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Thread: Improve playability on budget mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Improve playability on budget mandolin

    I am new on this forum and looking for some guidance. I have a budget mandolin that I am learning to play on. It is a flat top with a slightly bowled back in what I think might be the Portugese style. The label says Cremona Luby Checkoslovakia.
    The action is very high, approx 3mm (1/8 th of an inch) at the 12th fret, and I have had to angle the bridge about 30 degrees to get the intonation roughly correct. The neck is bowed, with much more relief than is needed.
    My attempts at improving things are hampered by two things. 1 There is no trussrod so no easy way to straighten up the neck. 2 The bridge is solid wood, so no adjustment possible without cutting and sanding.
    Any advice on how to proceed? I dont want to spend a lot of money and I will probably get a better instrument at some point.
    Despite the aching fingers, I am enjoying playing it. I have played guitar and violin for a number of years and that helps a bit.
    I am certainly not a luthier but am willing to have a go at setting it up myself - I have quite a few tools and experience in working with wood.
    All the best, Stephen Elster, Ireland

  2. #2

    Default Re: Improve playability on budget mandolin

    I often write-off an instrument too soon and I'm working to change my ways. But sometimes an instrument is just done and deserves to be wall art. Learning to play any instrument is hard enough without the instrument itself making it more difficult. That said, sometimes you can compromise and end up with something that works fine for a beginner and the entry level techniques. A few photos of the mandolin would go a long way to help others make suggestions.

    To begin, can you make another bridge from some scrap wood. It doesn't need to be pretty. Its just something that you could use to see how low you can get the string height before the excessive relief causes a problem. This way you don't destroy the original bridge. Any hardwood will do.

  3. #3
    Registered User tonydxn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Mansfield UK

    Default Re: Improve playability on budget mandolin

    The easiest way to deal with this problem is take the frets out, plane the fingerboard flat, re-saw the fret slots then put the frets back (or install new ones). You will need to plane it down by 2mm at the nut end to make 1mm of difference at the 12th fret. The nut will need adjusting to suit.

    Of course, you should never do this on an instrument of any value, but that's not what you've got!
    Mandolins: Bandolim by Antonio Pereira Cabral
    German flatback by unknown maker converted from a descant Waldzither

  4. #4

    Default Re: Improve playability on budget mandolin

    Get a guitar capo and put it on the first or second fret. This could make it more or less playable. If it improves anything, then there could be hope that the nut or bridge could be adjusted lower.
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  5. #5

    Default Re: Improve playability on budget mandolin

    Fretbear has a valid point which leads to another approach. Excessive relief can occur for reasons that are not obvious. I recently had an old guitar on the bench with what appeared to be excessive relief and did not have a trussrod. The majority if the forward bow causing the relief was under the first four frets and I was able to remove the first four frets and the nut, level the fretboard, reinstall the original frets and the original nut and end up with a very playable instrument. Removing four to six frets is a lot easier than some of the things that immediately come to mind. If you take your time and thoroughly evaluate what is going on you may find better solutions. Get yourself a good quality straightedge and some feeler gauges so you can map out the topography of your fretboard. You'll have a better idea of what you're dealing with. I will typically perform this type of measurement under every string on a guitar which will also yield warping information. You can get as deep into this kind of stuff as your tolerance to tedium will allow but its not a waste of time.

  6. #6
    Registered User
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    Oct 2015
    Pacific NW, slightly outside BC

    Default Re: Improve playability on budget mandolin

    You can also try lighter gauge strings and tuning down a half step to see how the neck reacts. Luthiers have ways of heating and straightening necks, which often goes back to original shape, but maybe you can show a luthier.
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  7. #7

    Default Re: Improve playability on budget mandolin

    I have improved things slightly by lowering bridge and nut, but I dont think it will be much better until I plane the fingerboard down. The bend in the neck starts at the body join and I am not sure if there is enough material in the fingerboard to take much pkaning. I will post some pictures once I work out how to do that🤓. Thanks for all replies

  8. #8

    Default Re: Improve playability on budget mandolin

    Picture showing high action
    Click image for larger version. 

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  9. #9

    Default Re: Improve playability on budget mandolin

    This is the mandolin in question
    Click image for larger version. 

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  10. #10

    Default Re: Improve playability on budget mandolin

    Its a sweetheart looking mandolin. I've never addressed a neckjoint on this style of instrument so I can't comment. The strings are quite high. Lowering the bridge more is eventually going to cause complications due to insufficient break angle over the bridge and dull or intolerable tone. I don't know how far you can go before this happens. I think there's enough fretboard meat to get significant improvement. Maybe set a goal of getting the first six frets to play respectably so you can noodle with it for fun. Maybe you could get more. Its hard to say without it being on my bench. I have no idea what its worth but the proper fix is a neck reset and I'm not the guy to discuss that sort of thing.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Improve playability on budget mandolin

    Hi all, just a quick update on what I have done so far. I decided against pulling frets and flattening the board as more work than I have time for at the moment, particularly since I would most likely damage the old frets and have to replace them.
    I levelled the existing frets and re crowned them, then had another go at reducing the bridge height. The mandilin is easier to play now and adequate for my current level as a player, so I will leave it as it is for the time being.
    Will probably get better instrument at some time, and will make sure it has a truss rod. Any other features I should look for in an instrument that is good enough to get me up to intermediate level and beyond?

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