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Thread: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

  1. #1

    Default Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    I know this question gets asked periodically but in my research over the past few days I have found that:

    1) Stewmac kits are currently not even available on back order
    2) Siminoff retired in 2016 so those kits are no longer available either.
    LMII are not offering backs and sides (no items available

    I liked the look of the O'Brian Guitars online tutorials but would like to know if anybody has experience of this. They recommend LMII for "kits" but LMII don't have options for backs and sides available currently.

    I am wondering where to turn - perhaps buy the Siminoff book and everything from luthier suppliers and make my first from scratch following tutorials?

    Any suggestions or up to date info on kits (especially in UK) greatly appreciated (this would be my first build but I am a reasonable wood-worker).

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    It does seem like the supply of mandolin kits is drying up. Stew Mac A and pancake kits are gone. F is hard to get. Siminoff gone. Arches gone. Perhaps interest in kit building these is waning. People seem to want their instruments ready made, or will build from scratch, no in between. Perhaps it’s because these kits were marketed as “easy” to build, while the reality is that it still takes considerable skill to end up with a worthy result. Too many failures may have poisoned the market for these.

    There is still the ubiquitous Saga A kit, available in multiple places for a hundred bucks. International Violin still makes a made in China F style kit for 370 dollars, as well as a white unvarnished F style for 375. Someone please explain that pricing to me. Only 5 more dollars to get the kit already assembled? Also, the fellow who builds Buckhorn mandolins in Springfield, Ohio advertises assembled rims and partially finished necks here in our Classifieds sometimes. Not a completekit but would save you some work. Music Makers offers both a mandolin and a mandola Kit, but these are guitar shaped ( technically a mandolinetto). Good luck.
    Don

    2016 Weber Custom Bitterroot F
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    1974 Martin Style A
    Fender Octave Mandolin c.2004-2008

  3. #3

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    You can obtain backs and tops already CNC'd from Smith Creek Guitars. Dave was a really good guy to work with. The back and top I got are beautiful.

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  5. #4

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Thanks for the replies. With an existing hobby in woodwork, I was looking more towards the whole experience of building, though I take your point about only a few dollars more for the finished thing (odd but maybe it tell you something about their labour rates!).

    Perhaps the Siminoff book and online tutorials is the way to go and (gulp) try from scratch.

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    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    I don't know about world wide but in the US kids just are not taught these skilss in basic woodworking or home ec anymore, sad and sorely needed but gone. Buy some wood nothing fancy plain wood will make a fine instrument as well as figured and cost a fraction, but still sound great. You can do it! just be paitent and go slowly. the Builders here are a great help and there are many books and websites covering almost any aspect of the process even on youtube there is information about it.
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

    Creativity is just doing something wierd and finding out others like it.

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    As mentioned before in other threads, these are available from Buckhorn mandolins, in the classified's.....

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/137112#137112

    NFI
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  8. #7

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Quote Originally Posted by Encore View Post
    Thanks for the replies. With an existing hobby in woodwork, I was looking more towards the whole experience of building, though I take your point about only a few dollars more for the finished thing (odd but maybe it tell you something about their labour rates!).

    Perhaps the Siminoff book and online tutorials is the way to go and (gulp) try from scratch.
    So many videos on the inter webs....Geoff Burghardt has an online mandolin building course as well. III mandolins.
    A kit was a great introduction to building mandolins. I learned a lot.
    I would get the stew Mac dvd on constructing a mandolin, its a wealth of knowledge. also check out Lynn dudenbostles Facebook page he photographed an entire build. if you have some woodworking skills, and can read blueprints you'll be fine. I started with the siminoff book then went to the stewmac blueprints, now I'm using the Adrien (Hogo) blueprints from elderly.(Adrien plans are the best in my opinion). Austin clark has some great videos about cutting dovetails, Johnathan mclanahan has great video about carving scrolls....so much information.

    just go for it like I did. I did a torch and wire on my #2 (stewmac kit)
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by Jacob Hagerty; Mar-25-2019 at 11:49am. Reason: typo
    Jacob Hagerty, Hagerty Mandolins

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    Kelley Mandolins Skip Kelley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Jacob, nice job! That's a lot of work!

  10. #9
    Kelley Mandolins Skip Kelley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Quote Originally Posted by Encore View Post
    Thanks for the replies. With an existing hobby in woodwork, I was looking more towards the whole experience of building, though I take your point about only a few dollars more for the finished thing (odd but maybe it tell you something about their labour rates!).

    Perhaps the Siminoff book and online tutorials is the way to go and (gulp) try from scratch.
    Just my two cents; If I were where you are now, I would get a set of plates from Smithcreek. Get a neck blank and set of sides from Buckhorn and the you would have an example of the parts you need. You can use those as a reference to the plans. It would give you something to compare to.

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    Registered User belbein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    I built all kinds of stuff before my first mando, and I'm told by some people that I'm quite handy. I even built a 14 1/2 for sharpie with hand tools. But I'm really glad I started with a kit for the mando. There are just some things that a kit lets you get your head around... some of the architecture of a mandolin is really un-obvious unless you know it from the inside. So do a kit, even if its an F. Then when you're done you can do your first mando from scratch, and you will be glad you did.

  12. #11

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Quote Originally Posted by Skip Kelley View Post
    Just my two cents; If I were where you are now, I would get a set of plates from Smithcreek. Get a neck blank and set of sides from Buckhorn and the you would have an example of the parts you need. You can use those as a reference to the plans. It would give you something to compare to.
    Curious if there are any builders out there with a finished mandolin (or close to) where they used this route? If so, can you share photos?

    I know Keith has been listing those rims and necks on the Cafe for a while now and seems to be replenishing them, so I assume there are some projects out there. Just curious how a Buckhorn rim with a machine carved plate turns out looking in the aesthetic department (and of course tonally) as I believe Keith hand carves his plates.

  13. #12

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Quote Originally Posted by Skip Kelley View Post
    Just my two cents; If I were where you are now, I would get a set of plates from Smithcreek. Get a neck blank and set of sides from Buckhorn and the you would have an example of the parts you need. You can use those as a reference to the plans. It would give you something to compare to.
    That is exactly what I have done for my 2nd A style build. I built a Saga AM-10 kit which turned out fairly well; gave it to my son since he wants to learn mandolin. The Smithcreek plates and Buckhorn rim and neck give me a good starting point, since I don't have the tools to get wood to the same point for building. Good luck!

  14. #13

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Quote Originally Posted by Encore View Post
    Thanks for the replies. With an existing hobby in woodwork, I was looking more towards the whole experience of building, though I take your point about only a few dollars more for the finished thing (odd but maybe it tell you something about their labour rates!).

    Perhaps the Siminoff book and online tutorials is the way to go and (gulp) try from scratch.
    Building from scratch has its benefits and its challenges. I chose to build my F5 from scratch, and now I've got the bug. So I'm planning a series of three more. Like you, I have been a woodworker for a while now and have a basic garage woodshop. So not a whole lot of ramp-up was required, at least with regard to the heavy tools (band saw, drill press, sander, etc.). You can make whatever kind of instrument you fancy out of whatever material you want and finish it however you want. The one piece that I didn't mill/manufacture myself was the fingerboard because I didn't trust myself on the fretting slots. So I ordered that one from online. I used very simple wood; no "flame" or figure. It was a very rewarding experience. Now, when I play that instrument I know in the back of my head that I made it myself, and there is a lot to be said for that. It may sound silly, but if I had used a kit there would always be this nagging voice in my subconscious telling me, "You didn't REALLY make that...." (Note: This is not a dig at people who build from kits but rather the reality of my own overbearing and paranoid subconscious!) And I will add (at the risk of using a cliche), that "if I can do it, anyone can do it." And I really, really mean that. God knows I screwed up my build many times. But I still ended up with a finished instrument that actually plays a tune!

    The downsides... I did end up spending money on tools that I otherwise would not have. A couple of finger planes. Some relatively unique chisels. Nothing really over the top, but still money I wouldn't have spent otherwise. I also restarted the project on at least two separate occasions--when I ruined (i.e. drilled a hole straight through) the original spruce top and when I ruined (i.e. took a hunk out of with the bandsaw) the original neck. So each of those mistakes saw me basically starting over from scratch. And that brings me to the biggest downside to building your first one from scratch: time. It took me a year-and-a-half to build mine. If I had had it in-hand to begin with, I could have spent eighteen months playing it.

    I found the Siminoff book to be misleading in how simple it makes some steps appear. There are also several jigs and templates referenced in that book that I now feel are essential to the process but lack any clear instructions on how to complete--mostly having to do with the neck joint. If I had it to do over again I wouldn't have bought the book but would just buy some plans then consult the Internet.

    The safe bet is definitely to buy a kit for your first one. If you're feeling daring, though, it is certainly possible to build one entirely from scratch.

  15. #14

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Here's my Stew Mac MLO (mandolin-like object ) that I built. I'm glad I had the opportunity to build one. Too bad they're no longer available. For a first timer, I did fairly well. The rookie mistakes didn't really affect playability. It sounds decent enough. I'm no expert woodworker, but it turned out OK. If you don't mind buying a lot of tools you probably won't use again, it's worth it for the experience.

    Roger

    1920 Martin Style A
    Don MacRostie designed Stuart MacDonald A-style kit I built myself.
    2018 The Loar LM-590 Ms

  16. #15

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Quote Originally Posted by Rdeane View Post
    That is exactly what I have done for my 2nd A style build. I built a Saga AM-10 kit which turned out fairly well; gave it to my son since he wants to learn mandolin. The Smithcreek plates and Buckhorn rim and neck give me a good starting point, since I don't have the tools to get wood to the same point for building. Good luck!
    Any photos of that 2nd build? I am really curious.

  17. #16

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    I'm just starting now on carving plates for the 2nd build. I bought top and bottom plates from Smith Creek and am quite happy with the wood quality, especially the beautifully flamed back. David at Smith Creek has been very helpful and responsive to my questions. The Saga kit turned out okay, and it definitely gave me the bug to build more.

    The photo shows the Saga kit (that I named Grizelda, German meaning endless patience) before strings were added. I also made a padauk arm rest and truss rod cover. Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Quote Originally Posted by 20MartinA View Post
    Here's my Stew Mac MLO (mandolin-like object ) that I built. I'm glad I had the opportunity to build one. Too bad they're no longer available. For a first timer, I did fairly well. The rookie mistakes didn't really affect playability. It sounds decent enough. I'm no expert woodworker, but it turned out OK. If you don't mind buying a lot of tools you probably won't use again, it's worth it for the experience.

    that's a very nice looking mandolin! show us the backside please.
    d

  19. #18

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Just a note on the possible misconception of CNC parts. You could, but it would not be advised, slap together a top and back right out of the CNC, but Tom Ellis or Collings or any number of others do a bunch of hand work to achieve a desired result. That last 1% of material removal is where the magic happens.

    I spent a day fine tuning each side of the top and another day fine tuning each side of the back of my Arches kit. A kit provides you pretty much what everyone using a CNC machine starts with. It is not just a matter of gluing the thing together.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
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  20. #19

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    Just a note on the possible misconception of CNC parts. You could, but it would not be advised, slap together a top and back right out of the CNC, but Tom Ellis or Collings or any number of others do a bunch of hand work to achieve a desired result. That last 1% of material removal is where the magic happens.

    I spent a day fine tuning each side of the top and another day fine tuning each side of the back of my Arches kit. A kit provides you pretty much what everyone using a CNC machine starts with. It is not just a matter of gluing the thing together.
    Yes, the CNC work won't give you what should be a final thickness. I am going to follow established graduations, so I still have some work to do.

  21. #20

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Quote Originally Posted by darylcrisp View Post
    that's a very nice looking mandolin! show us the backside please.
    d
    The back, as requested:



    My finish was a little brown stain in Zinzer shellac brushed on. I may strip it someday and apply a proper finish, but at least the wood is protected.
    Roger

    1920 Martin Style A
    Don MacRostie designed Stuart MacDonald A-style kit I built myself.
    2018 The Loar LM-590 Ms

  22. #21

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    We will see how long it takes to get a StewMac kit. I imagine someone making seriously good mandolins would have a hard time making time to put kits together. I have my suspicions the tops and backs for kits are material not quite up to snuff for a +$10,000 mandolin.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

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    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    I'm on my third of three A style oval hole mandolins following Graham McDonald's book. I decided, based on no experience whatever, that getting to the kit stage from scratch would be relatively straight forward. Plus I couldn't bear to risk ruining really nice tonewood. The first one was strictly practice on scrap wood, which was invaluable. The second is Sitka spruce and maple, and the third is Engelmann spruce on walnut. I enjoy the scratch build, at least for an A style. I found that carving the plates and neck (with planes) is extremely satisfying. You can acquire the construction skills so you mainly need patience and an appreciation for delayed gratification. And it's probably inevitable that you'll get the bug.

  24. #23

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Here's the deal on StewMac kits. After months of checking out their website and coming up empty, I finally called them up a month ago and ordered one to be shipped whenever they came in. I just got notification of shipment. I'm guessing they get kits a few at a time and they are gone quickly. So if you want one, just place a phone order. They don't charge you until they ship. I'm thinking they fill back orders first.

    It will be interesting to compare it to my Arches. Thinking of Rubners and a James tailpiece. The Cumberland bridge is a no brainer.
    Silverangel A
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    1913 Gibson A-1

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  26. #24
    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    Just build from scratch, few things are as hard as it looks and the mandolin is no exception.

  27. #25

    Default Re: Advice on first mandolin building kit/tutorial

    While I agree with your point there, my space is severely limited. No bandsaw, no table saw, no thickness planer, no router, no nothing. Now I certainly could use all hand tools, and do have that covered, at this time I just don't want to. However, I can't see building a kit after this one. If I build a third one, it will be from raw wood.
    Silverangel A
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    1913 Gibson A-1

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