Electric Mandolin / What to do?

Electric Mandolin

Nothing to do? Why not use another piece of the Juniper to build a Mandolin, make it electric, build your own pickup and maybe learn something…. Well, I learned a lot, but there is more to learn, apparently.

The Juniper mentioned above is the same piece of wood I used to build the electric guitar in my previous post. Western Juniper which was once a hat/coat rack. It also has holes and natural edges which I left untouched except for a lacquer finish. This wood, surprising to me was very effective on the guitar, so why not for the Mandolin.

After planning and laying it all out on paper I started out building the neck shaft from Walnut. The fingerboard I ordered pre-slotted along with tuners, fretwire, tone and volume controls, jack and jack plate. Once the neck was complete, I re-checked my layout and neck angle, then routed the neck, pickup and control cavities. For the sting keepers I used 1/8” Brass rod and a Rosewood plate attached to the top. To ground the strings I used conductive copper tape on the body, placed so the Brass pins would penetrate it and make contact via a ground wire which ran through the pin hole and was soldered to the tape. The Bridge is a flat piece of Rosewood with screws and wheel nuts from and old Archtop guitar bridge. The Saddle is hand carved from Rosewood.

The mystery seems to dwell in the magnetic pickup which I made myself for the first time. The actual making of the pickup was not difficult, however making it correctly while guessing at the number of turns when winding the wire, has been.

Once I had it put together and during the set up process I got a feel for how it played and sounded, (unplugged) and was very optimistic about how it would sound plugged. Sad to say it sounds great if you want to play on on the A strings. Otherwise, there is very little pickup of the other strings in comparison to how the A strings sound. There is no notable volume on the other strings. I realize my pole pieces aren’t exactly aligned under the pairs, however they are equally ‘off’, so why isn’t the D pair equally as ‘hot’?  I’ve read about a few things to try, like depressing the string at the nut or behind the bridge/saddle, the headstock is tilted and the break angle at the bridge is surely sufficient and no these were not the problem. In fact I am convinced the problem is the pickup, the magnetic field, plus the size and composition of the strings. When it’s played unplugged, it sounds perfectly as it should and all string volumes are equal.

At this point I am going to remove the pickup and check that my magnets are installed correctly. I am sure they are correct side to side but I may have the end poles set wrong. I plan to build another pickup with more coils and proper alignment. I also have some .012 strings to try for E’s, and Nickel wound G and A strings which I will try eventually as well. I will update here asap.

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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