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The Fifth Course

Converting an Epiphone Mandobird into a Mando(la)bird

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I bought this Epiphone Mandobird new in 2005. Musician's Friend was selling off their stock of gold sparkly and seafoam green models. The cool to cash ratio was extremely high because the price was so low.

After playing with it for a little while I decided that the E string was too quiet. And because I'm not handy with a soldering iron, I decided to resting and reintonate for mandola tuning rather than buy 1k pots and install them.

Mandola tuning has another advantage as well. It covers more of the same ground that guitars cover. This makes it easy to reproduce some guitar parts, and convince band members that mandolin family instruments are useful.

After a little research and Q & A here on the Café, I decided to go with the following gauges, .049, .038, .026, and .013. Ted Eschliman assured me 49's were big enough to keep the C string from being too floppy on such a short scale.

So I strung it up. It sounded great, but I couldn't get the C string to intonate properly. The set screw was too long and wouldn't allow me to pull the saddle back to the correct length.

Another small issue I had was with the Epi Mandobird was the plastic nut. It was cut badly and I wanted to replace it with a bone nut.

So I took the little beast into Gary Vessel. I asked him replace the nut and cut for the above string gauges. I also asked Gary to cut the set screw down to allow proper intonation and do a set up job on the Mandobird. (An excellent luthier is a God-send, and Gary never fails to indulge me.)

When I got the 'bird back, it was ready to fly. The upgrades and changes worked their wonders. But at the first string change I realized why Fender set the C string ferule back a bit on the FM60E. The hole in the saddle no longer sits above the string channel. (see the photos)

So when I change strings, I need to put a kink the end of the .049. This way when it comes out of the channel, its already aimed properly at the saddle.

More recent Café conversations have yielded an excellent idea for addressing the issue of the over-long set-screw. A spacer on the back of the bridge is an excellent alternative to cutting the screw. The inside portion of a clothes snap works well for this.

On the whole, this conversion is a great way to get yourself an inexpensive electric mandola. It's not ideal, but it will perform well at a gig. And it will make you happy until you can afford something by Jon Mann, Andrew Jerman, JLSmith, or any of the other excellent emando luthiers who hang out on the message board.

I'm set for the time being, but I still want a 4 string electric mando to go with the Mando(la)bird and the 8 string mandocaster.
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