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.


The Minority Guitar

Umberto, the latest member of the Ham Jones Guitar Family is finally ready to go on the wall for your purchasing pleasure.  It’s been a while, ugh!, almost five months since I posted a story. There are several reasons for the delay, but mostly I just couldn’t do it without venting on the political situation and I needed to let those thoughts gel.   This new fella, Umberto is representative of those thoughts, and his struggle to make it through a difficult time.

The name is actually a form of the English ‘Humbert’ .. Bearer… . In this case Hispanic use.  I chose the name because of the reddish-brown hue, (Umber), of the Mahogany binding against the Rosewood.

I started this guitar in the fall of 2016 when there was hope for all immigrants in this country to prosper.  By the time he was nearly completed, there was fear that there would be no immigrants.  During the process of building I came across a flaw in the Rosewood on the back.  This was a minor item and one that is not uncommon working with natural material.  I mended the area as per usual and moved along.   Moving along is making progress, throwing in the towel and sending this guitar, which represents so much hard work, back to the woodpile would be making regress.  As with any project the finished product will reflect the amount of effort put into it.  Like the finish on a fine piece of wood.

My first attempt at fixing the flaw had failed, a fact I could not know until final buffing.  The result of my initial repair was that it showed in the finish due to bending the light, ie. the surface was smooth and glossy but at the proper angle looked scratched. So, Umberto, ready to play and be played, to live as it were and be free, yet this one minor difference was posing a problem.

Guitars, like humans are ‘no two exactly alike’, not even from the best or worst factories and certainly not from a scratch builder such as myself.  That’s a good thing.  It’s like the story of the Ugly Duckling, different does not mean less than.   This guitar, Umberto is no exception. I carefully sanded the area back to bare wood and repaired the spot once more.  If at first…. you know.   What has emerged is a representation of hard work and co-operation.  If I had simply said, “This one’s different, send him back”, there would be no Umberto the Guitar.  Finally, I’m sure you’ve heard Duane and Dicky playing dual guitars, or Mark O’Conner, Vassar Clements and others playing twin fiddles, imagine millions of Umbertos playing at once, all similar yet all different.

Happy Cinco de mayo!

See more at


Seven String

I recently read an article in Vintage Guitar magazine about a seven string Dreadnought project between C. F. Martin and Roger McGuinn.  It seems this idea came about because McGuinn’s 12 String was damaged in flight.  In an attempt to get that 12 string twangy sound the seventh string was paired to the G or 3rd, was 0.010″ or 0.012″ and tuned an octave higher.   What they came up with interested me to the point that I took one of my older guitars out of inventory and made  the necessary modifications.

The chosen one, is a guitar I built in 2012 that I call Woody.   This guitar has been worked on before actually, so it was an easy choice.  Three things had to happen to make this work.  I needed to drill an extra bridgepin hole just below and behind the one for the 3rd string.  The nut needs a seventh slot and the peghead needs another tuner.

Before I can drill for the new bridgepin it is necessary to check that the bridgeplate is wide enough to support this pin.  In my case it was. If it had not been I could’ve added to it.  After drilling the hole and fitting the bridge pin, (new just like the others), I slotted the nut for a .012 string about .080″ toward the 2nd string and 2 out of 3 done.  Eventually I added another nut slot on the bass side as well.  Placement of the string above or below the original string makes a difference in it’s presence.

The biggest part of this job was adding the tuner.  I plugged the existing tuner mounting holes on the treble side and drilled four new ones.  Having destroyed the finish on this headstock and also because it never had an HJ logo, I put in  the logo and refinished the headstock.

I am quite pleased with the finished product.  I have played it for a couple of weeks.  The difference is very noticeable and can be more or less so depending on how you play and what you play.  The one thing that really stands out to me is that when playing  an A, B, C, D chords etc. by barring the d, g, and b strings  it beats the hell out of a six string.  Follow this link Roger McGuinn Explains the Seven String Guitar to see more.

Ham Jones goes to Philly

Time to write about attending  the ‘Philly’ Guitar Show with my wife, who by the way is my biggest fan and #1 sales and marketing guru.  She has the experience plus the personality for it.  How lucky am I? Right?

I wasn’t sure we would get to this show, but wanted to have Scar (the new electric) finished, plus I hoped to have two more Acoustics as well. I had already started Scar in early August, about a week before the Show in Concord, NC . I worked solely on this guitar until August 29, when I started on two new Dreadnoughts.

I do most of my work upstairs in the bonus room, which is where I stayed for 6 to 7 hours per day, seven days a week for two and a half months. There were  many days when I really pushed it and was flat worn out. Then there were a couple of days about a week before the show when I was not the easiest person to be around, I’m sure. “Very sure, she told me so.”  I put a lot of pressure on myself to get all nine guitars ready including the new ones.  These new ones were a Rosewood with Maple trim and a Sapele with with Rosewood and Maple trim.   Somehow I managed to pull it off without spending too much time in the ‘doghouse’.  The new additions, ‘Rosie’ & ‘Bucky’ turned out very nice.  I thought we had them both sold but, love vs. money.  “Love the guitar but love my money more”.   These two beauties are still available and priced for the holidays.

The actual exhibition was on a Saturday and Sunday in PA. which took us near enough to my brother in law to pay a visit.   My wife’s brother has a co-worker who had been interested in one of my guitars for a few months.  We arrived there on Thursday afternoon and by evening we had sold the Red HJ electric.  Thanks to the buyer and thanks especially to officer Dan and crew.

We arrived at the Exhibition hall Friday afternoon to unload and set up our booth.  Great, we had anther good location, thanks to the folks at Bee 3 Vintage.  We were next to the entrance/exit so we got traffic entering and leaving. It has been interesting and fun attending these first two shows.  Aside from the travel I could do it more often.  Meeting potential buyers, especially the ones who are truly interested and know guitars.  The magic moment for me is seeing and hearing someone else truly enjoy playing one of my guitars.  The gentleman who purchased a guitar at the show was truly that.  He and two friends played several of my guitars and honed in on the acoustic I had named Black & Blue.  He would play, then ask a friend to play so he could hear it from the front.  Initially he left but assured us he would return.  Return he did and the playing continued until he was sold.  Again I say thank you.

In general it was a positive experience.  Still, it is a Vintage Guitar show and most of the traffic is there for just that.  There was another boutique builder next to us, Baleno Instruments.  A one man shop like myself, and I think Chuck sold a guitar as well.  Congrats.  One thing that the wife and I noticed was that of all the people who actually ‘shopped’ at our booth and Baleno’s, a very,very small percentage ‘shopped’ at both.  They either went to his or ours, not both.  Hmmmmm?

Next one is in Greenville, SC and we plan to be there as far as I know.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Building with figured Sapele

Finally, I have started building a Dreadnought with some figured Sapele that I’ve been anxious to use.  After re-sawing my back and side pieces they needed to be sanded to the correct thickness using a drum sander to about .120″, but ultimately I go by feel and type of wood at this point.  Getting the two halves of the back together was straight forward, however bending the sides was another first for me with wood this highly figured.  With the grain running wildly it would not bend uniformly and tried to crack or split.  Using both a bending iron and my bending machine I managed to get them bent successfully.  This was very tedious and time consuming as compared to a Rosewood set I just bent the day before.  Once the sides were bent and with the blocks and linings glued in it was time to concentrate on the back and top.  I make all of my own braces from Spruce stock and do not carve them until they are glued in place.  The back braces get a radius on the back to conform to the curve of the actual back of the body.  The top braces are flat on the back, hence a ‘Flat top’ Guitar.  Before gluing top braces the Rosette and Sound Hole must be routed.  With the braces all in, top and back glued onto the rim, and all binding installed and sanded flat I have the neck joint finished and it is time to get the neck done and mate the two together.

Locating the Bridge

“If you can’t locate the bridge you will never get across the river”.

Actually, the key is knowing where the bridge must be placed, hence you will know it’s location.  All guitars have what is called ‘scale length’.  This ‘length’ is the distance from the front of the nut to the top of the saddle,(saddle is mounted in the bridge hence the ‘bridge’ location sets the saddle location. The mid point of this scale, 12th fret, must be the exact distance from the saddle as it is from the nut.  Once the neck is permanently in place and the nut is installed, a simple tool, (saddlematic at Stewmac), to measure the distance from the nut to the 12th fret, then flipped 180 degrees to locate the bridge utilizing indicator pins for correct compensation for string deflection.  This is a very critical dimension and requires double-double checking before drilling bridge pin holes.  I will always lay this out and make light pencil marks at two corners of the bridge, then I repeat and check my marks.  If it looks a little different I’ll mark the other two corners then recheck ’til I am satisfied.  Now carefully clamp the bridge in place and drill 3/16″ through the top and the bridge at the ‘A’ and ‘B’ string holes.  When ready to glue place the bridge onto the location using short 3/16″ dowel pushed down flush with top of bridge, then clamp with bridge caul and bridge plate caul.  That’s it.  Once you remove the clamp, re-check the location of the saddle.  Remember that it is always an option to remove the bridge and start over if it moved.  Keep smiling and move on.


Fretting the Fretting Post

Well… it’s not that bad, however it does require patience.  Unless, your the “The Factory”, then you have a machine just cram all 22 frets, at once, into those 22 slots your other machine just sawed in about 6 seconds.  When I start a fret job it requires a certain frame of mind. Once altered, it’s easy to devote as much time as necessary to each slot and fret as necessary.  I have already slotted my fretboard but, I don’t expect each slot is just right. The depth needs to be checked and modified to fit the fret. If the slot is shallow at any spot then your fret will never lie down and will buzz.

I do mine old school with a brass hammer and a little Titebond as instructed by Dr. Dan B.  Once all the frets are hammered in, let it dry overnight before proceeding.   Next day I can file down the excess on the ends and begin the fret dressing process.  This one will teach patience.  Small file, fine grit paper, reading glasses, burs, and time.  There are way too many instructional pieces on this already so I’ll not add one.

Happy frettin’ , check my guitar site for a new axe.

Exhibiting at The Carolina Guitar Show

For the sake of any who may have actually read my previous two posts, I did say that this one would be about “Fretting” however, I’d like to talk about the recent Vintage guitar show I attended.

The Carolina Guitar Show was held August 27 & 28 in Cabarrus Arena near Charlotte, NC.   Attending an event like this as an Exhibitor was a first for me.  I did not expect to make any sells, this was about exposure.  I made a ton of contacts and also had a lot of interest from the public and very positive feedback.  The real interest there was for Vintage Guitars and there were hundreds, maybe thousands of guitars and most people coming in were looking for specific vintage models and not a new  guitar.  There were a few “exhibitors” who were there to purchase only for investment or resale in other markets.  Overall it was a positive experience for me as a builder and a guitar enthusiast.




My intention was to tell you all about neck making as it is the very step I’m at with the three guitars I am currently working on. It soon became clear that “Necking” was going cover more that one post, as it should.

The Neck of a guitar is the structural support for the fingerboard, strings, and tuners. It must be light weight, slim, and sufficiently strong. Most all necks are made from Mahogany or Maple. There are varied styles and different methods of construction with several different joint types where the neck meets the body. Most necks should have a truss rod to eliminate bowing, which will also vary in design and installation techniques. Lastly, the fingerboard usually Ebony, Rosewood, Maple, or other very hard wood. Beginning with the wood choice and construction type lets look at these components.

For my necks I use Sapele which is similar to Mahogany and commonly used in instrument construction such as 26 and 36 string harps and Ukulele necks. It has a reddish brown color with nice ribbons down the grain. There are a few basic styles of construction: one piece, two piece with a scarf joint and a single heel block, and multi-piece utilizing a stacked heel block. A one piece neck is cut from a single block of wood. Two-piece and multi-piece necks are cut from a 1×3 board where the multi-piece uses smaller pieces to “stack the heel” while the two-piece has a solid heel block. I use the multi-piece method. Using one board I make the scarf joint, and the heel blocks which are stacked in a specific manner, () , to create ‘one’ heel block. Either type of construction is acceptable and as with most any subject, the more you try to figure out which type is best, the more perplexing, so I say get on with the Necking which leads us to the Joint and I always enjoyed Necking along with a good Joint.

There are several types of neck joints but all are basically a mortise and tenon. Most common is the dovetail mortise and tenon, which is normally made using power tools, however I have seen video of a few talented craftsmen who create this joint by hand. I was humbled. I make mine with a router and jigs which once set up is accurate and reliable. Another type of joint is a rectangular mortise and tenon which can be glued or bolted on. Lastly a dovetail which is bolted on rather than glued. The real task with the union of neck to body is attaining the proper angle. Prior to gluing the neck to the body the headstock must be shaped and tuner mounting holes drilled. Ha! Drilled! Necking with a good joint and Drilled plus, Rods coming up.

Truss Rods are used in guitar necks to eliminate bowing caused by string tension, tension release in the wood or a combination of both. There are two basic types of truss rods, single action or standard and double action or “two way”. A standard rod can only remove ‘upbow’ in a neck where a two way rod can remove ‘back-bow’ as well. I use a standard rod on my acoustics and a two way rod on my electrics. Installation of either type requires routing a channel and creating access either at the headstock or sound hole. Once the rod is securely installed the neck is ready for the Fingerboard. So, on to more Necking and Fingering.

The Fingerboard or Fretboard if you prefer requires a very hard wood such as Rosewood, Maple or Ebony. There are other woods of course that meet the requirement it’s just these are the most popular. I have a nice piece of Persimmon that I am holding onto for the right guitar. Fingerboard blanks are made to 5/16” x 3” x 15” for the acoustic flat top. The finished dimension will be up to 1/16 less thick and tapered from 1 3/4” wide at the Nut to 2 1/8” wide at the Twelfth Fret. The Fingerboard also gets a radius on the top side, fret slots, frets and position markers. Once the components are together the neck still needs to carved.

Carving the neck shape is for me the last step before gluing the neck to the body. There are several profiles used in carving guitar necks which have letter names according to their shapes, as in D C U then Oval. I carve mine to a C shape. The tools used to carve the neck are: chisel, small hand planer, rasp, spoke shave, and various files. I begin by carving the heel, then the headstock transition, and finish by blending the rest of the neck. It also requires a lot of patience to get it right. Once done though it’s very rewarding and takes us to the final component of Necking, the Nut.

The Nut is one of the most important components of the guitar and Necking. The overall best material for the job is bone. (Necking , Bone , Nut, ha… .) Poor choice of material and / or improper nut construction will result in poor tone and can cause high action, fret buzz, or tuning and intonation problems. The nut is shaped to fit into a slot at the base of the fingerboard, curved to the fingerboard radius and slotted to size for each particular string.

With the Nut in place and the neck glued to the body it’s finally time to locate and install the Bridge which will be covered next post. So, always remember when Necking it is important have a good Joint, Easy Fingering, Shapely Headstock, Hard Bone and a well done Nut.


My First Guitar

This blog is intended to pass along my experiences related to guitar building, repair and setup.

I don’t know why but for as long as I can remember, wood has been my material of choice for most building projects. In school I would choose a project which required wood “ I had an edge!” As a hobbyist I built the standard projects; shelves, bookcases, etc. In my early twenties I worked in a close friends cabinet shop and learned to build and install cabinets. My interest in guitars began in my early teens when my brother received a Silvertone electric with integrated case/amp for Christmas. We banged out a few simple things for a couple years then let it collect dust. I bought a Yamaha FG 75 in 1972 I played pretty regularly and improved well. Around 1981 the Yamaha took a fall and broke it’s neck just below the nut and to about the second fret. I used a piece of dried white oak, fashioned a new headstock, chiseled and sanded two steps on the neck and matched them to the new headstock and glued it up! This repair was surprisingly good and I played on for close to twenty years. I did have another guitar, an Eterna by Yamaha, which I played with a band for a couple years but the old one was still my favorite because of it’s tone. I met a luthier around 2000 who explained to me how to reset the neck on the old Yamaha which had unmanageable high action. Amazing! The reset was correct and she was playable again. It has since passed to my son and had some more mods.. more about that at a later date. While playing at a wedding in ’02 or ’03 the brides uncle told me about a guitar building class sponsored by Martin Guitars and a couple years later I was enrolled and on my way to Peters Valley Craft School in Southwestern New Jersey. Still have the first guitar I made at the class and have since built 16 guitars, some of which are ‘Terz’ guitars that I build from my own plans. Every one of them has a story so that’s where I’ll start..

“My First Guitar”

This story has to start with the excellent instruction of Dr. Brown of Martin Guitars and Tom M. , Doc’s assistant. Doc Brown was at the time, running the store at Martin and teaching some of the classes. He had also been a custom builder at Martin and I believe worked on a Clapton signature guitar. There were seven of us attending, all starting out with the same D-18 style kits; Walnut back and sides, Spruce top, Mahogany neck, back-strip, and remaining parts and hardware to complete the build. We began to assemble our parts and learn the ins and outs of guitar building while the rain poured outside and the humidity climbed inside. When a learning curve is involved mistakes will be made, good thing is we all learned from, not only our own mistakes but those of others as well. The goal was for each of us to have the body and neck ready for assembly, not final fit and glued unless that was a personal goal. This worked well for those who wanted to finish on their own to see how it was done first. So at the end of class I headed home with a neck to fit/glue and a bridge to locate and install, a guitar to ‘finish’ and the assurance from Doc Brown that due to the humidity during the week of rain, most of the guitars built there would ‘implode’ if they ever fully dried out. I was successful in getting the guitar complete and must say it turned out well and has gotten pretty high praise from others who have played it.

One of the subjects during the class was ‘repair’. Doc was constantly reminding us as we progressed that taking things apart at some point was a given. He told an amazing story about a guitar taking a fall in their repair shop and literally shattering into large and very small pieces. Claim was, they put it back together, informed the customer as to what had happened, who was pleased with the repair-repair. Knowledge of this feat came in handy when in the early winter months a couple of years later, some painters in the building left windows open and the shared thermostat caused the temp to go over 80 degrees F for the entire day. Needless to say Doc was right. She was cracked down the glue joint on top from bridge to tail, cracked on top at each side of the fingerboard and sliding forward =1/64”, cracked down the back in two places. I searched the web for repair tips, properly reset the ‘slide’ at fretboard/ soundhole and re-enforced the bracing as well. The center line crack got a couple cleats on the inside and some feeble cosmetics on the out side. These repairs got me back to playing so I ignored the cracks in the back for probably two years before deciding to remove the back and repair it. First let me say if you are going to remove the back from the guitar plan on taking the neck off and do it first. Simple reverse order of assembly. I had not done this repair before and didn’t realize the obvious … that things moved. Once I did have the back repaired and re-glued I ended up doing a neck reset. Cosmetically it isn’t the best looking guitar but it is one of my favorites.