News

Latest from the Coombe workshop

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.


12th January 2019

The new web site is now installed and I need a break from sitting in front of the computer.  It has been a huge effort to get it up and running and it is still not completely finished, but that will have to wait.

In the workshop at the moment is a near finished Tenor guitar I am dedicating to the memory of Gillian Alcock, a long time friend and colleague who pased away in November last year.  Also have the first short scale assymmetric classical mandolin that is being varnished.  Has been quite a bit of repair work recently, so building new instruments has had to slow down a bit.  The most exciting thing has been a big break through in how I make my flat top mandolins and mandolas.  Basically they are now made using some of the guitar building principles as outlined in Gore and Gilet's book.  The exciting thing is the improvement in sound this has made.  I have made 2 pancake mandolins and the flat top mandola using these principles and all 3 instruments show the same improvements, and it is not a small improvement.

27th December 2018

Obviously I did not make the Christmas deadline for the new web page.  There have been a few hurdles to get over such as part of the template does not work as expected, and parts of the site I had forgotten about.  Anyway, not far off now.

Both mandolas have been finished.  The Goldfinch is a lovely sweet sounding mandola, and the flattop mandola is remarkably good for a flattop.  Blindfolded you would never pick it was a flattop.  Very pleased, and on that basis have decided to make a flattop octave mandolin using the same principles of construction.

Unfortunately prices will be increasing after 1st January.  Anything completed in 2019 will have the new price.  I have no choice since with the demise of Presto cases and AP cases, case costs have escalated and I need to cover these increased costs.  In addition to that, anything imported, and that includes bridges, tuners and tailpieces, is costing more because of the exchange rate and GST.

1st December 2018

Very busy at the moment preparing for Port Fairy folk festival and the National.  Have just about finished a Goldfinch mandola, a flattop mandola, and am working on my first classical guitar.  The case nightmare has gotten far worse.  Presto cases have stopped making cases due to illness and it could be many months before they resume production.  So I can't get any Presto cases at the moment, and no prospect of getting any in the foreseeable future.  Added to that is the distributor of AP cases has closed down.  These are the cases I have been using for my pancake, flattop and custom mandolins.  No solution at the moment since none of the other distributors are taking up these quite nice cases.  Sourcing cases for my mandolas and tenor guitars is now a big problem because no commercial case fits.  Someone should take up case making in Australia, the market for quality cases is wide open.  Importing custom made cases from the USA is now exorbitantly expensive because of the exchange rate and postage costs.

The new web page is still coming.  The construction section has been a major hold up because of the sheer number of pictures, almost 500 have to be copied across to the new template one by one.  Hopefully it will all be ready before Christmas.

Just finished a Sassafras mandola.  I have not made any mandolas for a while and none from Sassafras, so was interesting.  Very nice indeed.  Got the mandola bug and am now making another mandola, this time will be a Goldfinch mandola.  Have started work on an assymetric Classical with short scale length, first one.

9th October 2018

Just finished a Sassafras mandola.  I have not made any mandolas for a while and none from Sassafras, so was interesting.  Very nice indeed.  Got the mandola bug and am now making another mandola, this time will be a Goldfinch mandola.  Have started work on an assymetric Classical with short scale length, first one.

Ok, OK OK !!!  I get the message from the web site design company harassers, they are driving me crazy.  This web site is a dinosaur, and it is getting unwieldy to maintain,  I know, I know.  Very old design and not mobile friendly, but it was originally built around 1998 so that is not surprising.  Is time to do something about it, so I am currently building a new website which will replace this one.  Unfortunately this site is now so big it is a big job to re-build the new one.  This is going to take some time, and probably will have some of the old site mixed in with the new while I do the conversion.  Not ready yet to release, but I am working on it.  Now I know why so many websites are still not mobile friendly.  It is very time consuming to convert an old site that has been around for a while and has grown, and if you get someone else to do it can be very expensive.  So to the website design/build companies - please leave me alone!


6th September 2018

I have been busy making more Gibson Army Navy style of mandolins.  Great fun instruments to make, and the sound has been improving.  They are now on the web site offered as a Pancake mandolin.  The latest has a Gidgee back and sides.  Gidgee is very hard and heavy and at one time while working on this mandolin I said I would never use Gidgee again, it is just too hard and brittle.  Anyway, had to change my mind when it was strung up.  It sounded different, but I thought it was the best of the lot.  Sold very quickly, so I must have been right.

11th June 2018

After the National there has been a flood of repair work.  One was a restoration of an old Gibson Army Navy mandolin, often referred to as a pancake mandolin because of the body shape.  They were made by Gibson from 1918-1922 and were offered to US servicemen at a discount.  It came as a bit of a wreck, with a sunken top and large split almost the full length of the soundboard.  This is fairly typical of these mandolins, all the ones I have seen have some degree of sinkage in the top.  Unfortunately someone had been there before me and had sprayed it with a thick coat of black lacquer so that had to come off to restore it to original condition so the restoration got quite involved.  Not very often do I get to take the back off a vintage instrument, so I made some detailed measurements and made a copy mandolin just for fun.  I have seen 3 Gibson Army Navy mandolins and one Flatiron pancake mandolin and have not been impressed with the sound so was not expecting much.  None of them sounded clean to me and this one once restored was ok but fairly typical and I would have been disappointed in the sound had I made it.  The copy I made from Red Spruce and Myrtle has been a big surprise.  It is in another dimension from the Gibson as far as sound is concerned.  Very clean and sweet sounding, with excellent clarity in the mids and treble, big ring and sustain, and much louder than the Gibson.  I love it!  It would make a superb celtic mandolin, and quite a nice classical mandolin.  It is currently my go to mandolin.  So after all that, there are 3 more in the works, and a pancake mandolin will be added to my standard offerings.  With sound like that, they will be incredible value for money (around $1200).

Here is a picture of the restored Gibson on the left, and my mandolin on the right.

Pancake mandolins

5th April 2018

Back from the National.  Delivered Tony Hunter's tenor guitar and as usual had a great time and was sad to leave.  Especially sad to leave this time because Doug and Dale have announced they are not attending any more.  After 25 years they have had enough.  Doug is 80 this year and is finding it hard to travel all the way down from Queensland.  I have been exhibiting for 24 years now, only one year less than Doug and Dale, and always look forward to our annual meeting.  Don't know when we will see them again, it is an even longer drive for us to get up to Brisbane.  Martin Reese played the new Myrtle Custom model mandolin at the instrument makers concert and the sound was fantastic.  So sweet and clear, he can really get the best sound from my mandolins, but then he has had one for 18 years.  Together with Christain playing my Sassafras guitar, I was over the moon about the sound.  I had a number of people complement me afterwards about how good they sounded.  Also many good comments about the guitars.  All good, but with some repairs going back home I came home with more instruments that what I left with.  Not really what I was hoping for, but all the instrument makers thought this year was a quiet year.  Now back in the workshop, need to finish the repairs and get started on another Sassafras guitar, and I must get that lovely Myrtle Custom model listed on the for sale page.  Also must finish the Tenor guitar that just missed the National and an A5 that is about 1/3 finished.  Just my luck that lots of people at the National asked about a tenor guitar when I did not have one.

The Goldfinch mandolin mentioned below has been sold.

28th March 2018

Just arrived at the National Folk Festival.  Have a good selection of mandolins, the Sassafras OM guitar, and a new small Sassafras guitar this year.  Managed to just in time finish another Custom model mandolin with Myrtle back.  It sounds brighter than the Sassafras mandolin and has really great clarity in the treble.  When mature it is going to be a powerful but sweet sounding mandolin.  I think I like it more than the Sassafras, even though I thought the Sassafras Custom model was one of the best I have made.  Difficult to pick, they are both great, just different.  Because of the great clarity, the Myrtle mandolin does exactly what I intended for the Custom model, it penetrates in a jam, so I am very pleased with it.

Just in - should have a second hand Goldfinch mandolin available at the National.  Is in pristine condition so will be a good buy for someone.

30th January 2018

A few changes to the website, so a few things might not work in the next few days or weeks until I fix them.  Have expanded the classical junior and classical flattop so they have their own sections with more pictues.  More changes coming.

14th January 2018

Have just finished another new custom model oval hole mandolin.  This is only the second arch top mandolin I have made with Tasmanian Black Heart Sassafras.  Looks great and the sound is similar to the Sassafras Classical Junior, just a bit deeper tone and it feels more solid to play. In other words a wonderful sounding mandolin, and I actually prefer it over the classical junior I made for Judith, but it is a close call.  I love Sassafras.  It has a warm bass and really clear mids and treble, all the Sassafras mandolins have sounded like this, and they are all really LOUD.  The Sassafras OM is the best sounding guitar I have made, and the small Sassafras guitars all sound sweet.  Really great tonewood that has been discovered by the Taylor guitar company.  They use it in some of their special edition guitars.  It is a great pity I avoided it after an article was published years ago by a Tasmanian violin maker where he recommended Sassafras be avoided because it was "spongy".  Well it certainly can be very spongy if the black heart spalting progresses too far into rot.  Maybe it doesn't work in violins, but it sure does work well in mandolins and guitars, and it looks stunning.  He also recommended Huon Pine be avoided because it was too oily, but since then Huon Pine has been used successfully by some Australian guitar makers.

6th January 2018

The year started off dramatically for us.  One of our dogs got bitten by a snake.  We rushed her off to the vet and luckily she survived and is now back home with us and back to normal.  Phew.

Have been madly working on tenor guitars and just put the strings on a new Classical Junior mandolin I made for Judith with Black Heart Sassafras back and sides.  Holy heck, this new Classical Junior is one heck of a mandolin.  Extremely loud and responsive, easily the loudest archtop oval hole mandolin I have made, but beautiful tone, and seems to ring on forever.  I made it for my partner Judith so felt free to try a few different things.  It is made from a very lightweight piece of Red Spruce and the back and sides are Black Heart Sassafras.  Has worked far beyond expectations.  Black Heart Sassafras really is an exceptional tonewood for mandolins and guitars.

16th December 2017

The Goldfinch is now finished as well as a classical flattop and a small bodied oval hole mandolin.  The Goldfinch has a rich luscious tone, one of the best I have made.  The classical flattop is an astonishingly good flattop mandolin, it sounds better than most archtop mandolins.  Very pleasing, but it probably means less flattop and more classical flattop mandolins will be made in the future!  The small bodied oval hole mandolin will be my new "Custom" model.  This one is Douglas Fir top and Myrtle back and sides.  The Douglas Fir was an accident.  It was lurking in the Red Spruce pile and I did not realise it was not Red Spruce until I started carving it and the smell was wrong for Red Spruce.  Any way, it sounds great.  Everyone who has seen it has given good feedback on the sound.

We sent to puppies off to Sydney last week.  Both really pretty puppies, we are pleased with the quality of the puppies we are getting now with Charlie our 2yo stud dog.  However, we were happy to see them go.  Puppies are a lot of work.

2nd November 2017

Very busy.  4 mandolins and a tenor guitar on the go at the moment, plus an almost finished Goldfinch.  Finished the second classical junior mandolin around 2 weeks ago and it sold just before I finished it.  Lovely sweet sounding instrument, I was sad to see it go, but it is in good hands.  That mandolin was supposed to be for the National Folk Festival, so the pressure is on to make another one.  Also had an electronic harp in the workshop for repair.  Something different, and I know next to nothing about harps, but did manage to get it working again and the owner was one very happy camper.

2nd October 2017

The Red Spruce/Myrtle A5 has been completed and I like it.  Warmer sound than Maple but with good clarity, although not as much clarity as Maple.

Have finally managed to get a couple of sets of Schaller GrandTune mandolin tuners, and one set has been installed on a Goldfinch mandolin.  I am impressed.  These are a massive improvement on the old Schaller tuners.  The machining is superb, virtually no slop and they are much smoother.  They also come in a wide variety of options, unlike the old Schallers.  These tuners are not far behind the Waverley tuners in quality.  Not quite as smooth as Waverley, but at around 1/3rd the price it is a no brainer.  From now on Schaller GrandTune tuners are my standard tuners for all the archtop mandolins, and can be installed on the flattop mandolins for an additional $100.  They are more expensive, so I have had to increase prices to cover the difference.

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.

14th July

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.


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