View Full Version : Mando building seminar

fowl intent
Nov-11-2004, 1:29pm
Sorry if I posted last night in the wrong forum, but I had just gotten back into town after building a flat top mandolin at the 4H Convention Center in Front Royal, Virginia. #I want to elaborate a little on the experience.

1. #The Facilities: #The center is nestled in the foothills of the north Virginia mountains on what was once a US Army Calvary training facility. #There are stables (original WWII buildings), swimming pool, several dormatories, a dining hall that will seat over 100 people. #The dorm rooms (at least the one I stayed in) are a little rustic, with 3 sets of bunk beds per room, but they are heated, and have private baths. #The work area was in the basement of the same building so it was very convenient if you wanted to work in the shop after hours.
The food was very good and plentiful. #It actually seemed like the mando building was just something to keep us occupied between meals.

2. #The Staff: #Lance, the facility manager was very attentive to our every need. #Very friendly and easy to get to know, he was nevertheless very professional and on top of things. #The kitchen staff was also very friendly, and obviously took a lot of pride in their jobs. #Don Kawalek, the instructor, is a public school teacher (full time) and a luthier (part time), but don't let the "part time" fool you. #He is a very talented luthier, who constantly encouraged us, and constantly impressed me with his abilities and teaching skills. #Niles Hokkanen (sp?) was leading another work shop in the same building and we enjoyed knocking around with those guys after hours. #Both of Nile's students had previously built mandos in Don's class, so they were frequently looking over our shoulders as we worked. #Jack, one of Don's former students brought several of his more recent projects (2 mandos and an Octave mando) and really impressed everyone with his inlay and construction skills.

3. #The Students: #We were lucky in that only two students signed up for this session (usually 6-10). #I met Steve, the other student first thing Sunday afternoon. #He is a retired police officer, and a very talented musician. #He had no prior instrument building experience, and was a little hesitant during several of the construction procedures (he became quite attached to his mando, even named it "Shorty" for reasons I will let him explain) but he quickly caught on and turned out a beautiful mando. #A construction "mishap" may have actually led Don to modify his blueprint. #I had taken a seminar about 10 years ago in Peter's Valley NJ, and had built a Martin guitar kit, so I had some prior experience. #Don let us do a little more custom work than usual due to our small class size.

4. #The Mandos: #I could tell when I opened the parts box that Don had taken special care to pick out top notch wood for the kits. #Spruce top (tight grained/no defects) black walnut back and sides with nice grain, walnut neck blank and rosewood finger board. While the tuners and other hardware are very functional, they are not "top of the line" products, but that was done to keep the cost of the kits down to a very reasonable level. #Those items can be upgraded at the builders discretion. #Both mandos turned out great. #It was such a thrill to finally string them up and hear them after all the work that went into the process. #(see pics below)

Bottom Line: #If you have ever even considered building your own mandolin, this is the way to start. #The seminar cost me $470.00, including all materials, room and board. #I could easily have spent several hundred more $$$ for a USA made flat top mando, and while it would have been a very fine mando, I would not have one that I handcrafted, nor would I have had the wonderful experience of building my own, and meeting new friends with common interests. #The skills learned in this class will also allow you to care for/maintain your own instrument. #I particularly enjoyed learning Don's method of "pounding frets". #This course is offered at least twice per year, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to build and play their own creation.

Attached Pic: #Don the instructor (the guy with the disappearing hair) in the center/ Steve holding "Shorty" on the left/ me and my mando on the right

Bill Snyder
Nov-11-2004, 10:08pm
Don the instructor (the guy with the disappearing hair) in the center/ Steve holding "Shorty" on the left/ me and my mando on the right
Everybody knows that God made a limited number of perfect heads - the rest he covered with hair.
Can you guess what my hairline looks like?http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Steve Williams
Nov-12-2004, 9:34pm
As the proud builder of the above pictured "Shorty", I can vouch for everything that's been said about the workshop.

As Fred stated, I am NOT a woodworker...the only power tools that I have operated since Jr High shop class are a chainsaw, hand drill, and Dremel tool. As a long time mandolin picker, I have always been curious about what was going on "in there", but I never really had the chance to find out. Other than changing tuning machines, bridges, tailpieces, etc. when needed, I never did anything to my instruments but play them a lot. Point is: if I can be taught to build a mandolin, anyone with a true desire to learn can too. Don Kawalek is an extremely talented luthier, but just as important - he is an outstanding teacher that genuinely wants his students to succeed. I would highly recommend Don's workshops to any beginner, as well as his kits or materials for follow-up projects.

As far as the mandolins that we built, they both exhibited very different tonal qualities upon completion. I was frankly quite surprised at the volume that they both put out...I just wasn't expecting them to be as loud as they are. Fred's mando reminds me of a Martin A only louder, it has a very sweet old-timey sound. "Shorty" on the other hand is considerably louder and deep sounding...sounds something like my A-Jr only with a bit more volume and sustain. These results were while both instruments were "in the white", the final verdict will be given after they are finished.

Building my own mando, working with an outstanding instructor and great fellow student, jamming with Niles and learning some tasty licks (Niles, thanks for the "mini-lesson" in Busby/Stoneman technique!), comfortable quarters w/great food in a beautiful location...works for me!

PS to Jack: Thanks again for loaning me your D-15...that Backpacker was NOT going to cut it for backing up Niles! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Nov-13-2004, 5:41am
You guys are the best!!!!! I had a blast and you were great students even if I only did let you glance at the scenery only once.


John Ritchhart
Nov-13-2004, 6:02am
I did a class with Niles there once. It's a great place and Lance is a great guy.

Dec-10-2004, 3:46pm
How long are the sessions, and how do I find further information to attend?

Dec-11-2004, 2:37am
The Spring 2005 workshops will be on April 3-6 and May
8-11. One will be an Octave and one will be for a standard.