I will try to keep this reasonably up to date, but it will depend on how
much work (and news) I have at the time.
23rd June 2017
Curently working on a Red Spruce/Tiger Myrtle A5. Have not made one with Myrtle for a while so will be interesting how it turns out. Should find out very soon. Finished a new oval hole mandolin a few weeks ago that is quite remarkable. It is a complete redesign of the oval hole mandolin, some Gibson, lots of Lyon and Healy a bit of Gilchrist, and a few of my own ideas all rolled into one. It has a smaller body, which raises the main air mode of the body around 1/2 semitone, so the sound is more even across the strings, so no boomy G string. The top and back are carved thinner than my standard model and the bridge is also a bit lower than normal. Neck angle is 4deg instead of 4.5deg. The Red Spruce was chosen to give it more dynamic range, and the back and sides are Birdseye Maple, same as what was used in many of the vintage Lyon and Healy mandolins. The sound is really open and clear, and capable of going extremely loud if you dig deep. Clarity in mids and treble are the best I have ever heard in an oval hole mandolin. What I really like about it is it sounds beautiful if played very softly, but dig deep and it really pushes out some serious volume without any tone distortion. I love playing it, it is such a pleasure to play. So far only two other people have played it and both have been astounded. I might be onto something here. There is less decoration and a simple case, so price will be around $3300 which hopefully will make it very tempting.
We will be travelling north up to Brisbane along the coast road on the 11th July to attend the Sound Builders exhibition, organised by our good friends Dale and Doug. Have never been to northern NSW, so should be an interesting trip with the caravan. More information about the exhibition here.
19th April 2017
Have just returned from the 2017 National Folk Festival in Canberra. After a big rush to get 2 guitars finished, I had 10 instruments displayed at my stall. The first classical junior mandolin was sold first, followed by a tenor guitar and the small bodied short scale guitar. The classical junior mandolin was a great hit amongst the mandolin players, particularly the celtic players so it did not last long. This time a lot of guitar players tried my guitars and comments were very positive even from the guitar virtuosos so I must be doing most things right. Was good to see the other instrument makers again and chat about various guitar and mandolin making matters. No pictures this year, my old camera died, but I have managed to repair it and get it going again once I got back home. Picked up some repair work on a couple of vintage Gibson mandolins so has been interesting to examine a couple of old Gibson oval hole mandolins again and make a few comparisons with my redwood mandolin. My redwood oval hole mandolin does sound a lot cleaner than those old workhorses.
Back to work in the workshop now. A couple of classical juniors, an A5 and a couple of Goldfinch mandolins to work on.
10th February 2017
Well I have finally got the strings on the new model of mandolin that was mentioned here on the 8th July last year. Very exciting time to finally find out if all the head scratching worked out. I have decided to call it the Classical Junior model. Looks a bit like a Lyon and Healy model C, but modernised and modified to make it easier to make and hence keep the price reasonable and more enjoyable to make. Very lightly built, high arch, and with an extra low bridge so the top won't collapse, and same tailpiece as the classical model. Tricky to make because there is no room for error when carving the plates. It is made from King Billy Pine and Blackwood, so has the Goldfinch combination of woods. The King Billy is from the tree I bought with Gillian Alcock nearly 20 years ago. It also has a brand new Brekke bridge, specially designed by Vern Brekke for me for this model of mandolin. First impression - WOW!! This is the most incredible sounding mandolin I have ever made. It is the loudest, most responsive and most open sounding carved top oval hole mandolin I have ever made. Gorgeous sound, very responsive and loud, and the ring and sustain is bigger than anything I have ever made. Double wow, I can barely believe it, and it will only get better from here as it settles. Incredible. This is a big step forward in my mandolin making. I will certainly be building on this and making a lot more mandolins like this one. Very exciting. No pictures or sound clips yet, too busy playing it!
26th December 2016
Two new guitars finished with Black Heart Sassafras back and sides. One is a small bodied short scale guitar (an experimental guitar), the other is a tenor guitar. I am very impressed with Sassafras. All the mandolins and guitars I have made with Sassafras back the sides have been outstanding. The small guitar was a big surprise. I was not expecting much from a small guitar with a sort scale length, but this guitar is astonishingly good. The sound blew me away so much it is now part of my standard guitar offerings. The first person who played it bought it. Another one is on the way, together with a Black Heart Sassafras OM guitar.
Indian Rosewood, as well as all other rosewood species is going onto CITES Appendix II on 1/1/2017. I expect to still be able to get Indian Rosewood, but won't be able to export any mandolins or guitars with Indian rosewood back and sides or bindings. Owners of guitars with Indian Rosewood can still travel with their guitars or mandolins, but won't be able to sell their instruments internationally without CITES documentation.
29th September 2016
The out of stock cases came back in stock and I now have enough to last for some time. It now has an arched top which greatly increases the strength of the case, so is now quite a nice case.
In the workshop - finished a larger bodied tenor guitar and it has gone off with the new owner. Was very interesting doing an A/B comparison with the smaller bodied tenor guitar which is made identical apart from the size of the body. Increasing the body size gains something (bass), but looses presence and a bit of sweeetness. The bigger body has a sound more like a guitar. Not sure what I prefer, they both sound very nice, just different. Also finished my first Redwood topped mandolin. Back and sides are Blackwood. Very interesting sound, I like it enough to order another 3 Redwood tops. The Redwood in this mandolin came from an friend who gave it to me when we were in the USA in 1999, so was about time I used it. The sound I think is similar to the Goldfinch model, but unfortunately I don't have a Goldfinch mandolin to compare it with right now. Redwood certainly has a different sound from Spruce.
The classical model has been finished and is with the new owner. Once again it was phew glad that is finished, but but wow what an incredibly beautiful sound.
All Cedar Creek cases have been allocated so I have had too increase prices by $200 on the arch top mandolins (except the classical) to cover the escalating cost of custom made cases. The Chinese made case nightmare continues. I find a case that fits my flattop mandolin, then it goes out of stock, then no long available. I did manage to find a nice case that fits the classical flattop beautifully, but you guessed it, now out of stock.
8th July 2016
Currently working on a classical model mandolin. Every time I make one of these it is oh my goodness these are tricky and so much work, but after the strings go on it has always been wow, this sounds so good, the effort was well worth it. So after much head scratching I have decided to make a new model of the classical mandolin, much simpler and quicker to make and hence will not cost as much, but will have the same sound and playability. I have started on the first one, but here is still a bit of head scratching to go before things are finalised. It won't have the points, the binding will be simpler, there will be a riser block, and it will have the new adjustable Brekke bridge modified to fit the arch. The first one will be in a Goldfinch configuration so should sound soooo sweet. Still a fair way to go before it will be finished. Not sure what to call it, maybe the Classical model C after the Lyon and Healy type C from which the inspiration came from.
I have been a bit slow in adding sound clips to the for sale section. This is because I want the next lot of sound clips to be made using the new mini home studio setup I have. It is just taking so long to get it set up, there is always something else more urgent that needs to be done. Currently I am working on some monitor speakers, and who knows when they will be finished.
We have a new set of puppies. 5 this time, 4 boys and a girl. Judith wants to keep the girl for future breeding. That means we will then have 7 toy poodles - eeek!
5th June 2016
A new development -
Vern Brekke has sent me a prototype of an adjustable bridge for flat top mandolins in the latest bridge order. It is like an original Brekke bridge, but modified so the base of the wedges are horizontal rather than at an angle. This allows the bridge to be lower than the original Brekke bridge but still be adjustable. The range of adjustment is small, but any adjustment is far better than none! I think this new development is rather neat and I will be using these adjustable bridges initially on my classical flattop mandolins and later on all flattop mandolins. The flattop mandolins have a bridge height around 5 -7mm less than an arch top mandolin and until now it was not possible to use an adjustable bridge at such low bridge heights. I used the prototype bridge on the latest classical flattop and it is easily the best sounding classical flattop I have made so far.
Here is a picture of the new bridge on the mandolin
5th May 2016
With Port Fairy and the National Folk Festivals done and dusted I am back in the workshop. Have sold out of arch top mandolins and there are only 2 flattop mandolins left. However, there are new ones on the way. Two Goldfinch mandolins and a couple of flattop mandolins will be finished in the next couple of months. One Goldfinch is a special order, but the other one will be available for sale. Currently they are sitting in the workshop waiting for the varnish to harden so are not far off being finished. One of my customers gave me some nice quarter sawn Grey Ironbark and one of the flattop mandolins will have back and sides from this wood. Will be an interesting experiment to see what it sounds like. Grey Ironbark is extremely hard and heavy, but bends easily so was not too bad to work with. Would not like to have to carve it! The other flattop will be a classical flattop in a Goldfinch configuration with King Billy Pine and Blackwood. The Blackwood is highly figured fiddleback from Tasmania and was given to me by another customer.
20th February 2016
All puppies have been sold and off to their new homes except for one very cute little female. Six puppies is too much! Judith wants to use the female as a future breeder since our other girls are getting older. Fortunately she is a lovely quiet little girl, so quiet we hardly notice the addition.
I have been very busy getting things ready for Port Fairy and the National folk festivals. Two flattop mandolins have been finished as has the tenor guitar. Currrently working on a black top flattop mandolin and have started the next batch of arch top mandolins. Have not made a black top in a while and have been re-discovering why I don't particularly like making them.
Future plans - bigger bodied Tenor guitar, and a small bodied short scale 6 string steel string guitar. I can use the Tenor body for the 6 string with 23in scale length. Should be interesting especially since I have had a couple of enquiries about small guitars.
23rd December 2015
Has been a very busy December. Mandolins have been flying out the door and I have sold out of arch top mandolins, except for an oval hole I have on consignment. The waiting list has blown out to 12 months which is good for me but not so good for the customers. Just finished a custom classical flattop mandolin and am working hard on 3 more flattop mandolins and a short scale tenor guitar so I will have something for Port Fairy and the National folk festivals. Have just revised the guitar section of the web site. It has been expanded and more pictures added. Was a big update so some things might not work for a while.
The boat is almost finished, is ready to get wet, but needs a few minor things added.
Ebony had 6 puppies, which is a big litter for a toy poodle. Mum and babies are doing well.
21st October 2015
Very nice new Blackwood flattop mandolin has been finished as well as a new tenor guitar. the tenor guitar is Red Spruce and Myrtle which is one of my favourite wood combinations for mandolins. It makes a lovely warm sweet sounding mandolin, and this Tenor guitar has the same sort of sound. Lively, warm and sweet sounding tenor. It seems to sound even sweeter up the neck where the sound of many stringed instruments often fails. Love it.
At the moment I am working on a major restoration of a wooden sail boat. Bought around a year ago and has not got wet yet, which is a bit embarrassing. The finish was a dark varnish rather poorly applied and I couldn't stand looking at it so it is getting painted with marine paint and various small problems fixed. Was very satisfying to finish the hull, which now looks fantastic. Now I am working on the interior which is rather fiddly and time consuming. I have certainly learned what not to do if I ever build a boat.
On the doggy front Ebony has been mated to a classy champion show dog and puppies are due on 3rd December. We also now have our new red stud boy. He is 4 months old and super cute. Starting to gain confidence and is getting quite cheeky. Keeps us busy.
Here he is -
2nd August 2015
Put the strings on the new classical mandolin today. Once again, completely blown away by the sound of this mandolin. The construction principles that Lyon and Healy developed nearly 100 years ago certainly do work. It sounds just like the first one I made, loud and responsive, but beautiful sweet tone. I love it, sounds better than the original already. Pity they are so much extra work to make. Currently thinking about how I can reduce the amount of work involved (and hence reduce the cost) but not change the sound.
30th July 2015
Have been very busy in the workshop and have also now got a new computer so the news updates are a bit slow. Everything on the computer is now working so can now do the web site updates.
In the meantime, 2 Goldfinch mandolins have been finished (both very nice) and a symmetric two point classical is not far from being finished. These are special orders and when finished the pressure comes off. No more waiting list. Also have made a flattop classical from Tasmanian Blackheart Sassafras. Stunning looking mandolin, and sounds good as well. I do like Sassafras, it is easy to work with and finishes beautifully. Nice warm solid sound, with a bit less ring. So, the bank account has been depleted again buying more Blackheart Sassafras and I am looking forward to using it again. Some of the Blackwood I bought green from Tasmania 2 years ago has been cut to size, and it is really nice. Next instrument will be a tenor guitar, Red Spruce and Tasmanian Myrtle. Also have dusted off some Redwood a friend gave too me in 1999 when we were in the USA. That will be used for an oval hole mandolin. Have not decided what to use for the back just yet, but am thinking about using some of the Tasmanian Blackwood I just cut to size.
I have decided to upgrade my mini home studio. At the moment the sound clips are done using a stereo pair of Revox M3500 mics with a small analog mixer connected into the soundcard of an ancient IBM desktop computer. The computer is over 10 years old and the technology has moved on quite a bit since then! So the new system will have a stereo pair of high quality condenser mics, and a digital USB interface plugged into my laptop. I am also working on a pair of small high quality monitor speakers. All that should give a much better sound quality for the soundclips, and I am hoping some of the local musicians will use it to record some tunes with my instruments. Just need to find the time to get it all set up.
On monday a new puppy arrives from far north Queensland. We have purchased a male Top Poodle to use as a stud dog. Finding stud dogs for our girls, and dealing with the owners has been a major pain, so we decided to get our own. He is dark red and looks super cute in the pictures.
9th May 2015
Have just finished a new flattop mandolin. This one uses a wood combination I have never used before, King Billy Pine and Australian Red Cedar (Toona ciliata). I have wanted to try Red Cedar back and sides for a long time, but it is very difficult to find Red Cedar that is quarter sawn so I have been looking forward to this. I managed to find some quarter sawn Red Cedar at the 2014 Working with Wood show in Canberra. Wow, nice sounding mandolin. Sweet, clear and resonant with a lovely warm sounding bass. The surprise was the volume. Very loud, and with a huge dynamic range. Most King Billy mandolins tend to distort if you play them hard but this one just gets louder. I'm impressed. This is a wood combination worth keeping as a favourite. I guess it is not all that surprising it works well, it is a member of the Mahogany family. Anyone got some quarter sawn Australian Red Cedar?
More wood has been filling the workshop. I have been buying some Black Heart Sassafras from Tasmania. Amazing what you can find on Ebay. This is another Australian native I have not tried. Looks are stunning, so is worth a try. Certainly works in guitars.
15th April 2015
Port Fairy and the National have come and gone. Very successful this year, 2 mandolins and the tenor guitar were sold. The tenor guitar was very much admired, so tenor guitars are now a high priority build. Martin Reese played the tenor guitar and Dave O'Neill played one of my mandolins at the instrument makers concert at the National. Can't get much better than that.
5th March 2015
The strings for the tenor guitar arrived just before we left for Port Fairy. I managed to string it up and had a few hours to play with it. Wow, fantastic instrument. Beautiful rich tone, and with the shorter scale length I can play it. Martin Reese asked me to make one and insisted on a scale length of 21". Now I can see why. With a thin pick, the celtic tunes sound really great. I am really excited about this instrument. Hopefully Martin will play it at the National Folk Festival.
1st March 2015
Getting ready for Port Fairy folk festival now. We leave on 3rd. This year we a leaving a day earlier so as to make time to visit one of our dog's (Ebony) puppies. He is now about 18 months old. It is really nice to see some of our puppies when they grow up. Not so many instruments for the festival this time, but the quality is very high. Finished a Red Spruce/Blackwood guitar around a month ago, beautiful dark fiddleback Blackwood. Sounds clear and bright, and loud, louder than the Rosewood guitar. Not sure which one I like the best. Another tenor guitar is almost finished. This one is Red Spruce and figured Myrtle, just waiting for the strings to arrive. It has a short scale of 21", with the neck joining at the 12th fret. Will be ready for the National Folk Festival at Easter. Also in the workshop I have started a guitar from tiger myrtle and there are two goldfinch mandolins and a classical mandolin that need to be finished in the next 3 months. I have a waiting list again.
I have been on a wood buying binge. Decided it was time I tried another Tasmanian wood, blackheart sassafras. Have been reading good things about it so have bought some pieces suitable for guitars and mandolins. Very striking looking wood. Next tenor guitar is likely to be made from sassafras, from a stunning piece of wood. There has been quite a lot of interest in the first tenor guitar (now sold), so likely there will be many more to follow.
7th January 2015
With great pleasure I can announce that Lynn Dudenbostel's mandolin making pictures are now available again. The original source went offline and I sought Lynn's permission to host his pictures on this web site. I consider it a privilege to be able to do this. Here it is, or you can access it through the construction page.
11th December 2014
Very wet at the moment. The Bega river flooded on the weekend and roads were out all over the Bega valley. Still raining. I am very glad I bought a dehumidifier around 18 months ago, it is still around 40% humidity in the workshop so I can still work, but it keeps filling up with water. I am waiting for the rain and wind to ease so I can take some pictures of the latest instruments.
Finished a new guitar 2 days ago. Red spruce and Indian Rosewood. Wow, this one is a monster. Big sound, loud and very responsive, beautiful tone, is very exciting. Ray dropped in today and played it. Asked how could he buy it without getting divorced. I don't have an answer to that one! The last two guitars have convinced me to concentrate on using Red Spruce for the top in the guitars, so should be more like that one in the future. Also finished a new A5 that is beautiful, probably the best tone from an A5 I have got to date. That one is going to Sydney on Monday. The new owner should be very happy.
Currently we have 5 Toy Poodle puppies. Ebony had 5 puppies 6 weeks ago which is the biggest litter we have had so far. Fortunately I sold all puppies less than a week after they were born, so they will all be gone before Christmas. They are also fairly quiet puppies like their mother which is a blessing. 5 puppies running around together with 4 dogs gets to be a bit much after the puppies get to be around 6 weeks old so we are counting the days.
29th October 2014
The tenor guitar is now finished. It is made from Red Spruce and Brazilian Mahogany. Tuned like an octave mandolin it is a lovely sweet sounding tenor guitar. Far better than any tenor guitar I have come across so far. Very pleasing. Mike Martin who plays a tenor guitar (from the Kameruka Bush Orchestra) came and checked it out. He loved it, so that was very pleasing. I have also finished a new flattop mandolin from King Billy Pine and Blackwood. The Blackwood is a spectacular piece I got from one of the Tasmanian wood suppliers. It is easily the best sounding King Billy Pine topped flattop mandolin I have made so far. Not sure why, but what ever I did different sure worked. Maybe it is the new batch of bridges I got from Vern Brekke, dunno.
20th July 2014
Well the last 5 weeks has been a bit of a disaster. Hardly any time was spent in the workshop. My mum got very sick and passed away and we had to rush off to Adelaide to organise the funeral and clean out her room in the nursing home. She was 97, so certainly lived a long life. We were glad to get home after a somewhat draining and miserably wet and cold week in Adelaide. After arriving home I got sick with a virus and did not feel like doing any thing for a while. Not only that, but I went deaf in one ear due to an Eustachian tube blockage and the doc put me on antibiotics. So apart from a setup job for a classical guitar, nothing much has happened in the workshop. Judith is now miserable with the same virus, but is starting to get better.
The mahogany guitar is now finished and after settling down for a few weeks is sounding absolutely gorgeous. I think Judith was right.
14th June 2014
The Mahogany guitar has the strings on and is sounding very promising indeed. Judith thinks it is the best guitar so far. Still not quite finished yet, it needs a bit more work on setup. The local music shop asked me to make an Appalachian dulcimer so I dusted off the mould and made one. I made 4 dulcimers some years ago so this is the first one for quite a while. Nearly chucked out the templates when we moved to Bega, but at the last minute saved it and now am glad I did. It sounds good, but there were a few lessons re-learned since it is so long since I made the last one. I had forgotten how I made them.
Since the last post we have had another litter of puppies. This time Ruby was a very good mother and she produced some really good puppies. We now have people waiting for puppies from Ebony. The puppies seem to be selling better than the mandolins and guitars. Read all about our dogs here http://chippindall.com.au
23rd April 2014
We arrived back home yesterday after exhibiting at the National Folk Festival in Canberra. Weather was cold and we were real happy to get back home and into the warmer weather. The Blackwood flattop mandolin was sold at the festival and every one who played the new guitar loved it. I got some very nice complements from some of the other guitar makers who played it. A lot of people also really liked the varnish finish on the guitar, so I might persist with varnish on future guitars. Martin Reece and Allen Kelly played at the instrument makers concert, and I thought the mandolin and guitar sounded wonderful together. Came back home sleep deprived after a few late nights in the session bar.
In the workshop is an A5 I made in 2000 for a refret and general clean up. Also is a Red Spruce/Mahogany OM guitar ready for binding. Should get that guitar finished in the next couple of months. Have started work on an asymmetric classical short scale mandolin. The original Lyon and Healy had a few surprises that I was not aware of, so I am really glad I bought it. There is nothing quite like having an original in your hands. Unfortunately a Loar mandolin or pre war Martin guitar is a bit out of my $ resource limit.
Next major project is a tenor guitar.
Here is a picture of my stall at the festival. Lots more mandolins this year.
10th April 2014
We have returned from the Port Fairy Folk Festival and are now preparing for the National Folk Festival. This time the weather was much better at Port Fairy, not stinking hot like last year. The Blackwood flattop and the Blackwood guitar have been finished. Both turned out nicely, particularly the guitar. The Guitar is by far the best sounding guitar so far. A true high end finger picking guitar. I have also finished a new flattop mandolin made from Red Spruce and Brazilian Rosewood. The sound of this instrument is very interesting, quite different from the Blackwood flattop. It has probably the best sounding mids and treble of any of my flattop mandolins and is very loud, with huge headroom. A real banjo killer. Unfortunately the Brazilian Rosewood has done what most Brazilian Rosewood tends to do, it has cracked.
The big news is I have imported another vintage Lyon and Healy mandolin from the USA. This time it is a later asymmetric pointed Washburn short scale. Quite a different instrument from the symmetric long scale L&H. It has me going back to the drawing board on my classical mandolin. The asymmetric version is going to need a completely different mould, so there is a bit of work to do there.
29th January 2014
Have finished the mandola, which turned out quite nicely, a Blackwood flattop and the A5 are also now finally finished. The A5 is a killer sounding mandolin. I am debating if I should keep it and use it as my new reference, but on the other hand bills have to be paid.
Currently I am busy working on a new guitar. The Engelmann/Blackwood OO guitar turned out so well I started on an Engelmann/Blackwood OM about a year ago, but it got put aside. So now is the time to finish it. Have also started work on a Red Spruce/Mahogany OM guitar.
The first classical model mandolin has gone, and boy that was really difficult to part with.
The big news is I am getting an asymmetric short scale Washburn/Lyon and Healy mandolin. That should arrive in March if all goes to plan.
My band, the Kameruka Bush Orchestra, has just released a CD. It can be purchased from the Candelo Arts Society.
5th December 2013
The Goldfinch mandolin has been finished. Wow, really nice, one of the best Goldfinch mandolins I have made. It can be seen in the recently completed section of this web site. The A5 is waiting for a tailpiece and the Tiger Myrtle mandola is currently being varnished. I have sold a couple of flattop mandolins so have started 3 new flattops.
Have just been on a wood buying binge. After complaining about the difficulty of finding fiddleback Blackwood, I was offered some Blackwood by a Tasmanian vendor who lives close to a sawmill. Now the bank account is empty and the shed has some very nice big planks of Blackwood stickered for drying. I also bought some sliced Blackwood off Ebay from a Tasmanian vendor. The sliced Blackwood is ready to go and is amazing quality. It is the darkest and reddest looking Blackwood I have ever seen. Such a strong red colour is very rare in Blackwood. This wood will end up as flattop mandolins. I also bought 2 sets of Brazilian Rosewood guitar sets. These will end up in a couple of special guitars some time in the future. Where that Rosewood came from there ain't no more, so I could not resist.
31st October 2013
Mmm, I'm getting a bit slack updating this page. Excuses are minding grandchildren and a new litter of toy poodle puppies. I have set up a web site about our dogs so that has made selling the puppies a bit easier this time around. Try here if you would like to read all about our dogs and puppies. All puppies have been sold and go next weekend so things should be quieter then. Anyway, in the workshop are a tiger myrtle mandola, an A5 mandolin, and a Goldfinch mandolin. All looking like mandolins or a mandola now, and hopefully should be finished before the end of the year. The mandola has been sold, but the A5 and Goldfinch mandolins will be for sale.
My band, the Kameruka Bush Orchestra has recorded a CD. Not sure when it will be available, but I will try and put some tracks up on this web site when I get some copies of the CD. It is all traditional Australian dance band music of collected tunes, and was recorded in the Kameruka hall where we hold the dances first Saturday of every month. Some was recorded live at the dance.
On the festival front, I am intending to go to Port Fairy and Echuca again next year and have put my application in for the National.
25th August 2013
The first classical mandolin has been finished, so the classical model is now officially available. I am very happy how it has turned out. It has the look of a Lyon and Healy, feels like a Lyon and Healey to play, and the sound is good. In fact I am so happy with the sound it is becoming my all time favourite oval hole mandolin. Nice clear sweet tone, but louder and more lively than the original and is easy to play. A lot was learned during it's construction. These instruments are delightful instruments to play, which is one reason why they are so popular with classical mandolin players. The low neck angle and the unique pick guard are important for this playability, and it is vital to reproduce these things (as well as good setup of course) in order to retain the playability.
Here it is-
1st August 2013
Progress has been slow on the first classical model, but it is now being varnished so is not far off now. I did manage to find a silversmith willing to make the tailpiece cover, but the first one has not arrived yet so I don't know how successful that will be. In the meantime I decided to make a classical model flattop and that has now been finished. The classical model flattop has the body shape of a Lyon and Healy model C (no points), but is a flattop rather than carved. The first one turned out rather nice and has already been sold.
14th May 2013
The last month has been slow in the workshop. Judith has been quite ill in hospital in Canberra so I have been looking after the dogs, cleaning up after the dogs, feeding the dogs, mowing grass, tidying up the garden etc etc. However, I am happy to say that she is now back home and recovering. I did manage to finish a new oval hole mandolin, although it was already 2/3 finished at Easter time. This one is #150 and has taken me almost a year to complete. I wanted to make something special for #150 so took my time and I think I have succeeded. It is made from Carpathian Spruce and European Maple and is a blonde. Blonde Maple mandolins are more challenging to make because every little flaw shows up like the light on a lighthouse. This one has turned out very nicely indeed. The sound is at least as good as the Tiger Myrtle mandolin, but is different. It is exceptionally sweet, clear and clean sounding. More delicate sounding than the Myrtle mandolin and does not have the solid bass sound it has. The Myrtle mandolin has more of a thicker, solid sound. The clarity of #150 is probably the best I have achieved in any mandolin. I really like it, just such a beautiful sound, can't put it down. Have showed it to Matt at Better Music in Canberra and Gillian Alcock and the first words of both was "wow" which is a good sign.
Now that #150 is finished, I have had some time to work on the (long delayed) classical model. #150 has inspired me because now I know what woods I am going to use in the classical model. There are a few other decisions to be made, such as how close to the original Lyon and Healey do I make it. Anything is possible, but some things come at a high price. The scroll headstock of the model A, for example requires modified tuners and is a lot of extra work, so probably is not feasible for the sort of money people are willing to pay. The tailpiece is also difficult and would need to be outsourced. I have pretty much decided to pass on the scroll headstock, and am trying to find a silversmith willing to have a go with the tailpiece. No success yet. I have been looking around on the net to see what other makers have done and Rigel and John Sullivan are about the only people who have successfully reproduced the L&H model A. I saw the Rigel in 1999 and it was an impressive reproduction, but came at a price point roughly double what a vintage example was going for. Some other makers make a two point oval hole mandolin, but they are mostly far removed from a L&H. Is much easier to notice the differences with an original in the lounge room! It is very different from the vintage Gibsons, different arching, different body size, different graduations, lower neck angle, lower bridge, which of course gives it quite a different sound. Anyway, I am now very confident I can make a "classical" mandolin that improves on the sound of my original - i.e. sweeter and clearer, but with the same balance of sound and the L&H mandolins are renown for. We shall see.
Charlie is still with us, but he has been sold, so that was a relief. 5 dogs is way too many.
Here is mandolin #150
7th April 2013
Echuca festival was quiet but the National Folk Festival was great. Sold 2 mandolins and there was a lot of interest, especially in the guitars. The instrument makers concert went really well, Martin Reese demonstrated my Tiger myrtle mandolin and his friend Terry backed him up on my Myrtle guitar. Here they are -
Unfortunately Judith is not well and was not able to attend. She is currently in hospital in Canberra. This has slowed down the mandolin and guitar making because I have been looking after the dogs and trying to sell 3 puppies. Only one to go now. Anyone like a pedigree toy poodle puppy? He is real cute and fairly quiet and gentle, a really lovely dog . He was my favourite puppy, but we have too many dogs already (4) so we can't keep him. Judith has named him Charlie. Here he is -
12th March 2013
All the immediately available mandolins are now on the web page, accessible from waiting list. Only 2 guitars to go now.
Port Fairy was fairly quiet, there were not many mandolin players, but I did get some very good comments about the guitars, particularly the Blackwood 00 guitar. Was a bit unfair on the Myrtle guitar because it was so new. Guitars do change far more than a mandolin does in the first few weeks of it's life. However, was good to catch up with some of the other makers and to meet Pat Evans from Maton who is a mandolin player as well as a guitar guru. The weather on the last day was unbearably hot, 36deg in the shade, but seemed hotter in the tent. Today was 40deg, but we moved to Apollo Bay to escape the heat. Didn't work, it was 39deg in Apollo Bay so we spent most of the day in the car with the air conditioning on. Not good weather for music instruments. Tomorrow we stay in Apollo Bay and then travel to Echuca the next day. Hopefully the weather will improve.
7th March 2013
Just arrived at Port Fairy. Was a big last minute rush and a long drive, so very tired. However, the Myrtle guitar is now finished. Turned out quite nice and the local guitar players seem to like it. Will be interesting to see what the reaction will be at the folk festival. I have quite a collection of instruments this year. Took some last minute pictures and did some sound clips, so have quite a bit of work putting all that on the web site. There are now 2 guitars and 3 mandolins finished but not in the for sale section yet, plus some sound clips. Too much work and so little time.
More on the new flattop mandolin - it is made from the best quality Engelmann Spruce I can get my hands on and some high quality fiddleback Blackwood, nice dark colours. The modifications to the bracing were to close the X as much as possible (is limited by the sound hole), and the X braces are 1mm narrower and 2mm higher. This was all designed to raise mode 4 of the top into the frequency range I get with the arch top mandolins. It worked, but more important it seems to have had a significant effect on the sound which is what I was hoping. This is easily the best sounding flattop mandolin so far. Nice warm sounding bass and crisp clear, clean sounding mids and highs. This one has black nickel tuners with Ebony knobs and it looks great. It will have a higher price tag than the others.
Here is the back
19th February 2013
The grand piano arrived last Thursday and I have been getting acquainted. Wow wheee, what a change from the old Pianola. It is like getting into a Ferrari after driving a Morris Minor for many years. It has required a significant change in technique, took me a couple of days to work out how to play it properly, but now I can hardly believe how lucky I am. Never thought I would ever own a piano like this. This piano is a seriously good instrument, far more piano than I can handle at the moment, but I'm working on it.. It is a joy to play. Put the lid up and wow, such a beautiful sweet rich sound, and some real power. There is no way I would ever go back to an upright piano. This piano is an inspiration to work on my skills and try and get back to how I used to play piano many years ago. Really glad I bought it, even though it drained all our savings, and more.
In the workshop - just finished spraying lacquer on the latest guitar. God I hate that smell, it hangs around for ages as the guitar gasses off. Glad the mandolins are varnished! Strung up a new flattop mandolin today. It has a small modification to the bracing that I though might improve the sound. It worked far better than I was expecting. More later. Apart from that, we are preparing for the trip to Port Fairy Folk festival.
A very hot and dry summer this year. I finally bought a dehumidifier for the workshop, mainly for those warm humid summer days, but the day it arrived it was 41deg and 15% humidity! But that was not the hottest day. Last Friday was 45.8 deg under the veranda. I am glad the workshop is no longer a colorbond shed! 3 more flattop mandolins are in the workshop, 2 nearly finished, and has been some progress on the next guitar, although not as much as I would like.
Had to go to Canberra on Tuesday to get a broken tooth filling fixed. Did something I have never done in my life before. I bought a piano. Second hand baby grand, beautiful sounding instrument. Could not let it go, a new one is around $50,000, and this one was less than a fifth of that, but as far as I could tell they sounded near enough to identical. The older one just has a few dings on the case. It is a Kawai GS40, made in 1988 so is still a child in a piano's life. Definitely one of the best sounding pianos I have ever played. So the old pianola that my grandfather bought new in 1923, and I spend thousands of hours playing has to go. There are many memories in that old piano. Fortunately my stepdaughter is taking it so I will get to see it occasionally. I have started playing piano again and Judith has been trying to persuade me to buy a new piano for a long time, so no problems from the other half. It is just that she likes small, and a baby grand piano ain't small. The big delivery day is 13th February. Very exciting.
21st December 2012
The latest Blackwood flattop must have been a good one. Sold already, less than a week old, did not even make it into the for sale section of the web page.
The last couple of weeks we have had Judith's grand children staying with us. 24/7 and no time to open the workshop door. They left last night and now I have my life back. So tired I slept in this morning. Funny how there is huge relief when they leave, but as soon as they are gone you miss them.
15th December 2012
Strings are on the Engelmann Spruce/Blackwood ftattop mandolin. Sounds very nice. Bright, clean clear sound with massive ring and sustain. I really like this one. Currently binding a Myrtle OM guitar.
23rd November 2012
The Blackwood 00 guitar has settled and is sounding even better. In fact I am so impressed with the sound of this guitar I have started an OM in the same woods, and also a flattop mandolin. The mandolin will be finished before Christmas. Sliced up a big piece of fiddleback Blackwood I have had for many years for the guitar and the mandolin uses some leftover bits. The Blackwood was tricky to cut, very hard and the bandsaw blade went blunt quickly. Changed to a new blade and that is now wrecked as well. Hopefully the resulting instruments will be worth the trouble. The Blackwood from Tasmania has arrived and it is quite a nice piece. Hopefully it will be easier to cut in the bandsaw!
13th November 2012
My first 00 size guitar has been finished. It has taken quite a while, almost 12 months to get this one finished. However the wait has been worth it. The sound is amazing for a small bodied guitar. The small number of 00 guitars I have come across I thought sounded somewhat strangled (for want of a better word), but this one has a huge sound, open and sweet with a surprisingly good bass, just beautiful. Woods are Engelmann Spruce and Blackwood, a nice sounding combination (in mandolins) I have not used in a while. Ray dropped around the other day to try it out 24hrs after the strings went on. Just about had to pick his jaw up off the floor, all he could say was "Wow". It has got me buying wood again. Some Engelmann guitar tops arrived in the mail today, and some fiddleback Blackwood is on it's way from Tasmania.
6th November 2012
The Tiger Myrtle oval hole mandolin is finished and it looks gorgeous and sounds gorgeous. I think it is one of the best I have made. It is the first Carpathian/Myrtle combination I have tried and will be making more from that combination in the future. It is the first Myrtle mandolin I have made for a while since I have been mostly using European Maple and Tassie Oak. I have always liked the warm sweet sound of Myrtle, but thought it lacked some treble clarity compared to Maple and Tassie Oak. This Tiger Myrtle mandolin has disproved that theory. It has superb clarity in the mids and treble.
Here is a picture of the Tiger Myrtle back
The second Engelmann ftattop mandolin is also now finished. This one has Rubner tuners with teflon bearings. The teflon makes a big difference, much smoother, will never go back to the tuners without teflon. In this mandolin I have tried to make the top as light as possible, so the bracing is Engelmann Spruce reinforced with carbon fibre. It seems to have worked, the mandolin is easily the loudest and most responsive flattop so far. I took it to the Kameruka gig on Saturday where it got a very favourable reception.
Currently trying to get the first 00 guitar finished. Nearly there.
6th September 2012
The camping by the beach holiday was great. Fresh fish for dinner today.
The first Engelmann flattop is finished and the first flattop mandola is also nearly finished. The mandola - WOW. Did something right with that one. It sounds very much like my arch top mandolas, just a bit different. Was not expecting a flattop mandola to sound that good. No pictures yet.
Currently am concentrating on finishing all the half finished instruments, so the new classical mandolin and F5 mandolin have been put on hold for the time being.
20th August 2012
The Goldfinch has been finished and shipped to the new owner. The next flattop is a King Billy Pine/Blackwood combination, finished today. We are calling it the poor man's Goldfinch. Very nice mandolin, with a warm sweet and clear sound similar to the Goldfinch. Not sold yet, but probably won't last long. Still need to take some pictures and a sound clip. More case troubles. 3 cases ordered weeks ago from the local music shop have not arrived, so have the dining room table covered in mandolins. Currently trying to get all the half finished instruments finished so as to clear some space in the workshop. The flattop mandola is being varnished, an Engelmann/Queensland Maple flattop mandolin has the varnish drying, another walnut flattop is just about ready for scraping ands sanding, and the Tiger Myrtle oval hole mandolin is ready for scraping and sanding. One day I will get back to finishing the 6th guitar.
Tomorrow we head off for a short holiday by the beach.
30th July 2012
The Walnut flattop and Myrtle flattop have been finished, as has the A5. Both flattops I think are an improvement on the prototype, especially the Myrtle flattop which has already been sold. So, we are certainly moving in the right direction with the flattops. Have ordered a new batch of Rubner tuners with teflon bearings. Will be interesting to see what improvement that makes. The standard tuners work well, and are very consistent in quality, although I think the Schallers are smoother. Unfortunately Schaller quality control is not as good as I would like. Some sets are excellent, others not so good.
The A5 has been a pleasant surprise. It has an unusually deep rich tonal quality that is just gorgeous. We have been comparing it with a couple of other A5's and it has trumped them all. I think it is probably the best A5 I have made so far, and I am having trouble deciding what to do with it since it is very tempting to keep. Most likely we will put it up for sale, bit with a price premium, and just enjoy playing it until it is sold. Trouble is I have no idea what I did right with this one to make it sound so good.
4th July 2012
The prototype flattop continues to amaze. It has settled down and just keeps sounding better and better. The top is 30% lighter than my carved tops so it is louder and more responsive than the standard model oval hole mandolins, and the sustain seems to go on forever. It is also very stable in terms of staying in tune. 24hrs after putting the strings on it stabilised. No more going flat. Normally a mandolin will take at least a few days, sometimes a week to stabilise. I suspect that is because of the carbon fibre in the X brace. Carbon fibre not only is very stiff for it's weight, it also has no memory - i.e. bend it and it will always return to the original shape. This not the case with wood. Wood has memory, so a brace subjected to a load over a long period of time will not return completely to it's original shape once the load is removed. The lack of memory in carbon fibre is a great advantage when used in bracing because it means the top will not slowly sink with time, which is a very common problem in flattop mandolins. I am so impressed with this mandolin I have started work on a flattop mandola. I think a similar mandola will have a huge sound, but that remains to be seen. Can hardly wait.
The prototype flattop mandolin had it's first independent test yesterday. A local mandolin player stopped by to try it out and he was blown away by the sound. He could hardly believe it was a flattop. So, first test passed with flying colours.
Just put up a Flattop page on the web site. Is not fully integrated yet (that takes time), the link is on the front page.
In the workshop - an A5 is being french polished, a walnut flattop mandolin is being varnished, a Goldfinch and a standard oval hole are ready for bindings, a Myrtle flattop mandolin and a walnut mandola are ready for the neck to be fitted. The first 00 guitar is ready for back bindings, and an OM guitar has the top and back braced. Phew, that is more than enough work for now.
26th June 2012
The prototype flattop mandolin is now finished. The strings went on 3 days ago. I love it, and can't put it down. The innovations have certainly worked a treat. I have never much liked the sound of flattop mandolins, but this one is an exception. The sound is light years ahead of any other flattop mandolin I have ever played. Beautiful clear, sweet and clean tone, not much different from my standard oval hole mandolin sound. This has been so pleasing and so much fun I have two more flattop mandolins and a mandola in the works. These will be for sale when I get them finished. I used Rubner tuners on it and have been impressed with how well they work. Waverlys are better, but they had better be at around 5 times the price! More Rubner tuners have been ordered from the manufacturer in Germany, and I am thinking about using them instead of Schallers. All in all this little project has been a rip roaring success. These mandolins are so much easier and quicker to make (and cheaper), and are a absolute delight to play.
Here it is. European Spruce top, Tasmanian Oak back and sides, Queensland Maple neck, Indian Rosewood bindings, Ebony fingerboard and bridge, dovetail neck joint and varnish finish. My name is not on the headstock because I ran out of Abalone logos and am still waiting for the next batch to arrive. That is a great pity because this is a great sounding mandolin which I am keeping it as a reference.
10th June 2012
Have been very busy with a new prototype mandolin. It is a flat top, but with some innovations that I am hoping will work in the sound department. The first one is being varnished and I can hardly wait to get the strings on. This hopefully will eventually become a new model mandolin that will sell for around half the price of the carved top mandolins. They are a lot less work to make, and I can use wood that is too thin for a carved top or back, thus saving on costs. Has been a lot of fun.
Now have some pictures of the Lyon and Healy
30th May 2012
Well the Lyon and Healey mandolin has finally arrived. It arrived safely 2 days ago, with no damage. Huge relief. A change of strings and a couple of days playing and it is settling down in it's new home. I must say, it was worth the wait. It is a bit beat up from being played a lot, but no wonder it is beat up, it is a ripper in the sound department. Best sounding vintage oval hole mandolin I have come across, and it is the first I have come across to get close to the sound of what I am making nowadays. It has similar tonal characteristics as my long necked oval hole mandolin, so I should not have any problem getting the right sound in my new classical model. The L&H has the vintage sound and loose feel that comes from being played a lot, so it is an absolute delight to play. It does not have the clarity nor volume of my long necked oval hole, but I love that old vintage sound. Now I can start work on the first classical model. It may be a while before the first one is finished. The black top Pinus radiata mandolin walked out the door today, so now I need to make another short necked oval hole mandolin to replace it.
The weather has switched to the typical Bega winter weather pattern. Cold nights and lovely warm sunny days. Is a blessing since the high humidity of summer has now gone and I can glue. Have been flat out in the workshop gluing as much critical stuff as I can.
13th May 2012
Well the Lyon and Healy purchase is turning out to be far more stressful that anticipated. The first attempt resulted in the mandolin being bounced back to the seller due to some problem with US Customs documentation. It is now with Australian Customs and finger crossed it will finally be in my hands very soon. There will be great relief when it does finally arrive. This has taken over a month and I now well know the anxiety some of my customers experience when I ship one of my instruments So there has been no progress on the new classical model mandolin yet.
The long necked oval hole mandolin is now finished. It turned out very nicely, definitely has an oval hole sound, no trace of the hybrid sound, so is exactly what I was aiming for. It is one of the loudest oval hole mandolins I have made, very resonant and with a huge ring and sustain. Is quite an unusually lightweight mandolin so should be popular. Now that this has been finished I need to finish and publish the paper I am writing about my long necked oval hole mandolins.
The winner of the National Folk Festival raffle has chosen one of my guitars as his prize, so I am very pleased about that.
Next instrument to come from the workshop is likely to be an A5 mandolin made from Carpathian Spruce and Tasmanian Oak. The last A5 made from this wood combination was exceptional, so I am hoping this one will be similar.
27th April 2012
In the workshop -
I am currently working on a long necked oval hole mandolin made from Carpathian Spruce and Tasmanian Oak. This is nearly finished. Also have started work on the next batch of mandolins/mandolas. This will include a Goldfinch mandolin, and a matching mandolin and mandola from some of the Tiger Myrtle I bought some years ago. Tiger Myrtle is the rarest of the rare Australian woods, and is one of the most striking. Also have the first 00 guitar about 1/2 finished, and started work on a blonde European Maple oval hole mandolin. Have not made a f hole mandolin for a while so have a Carpathian/Tasmanian Oak A5 about 1/4 finished. Lots of work there.
Here is a picture of the figured Tiger Myrtle that will become a mandola. This is extremely rare, especially in this size which is big enough for a one piece mandola back.
Shipment of rare wood arrived yesterday from Sydney. Honduras Mahogany and Brazilian Rosewood, stored in a shed in Sydney for 24 years. Both these woods have been CITES listed so are now a prohibited import into Australia. Except for old stashes like this these woods are impossible to get nowadays.
Here are some pictures
Honduras Mahogany, quarter sawn, 400mm wide. This must have been a huge tree.
Brazilian Rosewood, 250mm wide plank.
25th April 2012
We have made some significant decisions about what to offer in the future. Firstly, there will be a Coombe "Classical" model mandolin. This will be based on the Lyon and Healy mandolins, and will be aimed at musicians who play classical music on mandolin. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time, but have been unable to do mainly due to time constraints, and also the lack of a reference mandolin. To solve this problem I have purchased a vintage Lyon and Healy, which the seller assures me is one of the best sounding and playing examples he has come across, He should know, he is a vintage music instrument dealer. At this date it is in the postal system heading in my direction. I can hardly wait! In 1999 we travelled to the USA and I was able to play two Lyon and Healy model A's and have never forgotten the sound.
Second, I am going to start making F5 mandolins. Yes finally caved in. Judith has been telling me I should make F5's for a long time, and I can made them sound pretty damn good. As Lynn Dudenbostle told me - go for it, and you can suffer like the rest of us. Ha ha. The mould has already been made, so the suffering has started.
Third, Waverley mandolin tuners have been added as an additional option. These tuners are now easier to get, so is time to offer them as an option.
So, the web pages for the Classical and F5 models have been added, but as yet not much content.
We attended the National Folk Festival in Canberra , exhibiting mandolins and guitars with the other instrument makers. Overall was quite pleasing with a new order confirmed and many positive comments. This is the first time I have been seriously exhibiting guitars. Last year I had only one guitar and one guitar amongst 6 mandolins did not attract much attention. This year quite a few guitar players tried the guitars and comments were very positive, especially for my 5th guitar. This one elicited some "that's beautiful" and one "that is a magnificent guitar". This is also my favourite guitar, although the 4th guitar is catching up. The 4th guitar has a Red Spruce top, so is taking some time to sound at it's best, and needs to be played more. I had one Goldfinch mandolin, and that proved to be the most popular mandolin, but the choice was certainly not unanimous. The Pinus radiata mandolin was also popular, and there were quite a few surprised faces when I revealed the top wood, especially amongst the other instrument makers.
Martin Reese was there and he played the Goldfinch mandolin at the instrument makers concert. It sounded beautiful through the PA, I was very pleased. Had a few comments after the concert about how nice it sounded.
Weary after 6 consecutive nights in the session bar, but a very good time was had playing mandolin.
Here is my display, and yours truly standing behind.