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Thread: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

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    Default Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Earlier this year I came across an ad by Carlo Mazzaccara for a Neapolitan Mandolin making course. This has been a bit of a obsession of mine for a while now. I grabbed the opportunity, crossed the world and we had our first day in the workshop today. My intention in this posts is to create a record of the build process. I will spare the minutiae but of course answer any questions as I can. This will be a few posts as the time budget for the build is a month.

    Some quick background. Naples is the home to a long tradition of mandolin making. It is the home of the Calace factory, in fact we walked past it. It was also the home of the Vinnacia family. Neapolitans claim the modern mandolin as their own. Naples the city is busy, historic and fabulous. Follow my social media if you want more observations.

    Firstly the workshop. On the first floor on a street in the old city in Naples. A well laid out working area with a small bandsaw (by my standards) a sanding disc, and a central bench with several vices. The walls are crammed with timber, bowls, tools and the general stuff of lutherie. The workshop is above the showroom where an extensive collection of new and restored instruments and displayed and sold. There are several luthiers working there and I will post about them as it becomes relevant to the build.

    Like any mandolin the Neapolitan mandolin is built around a mould. In this case Carlo used CNC to describe the ideal shape. The first task is to shape the neck block to the ideal shape. The block itself is made of a local timber which is halfway between spruce and maple. I dont have a species name… yet… The neck block and extension are clamped to a bar that is the width of the neck which is screwed onto the mould. Shaping is done with a flat chisel and a selection of rasps. Great care is needed as this will determine a lot of the final placement of the ribs. The photos show the block after shaping on the mould. The block and mould are then ruled to creat visible zones and the quote Carlo “provide navigation places for the ribs”. Tomorrow we start making ribs
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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Subscribed :-)
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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    End of Day 3. There are now six ribs fitted to the mould.. The basic process is to bend the ribs to shape, then mark out the widths. The rib widths are determined by dividing a sector of the mould into equal sections and dividing by the number of ribs. This is done at three points along the mould. The end for the headblock was determined to be 1mm wide and the tail block ends are all pointed.

    Once the rib is bent the heights of the sectors are marked onto the rib and the rib shaped on a disc sander and a sanding board. The critical shape is that each rib has a perfectly straight edge. So the build process proceeds right side rib, left side rib. The left hand side of each right rib is straight so the only real flattening to do is the right hand side of the right hand rib. Visa versa for the left hand side ribs. This is half the work Im used to and made my day.

    The ribs are glued to the headblock first. Everything is done with hide glue. The contrasting spacer is included at this point. They are secured with tiny nails and work proceeds down the mould to the tail block. Once the rib is tight and secured hide glue is rubbed into the joint. Uncalendared paper is the stuck to the joint and the whole lot kissed by the hot iron to secure it.

    Ah yes, the hot iron. In a central spot in the workshop there is a gas fired brazier with space for four irons. On the top is a pot with boiling water wher the glue is kept to temperature. The irons are mild steel, 4-5mm thick, 30mm wide and 300mm long. They are bent like an egg flip and fitted with wooden handles. They are used to bend the ribs and adhere the paper fasteners in the various gluing operations. A truly wonderful system.

    Scorching is inevitable but will be removed when the finishing process starts. There will be a lot of scraping to come. The photos should be self explanatory. I should add that the workshop is a full service Luteria. There are instruments being made and restored as well as the banter that accompanies a busy workshop. Im loving it.

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Update time

    There are now 20 ribs on the mould. We have turned the corner to coin a phrase. The centre back of the bowl is relatively flat and the bowl then rises steeply. this transition occurs over four ribs each side. These ribs need to be twisted as they are fitted so the procedure is a bit different now. Size and fit the rib to the mould, glue and nail the rib in at the head block, secure the rib with pins and then glue the tail block end. The rib is then covered in glue with particular attention to squeezing the glue into the seams. Paper is then placed over the seam and the hot iron is used to coax the rib into the correct shape. When done properly the ribs end up perfectly aligned as a bend that would be impossible to execute properly off the mould “melts” into place. It is a very effective system.

    Each morning starts with cleaning up the previous days paper and burnt glue off the mould and then a thorough inspection for evenness of the ribs and proper shape of the bowl.

    Work has commenced on the soundboard as well. First the spruce boards (Val di Fiemme) are cut to the shape for future handling. The grooves for the cant are positioned and then cut by hand. They are 1/3rd of the depth of the soundboard. The two halves are then bent at the grooves using a hot iron tilted on its side. The angle of the cant is then checked against a brass template and when correct it is held by pieces of masking tape overnight. While this is resting the braces are cut and shaped to the final curve of the soundboard. This is continually checked against the template. The braces are marked for position and left for gluing.

    The procedure for gluing the two halves of the soundboard is poetry in motion. The edges of the two halves are flattened on an upturned plane in a vice. Then another fillet is taken off with the boards at a very slight angle. The boards are then lined up and the glue applied. They are positioned until the glue grabs and then glue and paper is applied and set with the hot iron. The soundboard is then set aside to dry.

    I hope the pictures convey what is happening. I do have videos but will have to get back home to start a channel.

    All of this is happening at La Bottega del Mandolino in the old part of Naples. This lutherie specialises in the traditional method of mandolin construction. The building is 17th century and there are remnants of the old Roman well in the building. Carlo is proving to be an excellent teacher and the others in the lutherie are good company.

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Hello. What is the purpose of the paper? I find it all the time inside the instruments.

    What material is the thin white line between the staves?
    Kentucky KM-805..........2 Hora M1086 Portuguese II(1 in car)
    Hora M1088 Mandola.....Hora M1087P Octave
    Richmond RMA-110-VS .Noname (German?) mandolin
    Pochette Franz Janisch...3 Pocket......Alfredo Privitera pocket
    Puglisi Pocket 1908........Puglisi 1912
    Mandolinetto Neapolitane 1910
    1 Mandriola...................Cannelo G. Mandriola...Böhm Waldzither 1921
    Johs Møller 1945............Fangel 1915................Luigi Embergher Studio 1933
    Marma Seashell back......Luigi Embergher 5bis 1909

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    There are two kinds of paper. The straw paper is used to hold joints together while the hide glue dries and shrinks. It is set in place with the hot iron. The second paper is used to line the bowl. I assume this is decorative. This lutherie seems to use old scores.

    In this case it is European Limewood but I believe it can be any light coloured wood, Maple, Sycamore etc. It is 0.8mm, veneer thickness.

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Cool stuff Sebastiaan, keep us updated!

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Thanks for sharing the experience! I look fwd to more posts.
    Jim

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Thanks a lot for this. It's really interesting and useful.

    Am I right in thinking the ribs are glued at the tail end to a piece of veneer and the tail block fitted afterwards?

    What was the process for bending spacers? (I've found bending ebony spacers a frustrating business.)

    Can you really get a good joint on the soundboard just by holding the halves together by hand? In the photo you only have a few spots along the seam papered, which suggests they are just to strengthen the join (which has already gelled) while it dries. Is that right?

    I'll stop before I think of more questions

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Quote Originally Posted by tom.gibson View Post
    Am I right in thinking the ribs are glued at the tail end to a piece of veneer and the tail block fitted afterwards?
    Yes, that is the way it is being done. I have seen Mandolins here both with and without a tail block.

    What was the process for bending spacers? (I've found bending ebony spacers a frustrating business.)
    So have I, these spacers are flexible enough to not need any treatment. I think most builders here use Rosewood instead of ebony. I will ask for you.

    Can you really get a good joint on the soundboard just by holding the halves together by hand? In the photo you only have a few spots along the seam papered, which suggests they are just to strengthen the join (which has already gelled) while it dries. Is that right?
    When the halves are well prepared the glue “bites”. This is the basis of the rubbed joint. I didn’t detail the entire process for preparing the joint but it is planed till perfect and candled to be sure. The strips are there to hold the joint till it dries. Hide glue shrinks as it dries so the papers and the joint will be tighter once dried. This is one big advantage over other glues with remain a similar mass as they set.

    I'll stop before I think of more questions
    All good, I can ask the experts.

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Quote Originally Posted by sebastiaan56 View Post
    So have I, these spacers are flexible enough to not need any treatment. I think most builders here use Rosewood instead of ebony. I will ask for you.
    The spacers are Pearwood that has been bleached. Carlo recommends dyed Pearwood to Ebony as it is much easier to work with. Ebony is historically accurate. My speculation is that we dont get the same quality any more probably because of the way it is milled. It almost certainly would have been split in the past whereas what we get now is milled and the grain can be chaotic as we all have experienced.

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Thank you, Sebastiaan, for this (literally) breath taking account. You are living my dream right now.

    You've enlightened me on something in the rib assembly process, that I've discovered (doh!) in 3-D modeling a bowlback rib/ stave construction (and laser cutting cardboard ribs to test fit...which is the furthest I've gotten).

    Yes, the 'outside' curve of a rib will need to map a slightly different curvature on the mold than the inside one.

    Above, you've described the fitting process of these ribs as such:

    "The centre back of the bowl is relatively flat and the bowl then rises steeply. this transition occurs over four ribs each side. These ribs need to be twisted as they are fitted so the procedure is a bit different now. Size and fit the rib to the mould, glue and nail the rib in at the head block, secure the rib with pins and then glue the tail block end. The rib is then covered in glue with particular attention to squeezing the glue into the seams. Paper is then placed over the seam and the hot iron is used to coax the rib into the correct shape. When done properly the ribs end up perfectly aligned as a bend that would be impossible to execute properly off the mould “melts” into place. "

    When you have a moment, could you elaborate on this a bit?

    Any further description of this process would be fascinating to me.

    Thanks!

    I look forward to the next phases of your project saga.

    Mick
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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Fascinating indeed.

    The use of paper to hold things together is novel to me, but not all that surprising, as I've been doing much the same thing with masking tape for years! It all comes off easily enough, but I tend to use a damp cloth and more or less scrub it off rather than scraping it off dry.

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    So you can really bend the pearwood spacer around the tightest part of the curve without using any heat at all? Even heat-bending ebony I've had to make kerf cuts on the back side with a jeweller's saw to get them to fit the curve without snapping.

    By the way, how thick were your ribs to start with to allow for filing, scraping etc?

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    "The centre back of the bowl is relatively flat and the bowl then rises steeply. this transition occurs over four ribs each side. These ribs need to be twisted as they are fitted so the procedure is a bit different now.

    When you have a moment, could you elaborate on this a bit?
    This part was a real revelation to me and I’ll try and get a photo of the bowl profile to demonstrate. The change in the curve is dramatic. The ribs are shaped as usual except the inside edge of the rib is relieved to help meet the required curve. So it is a different rib shape to the usual crescent. But it cant all be done with rib shaping as we would need a very wide rib piece to start with. So it is bent into shape on the mould. Ive read that lute makers do this on the bending iron. The process is the same except it is done when the rib is being adhered on the mould. The hot iron is used to quite literally push the rib into shape. We are using Rosewood which is a bit like putty when hot.

    The ribs start at 2.2mm thick. The spacers are 0.7mm veneer. Maple is used as well. Im not sure how we would go with our Aussie timbers on this process Tom. Maybe Myrtle or Sassafras but hard to imagine with Jarrah.
    Last edited by sebastiaan56; Nov-10-2022 at 2:25am.

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Progress photos.

    Firstly the mould keeps getting ribs on it. Ive included a photo of the current status, a ribbed mandolin back and another bowl style. The bowl style we are building is considered to be the pinnacle of Calace design. You will notice how sharp the curves are compared to the more rounded shape. (Stunning Rosewood BTW.) I have included a photo of the “moulding onto the mould” process. I hope that helps.

    The other process was bracing the soundboard. There are many ways to achieve this but this is the traditional one employed in the Calace factory. The process, rule up placement of the braces, cut inserts for fingerboard support into the main braces, Glue first brace, clamp and wedge for tightness, add fingerboard brace, glue top brace capturing the fingerboard brace, clamp and wedge, glue lower brace, clamp and wedge, add flat supports for the centre joint, glue and wedge, tape lower seam support with blocks. Glue is cleaned up as each brace is glued.

    Once again, I’ll post some videos when I get back to Oz. I also need to figure out how to rotate a bunch of these photos. Mi dispiache…

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    In 1896 the DeMeglio shop produced in excess of 1200 mandolins, and possibly considerably more, based on the labels and serial numbers.

    The build quality on the DeMeglios is quite good at such numbers.

    Sebastiaan's work puts that craftwork into a unique perspective.

    The Calace labels from this era have dates but no serial numbers so I don't know how to comp the production numbers.


    An amazing window back in time as well as a thoroughly enjoyable present.


    Mick
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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Exactly Mick, the processes and procedures used are all ex Calace. All of the luthiers are Calace trained with certificates to prove it. It is an interesting exercise to image the factory going at full pace. Carlo told me that the luthiers would work on stations with four moulds on a rotating stand and that when you had finished a set of L/R on each mould the beginning mould was dry and you would add the next set of ribs. I can only imagine the conditions in the middle of the summer here. Burners going everywhere, noise, smoke. It must have been quite something.

    Progress. All of the ribs are on the mould! The last two were sized by creating a paper template for each side. They were then cut out, shaped, fitted, glued and finally clamped. The lot will now sit till Monday when the cap strip and linings are added. There will also be a bit of scraping….

    A point to mention, when I said that the iron is uses to punch ribs into place a I need to add that they are all fitted perfectly first. The iron will move them but 0.25mm is a long way in this process. Precision is required to make this process work.

    The Soundboard was also completed. After the clamps come off the braces were trimmed. All are the same height under the “E” strings. The top to have a crescent curve and the bottom slopes away from the high point. There are no recurves at the edges of the top braces. The whole soundboard was then cleaned up and the edges of the braces rounded over.

    Finally a pic of the crew in the Luteria. Im have a blast.

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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Update time,

    After the two wide ribs have dried it is time for the big tail rib. The shape of the rib is defined by a template and it is a point of artistic expression and brand definition for makers. It is bent in the usual manner and clamping cauls are prepared. The shaped rib is given a final soak and then glued to the mould. In this case the rib was glued with Titebond so it wasn’t the traditional method but effective. The whole lot is clamped up and left to dry overnight.

    The next morning it was time for the big reveal. A major milestone of any bowlback build is when the bowl comes off the mould. It is then that the quality of the work can be properly seen. I have a video of this moment which I will add to a YouTube Channel when I get to Aust. (verifying whilst overseas is all a bit much for the system).

    The next steps are to clean up the inside of the bowl, line the bowl with decorative paper, add a tailblock, and then add the linings for the soundboard. Cleaning the inside is done with 100 grit paper. A layer of adhesive tape is kept on the outside of the bowl for security, it is fragile at this point. The practise of the Luteria is to use printed sheet music paper as the lining. First the linings are cut and darts added so that the linings for well. The bowl is then thoroughly covered in hide glue which is allowed to dry past tack but not fully hard. Another layer of glue is then added and the lining paper is put onto the inside of the bowl. This then becomes a case of ensuring the lining is well fitted by adding a bit more glue to the top of the paper and rubbing the whole lot by hand tightly into the bowl.

    The tailblock is made of spruce and is shaped to an exact fit. It is then glued and clamped to the bowl. Next the linings are bent, also spruce, and glued to the rim of the bowl. They are held in place with fence staples, 35mm long. The shape of the nails is adjusted as needed to get a good fit. They get hammered on. Finally a spacer gets added to the inside of the bowl at its widest point. This is to stops the shape changing as the assembly dries. The width at the cant is 210mm which is the modern standard. Everything now dries overnight.

    The photos should be self explanatory.

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    Last edited by sebastiaan56; Nov-15-2022 at 11:52am.

  29. The Following 5 Users Say Thank You to sebastiaan56 For This Useful Post:


  30. #20
    Likes quaint instruments poul hansen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    I like that paper, all mine are just drab brown paper.
    Kentucky KM-805..........2 Hora M1086 Portuguese II(1 in car)
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    Richmond RMA-110-VS .Noname (German?) mandolin
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    1 Mandriola...................Cannelo G. Mandriola...Böhm Waldzither 1921
    Johs Møller 1945............Fangel 1915................Luigi Embergher Studio 1933
    Marma Seashell back......Luigi Embergher 5bis 1909

  31. #21
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    +1 on the paper, a nice touch!

    Question: is the paper purely decorative, or is there a feeling that it adds strength as it dries and shrinks? BTW, an old one I recently took apart had a layer of gauze first, and then paper over the top, which makes me think there must have been a structural reason for putting something "invisible" in there.

  32. #22
    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    +1 on the paper, a nice touch!

    Question: is the paper purely decorative, or is there a feeling that it adds strength as it dries and shrinks? BTW, an old one I recently took apart had a layer of gauze first, and then paper over the top, which makes me think there must have been a structural reason for putting something "invisible" in there.
    John, thanks for weighing in with this question, as you recall it was the topic of conversation quite recently in another thread as to the role that these linings play in bowlback construction.

    I had assumed there was some type of 'slip sheet' between the mold and the ribs as they were glued up, but from Sebastiaan's photos apparently not.


    BTW I'm already thinking about when you and I might rendezvous in Napoli if Carlo decides to run another one of these workshops.

    Mick
    Ever tried, ever failed? No matter. Try again, fail again. Fail better.--Samuel Beckett
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  33. #23
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Gluing the linings with fence staples, gotta love it.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  34. #24
    Registered User sebastiaan56's Avatar
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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    +1 on the paper, a nice touch!

    Question: is the paper purely decorative, or is there a feeling that it adds strength as it dries and shrinks? BTW, an old one I recently took apart had a layer of gauze first, and then paper over the top, which makes me think there must have been a structural reason for putting something "invisible" in there.
    I think it was insurance. I think Ive seen reinforcement strips in photos of all sorts of stringed instruments. I expect thin strips of whatever reinforcing became necessary due to seasonal changes, material variability and rough handling. Yes as the glue / paper dries is shrinks and makes joints even tighter.

    Im sure you are aware of the acoustics arguments that go on over lining bowls.

  35. #25
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Neapolitan Mandolin Build in Naples - November 2022

    Paper adds strength. Even simple wooden bows (archery) are sometimes backed with plain brown paper which strengthens the back and prevents breaking of the bow (especially when back has some runout areas).
    Adrian

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