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Thread: 6 mandolins in 2 days

  1. #1
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    Default 6 mandolins in 2 days

    I just spent 3 days studying with James Condino in Asheville NC. Day one, we made a neck featuring his dovetail sanding jig. There's an existing thread where James discusses the jig if you want to know more. Using the jig, we took an all day job an cut it down to something that can be done in 20-30 minutes with a very tight, clean fit.

    The remaining 2 days we spent making a top and voicing it on a working mandolin that can be played as you make the changes. Want to know what a mandolin without f holes sounds like? How about what happens when you change from parallel to X braced tone bars on the same mandolin? How different does a ziricote back sound vs. a maple one? I found out quickly and easily on a mandolin I could play 10-20 minutes after the changes were made. With the changes I did, it was the equivalent of building about 6 different mandolins within 2 days. I rough carved the outer profile of a top and brought it with me. In about 6 hours, we had the top glued on the rim, tone bars attached and shaped, and strung up ready to play. I didn't have to wait 200 hours to find out what that top is going to sound like. Being able to make changes on the fly and hear the results immediately in some cases is priceless to me. I've got over 20 instruments builds, (about half F5s and half guitars) under my belt. Being able to work this way is a game changer for me. I can dial in the tone I want with no guesswork. In addition, it's a valuable tool for experimentation that's quick and easy to do.

    We also talked at length about vintage guitars as I got to look over James' extensive collection of hand drawn plans and notes from exceptional vintage and historical instruments he's worked on and studied throughout his career as a luthier. I only wish I could have studied with James 10 years ago so I didn't spend so much time beating my head against the wall to figure things out.
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  3. #2
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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    That seems like a fun way to spend a few days, lots of things like that interest me but there aren`t any builders close by so I just have to watch videos...If I was a few years younger I would try and build a mandolin but now I just do set ups and very minor repairs...

    Thanks for posting those photos, very interesting...

    Willie

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    So spill the beans -- what DID you find out about the bracing? What about the back?

    Awesome stuff... I can only hope to get there one day!

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    I wish I could have recorded all the changes as we went. I'm a recording engineer by trade, so a phone mic isn't going to do justice to the sound.
    What I can tell you is I was shocked how loud the instrument was with no f-holes cut. It had most of the volume, midrange and top end, but no body and depth from the low end. It would probably work in a band where the guitar and bass are masking those lower frequencies anyway. Wouldn't be very satisfying on it's own however. It was very educational to start cutting the f holes little by little and instantly hear the changes as you go. Drilling just one larger f-hole opened up some low end right away. As the remainder of the f-hole was cut, you could start to hear everything balance out from low-mid-high. Having just one f-hole didn't sound too bad. The second one dialed everything in so every note was more balanced.
    We carved the top to Loar specs based off the Griffith Loar. That stayed constant throughout the tests. Leaving the parallel bars thick, it had lots of power, the midrange and highs cut really well. It was also very loud. We further dialed in the bars by taking them down more in mass. The harshness went away and it sounded more balanced yet. We hit a spot where I would have loved to just take the thing home and finish it up because it was a banjo killer with great tone. Tons of headroom from the red spruce and the bars were right where I wanted for tone. We then tried a ziricote back which was interesting. It was a little snappier than maple with some different overtones. I could feel the tight response playing it as it seemed very fast. I wouldn't mind that tone at all, plus the ziricote looks very cool.
    Since this was all about experimentation, we shaved the bars down to almost nothing. That lost the clarity and focus. It no longer projected out into the room. It wasn't bad just sitting and playing solo, but would never cut in an ensemble. Also, too many overtones, the low end ran together and was mushy.
    Off went the parallel bars and an hour later the x braces were glued on and ready to shape. I have not played many x braced mandos, so this was of interest to me. As you might expect, it lost its Loar midrange voice that could cut through the mix. The chop was not as strong. It was very sweet sounding and made me want to play Bach partitas on it. I popped the back off again and started shaping the x braces more. I came across a tone that sat somewhere in between a parallel bar that can cut and a sweet sounding oval hole. I could live with that for solo classical playing. Wouldn't do justice to Big Mon though. We then took the x braces down to the limit of being too thin. It got sweeter, but lost more clarity, more mush in the lower range, chop was gone.
    All in all, it was very educational. I answered a lot of my questions I've had over the years that no one can really tell you. You have to hear it in person to really know. I plan to make a jig like this for all my future builds. I'm at #11 for F5 and have yet to build an A5. I'm going to start doing both. I will also make an F5 jig to do this as well. I've often wondered, how thick should this Engelmann top be vs. red spruce? Now I can test them along the way and dial it all in before I even glue the top on the final product.

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    Thanks for your post. I've been doing final tuning of tops backs and tonebars in the white since I started building and noticed similar results.
    I wonder how much the change of the ribs/neck affects the sound? The jig-ribs are heavy rosewood with all the wood addded around making it extra stiff and final will be much lighter of maple I guess... I would love to hear from you when you finish the permanent body...
    Adrian

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    I'm sure maple rims vs. the rosewood will change the sound slightly. James builds his mandolins with Brazilian, so that's what he used on his jig. The outer linings are Port Orford cedar. That's what he uses for his actual internal linings. Sure, there's a little extra mass from the extended rim, but the lining mass is very close to what will be inside a finished mandolin. The air volume will be reduced slightly by having the linings inside as well. The system isn't 100% perfect, but it will tell you a lot about how it's going to sound as a finished instrument. I feel the differences are minor compared to building to numbers and hoping it turns out. I'll report again when I have the permanent build complete.

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    Quote Originally Posted by sliebers View Post
    I'm sure maple rims vs. the rosewood will change the sound slightly. James builds his mandolins with Brazilian, so that's what he used on his jig. The outer linings are Port Orford cedar. That's what he uses for his actual internal linings. Sure, there's a little extra mass from the extended rim, but the lining mass is very close to what will be inside a finished mandolin. The air volume will be reduced slightly by having the linings inside as well. The system isn't 100% perfect, but it will tell you a lot about how it's going to sound as a finished instrument. I feel the differences are minor compared to building to numbers and hoping it turns out. I'll report again when I have the permanent build complete.
    The missing lining may increase bass response as there is larger vibrating area (not necesarily beacuse the air volume difference, which is IMO minor). I have no Idea how much the mass of the edges influences tone. I would wild-guess it may add some sustain and steal some mid/high frequencies.
    Perhaps using lining inside that protrudes slightly above ribs so there is good contact with plate when bolted on would solve that problem partly and using just smaller tabs instead of full large perimeter would help minimize the differences...
    Now you've got me thinking... how about using the actual rim for this and attach top/back with something like violin chinrest clamps no need for any additional wood and that would press right over the linings, but that would require bolt on neck with integrated fretboard or something like that...
    Adrian

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    All you guys who worry so much about a couple of grams of cedar linings but don't even question strapping a big chunk of welded steel to the back of your mandolin in the name of tone make me laugh.....

    This is the 4th version of this system that I have used. String tension ripped apart the others and busted up several plates; the violin chinrest will not keep it together. It initially deforms and then breaks up in about five minutes, usually with the top breaking first along the long axis.

    All systems and methods have error; nothing is perfect. Minor semantics miss the whole concept. The larger point here is show me another system- anywhere in he world- where a novice or neophyte can gain this much information in such a short time. In two days, we took the equivalent of about 1000 hours of traditional build time for multiple complete units where most people at this stage of the game rub your lucky rabbits foot and shrug your shoulders, and then string it up in the white and evaluate the voice and hope you can remember the difference from the last one 200 hours ago and we shrunk that down to two days work. TWO DAYS.

    From an educational perspective, using this can advance your mandolin building skills by decades and save dozens or more builds. This allows an almost immediate response in a way that you can string up and play and hear and evaluate as a mandolin player, not just interpreting some pretty lines on a computer screen with a fancy vocabulary to describe them or tapped tones on an incomplete system using a $700 tuner. I've been to the Oberlin acoustic physics workshops and used almost every common method to try to get a consistent handle on mandolin building and for my needs as a player, this gets me there much faster and with more consistent results, and when I get an occasional dud, like we all do, I'm out about ten hours total time, not 150. You get to hear the mandolin. You get to play it. You get to evaluate it as a musician pounding Salt Creek or whatever it is you like in a mandolin.

    See my avatar? That was building with the old system. The new system: priceless, even with its flaws...

    Here is another thread from a few months ago: different student, completed mandolin.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/s...hlight=condino
    Last edited by j. condino; Mar-27-2018 at 4:41am.

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    Quote Originally Posted by grandcanyonminstrel View Post
    All you guys who worry so much about a couple of grams of cedar linings but don't even question strapping a big chunk of welded steel to the back of your mandolin in the name of tone make me laugh.....

    All systems and methods have error; nothing is perfect. Minor semantics miss the whole concept. The larger point here is that show me another system- anywhere in he world- where a novice or neophyte can gain this much information in such a short time. In two days, we took the equivalent of about 1000 hours of traditional build time for multiple complete units where most people at this sage of the game rub your lucky rabbits foot and shrug your shoulders, and then string it up in the white and evaluate the voice and hope you can remember the difference from the last one 200 hours ago and we shrunk that down to two days work. TWO DAYS.
    I agree with you, I was never fan of blind building. I don't like surprises in this context.
    I do finish graduation and tonebars while strung up in the white and you method is eqaully cool with aded benefit if you go too far you can always use new bars or replace the part. I would fear that the larger area of vibrating plates (4-5 square inches plus minus) can have noticeable effect on tone (albeit likely predictable).
    I'm actually thinking of trying something similar as well, but with my limited production of mere one mandolin per year....
    Adrian

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    I posted pictures several weeks ago of test set-up I built, inspired by James Condino's. The top was secured to the external linings by PVC clamps. I imagine that most folks thought it was a ridiculous idea, but it worked surprisingly well. I made & tested 4 tops (flat tops) in a matter of a few hours. That even included totally changing the bracing on 2 of the tops. Since then I have built (& strung up in the white) an octave mandolin with the best sounding of the tops. I must report that even with all the extraneous hardware & trappings, the top on the test rig sounded remarkably like the completed instrument now sounds.

    On this new instrument I ended up using a totally different style of bracing than I had previously used. The test rig allowed me to experiment in ways that I never would have before. In a few hours I learned what would have taken hundreds of hours before. Builders employ all sorts of methods to try to predict the sound of a new instrument; I suggest that nothing beats the empirical method.

    I am in the process of building a new test rig using machine screws & T-nuts (#2) to attach both top & back. I have also made the neck joint angle variable so that I can test both flat & carved tops. I can understand the skepticism of some, but, having tried out the concept, I'm a believer.

    -Earl Tyler

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    For me, I didn't feel the jig was skewing the tone much at all. The second string up with f holes cut was very close to what I usually do in terms of plate thickness and tone bar shaping, (we left the bars thick for the first test). It sounded as I expected and what I was used to. The real value was to turn a really good sound into a great one with some minor tweaks of the tone bars. Also, finding out what happens when you go too far.
    Just as in the audio recording world, your ears are the most important piece of test equipment. There are hundreds of pieces of recording equipment that look stellar on paper. Very low distortion specs, perfectly linear frequency reproduction, a slew rate that can amplify from DC to light in microseconds, etc. However, those rarely get used by professionals. The gear built in the 1950s-1970s are the most coveted. They are full of imperfections, very high second order distortion, not very linear, and slow to reproduce the signal compared to modern chip based amplification. Human ears are the test equipment and judge as to why that old gear is still being used, not specs on paper.
    This system is exactly what I've been needing. I've tried tap tuning, deflection tuning, I've read more than I care to about chlandi patterns and other scientific methods that exist. I'm not knocking those, people make them work and do it well. It just didn't work for me. At the end of the day, all that is just data on paper, not a playable instrument.
    Being able to play the instrument almost immediately, not only to hear, but to feel how it responds as a player is the benefit here. Any imperfections to the jig are a constant to everything you are doing. It's about hearing the changes as you work on it.
    It's about taking what I've learned to do over the last 15 years and being able to fine tune and replicate it. I'm not getting any younger, I no longer care to put 200 hours into an instrument to find out it would be better suited as firewood.

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    Dave Cohen showed me a mandolin he built several years back with a removable back. The screws were very light and attached to the traditional linings inside the plate perimeter. I thought it was very interesting but I couldn't figure out how to sell a mandolin with all those screws visible. About a year later Nugget showed me a similar jig that he tested around 200 mandolins with where he used hot hide glue to hold on the backs. Cool, but my enthusiasm couldn't sit still long enough for the glue to set and I was pretty sure my hearing memory couldn't hold out that long. A couple of other folks have shown me rigs where they used a glued paper gasket between the ribs and the plates.

    I wanted to be able to test my best unobtainable tonewoods seasoned forever from all my geezer luthier friends who keeled over and and be able to use them on a working instrument when it was all finished, hence the oversized plates and outside linings. When all the experimenting is done, the plates get glued to the working rim and the excess buzzes off with a router in 30 seconds leaving no trace of the surgery. Almost all the mandolins I'm building right now are made out of Brazilian rosewood, that is why I have this version setup. I also generally use the same fittings, bridge, tailpiece, and nobody noticed even the test rig is pimped out with my model of Alessi tuning machines in snakewood. Everything matters and I can hear an awful lot of the subtleties. 'Not perfect by a longshot, but if my other methods were averaging 35% consistency, this pumps me up to about 85% and I'll gladly take that. It may not get another builder a voice and power that have commerical viability, but I feel it will allow the individual builder to hit the voice they are shooting for very consistent in a real world setting and adding only a few hours to the total build time. I get a lot of curious questions, but even in its frankenstein form, it hangs pretty solid in a jam. That's more important to me than a beauty contest, although I admit I've been known to obsess on the details. I've used a similar system on archtop guitars and octave mandolins with very good results and I'm working on one for dreadnought guitars.
    Last edited by j. condino; Mar-28-2018 at 12:54am.

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    Fascinating thread...

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    Wow James! I hope someone is advancing Virziology with your breakthrough. Does much change in sound or response when you have 360 glued kerfing and rims compared to internal wrenching screws into an extended rim of wood? I remember seeing photos of rims completely routed away with only half of the kerfing still glued to the plate before the binding is added making the binding an interval part of the plates rim like the metal rim of a drum or banjo. I wondered what effect subtle changes like this and other leading particulars like tight fiitting joints, the glue, the ? Amazing work Mr. Condino and correspondence with our Luthier Extrodinares. You’ve pushed thru the hardest part, the devil in the details of preventing implosion.
    "A sudden clash of thunder, the mind doors burst open, and lo, there sits old man Buddha-nature in all his homeliness."
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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    Great info, much appreciate this post by you and Grandcayonminstrel.
    This is what I've been looking for.
    Again, Thanks

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    You are welcome. It's a great way to try new things without spending a lot of time and money on an entire build that may not turn out like you thought it would. I learned a lot from James.

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    That would be a nice trip down to Ashville. I lived in Jonesborough, Tn just over the mountain from James
    and do a class like that with him.
    now I live less than 6 hrs. from you.

    I look forward to any more post like these.

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    It would be worth the trip to study with James for a few days, or more. If you are at all serious about treading new ground, or want an understanding of why the traditional works, James can help propel you years ahead in terms of what you would be doing on your own. I didn't get the time I wanted to experiment this year. I had too many "traditional" instruments to get off my plate first. I did apply a lot of the knowledge I gained on my current builds and it made a difference. I'm planning to push things a bit next year just for my own discovery. Like you, I don't plan to reinvent the wheel. I do want to try some new things however. It's all about answering those questions that you can only find out by diving in and doing it. The test jig instrument allows you to do that quickly and easily.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    Don MacRostie's StewMac mid-'80s electric kit had a screw-on back. But of course people will accept things in an electric mandolin that they'd never accept in an acoustic one.
    Emando.com: More than you wanted to know about electric mandolins.

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    A screw on back shouldn't be accepted for an acoustic mandolin. This one is for testing purposes only. The tops and backs are slightly wider in profile to accommodate the screws on the test jig. Once things have been tested, the edges are trimmed away to fit the production mandolin. The screw holes go away.

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    What a wonderful idea and experience.

  30. #22

    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    I agree with you, I was never fan of blind building. I don't like surprises in this context.
    I do finish graduation and tonebars while strung up in the white and you method is eqaully cool with aded benefit if you go too far you can always use new bars or replace the part. I would fear that the larger area of vibrating plates (4-5 square inches plus minus) can have noticeable effect on tone (albeit likely predictable).
    I'm actually thinking of trying something similar as well, but with my limited production of mere one mandolin per year....
    Adrian, do you work the tone bars through the F-holes, or do have to take the back off to adjust/replace them?

    thanks,

    Neil

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    Henry Lawton hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    Jerseygirl Homemade Guitars has a model called Teko that uses screws to hold the cover/tailpiece over a bridge centered on a triangle driver of three round Spruce resonators inside its hollow body. Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    More food for thought. On glueless joint technology Scott Walker has a nice neck connection adapted from Japanese Joinery on his Katana model. Click image for larger version. 

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    "A sudden clash of thunder, the mind doors burst open, and lo, there sits old man Buddha-nature in all his homeliness."
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  33. #25
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: 6 mandolins in 2 days

    Quote Originally Posted by NRMiller1958 View Post
    Adrian, do you work the tone bars through the F-holes, or do have to take the back off to adjust/replace them?

    thanks,

    Neil
    I reduce them through f holes. I had one of the 70's Ibanez mandolins this year that had almost 1" high tonebars. I removed most of them through f holes down to 3/8" or so at center and less towards ends. Not easy job, took 3-4 hours and I left almost all the dust inside for the owner :-) to see how much extra wood he bought with the mandolin. Definately helped the sound, though I hoped for a bit more volume.
    Adrian

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