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Thread: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandolin?

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    Default Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandolin?

    As posted in the other thread, I recently bought an Eastwood Airline electric mandola, and I'm overall pleased for the price ($300 shipped for a pristine floor-model), but would want to upgrade sometime in the next six months, so figure I might as well get on someone's waitlist.

    I'm hoping to spend $1000 or less for a solid-body five string, and I don't need premium electronics, or a loving French-polish finish. I'm just looking for something functional with a gritty/primitive look. Not looking for a compromised "travel mandolin", but for something of full playing-size that's built to be durable for travel and gigs in scuzzy venues, so with a minimum of fragile protrusions.

    I'm looking for someone not too expensive, but relatively flexible in accommodating weird requests. And I don't have all the details figured out, but figure I will by the time the luthier gets to me on the waitlist. Thinking of the following features:

    • Five string e-mandolin (CGDae), but maybe with the nut and bridge set up so it can be configured as 4 or 5 evenly-placed strings for versatility since I might evolve one way or the other
    • Not sure on scale length, the Airline is an 18", but I understand some CGDA mandolas are 16-17". I'll muck with the Airline more, and try capoing it to shorten the scale and see what fits my hand best, or if I want the extra length for alternate tunings
    • Full solid body, no hollowing. I don't need a wood that's gorgeous, just durable and not pricey, and if possible something that's strong for its light weight (mesquite?). Though I'd be totally open to a synthetic material, I'm no purist.
    • The Airline is more guitar-shaped than I'd like, I'd prefer something more explicitly mando-esque, like a simplified Florentine, or a keyhole shape, or whatnot
    • The one weird bit (I can take it or leave it) since the peghead seems one of the more fragile areas, I was considering Steinberger style tuners at the base of the body (protected by body flanges). Not purely headless though since I want some head for hand positioning and less-weird looks, but maybe a minimal head (with no tuners on it) just for balance and to protect the end of the fretboard. That way if the head breaks, I can just glue it (or bolt it back together) since it wouldn't be load-bearing.
    • I don't want complicated cosmetics or carving or anything, but I'd like an overall industrial/gritty look, so large and visible screws, a funky pickguard, that sort of thing.


    I'm familiar with http://www.emando.com/ and the Builders list, but it's a really long list, so narrowing down a few key makers would be great. Thanks for any suggestions on affordable builders, and any design recommendations for making an e-mando that I can carry around on the street, chuck in an overhead baggage compartment, prop up against a bar without worrying it'll break if it slips, etc. Happy to be back playing mando after many years!

  2. #2

    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    The Blue Star 5 string (stock new is $650ish-they might have custom options) seems pretty durable, but it does look kinda electric guitarish. I thinks it's a 14" scale, C G D A E.

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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Pete Mallinson of Almuse will make a custom setup for price in your range. He's in the UK

    I would not chase long scale---not necessary and will make the E string chancy. My Ryder 5-string is 14" and my Almuse 10-string is 14.25"

    Pete will work from an image. He made a Gibson SG emulation for me, and we further customized by making the body a bit larger, and relocating the toggle switch and output jack slightly. He makes his own pickups, and compensates for weak E with larger magnet under that string (neodynium magnets under the poles).

    Might be a long wait, but fit and finish are tops. If going with two pickups you should specify the switching layout and phase relationship.

    Look through his gallery, he has a couple of teardrop or florentine versions as well as other emulations:

    http://www.almuse.co.uk/mandolin_gallery.html

    Here's one:

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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    My first take is that you may want to start sketching out some of your ideas on paper to take to the builder you eventually choose. Another thought is that a 16" scale length may be iffy for a low C string. You'll have to experiment with string gauges to find what works. A 17" scale is easier to work with but it's not much shorter than your Airline at 18". Given that you already own the Airline, why not do some mods to get it closer to what you outline above, minus the Steinberger style tuners. You could remove 4 of the of the strings and play around with CGDa with no mods to the nut or tailpiece. A little distortion, reverb/delay maybe a slide, sonic nirvana...

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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Mass production is all about lowering cost . to be both 4 & 5 string how about a double neck?

    FWiw ideal over the range of CGDae, a Fan fret would be my choice, so a longer scale on the C side, shorter on the E side
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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Not an answer to your question, just a little intrusion from the builders perspective:

    If you want to keep the cost low...

    *Make up you mind. 4 or 5 string, no middle ground.
    *Know what scale length you want before taking up the builders time (=$) making the decision jointly.
    *Use the material the builder has and is familiar with. No unfamiliar exotic materials.
    *Use a shape that the builder normally uses. A custom shape is much more time consuming for the builder; mostly design time, but also jigs and fixtures may not be usable with a different shape than his/her normal.
    *If you want headless, choose a builder who does that. Otherwise, use the builders standard head stock.
    *Use the builders standard finish and cosmetics. No "never done that before..." things.

    If you want to ignore all this and get a truly custom instrument with all of your wants, needs and whims, fine, but expect to pay a reasonable price for it. Most of a builders extra time in a custom build comes under decision making, designing, problem solving and stuff like that. Not "loving French-polish finishes" and stuff like that.

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    Registered User John Rosett's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    I have a 16" scale 4 string mandola from Ryan Ruikavina (http://www.rukavinaguitars.com/mandolas_ukes.html). That I absolutely love. He can build you a fine 5 string for under $1000. He winds his own pickups that sound great.Click image for larger version. 

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    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Dare I point out that my 5 strings are in that price range?

    See for example here for the most recent one.

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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Since you have a 17" you might try a 20" octave mandolin I really like mine , I made a flying V octave it's alot of fun to play
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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Some good suggestions here, and good points about options and time-value.

    I am indeed tweaking my Airline to try different settings, I trashed the crappy stock strings and put on decent ones, single-strung, and am messing with that, and for the moment tuning it CGCG since I like open tunings. And I will try capoing at various points to see what scale length works best for me, or if I warm to 18". I don't think I want any longer than that since I have a 20" Portuguese guitarra in DADGAD that fits that niche.

    So most builders are going to use wood, not synthetics, for the body? So I can just ask them which wood is most durable? I'm not very familiar with electrics, so not sure if I need much in the way of double-pickups or switches or things. And I take it pretty much nobody makes a headless, so best to shelve that idea and just go for a durable peghead shape? And would a neck-through-body be more durable, or a bolt-on neck? I say "durable" because I'm carrying my Airline with me all around the city and it's already got nicks and dings from going in and out of subways and up stairs. I'm a fan of the Michael Jordan idea of "if you want to play basketball, carry a basketball with you wherever you go."

    To simplify things while maintaining versatility, I think I'll just get a 5-string, and leave a string off if I want to go pure-mandolin or pure-mandola format. That keeps versatility without complication, I expect.

    Rukavina (apparently based in Montana) is the visually closest to what I'm looking for (simple slab construction), though I'm interested to see that even the British makers aren't unaffordable. But open to further suggestions!

  13. #11

    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewVanitas View Post
    As posted in the other thread, I recently bought an Eastwood Airline electric mandola, and I'm overall pleased for the price ($300 shipped for a pristine floor-model), but would want to upgrade sometime in the next six months, so figure I might as well get on someone's waitlist.
    Jonathan Mann model EM-5 solidbody. Base price $1250. Superb quality and a builder who is happy to work with you to make sure you get just what you want.

    http://www.manndolins.com/em--4-5-8.html

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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    That is lovely, but some of these other options are closer to US$600, so I'm inclined to the affordable end so long as I can overall get what I like.

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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    By no means am I trying to be offensive here but more about educating people that may want to commission a build. From a builders perspective, this statement "I don't have all the details figured out, but figure I will by the time the luthier gets to me on the waitlist." is enough to turn me off of the project. I'm not going to take on a project without fully knowing the full scope of it. Its one thing to not be sure about the type of pickup or knobs, but there is a whole slew of things that go in to building an instrument that need to be nailed down in an agreement. All of my custom orders have started with a contract that spells out just about every aspect of the build. Just because you are on a waitlist doesn't mean that the builder isn't "working" on your instrument. I like to cut a dozen or more neck blanks at once, order lumber in advance in case it needs to dry, take advantage of bulk parts orders and things like that. Customers need to come to the table preparedand having done their research and the builder will help guide the customer through the process. This is precisely why I quit taking custom orders from new clients. Just one guys unsolicited opinion.

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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Fair enough, some valid points there. I'm just used to concertina waitlists which can be 2-6 years, but if e-mando waitlists are measured in months to a year, I can put off getting on a list until I muck with my Airline more. I've been doing the settup and it gets better and better with each tweak, so I'll muck around with this beater for a while until I have a strong feeling for what I'm looking for. But the initial luthier suggestions here have already been helpful, so an educational thread already!

    Right now I have the 18" e-mandola in DADA, single-strung, getting the action/intonation set, getting more accustomed to the 18" scale length, and generally having a good time. The metal bits are just okay, I hate the pickguard (covered it with a snowboarding sticker cut to shape), don't like the finish but am going to cover it in punk band stickers, and the wood is durable but doesn't hold a thread well so I had to superglue the strap-button screws. But for $300 I can't complain, and with each mod it gets better and better. This one will be a good beater until such point as I form a clearer idea of my end-goal.
    Last edited by MatthewVanitas; May-03-2017 at 4:40pm.

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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Quote Originally Posted by thistle3585 View Post
    By no means am I trying to be offensive here but more about educating people that may want to commission a build. From a builders perspective, this statement "I don't have all the details figured out, but figure I will by the time the luthier gets to me on the waitlist." is enough to turn me off of the project. I'm not going to take on a project without fully knowing the full scope of it. Its one thing to not be sure about the type of pickup or knobs, but there is a whole slew of things that go in to building an instrument that need to be nailed down in an agreement. All of my custom orders have started with a contract that spells out just about every aspect of the build. Just because you are on a waitlist doesn't mean that the builder isn't "working" on your instrument. I like to cut a dozen or more neck blanks at once, order lumber in advance in case it needs to dry, take advantage of bulk parts orders and things like that. Customers need to come to the table preparedand having done their research and the builder will help guide the customer through the process. This is precisely why I quit taking custom orders from new clients. Just one guys unsolicited opinion.
    +1.

    For me, I won't issue an invoice for the deposit until the details are fixed, as the terms and conditions on the deposit are the contract. So this works best when someone says "I'll have model C with X and Y options". Of course those options may be chosen via a certain amount of email pinging to and fro, to decide what will work, what will be tasteful etc, but the customer needs to have a reasonable idea of what they want up front. And yes, parts may well be sourced well in advance, likewise roughing out and machining of components.

    BTW mucking about with the airline is a good idea.... in fact for all players it's good to experiment with a cheap-ish instrument for a bit because IMO it helps to shape in your mind what you actually do want... sometimes that idea can change more than you expect based on experience. It certainly has for me in the past!

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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Lots of factors to consider... After a little tweaking on the Airline, it's a ton better, so I think I can happily play this for a while until I have a really solid idea of what I want to upgrade to, and then keep this one as my beater for carrying around.

    If I decide firmly that 4-string is the way I want to keep the Airline, I'll strip the cheap tuners and plug the holes in the headstock with dowels, and re-drill for whatever decent tuners I can find used. Then rattle-can it matte black since I don't like the gloss. The stock strings were garbage and settup was terrible out of the box, but it feels 30% better after I put an hour of work into it with just basic tools and minimal skills.

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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Already fixing the aesthetics...

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    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Cool

    Perhaps "This machine kills banjos" would be more appropriate ?

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    Chief Moderator/Shepherd Ted Eschliman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    I have an Eastwood electric tenor, so I know what you mean about trying to find out something reasonable in the next step up. I love my JL Smith 5-string so much, I'm considering having him build me an electric tenor soon, too. Last I checked, you'll find his base model around $900.

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    I've always wanted to try one of Andrew's emandos, though.
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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Quote Originally Posted by Ted Eschliman View Post
    I have an Eastwood electric tenor, so I know what you mean about trying to find out something reasonable in the next step up. I love my JL Smith 5-string so much, I'm considering having him build me an electric tenor soon, too. Last I checked, you'll find his base model around $900.

    Website: JL Smith Mandolins
    Review: JL Smith 5-string

    ]


    I've always wanted to try one of Andrew's emandos, though.
    Spiffy! Do you have any comments about what parts are most in need of replacing that you could post over at my other thread?

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/s...ectric-mandola

    Have you managed to figure out what woods its made out of?

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    In terms of aesthetics it sounds like you'd appreciate the work of Jonathan Postal, although I would guess he's a little out of your price range.

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    Chief Moderator/Shepherd Ted Eschliman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewVanitas View Post
    Spiffy! Do you have any comments about what parts are most in need of replacing that you could post over at my other thread?
    This one is Alder wood, though it reminds me very much of the swamp ash of the Fender Tele. My tastes are very simple. I'm not into switching pickups or elaborate tone controls so I wouldn't be good on advice. The most important issue on any 5-string is resolving the E string/C string tension disparity. John has done this nicely in his headstock design with a sharp angle at the nut. The other option to this is fanned frets, but they aren't for the faint of heart.

    The Eastwood does not have the greatest intonation, which is something you have to tamp down your expectations in this price range. The JL Smith intonates well up and down the neck and is very comfortable in the hands. It is also very heavy for an emando.
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    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Quote Originally Posted by Ted Eschliman View Post

    I've always wanted to try one of Andrew's emandos, though.
    Haven't been on the cafe for awhile. I'll send you one to test drive once lacrosse season is over and I can get back in to the shop.

  31. #24

    Default Re: Who makes an affordable full custom 5-string electric mandoli

    Thanks for the positive notes on my instruments, Ted. I am still pondering on the tenor project, and starting to get caught up a bit. Also, I will have to agree with Andrew about the builds, and that is another reason that I primarily build spec. models nowadays. I am doing my best to keep the cost down, so most can afford to buy, while still keeping up the quality.
    Thanks, J.L. Smith

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