So I want to build an A-style mandolin

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So I want to build an A-style mandolin

Postby Mark Wybierala » Tue Jan 09, 2018 4:06 pm

I want to build a replica - as accurate as I can, for a pre-1930s Gibson A-style mandolin. I've never done this before but I think I'm up to the challenge. I'm looking for full size plans and any recommended reading. I've found plans at Elderly Instruments and I'll probably buy them - anybody have any comments on these plans or other sources that might be better or add more insight? I want to get the plans, do a lot of reading and have a good think before I start collecting materials.
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Re: So I want to build an A-style mandolin

Postby Bob Gramann » Tue Jan 09, 2018 5:14 pm

I built one a few years ago from the StewMac plan. I was very satisfied with the plan and with the resulting mandolin. I did substitute a bolt on neck joint (I built the oval hole version).

A 1913 Gibson A5 inspired me—it was the best sounding mandolin I had ever played and I wanted one. The one I built from the plans (the first time I had ever carved a top and back) came out just as I had hoped.
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Re: So I want to build an A-style mandolin

Postby Arnt Rian » Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:55 am

There is a lot of variation between the A-style mandolins in the period you mention, many different appointments in the various years, colors, woods used etc., but also in geometry and construction. Generally the early and 'teens ones tend to be thicker, the early '20's Loar era instruments are lighter, and their tone varies accordingly. If you want to build an exact replica, you have to pick a specific instrument to copy, which can be difficult unless you have it on your bench.

Another approach would be to get a good book, such at the The Mandolin Project by Graham McDonald, and follow the instructions to build a carved, arch top A-style mandolin. It won't be an exact copy of a specific Gibson, but it will give you lots of good info about one way of building one (actually the building of 4 different types of mandolins are described in the book). Siminoff's "bluegrass mandolin" book is another good one, beware of some of the methods described, they are a bit awkward.

The Stewmac plan is nice, if you want to build an A-5 (with the elevated fretboard, long neck, f-holes etc), Siminoff also has a nice set of drawing for an A-5. GAL sells a plan for a hybrid of two Gibson mandolins, an F-3 and an F-5, drawn by James Condino. Elderly used to sell a plan for an oval hole junior A-style shortneck mandolin, I don't think they have it anymore, but its pretty good (short neck, non-elevated fretboard, oval hole etc).

There are more F-style plans available, such as the wonderful set by Adrian Minarovic, and a common strategy is to use these, minus the points and scroll etc, for an A-model of your own design. The archings, graduations etc are pretty much the same. Make sure you also head over to Mandolin Cafe, lots of good info in the 'builders and repair' section.
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Re: So I want to build an A-style mandolin

Postby Mark Swanson » Wed Jan 10, 2018 9:23 am

I can't add too much to that!
    Mark Swanson, guitarist, MIMForum Staff
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