Lynn Dudenbostel

I've been involved with music, in one form or another, since I started playing clarinet in the second grade. During junior high, I discovered guitar and started taking lessons. My teacher was Charlie Hagaman, the gentleman that Jethro Burns credited with teaching him all the old jazz standards. Charlie played on the WNOX MidDay Merry-Go-Round here in Knoxville, and when he went into the Army, an unknown guitar player from Luttrell, named Chet Atkins, took his place. The gentleman who taught in the studio next to Charlie was Aytchie Burns, Jethro's brother. The music those guys could make was incredible, and the jokes were even better! But, during that time, my brother took up banjo, and my love of bluegrass began. I'd wait until he was away from the house, take his banjo and the music he brought home, and learn it before he did. Banjo always came easy for me. In the late '70's, with bluegrass becoming more and more popular, I discovered the live music scene in Knoxville.... Buddy's Bar-B-Que. Many great groups came thru there, but the house band was the Knoxville Grass, with Darryl Wolfe on mandolin. I got to know Darryl and my first exposure to mandolin was thru him and several other local pickers. Needless to say, hanging around Darryl, I got to see my fair share of Loars! That did it for me. Forget the banjo and guitar, mandolins became my obsession. Several of us would go on Saturday morningsto Westel, TN and visit luthier Gene Horner.

I always thought it would be great to be able to build these things and visiting Gene planted the seed. After marrying Amy in 1987, I found out she wanted a dulcimer. I thought, "here's my chance to start putting together a shop"! I built one for her, and now about 75 instruments later, here I am, a full-time luthier. I left my job with Lockheed-Martin about 6 years ago and have never looked back. It's a great job, although it rarely feels like work! Outside of building mandolins and guitars, I enjoy camping with the family (my wife Amy, the kids, Lauren (14), Andy (10), and Matthew (7)). I also enjoy photography having just given up a longtime film habit for digital technology. I was born in east Tennessee and have lived in the area all of my 45 years.


Q - I recently had the nut slots on my 1998 Triggs A-style re-filed due to persistent binding when using D'Addario J-75's (.0115, .016, .026, .041) and J-74's (.011, .015, .026, .040). Should the nut slots on a mandolin be cut "oversized" or exactly-matched to the intended string gauge?

A - I prefer them to be ever so slightly oversized. I know of no practical way to make them exact size anyway. Plus, I think if you could make them exact size, they would tend to bind. I think even if you are using J-74's, cutting the slots to accept J-75's is a good idea. I'm just talking a few 0.001" oversized... not much.


Q - A few questions on building: - in the weekend free-for-all luthiers thingie here I believe you mentioned that you sometimes use jigs or forms for pre-bending your plastic bindings. I am in the process of thinking about and designing some of my own and would appreciate and tips or tricks you may have on the subject.

A - I route the binding channel in my peghead veneer using CNC, then heat and bend the binding, quickly inserting it in the channel to cool. Once it's set, I make the final cuts, trimming it to fit just right, then glue it in. But as far as special fixtures for bending the binding, it must have been someone else. I do a lot of freehand pre-bending for the scroll area and such. I use a small heat gun (used for shrinking tubing in electronics work) to heat my binding, but you really have to be careful not to set it on fire! Binding is dangerous stuff when it gets hot!


Q - The points on an F-5 - There seem to multiple ways (gasp! Who'd a thunk it?) for setting and shaping the points. Some glue them in and then cut for binding. Some cut the binding ledge then fit the points, etc. Will you please describe your process for setting and shaping these and any tricks for gluing the points to the body that doesn't leave any discolouration line when using bone.

A - I put the points on the rim before gluing on either the top or back plates and shape them at that time, then level them with the rest of the rim. Once the top and back are glued on, I route for the binding, right over the points, and glue it in as usual. I often "butter" the ends of the binding where they contact the points or where two pieces come together with a bit of binding material melted in acetone. That helps make the joints invisble. I use ivoroid for the points, not bone.


Q - Cutting the double dovetail - I know that this is something that just need lots of practice and patience but I'd like to know the sequence of steps that you go through in the creation of the neck-side male part of the joint. For example, Mark at top and bottom, trace side lines, rough cut (which cut first?)

In particular when you get down to that last little bit of fitting do you trim from the face or do you trim from the dovetail for setting it lower and lower?

A - I don't use the compound dovetail like Gibson. I use a straight dovetail as described by John Monteleone in an old issue of Frets magazine. I really like the way it goes together and it eliminates alot of the layout issues you describe. I use compound dovetails on my guitar necks, but have dedicated fixtures to cut those using a router and table saw. With the mandolin, there is the issue of having the end of the neck curved where it contacts the body. This pretty much eliminates the possibility of using a router bit to cut the male portion of the dovetail. When fitting the dovetail, I always cut the neck portion a bit oversized and shave it down to fit with chisels. If you go too far, you can always glue shims on the dovetail and start over. Pretty common on old guitars. I like the straight dovetail as I think it provides a bit more "meat" in this area. And after building with it a while, I'm convinced of it's strength. Is it any better than a compound dovetail? Probably not if they are both well executed. But, I think it's definitely easier to master.


Q - Lynn, I've heard you say that you like to watch and listen to a customer play before you finalize plans for that person's instrument. What features on your mandolins do you alter based on a player's specific playing characteristics? For instance, how did you build Mike Stangeland's mando to accomodate his playing style? And I'm using the word "style" loosely here!

A - The main reason I observe style is so I can set the neck angle properly to allow a proper bridge height and still give the player the action they want.I could see at some point where I might try to influence someones choice of wood or graduations based on their style, but that hasn't happened so far.


Q - I was wondering if you could talk a bit about radiused fingerboards? The advantages, what radius sanding blocks are used and why, are there compound radius fingerboards ( I heard there were), changes in playability, how do you match the bridge and nut to fit, etc.

A - You can proably find far more than I can tell you about this subject in the archives of Comando and the Mandolin Cafe discussion board. I use anywhere from a 7" to a 12" radius, depending on the customer's preference. I use the same radius for the entire length.... no compound radii. This is an area where I absolutely go with their preference. There is no way I can tell which radius will suit an individual best... no more than I can tell them what pair of shoes would feel best. Some find the radius very comfortable, some have terrible hand pain from it, some can't really tell the difference. It's a very individual thing. I match the radius of the bridge to that of the fingerboard (you can use the same sanding block on the bridge top as you do the fingerboard) and fitting the nut is exactly the same as it is for a flat board. If you get the proper clearance for each pair of strings above the 1st fret, they will follow the contour of the board properly.


Q - A few years ago you were involved in a few experimental cast tailpiece designs. What ever became of the project?

A - Good question.... I wish their were an answer to it! It's still running in the background. I hope it gets going someday.


Q - I hear rumors there is a Virzi Dude here in the Bay area, I look forward to seeing it soon!

A - Yes, red spruce with a Virzi and one piece back. I suspect it will surface at one of the west coast gatherings.


Q - Do you use an oil or spirit varnish for your finishes? If so, would you share what product you use and how do you apply it?

A - It's an oil varnish. At one time, I sprayed it, but now brush it on. I also use a spirit top coat (French polish), much like the early 20's Gibsons.


Q - Do you have a journal or notebook or something in which you keep track of the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of each instrument you've made? For example, if you've made a mandolin for customer A and customer M wants one "just like the one you made for customer A," how do you replicate (in as much as possible) whatever voodoo you did when building customer A's mando?

A - Yes, I do keep a notebook, but I find the farther along I progress in my career, the fewer notes I keep. But I do keep enough to jog my memory as to what I did with each instrument.


Q - I know you're less flexible on F models than on A models, so this question applies to A models: you've got a fairly standard construction paradigm on the A model, but what if some customer comes up and wants X-bracing and tone bars and a Virzi and oversized F-holes, along with a D-45 inlay over the face of the mandolin. Where do you draw the line between what the customer thinks he/she wants and your acoustic and construction aesthetics? Where do you say "you've got to be kidding!" (even if the customer's willing pay through the nose for these "modifications"?

A - It's just kind of a decision made on a case by case basis. If it is not something I'm interested in doing, or clashes with my sense of aesthetics, I simply won't do it. I have to stop and think "this instrument is going to have my name on it.....would I be happy having my name assosciated with this set of specifications/details?". If not... I don't take the order.


Q - What modifications have you made to make the Dudenbostel A-model uniquely Dudenbostelish?

A - I'm not really sure. I can tell you it is not a copy of the original Loar A-5, so, maybe that makes it unique? Sound wise, I want it to sound like my F-5's, aesthetically, I want a pleasing body shape and delicatness the instrument. There are quite a few A style body shapes I don't particularly care for. It's unique, just like everyone elses!


Q - At what point did you decide to quit your other full time job and dedicate yourself to building instruments?

A - Well, it was rapidly approaching a time where I was going to have to make a decision to stay with the 9 to 5 or strike out on my own. Fortunately, I was caught in one of the corporate downsizing reductions (I think the buzz-word today is "right-sizing") and the decisions was made for me. They complicated things a bit by offering me another position, but my wife was very supportive of the new venture and our minds were made up. I turned down the offer and have never regreted it. I do miss the nice, affordable insurance!


Q - What was that decision like for you?

A - It was a real shock at first, having spent 16 years with the company. However, I found after being in business for myself for a short time, I started feeling somewhat irresponsible towards my family, because all of a sudden, I was in a position where I really enjoyed my career. It didn't seem like work!


Q - What kind of work did you do prior to going full time as a luthier?

A - I was a division safety officer with Lockheed-Martin.


Q - How much woodworking experience did you have prior to working on your first instrument - repair or building?

A - I built about 4 dulcimers before tackling my first guitar, then about 17 guitars before starting out on my first mandolin, and F-5. I had built several small woodworking projects like end tables and such, and built several radio controlled airplane kits. But actually had very little woodworking experience and no repair experience. I never took shop class in high school!


Q - Do you coat the inside of your mandos in any way, like others (like Gibson) are coating them?

A - I wasn't aware Gibson was using any kind of coating in them? I don't use anything inside of mine.


Q - Do you use cyanoacrylate anywhere on your instruments?

A - I use it to hold more complex inlay patterns in place while I apply the filler, and I use the white CA when putting binding joints together. Usually the peghead and fingerboard binding is applied with CA. I don't use it in any structural areas.


Q - Did you start your luthier career with repair work?

A - No, I just jumped in headfirst into building. The repair work came later. I still think of myself as a builder first, and a repairman second.


Q - How many instruments did you build prior to building your first mando?

A - 4 duclimers, 17 guitars.


Q - What made you decide to try and build your first mando?

A - Mandolins are the reason I started building in the first place. I find the F-5 to be the single most beautiful instrumet in the world! (To me, anyway.) I thought I'd build a guitar and then jump into the mandolin world, but something suprising happened after building that first guitar.... I started getting orders! So, had it not been for that, I would have probably turned out a mandolin or two a few years earlier.


Q - What kind of tools, hand or power, did you start with on your first build project?

A - A bandsaw, lots of handtools (planes, chisels, good sharpening equipment), a drill press, and a small belt sander. It doesn't take as much as you might think.


Q - Do you try and maintain a particular humidity and temperature range in your shop?

A - I have a separate heat pump for my shop (from the rest of the house). I stay right around 70 degrees and about 35% RH.


Q - How has being a full time luthier changed your life? Is it hard to put the work down and go home? What is family life like now?

A - Well, things have changed quite a bit. As a result of the health insurance issue, my wife (bless her heart) has gone back to work, so I take a much more active roll in caring for our three children on a day to day basis. I take them to school each morning, pick them up most days, take them to the Dr. when they are sick, etc. I feel very fortunate to be able to spend as much time with them as I do, and to be a part of their lives all day long, and not just in the evenings as when I had a 9 to 5 job. I takes a toll on my shop time during the day, but the kids are the most important thing in our lives and they take #1 priority. Shop time can be made up in the evenings and on the weekends... time with your kids can't. As Mike S. says, "Life Is Good"!


Q - You were first recognized for your guitars, now it seems that you focus more on mandolins than guitars. I am curious - roughly what percentage of your remaining orders are guitars versus mandolins.

A - I would estimate the remaining backlog is about 50/50, or pretty close. I really enjoy building guitars and plan to continue building them too.


Q - Do you start and finish a set of guitars before beginning a set of mandolins? Any plans for a mandola?

A - Usually it either guitars or mandolins on the bench and not a mix of the two. I find unlike some other builders, I work best in small batches. I have a "batch" of 5 mandolins going right now and it seems like parts of them have been in my shop forever! I'll probably stick to no more than 2 mandolins at a time in the future. Maybe 3 or 4 guitars, or possibly 3 or 4 A-5's at a time.


Q - I recall that you built a Gibson L-00 copy for someone. As the owner of a 30's L-00, I do worry that this is the only guitar I have that sounds "right" for old-time music and that replacing it would now be nearly impossible. So I keep wondering if you were able to produce that same magical sound in the L-00 you made? Would you ever make another?

A - Well, I may be biased, but I think the guitar you are refering to was one of the "prettiest" sounding guitars I've built. I really like small bodies guitars, and the L-00 is one of my favorites. The one I built was koa/englemann which I think is a particularly great combination.


Q - Where do you keep the humidity in your shop? I find this issue is huge especially with new instruments being shipped around the country.

A - About 35%RH


Q - With a new mando what do find is an approximate break in time on an instrument that is being played daily or is that too dependent on the particular instrument?

A - It depends on many things, the instrument itself, the species of wood used, the player, the finish, etc. It's just not something you can generalize about.


Q - What do you think about bracing an instrument (guitar) a little bit on the heavy side so it will survive in the long run?

A - I find a "properly" braced guitar, if carefully built, should hold up for a long time, at least long enough to pass it down a couple of generations. A lot of the survivability of an instrument (again, provided it is well built) depends on the care it recieves. I don't mean it should be left in the case under the bed, but reasonable care goes a long way toward longevity. Bracing it heavier typically leaves something lacking in the tone/volume department, and time and playing may never overcome that obstacle. History has shown that some factory built instruments were more "robustly" constructed as time passed to reduce the amount of warranty work needed. In todays market, those more heavily built instruments certainly aren't the ones being re-issued as "vintage series" offerings! There were some fine sounding instruments built during those times (specifically guitars), but there certainly isn't the interest in them as in their more lightly constructed counterparts. Again, I emphasize reasonable care.


Q - I have thoroughly enjoyed reading (several times) the photo essay of the construction process of Chris Thile and Gary Hedricks' mandolins. You did not use any CNC equipment during the construction of those mandolins, but you mentioned in an earlier answer that you now use it for headstock inlay and I have also seen another website ( that shows pictures of you cutting tops and backs using a CNC router. How has the switch to CNC affected your overall work flow?

A - Initially, it has slowed down production. There is quite a learning curve. Now, it is begining to prove it's benefit. Will it ever double my production? No. If I see a 20% increase, I'll be happy. All of the painstaking hand work is still there.


Q - Is there any discernable difference to you in the quality of the finished product, or do you see it simply a faster way to achieve the same end? (Any thoughts on the meaning of "handmade" in the era of CNC are welcome).

A - No, none whatsoever. I don't think anyone could tell the difference between one made by the "old" method vs. use of CNC. You must let your tooling serve your design, and not vice-versa. When you start altering design to accomodate your production methods is when artifacts of the process start showing up in your final product. In my case (as well as a good portion of the rest of the mandolin building world), I used a duplicating carver with a stylus that followed a pattern I carved. With the CNC, I have a digitizing probe that collect X,Y,&Z points from a pattern that I carved also, then the CNC cuts the blanks to a rough state. Any difference between the way I once did it and now? Not much, both achieve the same result from patterns I carved myself, only with CNC, I don't have to sit there and hang onto a router for hours at a stretch, and if I want to continue to do this for years, I must isolate myself from the high freq. vibration of the router. I was starting to see some bad effects in my hands from that. I still leave anough wood on the plates to do final graduations by hand, and believe me, there's plenty of wood there to get the "feel" of the characteristics of each individual piece. Some tasks like cutting my peghead veneers are tremendous time savers. It frees me up to spend more time on the tasks that really count! As far as "handmade" is concerned, I think the use of power tools are a given in today's world, and the CNC is yet another power tool. Looking at the photos of the construction process that I put together, I think you'll see the incredible amount of hand work that goes into one of these. With the CNC, there really is no less hand work. Not for me anyway. When you start eliminating most of the hand work and turn out a lot of finished parts on CNC that only need final sanding, then I think you start encroaching on the "handmade" label.


Q - On an unrelated note, what's happened to your web site? I've found plenty of links to it, but have never been able to get it to come up. With a closed waiting list, is it not worth the expense of maintaining a site as a marketing tool?

A - Exactly. Plus, my e-mail address and phone number were on the site and it just gave folks a way to contact me. Even though the site said I wasn't accepting orders, I still had to deal with a lot of coorespondence on inquiries. E-mail can eat up a lot of time that I should be spending in the shop. I hadn't updated the site in about 3 years, so it was time to let it go.


Q - How many mandos and/or guitars would you make in a typical year? What is your ratio now of mandos to guitars? Does it take more time to make a mandolin or a guitar?

A - About 10 or 12 instruments a year. Last year, I built nothing but mandolins, this year will be a mix. An F-5 takes a bit more time than a D-45 style guitar, and A-5's are less than that of a D-45, but more time than a D-28. It just all depends on the instrument.


Q - I am a guitar player who now plays mandolin. When I adjust my action on a guitar, I do so from measuring the distance between the bottom of my strings and the 12th fret. I usually go 5/64" high E up to 7/64" low E.

Can I lower the action on my mandolin using a method like this? What distances do you recommend and where are they measured?

A - Of course, the same method works with mandolins. Measure at the 12th fret (the space above the fret and below the string) just like a guitar. A good starting point is 3/64ths for the E strings and 4/64ths for the G's. That's fairly low. I've set them up lower and considerably higher, depending on the individual.


Q - Lynn, do you ever see yourself experimenting with the design of the mando ala Pete Langdell or John Monteleone?

A - Possibly, but not in the near future. It would have to be a design that just comes to me.... I don't think I could sit down and start a project like that with the idea of designing something new and different. One of these days, I'll wake up with the idea for something new in my head, and it'll be time to start cutting wood into that shape.


Q - I just ordered a few of the dual-action truss rods you spoke so highly of during the Mandolin Builder's Super Summit a few weeks ago. When you install yours, do deep do you set them? Do you set them flush with the top of the slot, so they bear upwards directly against the underside of the fingerboard, or do you bury them deep enough to put a thin filler strip of something on top of them?

A - I set them about 3/32" inch deeper than the fingerboard/neck glue joint, then fill in with a maple strip above them. I glue the strip in and plane/sand it down before carving the neck.


Q - What that you learned building guitars helped the most while building mandolins? What helped the least?

A - Good question. I'd say the most important thing I learned from guitar building would be working to close tolerances. That's not unique to guitar building, but I learned that early along. Also, taking time to think thru the process before you actually start putting a blade to the wood. Build it in your head first, then start with the materials. Getting the sequence of steps right makes a big difference and is a tremendous help for me. The least useful thing I learned from guitar building as applied to mandolins? Gluing bridges on!


Q - I understand that you undertook an exhaustive study (around 2 years) of the Loar F5 mandolin before you built your first one. What are some of the details that were the most difficult to uncover?

A - When I started studying Loars, the Hacklinger guage wasn't available, so determining top/back thicknesses was the most difficult aspect to uncover. The rest of it is there to see, touch, and feel and is just a matter of careful observation. I think I had a pretty good grasp of the later since I have a pretty extensive background in photography. Looking thru the ground glass of a view camera, at an image that is upside down and backwards really hones your visual skills. Being able to see a finished part in a block of wood involves a lot of pre-visualization, something Ansel Adams stressed in his books. Quite a bit of what I learned there can be applied in what I do today.


Q - We all love Jim Nikora's "Honey" Dudenbostel A style - is there anything else unusual like that you would like to try if you had the time?

A - I would love to do more of this type instrument, with various inlays/appointment. I see the A-5 as a venue for stepping out a bit, where I view the F-5 as a much more traditional design that I don't want to mess with too much. But, I do have a blonde F-5 in the works right now that may make a good sister to Jim's mandolin, but it is going to another home. I'll try to post photos when it's complete.


Q - Would you please share as much of the story of Dude #5 as you can. Why did you build an engelmann mandolin in the first place? What was your thought process while working with engelmann instead of red spruce? How long did you have it before Chris Thile discovered it? How long did Chris play it before his new one was done?

A - I built #5 as a result of a cancelled order. The mandolin that was on order was a red spruce F-5. I felt like I should try an Englemann instrument, and having no orders for any on the books, I thought this would be a good time to work one in. So, I approached it from the viewpoint of making the top/back graduations the same as a red spruce top. I knew the common practice was to make them a bit thicker, but I felt like my tops were sufficiently thick, and I needed some place to start, and this seemed like a good place. I think the results were successful. I completed it about 1:00 on a Sat. morning before heading out to IBMA a few hours later. I took it with me, and when I ran into Chris, he asked if I had anything new with me. So, we met up in my room about an hour later, and he sat and played it for about an hour. A few months later, I saw him at MerleFest and he wanted to see it again. We went backstage, found a vacant dressing room, and he fell in love with it. I had been playing it quite a bit since IBMA. Well, there were some empty cases in the dressing room, and after about 30 mintues, folks started coming in to put their instruments away... Mike Marshall, Todd Philips, David Grier, etc (The Psychograss boys). Well, Mike and Chris sat and played for about 45 minutes, Todd and I had a great visit (he's built a few mandolins too) and I'll say, it's an evening I'll never forget. Chris wanted to order a mandolin, but asked if he could play #5 on stage the next day, and I suggested he just take it with him. After the show on Sunday, I offered to let him keep it until I got his built. Didn't take him long to accept my offer! He played it for about 1 1/2 years before I completed #14 for him, then recently, he purchased #5 and now has both instruments.


Q - How many Loars do you think you have examined?

A - If you are talking about measuring and really going over them, probably a dozen or so. Ones I have played, worked on, or just visually examined, probably 60 to 75.


Q - Do you think that every instrument has it's own particular voice and in order to bring the most out of the instrument, should be tuned accordingly? For example, a particular singer may find that the the "standard" key for a song is either too low or too high for him/her. And the general rule in these situations is that "the singer picks the key" more-or-less (i.e. within a half-step one way or the other, .... doing it in C rather than the preferred Db as a comprosie with the instrumentalists in the band). Given this mandolin=vocalist analogy, should every mandolin be tuned G-D-A-E, or are there some instruments which deserve to be tuned elsewhere in register (F-C-G-D or A-E-B-F# as examples) to exploit the strengths of that particular instrument. (e.g. I have a 30's National steel mando which sounds just OK tuned at G, but tuned down to Eb or E, it sounds "great".)

A - I stick to a very traditional body shape/size and feel when it is properly executed, works best in standard tuning. Also, I think being a one man shop, I have ultimate control over all aspects of building, and the opportunity for a "rogue" is very slim. I do believe there are instruments that work best in other than standard tunings, but I've not built any that I think fit in that category.


Q - I was ondering if you could please comment on your experiece with different nut materials, and how you do a final bridge setup on your instruments.

A - I prefer ivory for the nut. The pearl we are getting today isn't the greatest quality I've seen (thick stuff is getting harder to come by) and it tends to be a little chippy on the edges, especially with the flatwound strings. I find almost no difference in tonal qualities, and will opt for ivory or bone if the choice is left to me.


Q - I remember Tony Williamson made the statement that bridge placement was important to the millimeter, and I was wondering how you know when it hits that spot :)

A - Absolutely, I measure to get the placement close, then check intonation at the 12th fret with a tuner to get it right on the money.


Q - I've noticed that some f5 bridges have a continuous foot, while others have a gap underneath in the middle. What's your preference, and what effect does the presence or lack of a gap have on the sound?

A - I've never fooled with the continuous foot, so I can't really say what the difference might be. As you might have figured, I'm pretty traditional. Since the old ones had two feet, I tend to go with the same.


Q - How much does your playing influence you building? What kind of music do you listen to? What instrument do your kids play?

A - I hope my playing doesn't show in my building! I'd have to lower the prices of my instruments. Seriously, I doubt my playing influences my building much at all. It probably influences the style of instrument I build, but not much beyond that.

I listen to a lot of traditional bluegrass. More from current bands like the McCoury's, NBB, and such. The Little Grasscals CD is one of my all time favorites. Traditional tunes done right! I also listen to a lot of Tim O'Brien, Thile, David Grier, and Alison Krauss. To paraphrase Louis Armstrong, there are two kinds of music.... I listen to the good kind!

My 7 year old son is learning guitar and our daughter is playing trumpet in the band. Our 10 year old boy will probably start playing in the band (he says' trumpet) next school year.


Q - What tone do you look for in your A model?

A - I want my A's to sound just like my F's. If I can close my eyes and not tell which one is being played, then I've succeeded. As for specifics of tone, it depends on the woods used in construction.


Q - What other mandolin tone do you like beside F5?

A - I'm really an F-5/A-5 kind of guy, although there are F-4's and oval hole A's that sounds great, as a rule, they just don't grab my ear like the F hole instruments. I think there are such a variety of tonal textures that can be coaxed out of F style instruments by use of various woods, graduations, Virzi's, etc., that I'll spend a lifetime and never explore them all. As a luthier, I really do believe one has to narrow their scope and concentrate on one area.


Q - Recently, I spent several hours down at the Gibson Showcase talking to one of the guys about one of my favorite topics, mandolins (imagine that!). I asked if he had ever played one of yours, which he had, and not being as fortunate as many of these guys on this list to have played one of yours, I asked him what it was like. One thing he said in particular caught my attention. He said he thought that the size of the instrument was different than older Loars. I asked for clarification and maybe put some words in his mouth, but he said he had the impression that the volume (in the sense of cubic inches or cc’s) of the body was larger. He used the words describing the body like “thicker and deeper”. Now, I got the idea that he did not have time to take a caliper to it when he got to play it, but that was his impression (maybe it was just the sound!).

I thought I’ve read where you pretty much stay with standard Loar dimensions and graduations. Are your bodies deeper, do they contain more volume? Please understand that I am not a Loar expert by ANY stretch.

A - I've extensively studied the Loar era/fern era F-5's and have taken my dimension directly from those and the instruments I build are quite dimensionally accurate. The internal volume of the body and size of the F holes are critical to the production of the proper resonant frequency for the instrument and I take great pains to strive for consistency in this area. The Loar era instruments are quite consitent in dimension with the exception of the arching, which tended to get a bit lower thru the production run. Gibson mandolins built after the early '30's tend to vary in dimension, both physical size and internal volume (even in recent years) and perhaps the frame of reference this individual was using to judge size was based on one of the smaller variants.


Q - One answer that has already been given during this current series was about watching a customer play so that you can determine neck angle and/or other considerations.

For you, for guitar and/or mandolin, of what points or details do a typical fact-finding conversation with a customer consist? Is there a fairly standard checklist to the conversation?

A - Most of the discussion centers around the physical appointments of the instrument, as most customers can tell you the sound they want, or at least point you towards a recording and say "that's what I want it to sound like". I have a one page form that I use to make notes on. It's nothing elaborate, just a place to keep the specs. Actually, I find that it is not a good idea to spend a tremendous amount of time nailing down all of the specifications when you first take an order, expecially when it may be a few years before the instrument will actually be built. The reason for this is that the specs for any given order are a "moving target" and will probably be changed more than once before the instrument is built. This happens about 70% of the time. I've learned that it's best to tell the customer to keep a list of specs they want for their instrument, and unless it's something that will require me to go out and find special materials, just to keep them until I'm about ready to start building. This can save hours on the phone... time best spent working on my backlog!