Building An F5 Style Mandolin – Part 6 – Glueing Sides

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I described in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 how I prepared for my F5 mandolin build. Using the help of expert luthier Lies Muller who runs her Muziek & Ambacht workshop in Utrecht, the Netherlands, I will build my first instrument ever. I attend a workshop once a month under Lies’ supervision and using her tools as well.

Meanwhile some time has passed, and I’ve graduated the back and front to a rough finish, ready to be carved more precisely. I’ve done the most work on the support blocks and glueing the sides to the blocks. I’m still struggling with the main top block, because I messed up sawing the curl with a jigsaw.. I think I have to fill it out with some wood, and then cut it again when the back and top are glued in place; suggestions welcome.

The photos say it all:


the back (left) and the top (right) roughly in shape


the point is glued, struggling with the top block


back point is glued, nice fit


looks alright thusfar


and it fits in the jig! top curl is still too long


loosely covered by the rough top


still needs a lot of carving


back is also in need of carving


bought small arkasas stone

During my vacation, I visited the city of Mirecourt in the Vosges region of France, where several luthier families live and work. There is a luthier college and a municipal luthier museum. The town is littered with luthierian referrals.


one of the shops in town


municipal art


municipal art


municipal art


that’s the “je ne sais quoi”


it’s quite obvious, really


another shop in town


another shop in town


even Lydia and Pascal the bakers profit!


some bar in town. it’s shameless isn’t it? 🙂

At this time, I’ve done more work on the top and back. Check back for the next part in which I will be closing the sides, shaping the top and attacking that awful cricket bat like monster of what should eventually become a neck (as seen in part 4). I am investigating making my own trussrods, but still looking for the parts in DIY stores. Come back for more!

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Building An F5 Style Mandolin – Part 5 – Neck & Soundboards

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I described in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 how I prepared for my F5 mandolin build. Using the help of expert luthier Lies Muller who runs her Muziek & Ambacht workshop in Utrecht, the Netherlands, I will build my first instrument ever. I attend a workshop once a month under Lies’ supervision and using her tools as well.

Welcome back to the build! I’ve been away for a while again, and after bending the sides in part 4 it is time for the neck.

I made the neck out of a solid piece of flamed maple that wasn’t long enough. Solution was to cut a triangular piece off where the neck slopes into the peghead. This piece was reglued to the bottom of the neck to make it slope down, and add a piece of length too. After this, I added to seperate strips of maple to the left and right of the peghead to get the appropriate width clearance. Essentially, the neck now consists of 4 pieces of flamed maple glued together. It doesn’t matter, because I will be hiding everything under thin pieces of veneer. It looks quite stirdy and in it’s current shape reminds me of a cricket bat.


One cricket bat ready for final shaping


Can you spot the glue lines?

Of course the neck needs further shaping, and routing of the trussrod slot down the length of the fretboard. It’s about time to order the hardware I will need to complete the mandolin when finished. I decided to keep everything very basic; chrome hardware, no Waverly tuners, they cost a fortune! If I ever get the impulse I can always “upgrade” the hardware.

Oh yeah, meanwhile I bought a great acoustic guitar: a 2002 Gibson J100 Xtra. It sounds awesome, and it doesn’t come with all the fancies, but I like it that way. Maybe put some bone or rosewood bridge pins in it at some point, but it already sounds killer as it is; below some pictures of my Gibsons. My Les Paul is a 1969 Deluxe model in goldtop finish, with the laminated 2 piece body, mini humbuckers and “goof-hiders” around the pickups; temporarily fixed it up with Dunlup straplock system, but kept the original strap pins.


My Gibsons.

I have the back- and the front soundboards now all glued up. It took a lot of cutting the pieces flush so they would glue nicely; awesomely tight, and when held, you can already hear the sonic quality of the woods when tapped. Now busy planing the bottoms flat so I can cut out the rough shapes and start cutting the flamed maple back and spruce top.


Flamed maple back all glued up.


Well cured german spruce top all glued up.

Also glued the first small bit of side panel to one of the support blocks. Hope to report more progression on glueing the sides and other blocks together; which will consist of a lot of measuring, adjusting and test fitting prior to glueing; we’ll see.


Bottom tail fin is starting to look like something.


Looks like an F5, doesn’t it?

Enjoy the photos, and stay tuned for part 6 in which I hopefully will be showing (partially) cut soundboards and some neck and sides progression.

Building An F5 Style Mandolin – Part 4 – Bending Sides

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I described in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 how I prepared for my F5 mandolin build. Using the help of expert luthier Lies Muller who runs her Muziek & Ambacht workshop in Utrecht, the Netherlands, I will build my first instrument ever. I attend a workshop once a month under Lies’ supervision and using her tools as well.

Welcome back! I’ve been away from blogging for the holidays and then some, but: I made progress! As you may recall, the last project was making the outer jig, and I was busy planing the flamed maple strips to a thickness of 1,5 mm. During my last day at the workshop, I bent the side panels on a bending iron using some water. I didn’t use side bending straps, just my hands; be careful with the heat though.

Make sure your strips are of sufficient length to make the parts, always use more than you need. It’s easier to cut than to add! Move your parts from bending iron to jig, adjust so the parts “accept” their new shape. Don’t put too much water on it, and not too much strain. The wood will tell you what it can do. A bit of a toasted smell is good. Do little increments at a time, practise on a piece of scrapwood.

Here are some pictures of my progress: (blog continues below)


a planed maple strip, 4 cm high, 1,5 mm thick


1,5 mm thick


top part


detail top part


bottom right part


central bottom part


it all fits in the jig; notice the new holes in the tips of the fins


headstock template out of stirdy binder plastic.


bought and got some tools

At the moment I am preparing a big piece of flamed maple for the neck. Because it is too short, and too narrow, I have to add some scrap bits to the bottom, to form the tip of the headstock, and to the sides, to form the left and right bits of the headstock. The neck is clamped in, and not yet ready for it’s closeup..

I also worked on the violin. I got a little piece of ebony from a retired luthier, and I couldn’t really work on it, because I couldn’t get it snugly clamped in the workmate. But now I bought a cheap chinese steel vise, excellent for clamping smaller bits. I cut a nut from the piece, leaving plenty extra material for final shaping, because I don’t really know the proper dimensions, still looking for them.


the finished nut in place..


..with room to spare for final shaping

Stay tuned for part 5 in which I will be fitting the sides and support blocks, glueing them together, work on the neck and headstock, glueing and shaping the front and back soundboards!

Building An F5 Style Mandolin – Part 3 – Jig

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I described in Part 1 and Part 2 how I prepared for my F5 mandolin build. Using the help of expert luthier Lies Muller who runs her Muziek & Ambacht workshop in Utrecht, the Netherlands, I will build my first instrument ever. I attend a workshop once a month under Lies’ supervision and using her tools as well.

In the meanwhile, my brother in law Freek (the one who got me the workmate), took me to see his collegue Wout Bosma, who is a master luthier jazz guitar maker who designs and builds his unique range of hollowbody guitars. He showed me around his workshop, and let me see and play his guitars, including a unique asymmetrical design with awesome wood binding and huge brass / ebony tailpiece, a Les Paul black beauty which was just “in a closet” somewhere, his massive collection of tools, and a guitar case which once belonged to dutch singer Bennie Joling (Normaal); all quite amazing. Wout was really encouraging about me starting out with the mandolin, which was really cool, he said; “You’ll be hooked in a couple months”.. To top things of, he gave me a huge pile of beautiful veneer material ranging from black woods to almost white; I already donated some to my fellow classmates for their projects. If you’re starting building instruments, I encourage you to go meet other builders.


(Bennie Joling’s Guitar Case)


(Jazz guitars by Wout Bosma)


(Jazz guitars by Wout Bosma)


(asymmetrical jazz guitar by Wout Bosma)

Visit Wout Bosma’s website

Well, after I completed the inner support blocks for my mandolin within 1 mm tolerance to play with, I decided after visiting a bunch of websites and watching a lot of videos on the web, that I needed an outer jig to build the body. The first step now is to smoothen the flamed maple pieces that will form the sides, cutting them to length and bending them on a bending iron using water and heat to pursuade the wood in it’s curved shape. I am contemplating to make the point protectors (usually made of bone or ivoroid) out of indonesian ebony; we’ll see.

The building of the jig wasn’t easy. I thought it would be easy, so that was the hard part. I find that overcoming my impatience is the hardest thing of building, because I am used to press a button and make stuff happen at once; woodworking is a whole different ballgame. First I layered two pieces of multiplex and screwed them together to get the thickness of the body. Then I traced the contour of the body from the drawing, and traced that on the multiplex.

I then tried to saw out the shape using a jigsaw: mistake. In the corners I applied too much pressure to get through the bend, causing the sawblade to saw at an angle instead of straight through, cutting away too much. As this persisted, the sawblade heated up and burned the wood. Badness overall. So I got a bright idea to drill holes around the edge so they would be dead straight, and then saw and cut out the remains; this worked perfectly. I ruined a good piece of multiplex in my first attempt, but my second attempt worked fine. Behold the result! The cool part is that I can reuse the jig as many times I like! And I think it’s easier to form the outer body wall in a jig; as I had worked out from the videos.


(my classmates with the half done jig.. looks like a stamp!)


(the finished jig)


(the inner jig fits!)


(it is starting to look like something)

Stay tuned for part 4 in which I will be (hopefully) bending and fitting the sides.

Building An F5 Style Mandolin – Part 2 – Mahogany Blocks

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I described in Part 1 how I prepared for my F5 mandolin build. Using the help of expert luthier Lies Muller who runs her Muziek & Ambacht workshop in Utrecht, the Netherlands, I will build my first instrument ever. I attend a workshop once a month under Lies’ supervision and using her tools as well.

I already bought some tools myself; a 16mm Bahco chisel, and a 12-220 series Stanley block plane for most of the woodwork. I already had a Stanley dovetail saw, a hammer, and some wood clamps in various sizes. My brother in law surprised me with a free rusty Black & Decker Workmate, which has proved quite indispensable. My new block plane needed some sharpening, because it was quite dull out of the box; a bit of wetting did the trick.

Having sorted my tools out I cut an inner template to use as a jig to mold the sides (rims) around. Since the maple sides are to be glued to mahogany blocks, I started to cut the tail, neck joint and both “fin” blocks first. Because of the grain of the mahogany, which should be in the back-to-front direction, we glued 3 pieces of mahogany together to create one big, quartersawn piece to cut the neck joint block.

Below the neck joint block in the workmate, glue has dried and planing the top flush with my brand new block plane!

Below my jig and the roughly cut mahogany blocks. Note that I left enough spare material for final shaping. When clamping the neck joint block I used extra pieces of wood to avoid too much pressure on the glued surfaces.

Below the Stewart McDonald building plan with the roughly cut blocks in place where they will eventually wind up. Watching building videos and reading websites, I am contemplating building an outer jig as well; next time I will be finishing the mahogany blocks to their final shape, and I will start bending the sides (rims) out of flamed maple. The “fins” will be adorned with bone (?) or ivoroid “point protectors” which will in turn align and become an integral part with the binding.

So tune in next time for the next step in building my F5 style mandolin! I am already contemplating the headstock inlay, for now I’m thinking of the traditional “flowerpot” design.

Until the next episode!

Building An F5 Style Mandolin – Part 1 – Preparation

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I’ve been contemplating building a mandolin for quite some time now. I am currently restoring an old violin, on which I plan to fiddle, and I recently got an old mandolin as a gift which also needs some work done on it.

Being a big Gibson fan, I decided on building an F5 style Gibson mandolin, quite like a “real” distressed model:

http://www.gibson.com/en-us/Divisions/Gibson%20Original/Gibson%20Mandolins/Distressed%20F-5%20Master%20Model/

I ordered some “guitar parts megastore” catalogs online, which they were happy to send to the Netherlands free of charge; Stewart McDonald is one of the biggest. They offer thousands of instrument parts, woods, tools, and a bunch of stuff you don’t really need. You can buy instrument kits for various guitar models, mandolins, banjo etc. in which the parts are prerouted, sanded and almost ready for assembly.

A kit doesn’t sound like much fun, so I just ordered the building plans for the F5, which set me back $24 US including shipping; nice big envelope with huge technical drawing; all measurements in inches. I will be building this instrument from scratch: but not alone. I found an instrument builder who runs a workshop where people can build an instrument using her expertise and tools; I will start around september 2008.

Of course, the first step will be talking to my luthier-coach how to address this project, because I’ve never done anything like this before; I reckon the selection of wood will be one of the first steps; meanwhile I’m studying the drawing every once in a while. There are many websites on luthiers (instrument builders) and videos online.

I will make a series of videos on this building project which I will post on YouTube and on this blog; I will keep track of my expenses as the project progresses, so we can see how much it costs and what it takes to build an F5 style “Gibson” mandolin without any prior experience whatsoever.

Comments are welcome, keep posted for the parts to follow and the videos!

Happy Pickin’! -ThickShag.

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Project total:

1. Stewart McDonald F5 building plan – $24

Freshen Up Rusty Corroded Guitar Or Mandolin Strings Using Copper Polish

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I recently grabbed one of my mandolins which I had quickly put away after a show. The strings were all coarse; corroded / rusty by sweat.

It will always pay off to clean your strings after playing to remove as much moist you can, because human sweat contains acids and salts that make metals corrode easily.

There are products like “Fret Fast” which you can smear across the strings and wipe off, which will protect your strings longer, and make playing slighty lighter during a short period of time.

I used a dab of generic copper polish on a paper towel, and cleaned the rust off the strings. Keep buffing the strings until there is no more extra black residue left on the paper towel. When the strings no longer smudge your paper, you can lube em up with a “Fret Fast” like product. Result: shining strings, all smooth again and ringing true; it didn’t even get out of tune.

So save yourself a run to the music store, just clean your strings with copper polish!

Happy pickin’! – ThickShag

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Greg Clarke

Wow! The internet is fascinating. I was looking for plans or blueprints for an F5 style mandolin, because I’m planning on building one, and I found some videos on YouTube about a luthier (=instrument maker) John Sullivan who builds all sorts of string instruments, but gained particular fame with his mandolins. In this series of 3 videos, a man is playing John Sullivan’s instruments, and that man appeared to be Greg Clarke, bluegrass musician.

I started corresponding with Greg, and generously he sent me his cd “Solo”, with 15 old style bluegrass songs on fiddle, guitar, mandolin and fretless banjo. So hereby a blog on Greg Clarke; thank you so much for sending us your music, and thanks for your compliments; Greg finds our music “hard driving stuff”! How about that!

Greg Clarke’s website:
http://web.mac.com/gregclarke

Buy Greg Clarke’s music on CDBaby.com:
http://cdbaby.com/cd/gregclarke

Greg Clarke:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdSXIIVbM04

John Sullivan – The Making Of “OM” part 1:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKJjpE2infY

John Sullivan – The Making Of “OM” part 2:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=821i6Lffv34

John Sullivan – The Making Of “OM” part 3:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DH_GezkkAmo