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Thread: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

  1. #1
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    Default Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    I'm planning to make an octave mandolin for the first time. I have guitar, banjo and ukulele making experience, but most of that was a long time ago. I want to make a simple unadorned flat top instrument along the lines of the Flatiron octave. Finding plans for the Flatiron, or just it's bracing pattern would be great. Here are the other questions I have for this project.

    1. What is the shortest scale length that is practical?
    2. Does an instrument like this need to have a radiused back or soundboard? What are the arguments for a radius?
    3. I have made many folky simple instruments over the years with an oil/varnish (Watco like) finish over the years. They look natural and the feel of the finish is great, but of course it offers almost no protection from dings, scratches, moisture etc. Is this a fatal mistake to consider this kind of finish, one that is in the wood rather than a built up finish?
    4. Is a truss rod necessary? I have used a carbon fiber reinforcing bar for ukuleles.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    I have made folky, simple octaves. 20 inches is as short as I think an octave should be. The radius or dome to the top and back are very important. I use a flat top only with a pin bridge. I have given up on avoiding lacquer. A truss rod is required. I use X bracing.
    Last edited by MrMoe; Apr-22-2021 at 6:26am. Reason: spelling

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  5. #3
    Mandolin & Mandola maker
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    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    My octave mandolins are 21 and 22 inch scale length, and I would not go shorter than that. The G string gets progressively "thumpy" when fretted the shorter you go, and the shorter scale lengths need thicker strings. An induced radius is important because it makes it much less likely that the wood will split. As the humidity goes up the radius will increase, and as the humidity goes down the radius decreases. If there is no radius and the humidity decreases there is nowhere for the wood to shrink and it will split. There are many ways to finish a musical instrument, and a bit of searching here and on guitar forums will give you more information. With these scale lengths a truss rod is essential.

    My OM's are X braced with carbon fiber re-inforcement, and have a tailpiece and a floating bridge. The backs have 3 lateral braces. I am just about ready to varnish a new model with two points, 22 inch scale length. A lot of extra work, but I love the shape.
    Peter Coombe - mandolins, mandolas and guitars
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  7. #4
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    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Two of Graham McDonald's books, The Mandolin Project and The Bouzouki Book, are highly recommended. You'll know a whole bunch by the time you're finished reading.

    Corrado Giacomel seems to have found the holy grail with his octaves and bouzoukis: short scales with powerful volume and excellent tone. His work is worth a look.

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  9. #5
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    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Quote Originally Posted by MrMoe View Post
    I have made folky, simple octaves. 20 inches is as short as I think an octave should be. The radius or dome to the top and back are very important. I use a flat top only with a pin bridge. I have given up on avoiding lacquer. A truss rod is required. I use X bracing.
    Thanks MrMoe and it does appear that makers are unanimous about the need for a truss rod. Your photos of your octave mandolins are right in line with what I hope to make. I hope we get a chance to talk further.
    Last edited by Pat O'Loughlin; Apr-23-2021 at 11:46am.

  10. #6

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Seconding Graham McDonald's books. Not just "do this" instructions, but clear discussion of the reasoning. And a perfect balance of factual accuracy (i.e. no voodoo) and practical suggestions for production.
    You don't need to buy his "special jig for this", or any special equipment at all. Nor learn about a magical Excel spreadsheet like some other Australian builders who have written books might suggest you to do... nothing against them, it's just a little much for someone who just wants to build a nice instrument.

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  12. #7
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    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Thanks Marty, you and plenty of others attest to the value of Graham's books. Looks like I can get a hold of a PDF version right away, and that's what I'll do.

  13. #8

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Our local library brought Mr McDonalds books in for me through the Interlibrary Loan system of the American Library Association.

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  15. #9
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    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    I will also recomend Graham McDonalds books. I built my bouzouki (26") scale length from his bouzouki book. It is a carved top X braced.
    I am just finishing up 2 GOM's. They are at 22" scale length, and That is taking a bit of getting used to. It is at a length where using mandolin fingering is a stretch but necessary for a lot of tunes. 21 inch would probably be more comfortable, at least for me.
    I built these from plans from Tomy Hovington in Canada. It is also a carved top and it sounds like that is not what you are looking for.
    Thanks a lot
    Bob Schmidt

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  17. #10

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    I'm gearing up to build an octave mandolin from Don Kawalek plans. He sells kits as well, but I like to source my own woods. The plans come with the instructions that would normally go along with the kit, so there is lots of helpful information there. Link to his website here.

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  19. #11

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Graham's book is a great place to start. One of the fun and scary things about building octave mandolins is that the "rules" for building them haven't been set in stone. It's not like building an F5 or a Dreadnought, within reason, there's lot of freedom to do as you like. They have to be structurally sound, play well, and sound good. Beyond that you are pretty free to do as you like.

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  21. #12

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    The ones I have made are very much an abbreviation of traditional building. We did adhere to two rules as the design evolved. Mr Dulaks founding principle,
    No plywood , No frills.

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  23. #13

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    I enjoyed speeking with Pat O Loughin this weekend. He is an accomplished harp builder. I suspect Pat will have some things to teach me about octave mandolins very soon.

    Regards, Maurice
    Last edited by MrMoe; Apr-26-2021 at 7:25am.

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  25. #14
    Jo Dusepo, luthier Dusepo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    I am a luthier specialising in historical and world stringed instruments. You can see more info at my website.

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  27. #15

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    Seconding Graham McDonald's books. Not just "do this" instructions, but clear discussion of the reasoning. And a perfect balance of factual accuracy (i.e. no voodoo) and practical suggestions for production.
    You don't need to buy his "special jig for this", or any special equipment at all. Nor learn about a magical Excel spreadsheet like some other Australian builders who have written books might suggest you to do... nothing against them, it's just a little much for someone who just wants to build a nice instrument.
    I use a lot of special jigs. It is annoying to have to keep them all around. The ability to sit quietly with a few hand tools sounds very appealing. The bouzouki book is not available at the library. Ordering it soon.

  28. #16

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    This Builder talks about the disadvantages of a flat top. It is from the GBOM for Irish thread.

  29. #17

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Hi Pat,

    I built this Octave from plans I got from Don Kawalek https://donkawalek.com/. The instructions were clear and easy to follow. This instrument has sustain for days which I believe is partly the design and partly the woods I chose. Sitka spruce top, tiger maple back sides and neck, ebony fretboard. If you've made guitars and ukes, the process will be familiar to you.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    BTW. I did put in a truss rod and have used it for adjustments to compensate for weather changes. I used an appropriately sized Stew Mac rod.

    John Morrison
    Creemore Ontario
    Canada

  30. #18
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    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Here is a picture of the OM I mentioned in the 3rd post. Now finished and with the new owner. Is a good example of how nothing is set in stone with OM's, you can do whatever you like. Asymmetrical points and native Australian woods, King Billy Pine top and Tasmanian Blackwood back and sides, Queensland Walnut neck. 22inch scale length. Top and back have an induced radius of 15ft, and it does have a truss rod. X braced, with carbon fiber tow on the top of the braces. This is the first one I have made, but the sound is just stunning, way better that what I was expecting, so it won't be the last.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Peter Coombe - mandolins, mandolas and guitars
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  32. #19

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Here's from "The Irish Bouzouki" by Niall O' CallanŠin and Tommy Walsh from 1989 "currently unavailable" but used copies are out there. No full sized plans. A lot of history, musicians, chords, bios on players and music on a couple dozen tunes.
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  33. #20

    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    I am looking to find a neck for an OM that is 21" scale or less to put on the body of a bouzouki in place of the 26.5" scale neck. I do not have the tools or experience to do the work, but looking for someone who does or who can supply me with a neck either finished or rough. Somewhere in Indiana or a neighboring state would be best. Any ideas appreciated. Thanks.

  34. #21
    Mandolin tragic Graham McDonald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Think about a capo. Alternatively a new 21" scale instrument. Too many unknowns to just change a neck.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerchap2 View Post
    I am looking to find a neck for an OM that is 21" scale or less to put on the body of a bouzouki in place of the 26.5" scale neck. I do not have the tools or experience to do the work, but looking for someone who does or who can supply me with a neck either finished or rough. Somewhere in Indiana or a neighboring state would be best. Any ideas appreciated. Thanks.

  35. #22
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    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    Think about a capo. Alternatively a new 21" scale instrument. Too many unknowns to just change a neck.
    I was thinking exactly the same thing.
    Peter Coombe - mandolins, mandolas and guitars
    http://www.petercoombe.com

  36. #23
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Seeking Octave Mandolin Plans and Advice

    I’m looking for a mandola/tenor neck to attach to a big, nice looking bodhran, but that’s another story.

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