View Full Version : custom mandola

Sep-30-2016, 9:13pm
It's been a while since I finished an instrument of the mandolin family, and this one is different enough from the usual around here that I decided to post some photos. The customer was operating on what he called the "50 foot rule". Decoration is intended to be seen from 50 feet, and close up details are not important. To that end, He wanted a white face and ivoroid pick guard, inspired by the looks of an A-3, block inlays, and basics otherwise. Simple ebony body bindings and no fingerboard or peghead binding.
This is a mandola with a short (under 16") scale. My mandolas have all been 17" scale before this, so I was trying to figure out how I was going to get the bridge to center between the f-hole points when I remembered something I had been wanting to try. Some of the designs of Jimmy DaQuisto are among my favorite instrument designs, and I had been wanting to try using DaQuisto "f"-holes, so I asked the customer if it would be OK to use them on this mandola. He liked the design, so I got my chance to try using this hole shape, and in the bargain got to ignore the tradition of centering the bridge between the f-holes!
For those interested, the top is engelmann spruce (I got to use one of the tops I have with dark streaks of color (thanks, Bruce)), the back, sides and neck are sugar maple, the bindings and peghead overlays are ebony, and the fingerboard is African blackwood.
So, 'without further adieu', the pictures:

Sep-30-2016, 9:14pm
a few more:

F-2 Dave
Sep-30-2016, 9:24pm
That's beautiful John. I read the post before looking at the photos and couldn't imagine the block inlays looking good, but it was definitely the right call.

Kevin Stueve
Sep-30-2016, 9:30pm

Gail Hester
Oct-01-2016, 2:26am
Very, very cool John.

Oct-01-2016, 2:41am

Oct-01-2016, 2:44am
Nice! I'm always a sucker for block inlay :)

Looks good from 3000 miles here...

Oct-01-2016, 6:46am
I'm a sucker for block inlay too. The thing that struck me was how you've changed the headstock inlay - now Hamlett reads frontward and backward (sorry, I can't remember the word for that).

Dale Ludewig
Oct-01-2016, 6:57am
Beautiful, John.

Oct-01-2016, 8:08am
The thing that struck me was how you've changed the headstock inlay - now Hamlett reads frontward and backward (sorry, I can't remember the word for that).

Palindrome is the word you're looking for. That is a great looking 'dola John. I don't think you need to step back 50 feet to admire this one. I'd like to test drive it from right behind the box.

Len B.
Clearwater, FL

Oct-01-2016, 8:53am
I'm a sucker for block inlay too. The thing that struck me was how you've changed the headstock inlay - now Hamlett reads frontward and backward (sorry, I can't remember the word for that).

The customer wanted an alternate logo, and it took me a while to come up with this one. I don't know what that's called either, I don't think it's a palindrome because you can't actually read it backwards without flipping it over (and then reading it forwards).
This logo fits with this design better, IMO, than my usual logo, but it doesn't work well (IMO) with the F-5 and other designs.

Oct-01-2016, 9:27am
True, strictly speaking your name doesn't read the same backwards and forward, but your design is so skillful it looks like a palindrome. It is very well done!! I don't know the word either.

Len B.
Clearwater, FL

Bertram Henze
Oct-01-2016, 9:54am
The thing that struck me was how you've changed the headstock inlay - now Hamlett reads frontward and backward (sorry, I can't remember the word for that).

Palindrome is the word you're looking for.

Palindrome would be symmetrical equal letters in normal orientation (e.g. "step on no pets"). Palindrome works independent of font type. This, OTOH, is 180 degrees rotational symmetry on a graphical level (like the yin&yang symbol), with groups of letters made to look like other letters (the H is the tt and so on). Very cool.

Oct-01-2016, 12:45pm
I like the consecutive pattern within the block inlay. And the underside of the fretboard extension seems pretty white like the top. What determined the choice of colors?

Oct-01-2016, 12:57pm
...What determined the choice of colors?

The customer wanted the white top and ivoriod pick guard. I chose the A/F-4 inspired red for the rest of the instrument (with the customer's approval), the ebony was a joint decision also. As for the fingerboard extender being the same color as the top, I concluded that the white color had to have a boundary, and I decided that the boundary would be the ebony top binding and the ebony "cross piece". That meant the extender was on the paint side of the boundary, so it's white! The top started out much whiter but the varnish I used over the color darkened it quite a bit.

Marty Jacobson
Oct-01-2016, 1:19pm
The logo figure is called an ambigram. Looks awesome, and so does the instrument. Very nice design and execution, but we didn't expect anything less. :-)

Oct-01-2016, 2:48pm
Stunning instrument!!!
I love the design.
It is beautiful in its simplicity and sharpness.
I think the wood on the back is absolutely beautiful.
Congrats on a wonderful creation.

Oct-01-2016, 3:54pm
I wonder about the size of the sound holes. Do they create a more open sound than one with "f"holes? They seem larger in the pictures.
Also is there a different sound from your other mandolas at this shorter scale length?

Oct-01-2016, 4:02pm
Both good questions, Doug. There is not another of my mandolas within 400 miles of here, so I can't get a direct sound comparison, and furthermore, only one has f-holes, so that's not a very big sample size for comparison anyway.
The short scale is working better than I expected, with some pretty hefty strings on it (still, only a "medium" set). I'm not quite curious enough to measure the area of the holes, but I don't imagine that it is a lot more than the area of f-holes, and with the body size and depth, I don't think they are even approaching too big. Perhaps even bigger would work well.
The sound seems to balance well all the way to the open C note, so I consider the sound to be a success. I haven't really heard it played yet, but the owner is on his way to come pick it up, so by later this evening I should know more about the sound and how it compares to the owners expectations.

Pete Braccio
Oct-01-2016, 11:31pm
It's the night for photos of fantastic instruments on the Cafe. Very nicely done! I think that the mandola has a great Art Deco vibe to it.


Bertram Henze
Oct-02-2016, 7:39am
This ambigram thing has raised my curiosity - there is even an automatic ambigram designer (https://flipscript.com/en/flip) on the web. I can see that in the near future you can sit everywhere in a jam or session and easily read who made your fellow musician's instrument.

Oct-02-2016, 9:01am
The logo figure is called an ambigram.

Thank you Marty for a new (to me) word to add to the vocabulary.

Len B.
Clearwater, FL

GarY Nava
Oct-02-2016, 12:02pm
Lovely work John.
Cheers Gary

Oct-02-2016, 12:28pm
Not too shabby, John. Give me an update, at your leisure, as to when you want this mandola out yonder.

Jim Garber
Oct-02-2016, 3:46pm
My first Gibson was a white A3 and I still miss it since it was made the same year as my dad's birth year. I love your modernized design, John. Excellent.

What kind of bracing did you use? And do you need to string it with a custom (heavier?) gauged set to work with the shorter scale?

Oct-02-2016, 4:02pm
The braces are pretty standard tone bars. The string gauges that are working pretty well are very close to EJ76 (I was unable to get EJ76s so I used individual strings). The owner thinks it needs a little heavier A strings, and perhaps one or two others will need to be a little heavier, but not much.

Skip Kelley
Oct-03-2016, 5:35am
John, that is an amazing looking mandola! A real work of art!!!

Tom Cook
Oct-03-2016, 6:56am
John, that is an amazing looking mandola! A real work of art!!!

Tom Cook here. I am the lucky owner/custodian of this wonderful instrument. It looks, feels, sounds and plays GREAT. I play mandola in the Harrisburg Mandolin Ensemble although I am actually a BG mandolin player. I tried 5 other mandolas ( Weber, Gibson, Collings, Eastman and Flatiron(s)) and didn't like any of them. They all had too big a scale for my small hands ( even the Gibson at 15 3/4) and all sounded more like a lute than a mandolin. Maybe they are supposed to; but I'm used to a mando feel and they just didn't do it. ( The Martin was the closest at 15 1/2 but the band didn't care for the wimpy flat top sound)So my buddy Wade Yankey suggested I contact John Hamlett which I did and presto, here I am like a kid opening the train set under the Christmas tree. This instrument is awesome and sounds, well, like a great mandolin but with more thoughtful tone. Come see it at opening night of the Classical Mandolin Society in November in King of Prussia, PA. Hey all of you out there, John Hamlett is the real deal and you should consider yourselves lucky if you have one of his instruments.

Tom Cook
Oct-03-2016, 6:59am
And, by the way, it looks great from 50' away. I wanted a 1930s jazz guitar vibe and I sure got it. Its lovely. ( I look better from 100 feet away)

Bernie Daniel
Oct-03-2016, 9:21am
Beautiful instrument! Stunning really.

I'm devoted to block inlays also and the all the white-black contrasts on this one kind of make me think piano for some odd reason. It is a great looking mandola.

Is the bridge actually canted or is that an illusion? I ask this because the saddle already looks compensated.

In theory I guess the mandola saddle compensation should be different than the pattern on a mandolin (back forward back forward) as it only has one course of plain strings -- so back forward forward back (going C to A)?

Did you go with black wood because of the ebony scarcity -- or do you prefer it?

added: I guess looking at your first post I realize the bridged is probably intentionally slanted -- as you were concerned about the f-hole points. So I'll rephrase the question. Why does a mandola require both a compensated AND a tilted bridge?

Oct-03-2016, 10:48am
...Why does a mandola require both a compensated AND a tilted bridge?

Answer: because it does.
That is what it took to get the thing playing in tune, and I figure in tune is the important thing, and if the bridge is a little "crooked", so be it. One thing; the shorter the scale, the more intonation errors because of different string gauges, so the shorter the scale, the more compensation needed. This is a Cumberland Acoustics bridge, and the built-in compensation was pretty close, but each instrument; different scale lengths, different string gauges, different action height etc. will require slightly different compensation. This one plays in tune like this.

I bought some African blackwood fingerboard blanks from a vendor out of curiosity and to experiment, and I used one on this mandola just to see what it was like. I like ebony much better as far as working the wood, but the blackwood seems to be very friendly for fretting. Assuming it holds up well, and I have no reason to suspect otherwise, it should perform just as well as ebony in use. With large block inlays, there is a tendency for the fingerboard wood to chip between the edge of the inlay cavity and the fret slot because there is what amounts to a little ridge of end grain wood sticking up there. This wood showed good strength there, so perhaps it is a good choice for fingerboards with block inlays

Bernie Daniel
Oct-03-2016, 11:24am
OK thanks but let me take this a bit further. Is is hard to tell from the pic but I assume the C, G and D courses are wound strings and the A course is plain? That is the usual mandola string set.

So it seems to me, based on analogy with a mandolin saddle compensation that in theory anyway the compensation on a mandola saddle should be:

C (back, i.e. longest string) ; G forward of C, shorter string); D even more forward, and finally the A course should be back again(that is longer then D and many G also).

This is based on the assumption that plain strings have be longer than wound strings of the same gauge?

The bridge on your mandola does not follow that pattern suggested above. Why are the mandolin and mandola compensation patterns so different?

With a mandocello (all courses wound) the compensation is linear C longest to A shortest.

Oct-03-2016, 11:40am
First of all, the pictures are misleading. The first set of strings I tried did not have wound D strings. Those did not work well at all, but I took some pictures with those strings still on the mandola. The strings it left here with have wound D strings. I didn't spend any particular time analyzing what was going on at the bridge, I just checked the intonation on each string, and I made some adjustments of the bridge top to get all the strings in tune at the 12th fret. That might change slightly when Tom (the owner) experiments with string gauges, but he probably wont adjust more than a gauge or two, so it should all stay pretty well in tune.
I assume the core diameter of the wound strings and the gauge of the un-wound strings determine the string lengths, but I really don't care to get too analytical about it. It's in tune. I could make a custom bridge top that would not need the slight "tilt" of the bridge, I suppose, but I almost always have to tilt bridges a little bit on mandolins and mandolas, or any floating bridge instrument.
Bottom line, I just want it to play in tune and whatever it takes to do that is OK by me.

Bernie Daniel
Oct-03-2016, 11:58am
Ok I understand your thinking and what works works.

But I do not think my last post was clear so a made a diagram -- it is hard to "draw" with the forum format. The "mandola theory" is what I reason the compensation on a mandola should be based on a mandolin compensation. But the CA saddle on John's mandola is much different.

I am sure Steve has made many mandola bridges in the past and knows that this is the proper arrangement - not questioning that. I'm just wondering why the logic does not hold.

Anyway it is off topic and not all that important.