Welcome to my blog! I thought that I would try my hand at writing about various aspects of mandolin making on a more or less monthly basis. I say 'more or less' because new submissions will largely be based on wether or not, I have the time and inspiration. New entries will be posted here with the latest one at the top so you can quickly see if there has been any activity since your last visit.
Wow! I can't beleive that I'm into my fourth year of blogging here! In order to keep things from becoming too unruly, I will begin seperating each year of blogs onto its own page. Just click on the links below in order to read my past postings.
March 7, 2019
This month, I'm going to let Forrest O'Connor do the talking by reposting this very recent video that he and partner Kate Lee, posted to their YouTube channel. Kate and Forrest post regularily, every week on Wednesdays as part of their ongoing series, "Born in Nashville".
In this episode, Forrest talks about his Apitius, Custom Grand Classic and ends with a dazzling version of "Whiskey Before Breakfast". The episode was recorded in Kate and Forrest's home studio in Nashville Tennessee.
February 3, 2019
It's been a long time since my last blog entry. I've been extra busy in the past few months with some exiting developements that I hope to be able to share with you in the not so distant future. In the meantime, I thought that it would be good to explain some of the many subtle details that I've been including in my mandolins of late.
As I state on my home page, my objective in building F-style mandolins is to recreate the outward aesthetics of the Loar period mandolins while incorporating the refinements to the graduations and tone bar profiles that I have developed over my 40 years in the business. Refinements that have resulted in "the Apitius sound". I believe that those original mandolins were true masterpieces of design and visual aesthetics. I have tried to verify who it was that was responsible for that design, which began with the redesigning of the F2, F3 and F4 in around 1910 when Orville's original "3 point" design was refined to the now familiar 2 point version, but none of the experts that I have spoken with can say with any certainty, who that was. Someone at Gibson, and it wasn't Lloyd Loar, had an extraordinary eye for aesthetic beauty. Some speculate that it was general manager, Guy Hart but there is no hard evidence for this. From the initial major redesign around 1910, the F models were tweaked continuously over the next decade with the culmination coming with the introduction of the F-5 "Master Model" in 1923. It just boggles the mind how they got so many things right. A feat like this is unlikely to occur in today's world where ease of production dictates design parameters instead of a more pure and free artistic expression. The F-5 was not designed with production efficiency as the driving concern rather, an instrument of the highest quality, to surpass all others seems to have been the aim. My aim is to capture these details and recreate the level of hand made quality that made these instruments come to be iconic.
Just to give the reader an idea of the details that I am talking about, let my give a partial list of these details that are often not present in other modern, F5 style mandolins;
Tapered Dovetail Neck Joint. Because of the compound curves and angles this joint requires on an F style instrument, many manufactures use alternate methods of neck attachment but nothing has surpassed the traditional tapered dovetail for strength, vibrational conduciveness and reversibility.
Off Center Neck Joint. If you examine an original F5 closely, (or F2s & F4s) you will notice that the neck is attached to the body a little to the left of center. While there is some disagreement among experts whether this was intentional, it is present on nearly all examples and in my opinion contributes to the overall aesthetic by 1.) tucking the scroll in closer to the fingerboard and 2.) creating the illusion that the inner line of the scroll transitions and blends smoothly with the line of the neck. It is interesting to note that in order to achieve this off center attachment, the neck must be angled in such a way as to have the centerline of the fingerboard intersect the centerline of the top precisely at the bridge position.
Off center neck joint. (note subtle curve of fingerboard extension)
Ebony Fingerboard Support. To my knowledge, early Loar signed F5s had fingerboard supports of maple. At some point this was changed to ebony and was probably done for structural reasons rather than aesthetics. None the less, I have also switched from using maple to using ebony. I have not had any problems with the maple supports but I have come to like the look of the ebony for this purpose.
Ebony fingerboard extension support.
Dovetailed Point Protectors. The original F5, when 'topbound', had its point protectors dovetailed into the binding. The fitting was done by hand and made for a more secure attachment of the points which by necessity are glued to the end grain of the sides. I have carried on this tradition which many modern makers omit.
Point protectors are dovetailed into the binding on 'topbound' models.
Tortoise Colored Side Dots. Another detail much overlooked is the use of tortoise colored side dots on the fingerboard. It's a small detail but it gives that extra bit of refinement befitting a high quality instrument.
Tortoise colored side dots.
5-Ply headstock veneer. Most modern makers use a headplate of solid wood, typically ebony. The original F5s actually had a head plate made of a special 5-ply sandwich of hardwood veneers with alternating grain direction for strength and stability. The outer visible layer was of black dyed pear wood. Using a solid veneer is actually easier in terms of production but does not offer the greater strength and stability. Using hot hide glue, I glue up my own sandwich of 4 maple veneers plus an outer veneer of dyed pearwood. The back of the peghead receives a single layer of dyed pear wood mostly as a decorative element, as was done on the Loar signed instruments.
Gluing up a 5-ply sandwich of maple and dyed pear wood.
The plies are visible in the truss rod pocket.
The back of the peghead gets one ply of dyed pear wood carved into a 'widow's peak'.
Black Varnish Applied to Headstock Face. In addition to using black dyed pear wood on the face of the peghead, the original F5s had their peghead faces painted with a black varnish. The pearl shell inlays would then be scraped clean. This extra procedure results in inlays that have maximum contrast to the background substrate. Since no one knows the exact formulation of this black varnish, I use a proprietary formula to 'paint it black' and then scrape it from the inlays once it has dried. Again, very few are including this extra detail in their mandolins.
A proprietary black varnish is applied to the peghead face.
When dry, the varnish is scraped from the inlays.
Angle-cut and Tapered Headstock. While we're focused on headstock details, let's not forget that the original F5 mandolins had pegheads that were both angle-cut and tapered from end to end. Angle-cut refers to the angle of the sides of the pehead relative to the face. Instead of the side edges being square to the face, as might be expected, the originals were cut square to the fingerboard plane and therefore 13° to the longitudinal plane of the peghead. This results in a peghead with gently twisting dimensions which is rather pleasing to the eye. In addition to being angl-cut, the pegheads were also tapered slightly in thickness from end to end. Again, rather pleasing to the eye and serving no other function. In fact, a tapered headstock creates complications when installing today's precision tuning machines but these are the kind of small details and extra effort that make for a truly great and inspirational instrument.
Angle-cut and tapered headstock.
Hand Applied Sunburst Stain. While the majority of modern makers use spray techniques to achieve the familiar shaded top of the arched top mandolin, the original F5s had their stain hand applied directly to the wood. While spraying very quickly produces an even coloration, and is therefore the method of choice for most production shops, it does not fully bring out the full character of the wood. Applying the stain by hand using a cloth applicator requires much more skill and time but when done well, results in a finish that brings out the individual character of the wood, helping to make each instrument truly unique. While spray methods produce a look that can be said to be technically more perfect, true art does not depend on technical perfection but rather aesthetic perfection that speaks to the human soul. After all, a photo of a woman sitting by a lake is technically more perfect than a painting of one yet the Mona Lisa still captivates us in profound ways.
Appying stain by hand.
Hand applied stain and French polished spirit varnish.
Well I think you get the idea. Apitius instruments are made with an attention to detail far exceding the majority. Striving to produce only the best is what motivates me and the wonderful feedback from my customers makes it all worthwhile.
Until next time. Thanks for reading and hold to the Golden Rule,
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