Mandolin - small archtop guitar or completely different?

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Brian Evans
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Location: Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia

Mandolin - small archtop guitar or completely different?

Post by Brian Evans »

A friend of mine wants to get a good but cheap mandolin (we are looking at used). I can't find her one within Covid driving distance to even try, and the ones on line near here seem to think that a 10 year old laminated far east instrument has somehow doubled in price from when it was new. So I'm bored a bit, looking for a quick project to keep busy with this winter, got lots of wood, why not make one? I make fully carved archtop guitars. An A-style mandolin is kinda like a a small, round archtop guitar, I figure - carved, graduated top and back plates, tone-bar braces, could probably do a dovetail neck joint, otherwise similar. I have one to copy (1930's Kay with a pressed top, mind you). How different are they, really, in terms of skill-set and technique?

Brian

Darrel Friesen
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Re: Mandolin - small archtop guitar or completely different?

Post by Darrel Friesen »

If you've already built archtops, it should present no problems. An F style would have a few more areas requiring attention as you likely know with getting the scroll and particularly the binding right. Sounds like you're planning more of an A style. I've also seen some archtop shapes done which look very cool to me. I've not done a mandolin but did make an archtop ukulele some years back. Way less carving than a full size archtop so much quicker to build for me.

Dave Meyrick
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Re: Mandolin - small archtop guitar or completely different?

Post by Dave Meyrick »

Are you aware of Graham McDonald's work: The Mandolin Project?

Good description of his build technique. Once you start reading about mandolins you find there is no standardised way of doing them. I have it on the list to try a flat backed version.

Good Luck Dave M

Dave Meyrick
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Re: Mandolin - small archtop guitar or completely different?

Post by Dave Meyrick »

Nigel Forster has some pretty pictures of his style of building on his website. DM

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Barry Daniels
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Re: Mandolin - small archtop guitar or completely different?

Post by Barry Daniels »

Building a flattop/flatback instrument first might give you a better understanding of how this size of a mandolin works before you commit to the fully carved one. A flat one is so much quicker to build.
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Rick Milliken
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Re: Mandolin - small archtop guitar or completely different?

Post by Rick Milliken »

Agree that if you’ve done an archtop guitar, the mandolin is easier, A style at least. I got a set of roger siminoff plans. Making the forms and templates were almost as much work as the plates. I had trouble with the neck joint but some of that’s of my own doing.

Ken Nagy
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Re: Mandolin - small archtop guitar or completely different?

Post by Ken Nagy »

Isn't a mandolin about the same size as a violin? The pitch is the same. So it seems that a mandolin would take half as much time as an arch top. Where time and fussiness might come in is if you start making it fancy. It seems like people really like fancy mandolins. If you make arch tops, a mandolin should be easy enough. Coming from violins, doing the bindings on my arch top with hand tools was the most challenging thing. And I broke the head off trying to pound a tuner that was too tight off! So if you are used to tuners and binding, it's just a different size. They sound like they must be very stiff too, but maybe I'm wrong, they just sound tight to me. I've never really seen one, or played one one, or heard one up close. I never really saw, played, or heard an arch top until I built one either, but I wouldn't really recommend that. Since you have something to go off of, and not just a plan you drew up, you should have no problems.

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Barry Daniels
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Re: Mandolin - small archtop guitar or completely different?

Post by Barry Daniels »

Keep in mind that having 8 strings makes a difference.
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Ken Nagy
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Re: Mandolin - small archtop guitar or completely different?

Post by Ken Nagy »

I looked up mandolin strings, and now I see that they are metal, and have 4 times the string tension as violins. About 180 pounds. Almost double the tension on my nylon strung arch top. I found a nice article here:
https://www.mandolincafe.com/news/publi ... 1640.shtml

I'm designing an arch top to use the NickelBronze light strings I have; at 135 pounds or so, they were just a bit too much for the arch top I made; I built it pretty light. They can work, but I thought I saw the everything moving just a bit too much. I noticed that they have much heavier strings on the inside, just the opposite of what the article came up for with mandolins. Is that set designed using the Parabolic tension scale that they mentioned? No one talks much about strings. I guess on guitars they are so cheap people just try different sets. You'd go broke on violins!

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