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The Fifth Course

Mandocaster love 3

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This is the final installment about a somewhat rare, but not highly sought-after, Fender electric mandolin. In the first installment I explored the production-line instrument, and in the second installment I recounted my acquisition of it. In this installment, Iíll document the changes Iíve made to it that have turned it into an excellent mandolin that sounds great and plays well.

When the FM-988 arrived it was in original condition, as though it had rolled off the factory floor. The design lacked forethought for both tone and Ėin an 8 string electric mandolin- performance. See my first installment for a complete rundown.

[Figure 1]

Among the issues that this little mandolin had was the set up. It needed one in the worst way. The nut slots were poorly cut and left the strings at various heights off the first fret. The saddles were unadjusted and also left strings high in spots off the bridge.

The bridge was so bad that it would not accept two .040ís at the same time. And it couldnít handle two .038s either. I had to string it with a single .040 for a little while.

[Figure 2]

The diagnosis: new pickguard, new bridge, setup.

I talked with Gary Vessel about the pickguard. He pulled out a catalogue and we looked through the various materials he could use to cut me a new pickguard. Having seen faux tortoise on blue I thought that would be fun, but when I saw the pearloid three ply material I knew that was it.

Gary also agreed to drill a new hole in the bridge, so that I could restring it as an 8 string.

We got a great result.

[Figures 3, 4, 5]

Then I asked Andrew Jerman to fabricate a replacement bridge of heavier metal, with 8 string holes, and smaller tension springs. Andrew did a great job on the piece, and Gary Vessel installed it for me. At this point I had Gary do a complete set up too.

[Figure 6]

The completed FM-988 (which you can see here) plays like butter and sounds fantastic. I love it through both my Ampeg J12T and my Marshall G15 CD amps. I go straight into the Marshall without effects and tweak the preamp setting to get a nice juicy tone. But the Ampeg, because itís a bit more powerful requires at least an overdrive unit to get the crunch without disturbing the neighbors.

Until all of these upgrades were complete I wasnít sure that folks like Joe Yanuziello were right in their assertion that an 8 string electric mandolin is a better approximation of a proper mandolin than a 4 string electric. But I am a convert now. This is a great sounding, very cool little instrument that is a joy to play.
Iíll definitely explore the differences between and 8 string and a 4 string electric mandolin in some future post.

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  1. gregjones's Avatar
    You've gone a lot further than I did. I bought new, not Fender, Mandocaster. I played it a few minutes and put it back in the case and sold it a few months later.

    Seems like I got it for a lot different reasons than you did!!