Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Mandolin #1: Getting Started

Well, how to get started. I have no tools. Well, that's not true. I have a swiss army knife designed for computer geeks who want to think they're outdoorsmen. I can say that if I ever needed hunt down my own food in the wilderness, I'm pretty quick with those little scissors. Honestly, I've recently bought a house and have been undertaking some minor renovation myself and with the help of a knowledgeable friend. As a result, when I've come across a tool I needed for the mandolin project, I've been able to justify that it might also come in handy for the house. I mean, you never know when you're going to need to use a violin plane to smooth out a high spot in your wood deck. It's just good sense. Someone could trip and there could be a lawsuit. I'm practically a hero.

Actually, my main obstacle to beginning the process was my mind. I'd gotten this idea and had started in earnest to gather information. I had decided that I wanted to be as prepared as possible and that when presented with a challenge, I would thoroughly research the solution and use the correct tools rather than trying a quick fix with what I had handy (I had had a bad experience trying to take down an elk with some pocket knife scissors). As I mentioned earlier, Lynn Dudenbostel's mandolin building pictures were both inspirational and educational. I also bought Roger Siminoff's book "How to Build a Bluegrass Mandolin" and read it cover to cover. I scanned the builder discussion boards on the Mandolin Cafe site and discovered the Musical Instrument Maker's Forum (MIMF). But somehow, I could not bring myself to actually start. I had all the information, but after learning so much from people with decades of instrument building and repair experience, I still felt like I had no business even trying to build a mandolin.

However, still unconvinced, I was determined to keep moving forward, even if I hadn't even touched wood on the project yet. Hey, there's a goal! Well, it seemed that building from a kit was the best idea for a first timer. I had read good reviews about the materials included with the f-style mandolin kit from guitar supply company Stewart MacDonald so the next time I was feeling motivated, I ran to the computer and ordered the kit before I could talk myself into getting a job. I knew that if I spent the $425 for the kit, I'd be so wracked with guilt that I'd have to finish it to prove it wasn't a waste of money.

Well, the first half of my plan worked. I was wracked with guilt. I did manage to get some abs plastic and try to cut out some templates for the top and back contours based on the drawings from the Siminoff book. All that process determined was that 1/1000 of an inch was very small and that my middle school geometry 6" ruler was not going to help me. But still, I felt like I was close.

It was not until I learned about Don MacRostie's "How to Build a Carved-Top Mandolin" video to accompany the Stew Mac kit that I finally felt I would start this project. Of course, it took me 3 months to actually get the video (but you know my process enough by now to have guessed that) but once I got it, I actually created something the very next day. Well, it was sawdust, but it was a start.

Index of Project


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