in. in the center works well for me. Some people may not feel comfortable going this thin, but I have overbuilt my previous mandos and don't plan to make the same mistake again. Just my opinion. Take it for what it's worth.

Gail Hester
Mar-06-2004, 2:40am
I'll tell ya, staining is what separates the men from the boys.

crawdad, don't forget the women! Good luck with the stain.

Mar-06-2004, 2:47am
mandoryan--I'm definitely going thinner on my next back. I figure its not going to be subject to the stress that a top would be, so might as well make it respond as much as it can. That makes sense to me. As far as the tops go, I'm just going to use my builders sense (what little I have) and determine how thin to go based on the piece of wood I have to work with.

Luthier--Yeah--I am hooked. I can't wait to finish this one and get on to another! I have found that building instruments provides a needed balance to my life--I don't think I want to quit.

Yonkie--How are the fingers today? Also, what are you using for your yellow stain? I tried some amber, but it was just another shade of brown. My mandolin looks rather reminiscent of Bill Monroe's at this point. Maybe thats a good thing--I can tell people, "this is Bill Monroes lost Loar!"

Oh yeah--another thing that separates the men from the boys is scraping the binding. Did I ever mention how much I hate binding, LOL!

Mar-06-2004, 9:59pm
Hey, crawdad, don't do like me and go too thin. Yep, I was sanding down some more, mostly is the recurve, and during stringing it up, the top failed. Just today. It looked like the force of the strings pulling on the tailpiece was bending the rim and compressing the top, and down by the tailpiece the top folded like an accordian. I kept bringing up the string tension toward standard pitch -- nothing to loose here, and I was curious -- and the top split parallel to the glue joint, starting at the left side of the tail block and going up. At least I had a good glue joint.

So #1 is dead now! I'm dis-assembling it now, going to make a new top... I'll be done when you are finishing your #3, most likely. Arrrgh.
Be careful out there!

Jim Hilburn
Mar-06-2004, 10:52pm
Flowerpot, I had that same failure on one of my earliest and I've heard of it happening to some Loars. It's a good idea to make a little larger tailblock and leave a little extra wood in the string tension line, even up at the front. Another thing is don't have too steep of an arch climbing from the recurve at the tail to the bridge. It should rise gradually or it can collapse when combined with a thickness that's pushing the envelope.

Mar-06-2004, 11:26pm
I just strung up #1 tonight for the first time. My brothers and father and myself have all been anticipating this moment for months. We've always been a family of big talkers who never actually do anything. The thought of any one of us building a mandolin has been a source of great humor throughout this process. I decided to go for broke and string it up for the first time in front of all of them.

I did a rush job on the set-up right there on the living room floor. Got her in tune and handed her to my father. (I can't play a note myself, just getting ready to start learning) I didn't think I was going to leave there with it tonight. He just played and played with a big smile plastered on his face. It was a priceless moment I'll never forget.

I have lots more work to do. I still have some final sanding, fret leveling, staining/finishing, and the set-up needs to be done much better but I was very pleased with the initial tone. If I wasn't hooked before, I sure am now.

Chris Baird
Mar-07-2004, 12:44am
Flowerpot, sorry to hear that your top failed. There are no plans that really give any advice on preventing this problem so most folks learn the hard way. Most good mandolins I have measurements for and have measured myself have the recurve right infront of the tailblock at no less than .120". I usually go with .130-.140". I also create a sort of spine that runs up the center seam such that the area between the bridge and the tailpiece is actually the thickest part of my top. I get that area the thickness I want it and then just leave it alone. If I need to make adjustments to the top thickness I avoid the structurally important areas.

Mar-07-2004, 1:32am
Flowerpot--believe me when I say my heart goes out to you. I know that frustration from some of my failures in getting as far as i have. I half expected mine to fail, but the Gods must have given me a break. As for thin, I was speaking mainly of the back, which doesn't have the stresses that a top has. My top was pretty thin in places--I held it up to a halogen light and it glowed red in places, like your hand does when you cup it over a flashlight. Anyway, it held with J5's strung up to pitch, so I think I am OK. Back to you. If you can, take your experience as a learning thing. View it in a positive was and , by all means, keep going. We all bust up some wood as we learn. At least it wasn't a $10,00 mando you bought.

Brookside--Yours is a great story. I bet that was a great moment for you. Really, thats what its all about--making an instrument that gives others pleasure and makes good music.

I just finished my french polish tonight on #1. Now, I have to scrape the binding again to get the residue off! Then, it gets strung up. I'll post some pics, which will probably make the experts laugh and the novices, like myself, feel better!

Mar-07-2004, 3:37am
#Man I was cringing as I was reading that. There's nothing worse than putting all that work into a mandolin and having it split on ya. My sympathies go out to you. I was carving a top the other day and had it split when I was almost finished with it. For some reason, I decided to lean into it too much and crack....there it went. I had a good time throwing it around the garage though and yelling various profanities until my wife came and told me that she thought I should take a break for a while... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif #Frustration was gone by the end of that....Oh well, live and learn....

#Sounds very cool. Can't wait to see pics! French polish on the first, very impressive! Very eager to see pics now.
On the back thickness, I made my first couple of mandos with the backs about the same as the tops and won't do that again. Since they don't have to withstand the rigors that a top does, I have since modified the thickness on my new ones and a couple of the old ones too. Binding is no fun no matter how you look at it! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif # All the way around it sucks! #I grin and bear it every time I do it. The payoff is worth it though. Have fun..... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif #Isn't it great...

Any new pics Yonkle?

Mar-07-2004, 4:56am
Mandoryan--I hear you on the backs! When I do post pics, you'll see I have much to learn--the scroll is not right, some of the binding got screwy, the 15th fret/ riser insert alignment is wrong, my inlay is less than immaculate, my sunburst turned into "antique look" and so on and so on. I accept all that as something you have to go through. You can't learn whats right until you attempt and end up less than perfect. I have a lot of notes for next time around! And yeah, its really fun to be doing this. Even with the flaws, I'm still kind of amazed when I see the almost finished mandolin. Did I do that?

I'e just got some final fretwork and tuner bushings to install--then I string her up and play a little "Arkansas Traveller!!

Mar-07-2004, 6:23am
Its great to hear all of the stories. #It is always inspiring. #If I may be so bold at this point to give a little advise (just my opinion) to the new addicts because this "hobby / vocation" gives birth to the "I really need that tool" syndrome......
(besides its 6 am Sunday Morning and I need to do something while I heat my shop)

Many tools on the market can be made yourself or can be alleviated and/or substituted for something else. Much of the fun is figuring out how to "do the procedure" or finding a way to do it better. After all, this is a creative process. Yard sales, auctions, and "for sale" items in the newspaper will sometimes yield some great bargains and finds. #

I am by no means the best craftsman/teacher in the world and I am always learning something new. I used to think anyone could build an instrument and took my "talent and skills" for granted for a long time. #I have been building for 29 years and have learned many things.

I'll never forget building my first instrument, calling a man for advise, and being told, "I'm sorry, son. That is a trade secret." #I vowed then to share whatever I learned and try my best to never have that attitude. #Knowledge is meant to be shared and it is great to know it is alive and well in the cafe!!!!

.......with that said, I will put my soapbox away and head for the sanctuary of my shop. #I just wish I could see all of the work I have been reading about here and meet some of you.

If anyone is ever out in this "neck of the woods", feel free to stop in for a visit. #You are welcome and we can share some "tricks of the trade" together. #And just for the record, there are no "tricks of the trade". #Its only knowledge to be shared.


BTW gail, Real nice mandolin you made!!!

Jim Hilburn
Mar-07-2004, 10:20am
I took a couple of photo's of a roughed in top plate I'm making. I wanted to show how mine looks on the inside at the tailblock. you can see how I leave some extra all through the area. I will be working the contour back to the kerfing line,but the inside circle will end at the tailblock so there is 1 1/2" or so on either side of the block that doesn't go back to the line. I hope the pic explains it better than I'm doing.

Jim Hilburn
Mar-07-2004, 10:28am
OK, heres a photo taken of the top profile as it climbs to the bridge. The bridge is quite far forward on a 15 fret mandolin, so a gradual climb gives you more longitudinal strength to hold up against the string pull. Some believe that gradual arches contribute to better sound transmission through the plate, me among them, but it really serves the purpose of structural integrity in the string line.
Thats how I do it. I would like to hear any other input on the subject, and hpoe this helps someone along the line.

Mar-07-2004, 9:37pm
Yes: I am Finally done sanding, And I did the Sunburst today. It came out pretty good I think, It's hard to tell with that flat dull color.
Glad the sanding over, now I can hang up my "Natural Man" Orbital Sander for the season! And let the blood dry. Photo of this device below! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Mar-07-2004, 10:14pm
Yonkie--Hey--I have one of those too! LOL!

Mar-07-2004, 10:49pm
Here's a few pics of my first attempt--complete with flaws! Oh, she may be ugly, but I love her anyway!

Mar-07-2004, 10:50pm

Mar-07-2004, 10:53pm

Mar-07-2004, 10:55pm
one more...now I'm gonna play!

Mar-07-2004, 11:45pm
Well done crawdad. For someone who has little woodworking experience, you`ve done a remarkable job. I have been waiting eagerly to see you`re efforts, and you`ve certainly surprised me. Now that you`ve gone through all the processes, you know what to expect on the next one. It can only better from now. I`ve just finished binding the machine head on my two F5`s, and I did`nt enjoy it one bit. I`ve found this part the most difficult so far. I used a paint stripper heat gun to soften the binding, and yes I did fill the workshop with smoke. But I must admit I did start to get the hang of it when I started on the other other mando machine head. Here`s a photo of one cleaned up. Spot the flaw. I thick the other is better, I have`nt cleaned it up yet.

Mar-07-2004, 11:58pm
Crawdad, you made it to the finish line. You built yourself a F5 from scratch. And I will bet that you will never play anything that you love more. Most every great luthier has his very first instrument still in his possession. These are truly the world's most priceless instruments. The end of the first is just the beginning. Nothing left to do but start on another.


Mar-08-2004, 12:58am
NICE WORK Crawdaddy! You stained your the same color has I did on mine today. I don't know why you say it's ugly, I think it looks great! Way to go!! JD

Mar-08-2004, 1:19am
Good Job Crawdad! Hey, what kind of wood are the back and sides on that? Very unique look to it. For #1, I'd say your well on your way to being a super luthier. Keep on carving and picking....:)

Mar-08-2004, 4:59am
bobz--Thanks so much. I have learned a great deal with #1. There are certainly pitfalls, and some of them are only obvious after you've committed to a process. Those will be my roadmap to #2. Ah, its a great thing to build. I spent the evening recording with this instrument and it sits real well in the tracks. Yet, all the time I am thinking. "I know I can do better." The addiction has taken hold. I am really glad I decided to go from scratch. It makes the education process pretty complete. Man, I have learned a lot! Still much more to learn too. I can improve on symmetry, rim construction, plate carving, binding, finishing, fretwork, etc. Even still, I have one instrument done and I am looking forward to tackling the second. As I titiled this thread, I could not have done this without help from many of the fine people who lend their knowledge to this board. BTW, your necks and binding look fantastic! I KNOW how hard that step is!

Brookside--Thanks, man! I got one over the line and desire to improve the next in every area. I think I can. Still working on patience and detailing, but the cool thing is that I am in no rush for #2 since I have one to play. My motto will be, "however long it takes." I'm getting ready to start on a nother soon--its gonna be an A style--Englemann top, Lacewood back, flame maple neck and sides. Ought to be interesting if nothing else. I'm thinking of going natural on that one.

Yonkie--I was hoping to get that really dark--almost black to brown to amber stain, but it just became too difficult. This one has a look of that beat up Monroe F5, and I do kind of like that. Post pics of your new one. I'm dying to see it!

Mandoryan--The top is a one piece sitka spruce board from Orca Tonewoods. The back is figured maple. The sides and the neck are both from a plank of pretty pedestrian soft maple. I chose that because I had it in the garage from a previous project and since this was my first, I didn't want to wreck a bunch of fancy wood. Now, I kinda wish I would have used the fancy stuff. If one is going to go to all the trouble of building, might as well choose some eye catching wood. Hey, it has served its purpose. I have some beautiful hard flame maple for the neck and sides of my next one. I'm gonna try the A style with the long neck next. I think I want to work up my skills before I try another F5. As beautiful as the f style is, my real goal is to produce a tone monster--woody, resonant and loud. Right now, i want to take a small break and do some playing and practicing. I am a musician first, after all. I want to spend some time enjoyng what I've done and then tackle #2 when the Michigan weather becomes a little more conducive to building.

Finally, I just want to shout out to Luthier--who has been a real inspiration throughout the process. I loved your rant on trade secrets! You don;t expect me to give up my "secret" finish formula do ya? LOL!

Hey, you guys are all wonderful. Give me some time and I'll eventually become worthy! Thanks again!


Mar-08-2004, 5:01am
Very nice Al, I'd be proud. You are going to use the Tibetan Yak saliva and sweat mixture I told you about, right?
It will bring the tone of that right out.


Mar-08-2004, 5:40am
Luthier--I told you...don't let the CAT OUT OF BAG! Now all these master luthiers will be out tracking down Tibetan Yaks. How will we ever compete?!! Heck, I guess we are OK as long we dont specify thats its the light brown Yaks--the ones Lloyd used, right? My South African Cabernet, being a part of the components to the secret finish will be hard to score too, so I guess we are safe for now! Go get 'em!

John Zimm
Mar-08-2004, 9:25am

That looks really great. I love the color-it looks very old-time. Good work, and congratulations. I am really excited and happy for you that you have completed #1. I've got to get back to work on mine one of these days.


Mar-08-2004, 12:25pm
Good job, crawdad! What a relief to have it in playable condition, where you can enjoy it now1 I'm envious!

Thanks everybody, for the kind words and advice concerning my top implosion. Looking back, it's easy to see what went wrong. I did have the recurve down to 0.110" or so to start with, no extra by the tailpiece, and it held the strings just fine. Good piece of red spruce. But the sound was not right; it could have been any number of things, but I decided to try thinning the top to reduce the tinny-ness of the treble (it had a good bark, but a funny treble). I started with the strings on, thinning around the upper bout first, and the sound was getting better. I thinned around the lower bout, an it was getting better still. I got greedy and unstrung it to thin down the part under the tailpiece... fatal error. Jim, your comments about the degree of arch affecting the string tension load at the tailpiece were right on the money. My arch from the tailpiece to the bridge was more pronounced than normal, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Well, I'm trying my hand at dis-assembly now; glad I used hide glue.

John Zimm
Mar-08-2004, 1:25pm

Best to you as you work on fixing your mandolin. I can imagine how that felt, having had many bumps along the way with my project. I hope the repair goes well.


Mar-09-2004, 12:39am
Hi , I just finished my first F-5 a couple of weeks ago. I also made a lot of imperfections . I'm a finish carpenter and I say" I try my best and putty the rest". So there's wood filler here and there, mostly inside the scroll area. As far as the top thickness, I went .10" in the recurve, and .22" in the center. As Jim Hilburn said, I also left the recurve under the tailpiece a little thicker, .14" and not as much of a deep recurve as the sides. I figured that the sides by the F-holes would do most of the sound producing. I compared the sound of it to three major brands and it sounded as good as the best of them, so that made me feel good.
H. Bruun

Jim Hilburn
Mar-09-2004, 9:07am
I might add that if you leave extra wood on the inside,just under the tailpiece, you can keep a uniform recurve,but it will still be thicker and stronger than around the rest of the rim.