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Thread: No Power Tool Mandolin

  1. #151
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Pranav Ajay Warrier View Post
    And I will try to take those few hundred years of professional luthierie experience and adapt it into what I am interested in, and experimenting with unconventional wood.
    Two thoughts:
    An experiment usually has a “control”—something conventional to compare with the tested material. Go out and play some hardwood topped guitars and compare to those made with softer woods. Bear in mind that guitars have a much longer scale and play lower in pitch. And the best ukuleles, even with hardwood tops are braced super-lightly and use nylon strings which are much lower tension than mandolins.

    My guess is that a poplar top even if created by an expert maker would accentuate the treble end of the mandolin range.

    As far as experimentation, many artists, even Picasso, learned the essentials of their craft and gradually explored more edgy avant- garde ideas after many more conventional works.
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  3. #152

    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Poplar has and is used for instrument tops, it's just not very popular. Appalachian dulcimers pop up with poplar tops; traditionally dulcimers were built with whatever wood was on hand so you see a fairly wide variety of woods. I had mine built by a guy who specializes in dogwood tops, but he also uses poplar, chestnut, sycamore, walnut, cedar, spruce, cherry, you name it. This is his store if you are curious: https://appflutesrebelngrey.patternbyetsy.com/ For most acoustic instrument soundboards I prefer the sound of spruce with the exception of 12 string guitars where I think cedar sounds better.

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  5. #153
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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Two thoughts:
    An experiment usually has a “control”—something conventional to compare with the tested material. Go out and play some hardwood topped guitars and compare to those made with softer woods. Bear in mind that guitars have a much longer scale and play lower in pitch. And the best ukuleles, even with hardwood tops are braced super-lightly and use nylon strings which are much lower tension than mandolins.

    My guess is that a poplar top even if created by an expert maker would accentuate the treble end of the mandolin range.

    As far as experimentation, many artists, even Picasso, learned the essentials of their craft and gradually explored more edgy avant- garde ideas after many more conventional works.
    I am curious as to why the poplar top wouldn't vibrate as well as spruce. A hardwood just comes from an angiosperm and a softwood comes from a gymnosperm, it has nothing to do with the hardness. Poplar is even softer than Pine and Spruce. Balsa is a hardwood as well, but it happens to be the softest wood in the world! Wouldn't the sound be affected by the softness and density of the wood itself rather than the seed it came from?

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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    Pranav, the drawings are packed and I will take them to Post office as soon as I will go around one. I even took one spruce top that I would send to you, but the shipping alone would cost more than just buying the wood in the US...
    In the meanwhile try your hands at some simple jobs. If you don't have wood, have a walk around your town wth a handsaw in backpack and I'm suer you'll find more waste wood than you need for many smaller jobs just thrown out at recycle bins or at building sites... Much of it will be quite dry, and after short time inside stable enough for small projects. I know I could find enough spruce off-cuts for a top or two at few places I walked around few days ago. I have quite a few boards of exotic woods I scored from pallets or shipping crates coming from Asia.
    SO sharpen your tools (I recommend Wet or dry paper for sharpening instead stones and good flat surface - even laminated particleboard or piece of flooring will do just don't wet the edges) and try to carve something.
    Thanks a lot, Adrian! If this mandolin does come out ok, I will build one in India that is made with a softwood top and hardwood back and sides, so don't feel as if your effort to help was wasted.

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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    This thread has been interesting, because I am exploring building a mandolin and a dreadnought. I start with a lot of years of playing experience, a little bit of woodworking experience, and 30 years of common sense.

    I want to make good-sounding instruments. But first, I want to know why good-sounding instruments work. So just because you learn WHY conventional instruments work -- that doesn't mean you can make an unconventional instrument work on your first go around.

    It's like you're trying to write a best-selling book in a language you don't speak. And you're saying you're already prepared to screw it up and rewrite the whole thing. Why? Just learn the language.

    Some people say there's no such thing as failure, only learning. But if you don't know (or CARE) why you failed, then you wasted time that could have been spent learning.

    I'm making small boxes to give my groomsmen. Do you know how many pieces of wood have ended up in the kindling bin just trying to make square edges and hand-cut finger joints? How many hours I've spent on a 6-inch rectangle? Now multiply that by literally months of work.

    This isn't to dissuade you from experimenting, but to persuade you to listen to common sense. You've spent so much time scrounging for scrap wood and saying why you can't buy normal stock that you could have spent $30 at StewMac and already roughed out the top of a mandolin, if you're as dedicated as you say you are.

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  9. #156
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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Streip View Post
    This thread has been interesting, because I am exploring building a mandolin and a dreadnought. I start with a lot of years of playing experience, a little bit of woodworking experience, and 30 years of common sense.

    I want to make good-sounding instruments. But first, I want to know why good-sounding instruments work. So just because you learn WHY conventional instruments work -- that doesn't mean you can make an unconventional instrument work on your first go around.

    It's like you're trying to write a best-selling book in a language you don't speak. And you're saying you're already prepared to screw it up and rewrite the whole thing. Why? Just learn the language.

    Some people say there's no such thing as failure, only learning. But if you don't know (or CARE) why you failed, then you wasted time that could have been spent learning.

    I'm making small boxes to give my groomsmen. Do you know how many pieces of wood have ended up in the kindling bin just trying to make square edges and hand-cut finger joints? How many hours I've spent on a 6-inch rectangle? Now multiply that by literally months of work.

    This isn't to dissuade you from experimenting, but to persuade you to listen to common sense. You've spent so much time scrounging for scrap wood and saying why you can't buy normal stock that you could have spent $30 at StewMac and already roughed out the top of a mandolin, if you're as dedicated as you say you are.
    Again, I don't understand how the "common sense" makes sense. I haven't even seen a poplar top mandolin, and most other people on this forum probably haven't either. So why should I be expecting a bad result from this? The density of poplar is 22-31 lb per feet cubed. The density of spruce is 25-44 lb per feet cubed. Poplar is also proven to be much softer. I have my own brain. My brain can listen to others' experienced brains, but if it doesn't click, my brain will disregard it. I don't expect this to end up bad. I am just saying, that I won't be crying myself to sleep if my mandolin is super treble heavy or tinny. Also, like I said before, I have pretty much unlimited time. I have no friends, and no life. What I don't have is a ton of money. That is why I didn't go on StewMac and buy a $30 top. I already addressed this. My dad is a university instructor who makes $50,000 and we are in deep debt, so we have money to spend, but not much. Don't tell me to get a job either, because I am going to this summer.

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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    I guess I just don't understand why you're so willing to accept mediocrity or failure when you've been shown a clear path to success. You've said you'll make other instruments -- why does your first instrument have to be the one that's outside the box?

    Your plan offers no clear benefit in 1) cost 2) ease of construction 3) promise of good sound quality. Fine -- be different for the sake of being different. I wish you luck.

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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Streip View Post
    I guess I just don't understand why you're so willing to accept mediocrity or failure when you've been shown a clear path to success. You've said you'll make other instruments -- why does your first instrument have to be the one that's outside the box?

    Your plan offers no clear benefit in 1) cost 2) ease of construction 3) promise of good sound quality. Fine -- be different for the sake of being different. I wish you luck.
    Again, I don't think it will sound bad one bit. Also, poplar happens to be easier to carve so I guess number 2 is knocked down too. And getting a nice piece of poplar is much cheaper than getting a nice piece of Engelmann spruce, so there's number 1. I am not being different for the sake of being different. I am being different because I think it will still work, and why not? My first instrument has to be the outside the box one because prices in the USA are way higher than India, where I can get wood from my grandpa's plantation, take it to the mill, and kiln dry it for super cheap. Also, congratulations on getting married.

  12. #159
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Here's a very short thread from almost ten years ago on the subject of hardwood tops for flattop mandolins. There are some more top luthiers posting who give their opinions.
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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Here's a very short thread from almost ten years ago on the subject of hardwood tops for flattop mandolins. There are some more top luthiers posting who give their opinions.
    Thanks Jim, but I already read that, and it doesn't say anything about the actual softness and density of the wood itself, except that birch worked fine, which further proves my point that a hardwood top doesn't directly translate to a bad instrument.

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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Pranav Ajay Warrier View Post
    Also, poplar happens to be easier to carve so I guess number 2 is knocked down too.
    Very confusing... I thought that you decided to make a flattop mandolin.

    Well, I think you are absolutely resolute on you decision. Please report back here. Let us know how it all works out and post photos of your progress.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pranav Ajay Warrier View Post
    Thanks Jim, but I already read that, and it doesn't say anything about the actual softness and density of the wood itself, except that birch worked fine, which further proves my point that a hardwood top doesn't directly translate to a bad instrument.
    Those birch mandolins from the 1930s are flattops and low budget models. They sound OK for what they are.
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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    I guess there is nothing I can do to convince you all unless I prove you wrong. Or I might just give in and buy some pine or spruce. But that just feels weak now that I've outright disrespected all of the talented people on here.

  16. #163
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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Pranav Ajay Warrier View Post
    I guess there is nothing I can do to convince you all unless I prove you wrong. Or I might just give in and buy some pine or spruce. But that just feels weak now that I've outright disrespected all of the talented people on here.
    This is getting pretty strange. Good luck and let us know how it goes... or where it goes.
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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Very confusing... I thought that you decided to make a flattop mandolin.

    Well, I think you are absolutely resolute on you decision. Please report back here. Let us know how it all works out and post photos of your progress.



    Those birch mandolins from the 1930s are flattops and low budget models. They sound OK for what they are.
    I said an arch-top flat-back.

  18. #165

    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Pranav Ajay Warrier View Post
    I have no friends, and no life. What I don't have is a ton of money. That is why I didn't go on StewMac and buy a $30 top. Don't tell me to get a job either, because I am going to this summer.
    This is about a $30 piece of wood?!!!! Like I say, this thread is very addictive, IMHO!

    When I want to save $30, I just hop on a plane to India and get it cheaper there!!!!!

    I don't have much else to offer, EXCEPT there is an interesting and informative video on youtube about two homeless young people in New Orleans who, instead of feeling sorry for their situation, embrace it -- that is to say -- they panhandle enough in the morning everyday to hit the Logan's Steakhouse $8.99 early bird special from 3-6pm everyday. They are homeless and they eat steak everyday. I work everyday and I don't. Gotta love it!

  19. #166

    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Hi Pranav, everyone here wants you to succeed. We're here to help you succeed.

    Take a look at this:
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    This is my second mandolin. I was high on the success of my first mandolin (which still plays, but doesn't get played much). So I decided to bust my ideas out into the world in style. Extreme neck angle for "better projection"? Check. Nine piece neck of curly maple and cocobolo just because I can? Different styling (as I see it now, a mediocre D'angelico knockoff), check! Relieved bracing (bracing with holes drilled in it because engineering), check! A bunch of other stuff, check!

    All this stuff that I'd read about on online forums, I piled it all into this instrument. 400 hours, man.
    I strung it up and the top collapsed. It didn't explode, it just flattened out. Unplayable.
    Sounded great, the 2-3 notes I got to hear before the strings hit the fretboard.

    So here's my advice to you. Build something.
    Option A: Build conservatively and based on conventional wisdom, as we have all advised you. Probably get a playable instrument.

    Option B: Do your thing. Show us all how it's done. Put all your theories to the test. Dump all the knowledge of Wikipedia into your work. As a result, you WILL learn something. And maybe we will, too. Maybe you'll end up with a playable instrument, maybe not. Who cares? You'll be smarter, and maybe more humble. :-)
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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Mando View Post
    This is about a $30 piece of wood?!!!! Like I say, this thread is very addictive, IMHO!

    I don't have much else to offer, EXCEPT there is an interesting and informative video on youtube about two homeless young people in New Orleans who, instead of feeling sorry for their situation, embrace it -- that is to say -- they panhandle enough in the morning everyday to hit the Logan's Steakhouse $8.99 early bird special from 3-6pm everyday. They are homeless and they eat steak everyday. I work everyday and I don't. Gotta love it!
    I'm not going to India for this. I am going to visit my sick grandparents, and go to a wedding, and spend time with my family. It's just that this is also a great opportunity to get some nice, exotic wood for very cheap .
    Last edited by Pranav Ajay Warrier; Mar-06-2018 at 12:05pm.

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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    Hi Pranav, everyone here wants you to succeed. We're here to help you succeed.

    Take a look at this:
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    This is my second mandolin. I was high on the success of my first mandolin (which still plays, but doesn't get played much). So I decided to bust my ideas out into the world in style. Extreme neck angle for "better projection"? Check. Nine piece neck of curly maple and cocobolo just because I can? Different styling (as I see it now, a mediocre D'angelico knockoff), check! Relieved bracing (bracing with holes drilled in it because engineering), check! A bunch of other stuff, check!

    All this stuff that I'd read about on online forums, I piled it all into this instrument. 400 hours, man.
    I strung it up and the top collapsed. It didn't explode, it just flattened out. Unplayable.
    Sounded great, the 2-3 notes I got to hear before the strings hit the fretboard.

    So here's my advice to you. Build something.
    Option A: Build conservatively and based on conventional wisdom, as we have all advised you. Probably get a playable instrument.

    Option B: Do your thing. Show us all how it's done. Put all your theories to the test. Dump all the knowledge of Wikipedia into your work. As a result, you WILL learn something. And maybe we will, too. Maybe you'll end up with a playable instrument, maybe not. Who cares? You'll be smarter, and maybe more humble. :-)
    Thanks, that was super nice and also, that is a super cool mandolin. What is the wood on top? It is beautiful. I'm going to take a mix of mostly option A, but might swirl a bit of B in, haha.

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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Someone here on the MC has these very wise words from Pete Seeger in his profile, and they ring true for your case:

    Education is when you read the fine print.
    Experience is what you get if you don't.


    The advice being offered to you here is well-intentioned, and it's good advice, for the most part. It is unquestionably more efficient, when starting out, to learn by going down some well-tested path, and then to assimilate what you've learned, and take it in a new direction from there, if you have the desire to explore. Not to start out blithely in an unknown direction in the vain hope that you will get lucky and it will all pan out, based on your untutored instincts. We all know this is not really about saving $30 here or there! In the final analysis, it's your investment in time and money and hard labor, and you get to choose your own path. If you carry through with this project, you will gain an education or you will gain experience. Perhaps both. And you may find that your perspective will mature. In that case, you will gain humility along with experience. Nothing wrong with that, either.

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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Still curious if anybody can address this.
    Quote Originally Posted by Pranav Ajay Warrier View Post
    The density of poplar is 22-31 lb per feet cubed. The density of spruce is 25-44 lb per feet cubed. Poplar is also proven to be much softer.

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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    I am solid on this now. Nobody will change my mind. And I will try my absolute hardest to prove you all wrong, but if it fails, I will take the humility, and I will build a "conventional" mandolin. If it doesn't fail, I will go with obnoxiously untraditional ideas. I realize I am naive, but I'd rather be naive while being a hormonal teenager than be naive while being an unemployed 30 year old.

  27. #172

    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Pranav Ajay Warrier View Post
    I am solid on this now. Nobody will change my mind. And I will try my absolute hardest to prove you all wrong, but if it fails, I will take the humility, and I will build a "conventional" mandolin. If it doesn't fail, I will go with obnoxiously untraditional ideas. I realize I am naive, but I'd rather be naive while being a hormonal teenager than be naive while being an unemployed 30 year old.
    Go for it. Check out this walnut-topped mandolin made by Canadian luthier/genius Brian Dean (also with- you guessed it - no power tools). I've had one in my possession for a while, and it's amazing (and worth more than both of my cars combined). It doesn't sound like any other mandolin. But it's still a useful and inspiring musical tool.

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    You can be unconventional and make it work. Probably not on the first try.... but... you gotta start somewhere.

    The wood on that mandolin I built is curly redwood. It's my favorite wood for mandolin tops because it is easy to work with, sounds fantastic, and looks the business.

    As to your quibble about wood density, that's wood density averages for the species. The "poplar" you get at Home Depot isn't even poplar, so that's irrelevant to begin with. Further, tonewood selected for instruments will be different, because all the super dense stuff (or whatever you're selecting for) is discarded or turned into window frames. Also, at a more fundamental level, there is essentially 0 correlation between the numbers you read on Wikipedia and the actual sample of wood you have in your hand. You can make absolutely no assumptions. You have to measure the individual sample. Wood varies that much. You can have a top that's too stiff at a certain dimension from one part of a board, and a top that's too floppy a the same thickness from an adjacent place in the same board. Wood's part of a living thing, and there is a high level of stochasticity involved.
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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Pranav Ajay Warrier View Post
    Still curious if anybody can address this.
    Density, hardness, and stiffness (modulus of elasticity, or Youngs modulus) are three entirely different material properties of wood. Two tonewoods with the same nominal density can nevertheless sound entirely different in a musical instrument because they may have rather different elastic properties. There are additional factors to consider, too, including things like the degree of anisotropy in these three properties, because wood behaves differently in the grain direction and across it.

    Simply picking two woods that happen to have similar densities (in some table) is not a sufficient basis to conjecture that they will sound alike. Furthermore, as the previous poster noted, you need to know the values for your selected piece of wood, not for the average values found in a table. Wood varies too much from tree to tree.

    You could consult here is you want to look at a table, but it won't tell you much.

    Finally, tonewoods also have a different propensity to 'settle in' over time, and they respond differently to changes in humidity, which induces dimensional changes. There's a lot to consider, and that is why some luthiers have developed genuine expertise over many years of experience. Listen carefully to them, I'd advise.

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    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Pranav,

    What we're seeking in tonewoods is a combination of density and weight and stiffness. Did you notice that softness isn't in that combination? All species of wood are different in these characteristics. And within species different pieces of wood can be vastly different. Red spruce, for example, tends to have a pretty high stiffness compared to a piece of Englemann, for a piece of wood that is the same dimensions. There's a boatload of characteristics that go into what will work as a top wood, side wood, neck wood. With all due respect, characteristics that you have no experience with measuring or sensing. There is a reason why certain woods have been found to be successful in instrument construction.

    And you must realize that even some firmly held beliefs by people that haven't built instruments aren't true. For example, it is often taken for granted that tight grain is stiffer and better for a top wood. I have some fir here, quartersawn, with a grain count of about 32 gpi. It's a stiff as a piece of cardboard. I have red spruce (from Old Standard, BTW) that has a grain count of about 4 gpi. It is really stiff and light and rings "like a bell".

    The builders here have offered advice built on years of experience, mistakes, failures and successes. You'll do what you want. We all do, or at least try to. Good luck.

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  33. #175

    Default Re: No Power Tool Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Pranav Ajay Warrier View Post
    I realize I am naive, but I'd rather be naive while being a hormonal teenager than be naive while being an unemployed 30 year old.
    I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say this might be about more than building a mandolin.......

    I wouldn't worry about age, it is just a number, so they say.....well, actually I distinctly remember being a teenager and wanting people to take me seriously, so.....it never happened, of course, I had to wait to adulthood and sometimes they still don't! LOL

    But, actually, 30 is very young to be a master luthier, IMHO. 40 or 50 is probably young to make a great living from it! Like the old joke goes, make sure your wife has a good job!

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