View Full Version : Campfire mandolin

Feb-03-2008, 12:51am
In the spirit of inspiring people to build a mandolin, here's some pictures of my very first one. It was built from a Stewart-MacDonald kit. To be honest, I wasn't very happy with the finished product, so I loaned it to a friend and built a couple of octave mandos, which are posted elsewhere in this forum.

I got the Campfire mandolin back a few months ago, and decided to re-work it as follows:

1. I increased the neck angle from flat to two degrees, and fitted a new adjustable bridge. This was easy, since it was a bolt-on neck and all I had to do was carve a little out of the hollow in the neck, where it joins the head block.

2. I thinned down the plates by about 0.03" on the front and back. They were originally 1/8" which seemed a lot to me.

3. Since the original finish (KTM-9 from LMI) had been stripped off in the re-thicknessing, and I couldn't get the hang of brushing it on in the first place, I used a wipe-on poly on the body.

4. Since I was at it anyway, I put on a new nut and tailpiece.

Result: It sounds a LOT better. Brighter tone, more sustain, better bass. It already sounds as good as the cheap Washburn I use for a travel mando. I think that when it opens up, it'll do just fine.

Feb-03-2008, 12:55am
Oops. Forgot to tell you all what you were looking at.

At the left is the front view (duh). Next is the back, showing a piece of bloodwood I used to cover up a crack in the back that occured after I glued everything up. It didn't fail at the glue joint, but next to it. It was too big to simply force back shut, so I cut a channel and glued the bloodwood strip in to cover the crack and reinforce the back.

The next view is from the side, showing the general proportions. The last view is a close-up of the neck/body junction showing the increased neck angle, along with the maple ship I fitted to fill the gap caused by the neck re-set.

Feb-03-2008, 4:22pm
John, great idea and nice job. #Maybe it's a photo illusion, but the depth of the body looks unusually shallow. #Is that stock, or did you make the rims shorter?

I've seen a number of comments on the too-flat neck angle of these kit necks. #I wonder if another way to increase the bridge height, without reshaping the hollow of the neck heel, and refitting the whole thing, would be to alter the bolt hole through the block to a vertically shaped slot. #Then the whole neck could be adjusted upwards above the plane of the soundboard. #Ie, rather than creating an angled-back joint, just raising the height of the FB, and using a flat shim under the FB.
Plus, your avatar hellcat is very cool.

Feb-07-2008, 10:37pm
The ribs were totally stock. If I had my druthers, I think I would have made the body a little deeper.

Well, when I planed down the top of the mando I did get a bit of height just from the gap, without having to incline the neck, but it wasn't enough, IMHO. But it wouldn't be hard to build another mando with a mortise-and-tenon joint, and experiment with different fingerboard elevations. I'll leave that to better builders than I am at this point.

As for the avatar snap, it wasn't Photoshopped in any way. That's what was in the camera when I downloaded the picture. We've come to call him "Balrog's little brother."

Apr-16-2012, 10:37pm
Well, it's a few years later and this mandolin is no more.

I guess I got carried away with thinning the top down, because it started to "dish" after a couple of years, with the bridge slowly sinking. At some point, one of the X-brace arms gave way, and rather than do a repair, I just made another, more conventional body and recycled the neck. The back had split close to the glue line (which didn't fail) and I put a strip of bloodwood to conceal it, but another crack developed near the original crack, so i just gave up on the body.

I understand that Stew-Mac took these kits off the market for a while, but they've been re-designed and are now for sale again. I hear that the new ones are more robust than the earlier ones were, so my experiences shouldn't discourage anybody else from trying these kits. All the same, I'd like to hear about how the new ones are faring.