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Thread: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

  1. #1

    Default Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    I recently posted this thread about kits. It confirmed my suspicions that there is not so much out there anymore.

    I want to take my woodwork hobby to the next level. It is all about the experience of building as I already own a very nice hand-build mandolin from a local luthier. I am happy to learn and take my time with research but can't afford the cost or time off for any residential courses. I have heard of the Siminoff book (Ultimate Bluegrass mandolin manual) and come across one or two online or video courses (e.g. O'Brien Guitars).

    So, what books, resources, videos, sites etc would you recommend an aspiring new builder researching before spending hard-earned money on specialist tools and lumber?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    I wouldn't start with a mandolin, and here's why ...

    I taught myself to make ukuleles entirely from online resources. Immodestly, I make a pretty decent instrument (now). I've also made some tenor guitars and a six-string guitar, all decently playable. I've probably built around 50 fretted instruments.

    And even now, I'd hesitate about attempting a mandolin. I know from a few repairs that they are very finicky, much less forgiving than ukes or guitars. I'd be confident about succeeding with a flat top mandolin, much less so about a carved top.

    The problem is that you have to learn fretted instrument basics - carving a neck, body construction, attaching neck to the body with the correct alignment, getting the fret plane and the frets to the required degree of accuracy, adjusting the intonation, etc. All these (except neck carving) are harder on a mandolin.

    So I'd say start with something more forgiving. You can get a lot not-quite-right on a uke and still end up with a playable instrument, which is encouraging. A tenor guitar can be 5ths tuned, and that's not too difficult either. Make a few of these and give them away, and then you might think about starting on a mandolin. So much of building is about getting a feel for what's not quite right, and then fixing it in the next build. And a uke is a cheap investment - I've made several out of reclaimed wood, investing under US$50 in each, so a partial failure is not too discouraging.

    So far as information resources are concerned, just read widely and watch a lot of build videos. If you are already a woodworker, you will identify approaches which match your own, and which you can try, and discard approaches which work for others but wouldn't work for you. Research the step you're currently working on, and once you've worked out how to do that, do it and then research the next step.

    And approach your build incrementally. If step one is making the body, make that and don't worry about the neck yet. Buy only the tools you need, as you need them. If pushed, I could make a uke with just a saw, block plane, cabinet scraper, 1.4 inch chisel, hammer, drill and screwdriver. A marking gauge would be nice, and you'll need many, many clamps. For a carved top mandolin I'd want a gouge and curved scraper as well. Sometimes, you'll need to improvise/make a tool.

    If the process is what's important, as it is to me, this is one way to get the most out of your quest.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    When I started the only thing I was interested in was the mandolin and an F mandolin at that. So starting with dulcimers or whatever didn't appeal at all to me. So I dug in and did tons of inlay including a vine on the fingerboard and carved a rose on the back. It's a wallhanger to this day even though I played the heck out of it but the learning part was priceless.
    Speaking of the other thread to me the point of a kit was so you didn't have to buy a bandsaw, big belt sander and drillpress. Otherwise you might as well start from scratch.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    How and why someone builds anything is a personal thing. I learn more from my mistakes than from anything else, so I've built a lot of crappy instruments, but I've also built some fine ones too. I'm the kind of person that enjoys challenges that involve learning new skills. I'm very mechanically inclined and have built all sorts of things besides instruments such as boats, paddle boards, cars, my own CNC etc. I'm gearing up to start building a wood bicycle. Never crossed my mind that I couldn't do it. That being said, if you have the patience then you can build a fine instrument. I think some of the best resources out there for building mandolins are Graham McDonalds books along with the Siminoff book. Personally, I would start with a flat top instrument as opposed to a carved top. Its too easy to get overwhelmed with all the minute details required for a complex build and you lose your steam and it eventually becomes "a project that you always meant to get back to." Find soething that isn't too overwhelming so that you can catch the building "bug" which results in your wife's new screen name mandowidow.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    I'd go fairly cheap on the materials on the first go. I might not know a whole lot about building mandolins, but I've built quite a few "things" and can tell you that you're most likely not going to be satisfied with the first one, although it will be a fun experience. Basically the first one would most likely be to see how things feel when you're actually touching them and diving in. There's many things you'll notice on the first go-around that you probably wouldn't expect to encounter. Again, this is just from general "making-things-knowledge" and not mandolin specific. And you probably know that being a woodworker.

    You may want to start on something simpler that a mando first as ProfChris said, but I also know the feeling of just wanting to try no matter how bad, so I could see either way.

    The tools will certainly cost you a bit, but if you're already a woodworker I'm sure the crossover is significant and depends on the type of woodwork you're set up for. It also depends on how you decide to tackle it, like are going power-tools or hand-tools. Each have their benefits and you will most likely use both, but there is some room for decision one way or another there.

    Anyway, for what you actually asked for, I've gotten in to watching "Rosa String Works" videos on youtube for fun. He is a luthier that both fixes and builds instruments and shares videos of his work online. When he makes a new mandolin, he starts a series where he shows the build to completion. While you probably won't be able to follow this as a full on tutorial or anything, I could see these videos being incredibly useful as a way to see what sort of hurdles you'll experience. He is very detailed in his explanations, but of course he can't explain every single thing. I would recommend checking out one of his build series to get an idea about what you're up against. The owner of the channel seems like a great guy and would probably even answer an email or two if you can find it. Anyway, here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC29...MU8TCrloPN0Cbw
    Just me and my Eastman MD315!
    And we're hungry to learn

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    Dating myself but my inspiration that some day I would build a mandolin started in 1972. By 1976 I was living in Austin and had a copy of the just published Siminoff book. Had no idea who Tom Ellis was. Searching the Austin hardwood stores for wood was a hopeless venture and the nearly laughable descriptions of what wood to get and where to get it in the Sim book was not helpful. Try to find the word "quartersawn" in the original. I lucked into a Vitali's catalog and got a viola set for my first mandolin.
    The point is there is so much more access to information, wood, parts and help now. A different world.

  7. #7
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    Have you seen the Graham MacDonald book? There are plans in there for simple flat-top mandolins, as well as an oval-hole A.
    -Dave
    Flatiron A
    Way too many other instruments

  8. #8

    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    I have some basic carving skills already from hand carving Windsor chair seats and some bowls (no lathe), but starting on a flat top is a very good idea. I am being rapidly persuaded into going simple for my first attempt. I like the sound of building a uke or two first not least because I have kids who can play them but none in the house, but also because it contains less wood and fewer tuners and therefore ought to be cheaper to make mistakes on (all other things being equal). I'd seen the MacDonald book on Amazon, so it's nice to get a recommendation.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    If a detailed build log for a uke with pictures would help, here's one I did for a general woodworking forum a couple of years ago:

    https://www.ukworkshop.co.uk/forums/...e-t100091.html

    There's quite a lot of explanation of the problems of working very thin plates and how I deal with them, because most of the readers don't do that. All hand tools with the exception of a little bandsaw use.

    But please don't think this is a definitive guide - I know quite a few uke builders and we all do things very differently. Pick any techniques and tips you like, and work out different ways of doing other things. There are loads of build threads on forums and YouTube videos to show you alternatives.

    My build uses a Spanish heel, which I think is the easiest for a first time instrument builder, but that isn't a good neck joint for a mandolin (or any steel string instrument). This is because steel strings start to fold up the instrument around the base of the neck (nylon does too, but not so much), and after a few years a neck reset might be needed. A Spanish heel makes that hard. But this construction method still lets you learn all about getting the fret plane right, which is the most critical thing for playability, and you can use that knowledge with different construction methods when you get round to your mandolin.

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  11. #10

    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    I just recently completed my first mandolin from plans sold by Crystal Forest. It's essentially a repo of Gibson's Army/Navy flattop mandolin. Terry Majewski, owner of Crystal Forest and excellent builder in his own right, was very helpful when I had questions. I also used Graham McDonald's book, which was a great reference for thicknessing, edge joining, etc. Terry provides a PDF of his plans, which I had printed full sized for templates. I learned a tremendous amount from this project. Now that I have the all the jigs and various other tools accumulated, I plan to build a couple more just to try other woods. Then, I hope to try building from Graham's book. I'd love to get to an archtop oval hole eventually, but I'm really happy I didn't take that on initially. And by the way....I ended up with we really nice mandolin.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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  13. #11
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    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    I was on the fence, but this thread may have convinced me to go down a dangerous path. I might need an intervention...

    It seems to me that once you make a jig or fixture, you'd want to use it again. And then you would find things that you could do better next time.

    I can see this spiraling out of control.

  14. #12

    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    Already gathering wood for my next two builds!

  15. #13

    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    It's surprisingly easy to build an instrument out of AAAA woods that is impossible to set up to be playable.
    It took me several instruments to figure out that laying out the neck angle, break angle, and bridge height, and then verifying that all those elements are lined up and consistent from start to finish, is the most critical part of building an instrument.
    It's not voicing, it's not wood quality, or even plate thicknesses. If you can't set it up, it's not an instrument. Most new builders neglect the importance of setup and playability, because it seems like "icing on the cake", and seems like it would be easy to correct for.
    To this day, getting the plane of the fretboard, bridge height, and break angle as I intended it to be is the single thing I do the most adjustment and correction on. Everything else is pretty well worked out on my instruments, but none of this geometry stuff "just works out" by accident. You have to be on top of it every step of the way, or you'll make a pretty vase.

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  17. #14

    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    It's surprisingly easy to build an instrument out of AAAA woods that is impossible to set up to be playable.
    It took me several instruments to figure out that laying out the neck angle, break angle, and bridge height, and then verifying that all those elements are lined up and consistent from start to finish, is the most critical part of building an instrument.
    It's not voicing, it's not wood quality, or even plate thicknesses. If you can't set it up, it's not an instrument. Most new builders neglect the importance of setup and playability, because it seems like "icing on the cake", and seems like it would be easy to correct for.
    To this day, getting the plane of the fretboard, bridge height, and break angle as I intended it to be is the single thing I do the most adjustment and correction on. Everything else is pretty well worked out on my instruments, but none of this geometry stuff "just works out" by accident. You have to be on top of it every step of the way, or you'll make a pretty vase.

    +1000!!!

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  19. #15
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    It's surprisingly easy to build an instrument out of AAAA woods that is impossible to set up to be playable.
    It took me several instruments to figure out that laying out the neck angle, break angle, and bridge height, and then verifying that all those elements are lined up and consistent from start to finish, is the most critical part of building an instrument.
    It's not voicing, it's not wood quality, or even plate thicknesses. If you can't set it up, it's not an instrument. Most new builders neglect the importance of setup and playability, because it seems like "icing on the cake", and seems like it would be easy to correct for.
    To this day, getting the plane of the fretboard, bridge height, and break angle as I intended it to be is the single thing I do the most adjustment and correction on. Everything else is pretty well worked out on my instruments, but none of this geometry stuff "just works out" by accident. You have to be on top of it every step of the way, or you'll make a pretty vase.
    another +1000!

    You should get good plans of the instrument you want to build and follow it so you get the shapes and angles right, don't worry about details (cosmetics or beauty of woods or exact voicings) just follow the numbers as close as you can. Once you can build solidly playing object you can dial in the cosmetics and tone...
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    As a first-time builder, I would like to say that there is plenty of information on this forum alone to build an A or F style mandolin. I am continually grateful for the amount of time builders spend contributing to this forum. I am starting on my third of three A style mandolins using Graham MacDonald's book. The first one was never intended to be much more than a wall hanger, and no tonewoods were harmed in the construction. The second one is playable and sounds good but I'm learning about how to set it up. I just carved the back and top of the third, and that's my favorite part of the process. So go for it. Make all the jigs, buy inexpensive wood, adjust your expectations, and enjoy learning!

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  22. #17

    Default Re: Newbie Builder - Getting started - which books/tutorials

    can't agree more!

    Quote Originally Posted by SBJ View Post
    As a first-time builder, I would like to say that there is plenty of information on this forum alone to build an A or F style mandolin. I am continually grateful for the amount of time builders spend contributing to this forum. I am starting on my third of three A style mandolins using Graham MacDonald's book. The first one was never intended to be much more than a wall hanger, and no tonewoods were harmed in the construction. The second one is playable and sounds good but I'm learning about how to set it up. I just carved the back and top of the third, and that's my favorite part of the process. So go for it. Make all the jigs, buy inexpensive wood, adjust your expectations, and enjoy learning!
    Jacob Hagerty, Hagerty Mandolins

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    Jacob Hagerty #1,#2,#3
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