Trad with a twist. Here is a recently finished little open back tenor for a customer in America.
Taking inspiration from a number of little open-back banjos from the 1920s I have been lucky enough to have in my possession over the years. This is a new take on a classic.
I have always found something quite charming about the 17 fret banjos of the 20s and 30s, but there is no doubt that for a gigging musician the stability of tuning is a real issue. Adding a more substantial pot, dual coordinator rods and a two way trussrod to the three part neck has brought this right up to date.
17 frets to the body on a 20.75" scale it a comfortable little banjo to play. A soft V shape neck rather than the modern C allows for more meat on the neck while feeling more slender in the hand. With a nice sharp volute to add some crisp lines to the neck.
I really enjoyed using purpleheart wood, very strong and super stable adding a cheeky touch of colour to the banjo. But I have to confess, it has made the rosewood stripe on my own banjo look rather boring in comparison.
It was a real treat to work on this mandolin with the customer. Whilst being a little bigger than my standard mandolin, it’s a full inch wider than most common shapes
Using my favourite Swiss moon spruce soundboard for mandolin for that crisp sweet tone. Paired with this stunning set of Cocobolo from the lads at Timberline kindly sourced by the customer.
Its great to still be able to find small sets like this cocobolo as they are becoming quite rare. Whilst its can be a challenge to work with, I think you’ll agree its worth it.
Part of the Dalbergia genus, Cocobolo is now on the CITES list so its only fair and responsible to source it from reputable suppliers.
It seemed rude with such lovely woods to use anything less than a nice flame maple neck. In three parts for extra stability and that vintage look.
The neck itself is slight wider to suit the body shape and players preference. But it is on a standard 357mm scale length, so no difficulty stretching for those notes up the dusty end. All my mandolins are custom made, and so its no problem to tweak about dimensions to suit anyone’s needs.
Initially I was unsure about buying a mandolin without trying it first but my fears proved to be groundless with Cas producing an outstanding mandolin in both looks and sound… He also offered advice on aspects of the design where I was uncertain. I was pleased to help source the Cocobolo for the mandolin. Apart from its looks, Cocobolo produces a strong sound as volume was what I was looking for.
A little glimpse at my newest Irish Bouzouki! Built to a similar size of the classic bouzouki luthiers like Foley and Abnett. This lovely piece of Acer Campestre from Conway tonewoods just seemed to me that it wanted to be a bouzouki.
With a surprisingly sweet taptone and outrageous figuring for a native species hardwood. The fast attack you get from Acer family really lends itself to the hard rhythm Irish bouzouki style.
With a nod to the man himself, Stefan Sobell, I have enjoyed this slightly more challenging rosette. All handcut and so there are no off the peg jigs to let you makes rosettes like this easily. But for me that makes it all the more satisfying.
More CBOM family instruments coming this way soon!
Two guitar bouzoukis fresh off the bench. The Venetian cutaway is really handy for guitar bouzoukis, open tunings being what they are the use of a capo is inevitable and this lets you get right up the neck for those awkward keys!
These bouzoukis have some lovely examples of some great native species tonewoods. As environmental concerns come more into the spotlight, I think we have all started to look a little closer to home. And these are a lovely example that there are beautiful woods on our doorstep. Lacewood back and side on one paired with Swiss moon spruce on the first. And Yew paired with a nice warm cedar top on the second.
K&K pure mini pickups installed in both, these give a beautifully clear and articulate tone while being perfectly unobtrusive.
During the build process this little guitar gained the nickname Wee Hog. With full mahogany back, sides and neck.
I worked closely with the customer to get all the vintage elements he loves in the instrument. From the light contrast celluloid binding to the Gibsonesque headstock and a nod to vintage Vegas with the simple star engraving.
Great fun to work on and great fun to play, are tenor guitars making a comeback? hopefully.
Continuing a run of larger mandolin family instruments with my largest yet! This Long-scale Cittern was built for a customer in Scotland wanting to tune down to D.
With another fine paring of European Walnut and Swiss moon spruce.
Had great fun playing with another mosaic rosette on the Cittern. Walnut has some of the best figuring of the native species. And it seemed a shame not to make the most of the gnarly grain patterns on the back and bring some to the face of the Cittern.
We came to a compromise on the 24.5″ scale, long enough to keep some tension on the bottom D but also short enough for some nimble tune playing.
An interesting build as always, and great to work with a customer who has played so many fine Citterns. Really helps getting to grips with the project when the customer has a clear idea of where they want to go with it.
Its been a long time since I have made a classic Irish Bouzouki, and this I really enjoyed.
Built for a fantastic player and all-round nice guy on the Irish music scene in Bristol. He allowed me a few indulgences, like this rosette. An opportunity to use some of the gnarly grain of this walnut should not be missed.
There are lengthy debates on the best choice of tonewoods for Irish Bouzoukis. From my perspective, in the grand scheme of things, these are still relatively young instruments. So tonal structure is something still to be explored.
I went through the options with the customer and we landed up with: Swiss moon spruce top, European walnut back and sides and Rocklite fingerboard and bridge combo.
Rocklite is a fascinating material to work with and well worth looking into for your next build.
Here is the Ebano type rocklite on this 25.5″ Irish Bouzouki scale. It can be used as a direct replacement for ebony, and from my perspective at least is the future of environmentally responsible choices for tonewood.
European walnut produces a lovely warm yet crisp tone for this Irish bouzouki. And has some of the best figuring of native hardwood species.
Design features are an important consideration, I like to add a volute. This helps add strength to a notorious weak spot of most steel string instruments.
Some Irish Bouzouki players like to use sliding capos for fast key changes, and in that instant you may prefer to opt for a rear cap on the headstock instead.
However as newer designs like Thalia capos come along they can save the neck a lot of pain from all that scraping/sliding.
This Irish Bouzouki produces a lovely sparkling tone with plenty of grunt at the bottom end. More CBOMS to come soon!
This was quite an interesting build for me, a multi-scale 10 string mandolin. Tuned from a bottom C through standard mandolin up to top E. The longer scale on the bass side allows for extra tension on the C string. Extra tension eliminates some of the sloppy tenancies of using thicker strings to tune down to C.
Proving to be a head scratcher to start with, but eventually coming round to it. The 12th fret/ body join is the only fret which could be considered truly straight to a standard fingerboard.
Slightly larger than a standard mandolin, with this body you get the extra depth to really use those lower tones. Remarkably the multi-scale doesn’t take much getting used to, once played for 5 minutes your hand rapidly become accustom to it.
As always with these larger instruments I make hand-cut solid brass tailpieces. Anchoring the strings to the tailblock this way really helps get the full tonal potential out of your instrument.
I really like an excuse to use these dot markers. Tahitian black pearl set into sterling silver, on this ebony fingerboard, really stand out. Little touches make all the difference to an instrument when it all comes together.
This banjo was built with a three part maple/wenge/maple neck. It gives it a lot of stability but also some really nice clean cut lines. This birdseye maple is, and was, notoriously difficult to carve. But the results in the end were well worth it.