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Thread: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

  1. #1
    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    I became interested in piccolo mandolins several years ago and finally had Mike Black build me an A4 style piccolo about two years ago. I have found it to be a real joy to play, and it often is my 'go-to' instrument when I am just playing for my own pleasure. When I have it out on gigs, people really like it and it gets lots of compliments.

    Often when piccolo mandolins come up here in the Cafe, their utility is debated; some love them while others wonder about their utility. Part of the problem is that so few have played them. There really are not many piccolo mandolins around. Very few builders make them, and these are higher-end carved arch-tops. So the cost-of-entry is pretty high, for something most have not tried. We need a less expensive option, serving as a 'gateway drug' into the world of piccolos.

    Cafe members who have a flat-top piccolo have commented on how good they sound, and I have a real thing for flat-tops in general. I decided to give it a go and build a flat-top piccolo mandolin to see how they sound. Below are pictures of my prototype.

    Details of the build are as follows: The neck, sides, back and bridge are flamed red maple. The top is Adirondack spruce. The headstock overlay is cherry. The fretboard is bamboo and the nut is naturally-shed deer antler found here on the farm. Scale is 10.5" and it is tuned cgda, an octave above a mandola.

    The only stain applied was reduced dry Fuji apple wine (really makes the maple figure shimmer), and the finish is a hardening oil.

    I was going for an unconventional and very natural look, and an instrument that treads lightly on the planet (i.e. no tropical hardwoods and minimal finishes). It is done except final set-up. I am still messing with the frets a bit.

    Its voice is sweet and clear with plenty of volume. I can't wait to properly set it up so I can really give it a go. Once set-up is final, I'll try to post an audio clip to this thread.

    I now have two more piccolos of this design and a 13" scale mandolin of a similar design in the works. I'll post pictures as they progress. When the COVID restrictions are lifted and we get back to playing together, I'll loan the piccolos out to a few friends for feedback. I'll let you know what I learn.

    I have found piccolo mandolins to be positively entrancing and think that when others players try them, they will as well. Just as you would not think of a mandola with a capo as a 'mandolin', a piccolo has a voice that is distinct from a mandolin played a fourth up. It is another voice in the chorus of mandolin-family instruments.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Best wishes,

    Bob
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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Bob,

    I’m not good at building much besides animosity, but you have constructed a beautiful little piccolo there! I might recommend tapering the headstock a tad and changing out the tailpiece to a lower profile over time, but congrats on addressing a soft spot in the market with an elegant and cost-effective design. I am most impressed!

    Kind regards,
    Pat
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    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Thank you, Pat, for your helpful suggestions. I agree that tapering the headstock a bit more would make the instrument more attractive and will do that beginning with my current builds. You have a good eye.

    I also agree about the tailpiece. This tailpiece is certainly not my favorite. I used it because it is inexpensive and commonly used on flat-tops. I look forward to trying other tailpieces on these at some point in the future. I would also point out that the tuning machines used are also not to my liking, but again were used for economic reasons. Even though I am trying to economize, I would love to do one with Rubner tuners and a James tailpiece!

    Thanks and best wishes,

    Bob
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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Clark View Post
    Thank you, Pat, for your helpful suggestions. I agree that tapering the headstock a bit more would make the instrument more attractive and will do that beginning with my current builds. You have a good eye.
    That must explain all of the instrument cases lying around here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Clark View Post
    I also agree about the tailpiece. This tailpiece is certainly not my favorite. I used it because it is inexpensive and commonly used on flat-tops. I look forward to trying other tailpieces on these at some point in the future. I would also point out that the tuning machines used are also not to my liking, but again were used for economic reasons. Even though I am trying to economize, I would love to do one with Rubner tuners and a James tailpiece!
    I like the Rubner tuner option but would prefer the low profile Nugget tailpiece being sold by Northfield:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/152902#152902
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    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Hi Pat,

    That really is a nice tailpiece and I agree, it would be the best choice a I have seen for this mandolin, just a little more pricey than what I'd like to use on the piccolos.

    I may give that tailpiece a try on the 13" scale length mandolin I am building though. Pictures of that will follow. Again, it is a flat-top and something a little different. Slightly larger body than the piccolos but similar lines, cherry sides and back, Adorondack spruce top, maple neck.
    Purr more, hiss less.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    I own one playable vintage piccolo, a Leland featured in ca. 1912 Lyon & Healy catalogs. I am curious about some specs I don't see mentioned here. What is the scale length and what bracing pattern did you opt for? And you are tuning it a fourth above a mandolin (an octave above an alto mandola)?
    Jim

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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Clark View Post
    That really is a nice tailpiece and I agree, it would be the best choice a I have seen for this mandolin, just a little more pricey than what I'd like to use on the piccolos.
    The Rubner tuners look like $73-74:

    https://www.amazon.com/Rubner-Mandol.../dp/B01C3F8C4A

    https://www.amazon.com/Rubner-Mandol...YBYTNPT6H0HC4H

    The Nugget tailpiece is $125 less 10% on your first order:

    https://www.northfieldinstruments.co...gget-tailpeice
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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    I own one playable vintage piccolo, a Leland featured in ca. 1912 Lyon & Healy catalogs. I am curious about some specs I don't see mentioned here. What is the scale length and what bracing pattern did you opt for? And you are tuning it a fourth above a mandolin (an octave above an alto mandola)?
    Jim, is there any chance you could post a picture of this mandolin please - and any thoughts you have on it? Thank you.
    Tim

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674 (Thomastik 154-M strings)
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  12. #9
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    Jim, is there any chance you could post a picture of this mandolin please - and any thoughts you have on it? Thank you.
    Tim
    There is definitely a chance.

    Here are the two I have: a playable Leland and an unlabelled bowlback. The Vega bowlback is for size comparison. The other picture is my two Lelands, the piccolo and the standard mandolin.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Jim

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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Jim - Very, very interesting!!!!! I appreciate you posting the pics with a standard mandolin to compare. Now I must educate myself about Leland! Thank you very much Jim.

    Bob - Those are fascinating instruments. I hope you can post a video of how they sound - even just a scale up the neck(????). I will look forward to hearing more about these. Thanks for your post.

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674 (Thomastik 154-M strings)
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    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    Thanks, Pat. That's a good price on those Rubners. They are the new design, too.

    The tailpiece is a beauty, but I am on a 'COVID' budget at the moment and that tailpiece I used on the first one is only $15. I need three more for the current set and that $125 adds up fast. I'd love to put one on the 13" mandolin though, so we'll see. With my business dead in the water at this point, I need to sell a couple of mandolins from my collection to finance these experiments. Too bad, but that's the reality of the situation.
    Purr more, hiss less.

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    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    I own one playable vintage piccolo, a Leland featured in ca. 1912 Lyon & Healy catalogs. I am curious about some specs I don't see mentioned here. What is the scale length and what bracing pattern did you opt for? And you are tuning it a fourth above a mandolin (an octave above an alto mandola)?
    Hi Jim,

    I wrote an answer a few minutes ago, but it seems to have disappeared. I'll try again and hope we don't end up with two.

    You are, in part, to blame for this foray into flat-top mandolins. A few years ago, we sent a few PMs back and forth as I was debating having Mike Black do the A4-style piccolo he ultimately built for me. You mentioned the flat-top piccolos and got me started on that tangent. So, here we are. Thanks for the good advice!

    The scale length of this flat-top is 10.25" It is tuned cgda, a fourth above mandolin, or an octave above alto mandola. I use light strings (EJ62).

    The body is only 7.75" at its widest point, so I thought I could keep the bracing light. I used a transverse brace at about the level of the bridge, with two small braces extending up, either side of the oval hole, intersecting with the linings either side of the neck block. These two small braces are notched in at either end (into the transverse brace and the linings). I have them to stabilize the top near the sound hole. There are no braces south of the bridge.

    The linings are light, solid and bent, rather than kerfed. I didn't like the way the kerfed lining I made sat with this tight radius. I have two plies of lining on the top and one on the back.

    The body is 1 11/16" deep. This might be more than it needs. In the current 'batch' of three, one is made from the same woods as this one but is not as deep. I want to see how that will work. Another one is identical to this one in measurements, but with different woods. I actually did quite a bit of experimentation in the run-up to this one; making and rejecting parts or partially completed instruments for various reasons. Some evolutionary forces helped shape this one. That continues in the current builds, but now that I have a decent prototype, I think I can be more efficient by building three or four at once. We'll see. This may lead nowhere. Still, I am pretty happy with this prototype.

    Again, thanks for the good advice. Flat-top piccolos are pretty cool!
    Purr more, hiss less.

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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    I jumped the gun on the post below...sorry....my eyes automatically read “piccolo” before mandolin. Dah, it’s not a piccollo. But still the Leland comments are interesting. Apparently you cannot delete an errant post! Sorry!

    Bob, I hope this is not drifting too far from your original post, but you and Jim have peaked my curiosity in general and I thought perhaps this reverb listing and accompanying commentary might be of interest:

    https://reverb.com/item/31865441-l-h..._source=google

    We believe that Maurer guitars built post-1900 and all instruments branded Euphonon, Prairie State or W. J. Dyer and were created exclusively by the Larsons’ hands. Those branded W. M. Stahl and Stetson were usually Larson-made, and, on occasion, the Larsons built instruments for Leland, Southern California Music Company, C.Bruno, H. F. Meyer and Regal.
    Jake Wildwood has stated:
    “While it's labeled "L.H. Leland Brilliantone Mando" these were sold by Lyon & Healy, though much evidence (and more rumor?) has been collected in tracing this Lyon & Healy family of products to the Larson Brothers, Chicago's famous pair of high-brow luthiers. What can I say? It certainly sounds and plays like a Rolls Royce.”
    Last edited by Tim Logan; May-18-2020 at 7:19am.

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674 (Thomastik 154-M strings)
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    I meant to post this catalog page from my 1912 Lyon & Healy catalog. These were intended to be instruments for playing mandolin orchestra repertoire. Here is the age with the standard and piccolo. Attached is a pdf of the whole section in the catalog. The oddest is a guitar that has very narrow sides (2 inches for both models). Sounds like they figured it would have a "brilliant tone" that way.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I guess I posted this about 16 years ago on this thread.

    And here is the A part of O'Carolan's Concerto played on my Leland Brilliantone Piccolo in the wrong key, of course—merely fingered as if it were a mandolin.

    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails lelandcat.pdf  
    Jim

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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Jim - what wonderful stuff!!! Thank you so much for providing it. I have just printed it out for my files and will study it thoroughly!

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674 (Thomastik 154-M strings)
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Hey Jim, that catalog material is fascinating. Thanks for sharing it.

    I finally did a proper setup on it today. It sounds fantastic. I should be able to record something and post it within the next the few days. I have to fit it in around the farm work. I really need to be making hay, but the weather is a little too unsettled for that. I should find time to make a recording.

    Truth of the matter is, I hate recording. I'll try to avoid finding excuses not to do it. I would like to demonstrate its voice. It really is pretty and I am well satisfied with it.
    Purr more, hiss less.

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  25. #17
    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    As promised, here are a few MP3 files so you can see how the prototype flat-top piccolo sounds. Nothing too artful, but clips that give a sense of the piccolo at different places in its range. Here also is a picture with my Phoenix Neoclassical for size comparison.

    Best wishes,

    BobClick image for larger version. 

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    Purr more, hiss less.

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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Thank you Bob. Not not sure if it’s me or not but the files ask you to download and show up as a text file with gibberish. I’ll keep trying.

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674 (Thomastik 154-M strings)
    1995 Flatiron A5 Artist (B. Weber) #95072333 (Thomastik 154-S strings)
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    That sounds really cool. Before I read this thread I never even knew there was such an instrument.

    Sue

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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    Thank you Bob. Not not sure if it’s me or not but the files ask you to download and show up as a text file with gibberish. I’ll keep trying.
    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for trying. I must admit that I don't know a whole lot about why computers do or don't work. I am able to open the attachments on my computer, but on my IPad, I get gibberish, too. Let's see if anyone who knows chimes in.

    Thanks again,

    Bob
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    That sounds really cool. Before I read this thread I never even knew there was such an instrument.

    Sue
    Hi Sue,

    They are pretty rare. They are, however, a lot of fun to play. They have a really pleasing voice which is different between the arch top and flat top varieties, just as it is in other mandolin-family instruments. I would really like to see them gain in popularity. They make me happy and I think others would enjoy them as well.

    Oh, and by the way, I like your cat!

    Best wishes,

    Bob
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Bob - Yes, Sue’s cat is definitely cool. I use an ipad and an iphone - so I think I am stuck as well! Maybe someone will chime in like you say! And darn it another thumbnail I do not know how to remove!! (it’s my kitties Henry and Gracie)
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    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674 (Thomastik 154-M strings)
    1995 Flatiron A5 Artist (B. Weber) #95072333 (Thomastik 154-S strings)
    2015 Phoenix Neoclassical Europa III #623 (Thomastik 154-M strings)
    2018 Carlo Mazzaccara Lucia (Dogal R92-M strings)

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    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    I have had a piccolo bug for years but have been able to ignore, now I see this thread. You all are not helping Bob that looks great and Jim that sounds fantastic!
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    Bob - Yes, Sue’s cat is definitely cool. I use an ipad and an iphone - so I think I am stuck as well! Maybe someone will chime in like you say! And darn it another thumbnail I do not know how to remove!! (it’s my kitties Henry and Gracie)
    Henry and Gracie are beautiful, and obviously quite smart. They know where the best sunny spots for sleeping are located. I have a Gracie, too, but my avatar is Robyn. Robyn loves mandolin music.
    Purr more, hiss less.

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    Default Re: Piccolo Mandolin Building Project

    Uh-oh! Three cat lovers emerge - serious danger of complete topic divergence!!!!! I will try to stay on topic, but it is tough LOL!!! As I cannot, due to my Apple ineptitude, hear the files, perhaps others may come along who are in the same boat - so I am going to post this random video of a piccolo mandolin in a concert. Like Sue, these little mandolins are new to me:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3_2pnH9VNZ0

    And here is another video which prompts me to ask what the difference is between a piccolo mandolin, a pocket mandolin, and a “travel” (as in Weber) mandolin? Are these specific instrument types or loosely used generic terms? Thank you.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UZOU-ze_YJg
    Last edited by Tim Logan; May-23-2020 at 3:24am.

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674 (Thomastik 154-M strings)
    1995 Flatiron A5 Artist (B. Weber) #95072333 (Thomastik 154-S strings)
    2015 Phoenix Neoclassical Europa III #623 (Thomastik 154-M strings)
    2018 Carlo Mazzaccara Lucia (Dogal R92-M strings)

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