View Full Version : McKenzie Mandola

May-01-2006, 5:00pm
This is my first mandola. I have made 3 mandolins and one octave mandola. I had a lot of fun building this one. It has some different features like Steinberger tuners, gold frets, and bound S-holes.

May-01-2006, 5:02pm
Here is a closer view of the top. I used seedlac to seal and color it and then handbrushed two coats of KTM water based finish.

May-01-2006, 5:04pm
Here is a view of the back. It's a one piece red maple back. I used ebony for binding and a wooden strip with a black fiber lining inside the ebony and also to line the soundholes.

May-01-2006, 5:06pm
Here is a view of the neck. The frets are Warmoth and have a gold color. They are large frets. Inlays are gold mother of pearl. This is my first try at inlay, so I chose easy to cut shapes.

May-01-2006, 5:08pm
And a close up of the headstock. I inlaid my name with square gold wire.

May-01-2006, 5:10pm
Here is a view of the S-hole and a close up of the bridge. I tried to put lots of S-shapes into the instrument-- inlays, soundholes, and bridge.

May-01-2006, 5:12pm
A sideview.

May-01-2006, 5:14pm
Finally, an end view. The tailpiece is made of a piece of brass with two pieces of ebony epoxied on. I started out with a design that used loop ends and ended up with a design requiring ball ends.

May-01-2006, 5:27pm

I really like your Mandola. All the SSSSS's are really great and the bridge is sweet. I also like the low profile neck heel - reminds me of a guitar. What scale length did you end up using? Did you build from plans or make up your own?


May-01-2006, 6:06pm
Glad you like it! Scale length is 16 inches. The neck joint is square and sits deep into the block, so you don't really need much of a heel. A bolt goes through the block and into a barrel nut that is inserted crossways in the neck so as the bolt tightens it pulls the neck into the block.


May-01-2006, 6:27pm
That's _so_ cool! I love all the little bits like the subtle binding on the soundholes and the sort of rotating fretboard inlay. The peghead is excellently designed too.

Brad Weiss
May-01-2006, 6:45pm
You have a real flair. I appreciate the way you use the S motif to tie everything together. How's it sound??

May-01-2006, 7:01pm
How does it sound?? I think it sounds like a mandola, but since I haven't had anything to compare it to, all I can really say is that it doesn't sound much like a mandolin. It has a pretty even response I think and has a "sweeter edge" to it than a mandolin. At first, I thought that the C string was not fat enough, but after hearing someone play it from several feet away, it seemed to carry the bass just as well. It's X braced and has a red spruce top, but to my ear it isn't as chunky percussive as an f hole mandolin but also not fat and boomy like an oval hole mandolin. Maybe the guy that I made it for will come on and add some comments. He has been breaking it in this past week. I only played it for a few days and I am left handed so couldn't really do it justice.


May-01-2006, 7:28pm
Are the Steinbergers very heavy? How do they effect the overall balance? I like the black-on-black, uncluttered look.

May-01-2006, 7:37pm
The Steinberger tuners are heavier than regular tuners. I don't think I would want them on a mandolin, unless it was an electric. The mandola is a heavier instrument and balances okay, especially since it is joined at the 12th fret. They really do work great and tune up to and down to pitch once the strings settle. It's a very clean look-- the string just disappears straight down with no winding.


May-02-2006, 12:45pm
Very nice. Overall it looks great, but also like all the individual design components, the bridge, tailpiece, inlays, soundhole, etc.

Eric F.
May-02-2006, 2:09pm
Nice! Woody, that is one cool-looking 'dola.

Bill Snyder
May-02-2006, 9:07pm
Looks good Woody.

May-03-2006, 7:07am
gorgeous- love the color, the soundholes and the inlays- congrats -you are talented.

May-03-2006, 7:10am
gorgeous- love the color, the soundholes and the inlays- congrats -you are talented.

Doug Ottestad
May-03-2006, 7:03pm
Besides looking great, that mandola also sounds great! And she's mine, all mine! (Mandolas are feminine, are they not?)

Someone wondered about the sound - I hesitate to try to fully describe it at this point, since I am still in the process of tweaking the action to my picking satisfaction. My first impression is that it has a fuller, richer sound than a mandolin, though it's obviously of the mandolin family. When picking high on the "A" string (comparable to low on the "E" string on a mandolin), the sound is richer, "throatier" - the mandolin "E" is definitely thinner sounding. This richness extends to the other strings, as well. Open "G" sounds closer to an oval-hole mandolin than to an F- (or S-)hole. "C" string is perhaps a little subdued (though the open "C" rings out strongly), but will improve as the instrument loosens up; that string is a lot bigger than I'm used to at 0.052" diameter! Also, those D'Addario round wire-wounds are a lot noisier to slide around on than the flat-wound Thomastiks I use on most of my mandolins. But they load the top more than the heaviest available Thomastik mandola strings would. I'll try the Thomastiks later, anyway, and maybe the new semi-flat D'Addarios as well.

This mandola already plays somewhat louder than any of my mandolins, and seems to project better, as well. My spectrum analyzer shows each string has a fair-size frequency component around 3000 Hz (even open "C"), which I've read is supposed to enhance projection. Maybe a bigger instrument would be expected to play louder, but it is not much bigger - weighs 3.1 pounds versus about 2.6 for my F-5 mandolins, and some (most?) of that extra weight is in the Steinberger tuners. Those tuners may be heavy, but they sure work well; they have a precision of operation that you just don't get in a sidewinder tuner. And they are tres cool.

My biggest surprise is how well she chords and chops up toward the bridge. I'll bet I could sneak this baby into a bluegrass jam with nobody being aware that it's not a mandolin (except for it not being shrieky on the top end)!
Open chords sound good too, and my initial concern that my small hands would have to stretch for 4-finger chords near the nut doesn't seem to be a problem. Does she respond as quickly as a mandolin to fast changes? Not quite, and maybe never will because she's a bigger girl than those mandolins. I wish I was a better picker; I'm afraid I'll not able to do justice to this instrument!

I'll eventually swap Woody's beautiful adjustable "S" bridge for a one-piece Red Henry 11-holer out of ebony, probably, though I may make a maple one, as well. I'll play hell trying to duplicate Woody's smooth "S" shape on that!

Bottom line is that I am tickled with this instrument! Woody has a seemingly inexhaustible idea base, as is evident in the design and appearance of this mandola. He kept me up to date during construction by sending 216 photos over the internet, so that I almost feel as if I had done some of the work. I'll never see an instrument the same as this one, anywhere; that's the very definition of "unique"!

Anyway, Woody, you did a great job on this instrument. Any criticisms I have are of a very minor nature. And, your next instrument will reflect what you've learned in making this one.

If any of you out there are desirous of a hand-made mandolin-family instrument (or fiddle, for that matter), I do not hesitate to suggest you contact Woody McKenzie!

May-04-2006, 11:43am
Nice one Woody! You're becoming quite the luthier these days. Now you need to make a lefty so we can hear your fine chops on it http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif


May-05-2006, 10:55am
Thanks for all the compliments!

It's sort of strange to spend all that time working on a project and then just ship it away... I am really hoping Doug will send me a recording once he has gotten familiar enough with her. Doug is too kind with his comments. He didn't mention that this took over a year! I only work off a small bench in my basement and do too much by hand. I also get sidetracked repairing fiddles and mandolins for friends, and of course, playing tunes too! (Yes Pete, I already do have a few lefty instruments lying around.) There are just too many different kinds of projects that would be fun to try. I believe Pete is one of those guys who also experiments-- whatever happened to that carbon fiber mandolin top?!? I still intend to try carbon fiber, maybe in the near future.

After thinking about it some more, I'd sure like to have some of those Steinberger tuners on my mandolin if they were just lighter. I think I will write those people and ask them why they couldn't be made lighter. Here is one more photo of the back of the headstock to show how the tuners look from the backside.


May-05-2006, 11:28am
How heavy are we talking? These look like a great upgrade tuner style.

May-05-2006, 1:33pm
I just weighed 4 individual tuners still wrapped in paper and they weighed 148 grams, so a set of eight would weigh about 300 grams or about 11 ounces. I don't have any conventional tuners to weigh that aren't on instruments for comparison, but I am guessing they might be about twice as heavy. Another consideration would also be spacing. To space them the way I did for this mandola, I had to consider the distance between the tuners related to the angle the tuners strike across the headplate. They have to be fairly far apart if mounted in parallel rows or the strings from one tuner will touch the post of the adjacent tuner. To place them close together, you would have to angle them in considerably so they would look much more like a "V".

I think they really are a superior design, except for weight. Very smooth operation. Because the string is clamped in the center of the post and is pulled straight down, it stretches out quickly and then can't continue to stretch like a string that is wound around and around a post. Even when I strung up the mandola for the first time, it quickly came in tune.


May-05-2006, 4:42pm
You could spread the angle of the V quite a bit from your design and keep an attractive profile.

This is the strangest looking approach I've seen, but it looks functional.


Original images at Carlos Beceiro (http://www.carlosbeceiro.com/mandolina.htm) . Lots more neat stuff there.

May-06-2006, 7:26am
I actually like that design, but think it would be improved by getting rid of the knobs and using a single key to turn each screw. That would make it much lighter and compact. The V on this instrument spreads out to the top. For using the Steinberger tuners, the V would be inverted, making for a more pointed headstock. Actually, since the tuners are mounted independently, an offset arrrangement could be made with one tuner being at the very apex.

Here is another view of the headstock to show how tall the tuners are when clamping the string and then how much they travel downward. You can also see that there is no trussrod, but two carbon fiber rods in the neck instead, since the nut is not installed.


Skip Kelley
May-08-2006, 6:27am
Woody, Nice design!!! Everything flows together wonderfully! Awesome job!!