My First Mandolin

Having written about building my first guitar I thought it appropriate to write about building my first Mandolin.  Just as with the guitar, I began with a kit. This one purchased online and having the Spruce top and Maple back pre-carved, the top glued onto the rim/blocks, and the neck finished,(not attached) and all parts and hardware.

First step was to examine the package contents to be sure all parts were present and in good condition.  Check.  Next I read the instructions and went through the process mentally to get a picture of what was involved.  Now it was time to sand the parts and prep them for assembly.

Using 100 grit Mirka Gold and a firm sanding pad I start with the top then the back, both inside and out.  Once all the carving grooves are removed it’s time to start measuring the thickness.  I did quite a bit of online research and also referred to Roger Siminoff , “how to construct a bluegrass mandolin”, to find the proper thickness top and back.  When I’m within .020″ of final thickness I move on to 150 grit paper, then 220.  We’re not finished sanding yet so keep that dust mask on.  The bottom of the rim and blocks assembly, and the inside of the back flange must be sanded on a flat surface so the two mate well when glued together.  If you notice inside the top how there are gaps between the lining and the rim, this was pre-assembled and would certainly not be acceptable otherwise.  There was a lot of glue run-out as well in here which again, not acceptable.  I was taught by Dan Brown , (at Martin Guitars, see ‘My First Guitar’), that aesthetically the inside of an instrument is just as important as the outside.

When the inside of the top is finally sanded the tone bars have to be fitted and glued into place.

Before the back is glued to the top, in the case of this type mandolin kit, the neck must be glued to the neck block/rim and top.  More sanding is required first and I also inlayed my logo on the headplate.  Getting the neck fit with this design was fairly easy, at least compared to all the guitar necks I’ve done.  Once the neck and back are glued on, well you guessed. More sanding.

I was surprised how quickly this mandolin was assembled and ready for stain and lacquer.   Five days.  In reality a lot of the work was already done which would’ve taken another week at least.

Before applying stain and lacquer I installed all hardware, strings and bridge, tuned it up and played it a few days to make sure it didn’t explode!  Still in one piece, stripped down and sanded, my first Mandolin entered the spray booth.

I am very pleased with the outcome of this project and plan to use this experience on the next one which will be different, as in Ham Jones style.

Author: Rick

A life long woodworker, I've been building guitars for just over ten years. I build acoustic dreadnoughts, electrics, and the "Hambone", a Terz guitar. I am a North Carolina native and am currently located near Charlotte, NC.

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