Instruments Hurry towards Completion

P1090541

With one week left of my program, I’m making all haste to get both the guitar and mandolin finished. Boy! I cannot wait to play-in (put some pick scratches) these instruments. I’m afraid that I’ll be hauling the freshly lacquered guitar around too much; on the other hand, I believe the spirit varnish of the mandolin should be just fine.

This week went by in a flash as the mando got the neck glued in, fingerboard installed, side markers cut and installed, bridge fit and tailpiece mounting holes drilled, and a bone nut fit. I’m very tempted to string it up in the white, but I’m not certain there would be any benefit in more voicing work at this point, and I don’t want to delay the varnishing any longer than necessary,

It is amazing, the amount of fine detail work that goes into a well-made instrument. Just when you think you’re out of the woods, BAM, you start sanding out the scratches, going finer and finer. Then, all the imperfections rear their ugly heads. So you do the best you can, and sand, scrape, sand, inspect, sand, and so on.

Meanwhile, I’ve been making practice boards to dial in my sunburst colors and spirit varnish technique. It actually makes a nice way to break the monotany of sanding all of the nooks and crannies of the F5. So far, I’m pretty pleased with the results of a combination of orange dewaxed shellac as a sealer and glaze; with Tru oil as a topcoat.

P1090536

P1090531

first step of routing for inlay; white tempera paint, pencil outline, then rout with dremel tool.

first step of routing for inlay; white tempera paint, pencil outline, then rout with dremel tool.

Next, flood with tinted super glue, and get that inlay in there!

Next, flood with tinted super glue, and get that inlay in there!

F5 Mandolin Binding, Wowzers.

P1090516

P1090517

Awesome stuff has been happening in the C. Miller lutherie shack lately, with the Arches F5 kit approaching completion. While we have completed the Finishing and Repairs classes, I’ve been burning the midnight oil working nights and weekends getting the mandolin kit further along.

For those unfamiliar with the F5 mandolin, it is a design that came into being in 1922, being a new iteration of Gibson Florentine mandolin designed by the virtuosic musician and sound engineer Lloyd Loar and Guy Hart, another Gibson designer. Taking cues from violin construction, Loar sought to create the ultimate mandolin at a time when the great surge of mandolin popularity was waning. While not a huge success when they were new, they have been coveted, envied, and oft copied ever since. Lately, I’ve been loving playing fiddle tunes on the mandolin, and have been craving a fine instrument to play. Not having the funds to purchase a handmade mandolin, I decided to put my fledgling capabilities to the test by assembling a kit.

The Arches kit is pretty impressive. With CNC’d top, back, and neck, it presented a reasonable amount of assembly tasks. One of the great features is that the scroll binding channels are already routed. This is a huge timesaver. I am so impressed with the beautiful design of the F5. Exquisite from every angle. I feel like I cheated by having so much completed for me, but I’ll surely build from scratch from here on out.

For those of you considering building a mandolin, you must know that F5 present a couple of special difficulties in building. Most frequently mentioned is that F5s are an absolute beast to bind. While the scroll is beautiful, it presents a 3-D puzzle to get bound. Each piece of celluloid binding (there is 17 pieces) must be heated and bent to shape, then carefully mitered and shortened to fit. There is plenty of trial and error envolved, but I think this attempt turned out pretty well. I will say that I was greatly assisted in this by a timely article on F5 binding in the quarterly journal of the Guild of American Lutherie, authored by an Oregon Luthier named Andrew Mowry. You should check out his gorgeous work at:

http://www.mowrystrings.com

I’ve just finished installing the binding, next will be to fill any gaps with a slurry of celluloid and acetone. Celluloid, while flammable, is a wonderful material to work with. I think I enjoy the smell of camphor and acetone a little too much for my own good.

To top it all off, I went wild and ordered a Bill James tailpiece with “The Miller” engraved into it. I was able to drive over to Bill’s shop in Maple Plain and watch the CNC do the engraving. I’m not ashamed to say that it is the coolest thing ever, and clearly the nicest mandolin tailpiece out there.

Next up will be to scape the binding down to level, clean up the body to ready for final sanding, glue in the neck, inlay the headstock with the lovely pearl flowerpot, install the fingerboard, tailpiece, endpin, fit the bridge and tuners, dress the frets, and string it up for final voicing before it gets a sunburst!

P1090518

P1090519

P1090522

P1090524

One of the space before mitering a piece of celluloid binding

One of the space before mitering a piece of celluloid binding

P1090467

P1090498

P1090520

P1090521

P1090499P1090499