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Thread: First build - sanity required!

  1. #1

    Default First build - sanity required!

    Several stars have aligned which have caused a daft idea to firmly embed itself in my head. I can't shake it so I'm going to have to roll with it...

    ..bear with me on the backstory...

    I play a bunch of GDAe instruments (Celtic mandolin which I electrified myself with a proper undersaddle cable pickup, electric tenor guitar from Eastwood, tenor banjo, and my go-to tool of choice - my Ashbury Style-E Octave Mandola with a professionally fitted Headway HE4 pickup).

    I have two kids who moan at me if I put them to bed and start learning new tunes on acoustic instruments.

    When renovating the house, I replaced the dark old mahogany mantelpiece with beautiful slab of natural edged English oak a good inch and three-quarters thick. I have a rather beautiful offcut... can see where this is going already right?

    Now, I've never built an instrument before but I have done a good bit of woodwork over the years and I have set up and fettled most of my existing ones, repairs, bridge amendments, the electrification of the mandolin etc.

    So I have this notion to turn a lump of English oak into a stratocaster-ish solid body, eight string, GDAe, Octave Mandola (I believe "Octave Mandolin" on the western shores of the pond...)

    From the things I've read, here's where I am currently:

    - Body, that lump of oak and if I can use the natural edge as part of the shape so much the better, lacquered in some way that will show off the wood.

    - Neck. I read somewhere that a 1/2 size guitar would be a 21" scale so 533mm which would play very similarly to my Ashbury at 518mm and a good bit shorter than my tenor guitar and banjo at 580mm. I intend to keep an eye out for an electric "halfie" to save having to build a neck from scratch.

    - Headstock, depending on the neck I get I'm assuming that I'll have to reshape the headstock to work with 8 strings. Shouldn't be too bad, I'm thinking it would be trimmed to a shape that would look right, tenon-joint in a pair of wings in a different wood and go from there...

    - Machine heads, whatever...

    - Nut, replace with bone if neck isn't zero-fretted, otherwise just a new plastic one will do.

    - Tails and bridges and stuff. I've seen solid mandolins with a tailpiece and bridge arrangement which I think would suit with the "solid lump of oak" feel. Is that sensible?

    - Electrics, I have literally no idea! How many pickups, just one or neck and bridge? What are the best types for double-coursed instruments? And what about the rest of the electrics, controls and the like? Totally need help here!

    What else to I need to consider? What am I missing? (my marbles excepted, of course...) Has anyone done an electric OM build from a 1/2 size guitar neck that I can crib from?


  2. #2
    Registered User keme's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
    Egersund, Norway

    Default Re: First build - sanity required!

    Sounds like a stellar plan(e) to me.

    Sanity is overrated.

    I had a similar situation, but went the easy route. Premade fretboard (made for a concert size uke, so a tad too long), body neck and headstock whittled from one piece so no glue joints to worry about. Documented in the Builders and repair subforum.

    Now I have something playable. Pickups and electronics remain to be seen. There are loose plans. I may cannibalize a few pieces of equipment.

    Good luck with your project! I can contribute with nothing except good wishes, which shall abound. You have my attention.
    Last edited by keme; Jul-16-2020 at 7:21pm.

  3. #3

    Default Re: First build - sanity required!

    I would highly recommend making a pine body first as a dry run. Or you are very likely to ruin that nice piece of oak. No shade on you or your skills, it's just very complicated to get all the geometry right, even when I draw it all up in 3D CAD and think I have everything taken into account. Go for it!

  4. #4

    Default Re: First build - sanity required!

    I have an electric five string octave. I made it from a mahogany fire place and some ash for the neck. I fitted one hum bucket in the neck switched for series parallel and single.
    If (when) I make another I would change a few things. For a start I would go with bridge and neck pickups. Wired with push pull pots for coil cut. A three way switch for pickup selection. If I was making an eight string I would make a trapeze type tail piece. To take ball end strings. A floating bridge with piezo pickup. Stereo jack for output with magnetic and piezo switched either blended mono out or separate to two amps or mixer and amp.
    I have made other mandolin scale instruments a four string with two pickups and an eight string with neck mag and piezo in the bridge. The scale is too short for much difference two of the same types of pickup is not much. The longer scale of the octave gives you a different choice of tones due to the extra space between them.
    As to keeping the edge or any other natural “fault” in the final body. Have you seen the resin tables etc that use wainy as my friend calls it edge timber as in bark of but nothing else removed. With a bit of card wax and modelling clay you can form a mould to form the shape. So you can see the edge etc through the resin but have a solid snag free body.

  5. #5

    Default Re: First build - sanity required!

    Why not use the old mahogany mantelpiece? That's probably the best piece of lumber that you have mentioned. My suggestion would be to start with reading Melvyn Hiscocks book on building an electric guitar. Same principles apply to building an electric mandolin and it will take you from design to final setup.

  6. #6

    Default Re: First build - sanity required!

    Thanks for that, some good learnings!

    Just thinking, the scale of the Squier is just a smidge on the long side for my liking. Iíve done the sums and being one fret less at the long end would be perfect for me... the truss rod becomes a potential issue though.

    Seeing as you have one to hand, in your opinion would it be feasible to move the nut up the neck to replace the first fret and be able to manage the string angles around/over the truss rod nut with a headstock built off the original like yours just extended a bit further up the neck? Obviously a bit of reshaping of the head end of the neck will be required too...

  7. #7

    Default Re: First build - sanity required!

    That was a horrid piece of wood that left with the builderís rubble! Thanks for the book tip, Iíll go see if I can find one.

  8. #8
    Registered User mreidsma's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Grand Rapids, MI

    Default Re: First build - sanity required!

    Check the Goodwill auction site for a short-scale electric:

    I've bought a number of 19 5/8" scale electrics from there over the years for projects. I don't think I've ever paid for than $30 for one including shipping. I just picked up a Squier mini-strat (22 1/2" scale) for the neck and tuners for $50. That neck will be slimmed and is going on a Jazzmaster body with a tele roller bridge and JM tremelo. Gotta keep the projects rolling!

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Here's the 19 5/8" electric tenor I made from one of those inexpensive 1/2 size guitars from Goodwill. Ran the neck (frets and all) through the bandsaw and cleaned it up and shaped it with rasps, planes, a spoke shave, files, and sandpaper. Dressed the cut fret ends, refinished the neck and reinstalled dot markers, and other than the fact that I left the neck pocket full width you wouldn't know it was altered. I also cut the headstock down to a tele shape while I was at it. (You can get a lot of 4 string parts, like the bridge, from - they have pickups too but if you want good ones, go visit Almuse.)

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