Glance Around the Workshop

What's that look like? Who knows?! No, it's a brace regluing (by the aid of a wedge of wood) under the top of a Gibson-made Oriole mandolin... poked up into place by something that looks rather like this:

Crude looking, but effective. If I can wedge it in with enough pressure (a feat accomplished with fingers, tongs, and patience) it'll work like a clamp under a loose brace that I've cleaned up and applied glue to. As I'm writing this the brace is back in place, dried up, and ready to go.

Now for the fun part... here I'm pulling the old frets out of the ebony fretboard.

And here I've got them all out and have widened the slots slightly to fit newer-style fret tangs in. I've also planed the top and smoothed it up, but final polishing will be done after...

...I've refinished this top. This is a shot of the refinishing process halfway through. As I write this I've applied thin coats of stripper twice again and have begun final sanding for smoothness (it's looking quite a lot fresher than in this photo right now).

Here's a devil of a tiple: fantastic woods (tight grain spruce top, flamed mahogany back, sides, and neck, with tortoise binding and nice purfling) but horrible mistakes have been done to it! For one, someone "installed" a bridge in completely the wrong place... and used bolts on it! AAAGH! For another, it's been entirely refinished in thick, pasty poly (including the fretboard!). I'm going to be refinishing the top and stripping the neck, then roughing up the rest of the finish and polishing it out to look a heck of a lot nicer.

Here's the bridge off... what a mess.

Stripped and sanded. This will become a black-top instrument when all's done, which I think will actually look quite nice, despite the obvious reasons...

Stripped fretboard, no longer consumed by 1/2 mm thick varnish.

Here's a Vega bowlback mandolin fretboard I've just reglued back into position. I've refretted it to the 12th fret and it's already looking a lot happier.

And even happier with new binding...!

That's complete, now! (save for a tiny snip on the treble side end)


c.1930 Unmarked Concert Banjo Ukulele

Here's the type of banjo uke you don't see very often: a bigger 8" head, nicely-built resonator, and 14" concert-ish scale length. V-shaped neck of good quality maple, MOP dots on the board, birdseye maple on the resonator, and great sound & playability. It's ummarked but is in the style of a lot of makers back then: it has a Slingerland style neck brace, so perhaps that's what it is. It certainly looks like a Slingerland in terms of build.

It's original (some mismatched nuts) save new strings, 1960s-style tuners, bridge, and a missing hook, nut, and shoe. The skin head is brand new and has that great fresh poppy but plunky and deeper tone, enhanced by the wider-than-normal head diameter (and a rolled tone ring).

Side. Note inlaid pinstripes on the pot side.

Bridge is a new Grover non-tip at 5/8" -- the straight maple gives the nylgut strings more punch and mellowness than if it were topped with ebony.

Slimmer neck profile with a v-shape for strength.

The best part is this curious headstock shape. Bone nut (non-original).


Though new, the new skin has that old-timey look.


Really pretty birdseye maple on the back of the resonator. Bound, too.

Funky 1960s tuners. They work well -- fair enough!

Good heel to pot join.

Some glow in the wood.



Simple but effective tailpiece.


Polished hardware and pot detail.


c.1928 Regal Octofone

Ah, the Octofone, one of those musical peculiarities you're bound to stumble upon when you're interested in vintage mandolin-esque instruments. This particular one happened to be brought in on a trade for a tiple, and ironically enough, the Octofone was intended to reproduce (in a fashion) a tiple sort of sound (and when strung for it, tuning) itself.

Marketed by Regal in the late 1920s as "eight instruments in one" the Octofone has a scale length around 21" and is traditionally seen these days as a double-strung tenor guitar. Despite that, it's really an instrument that deserves to be judged on its own merits. This one has super lightweight construction, a spruce top, and birch back, sides, and neck. I have it tuned like an octave mandolin but with octave stringing and this thing sings with lots of warmth, resonance, and sustain. Listen to it here in this video while I play it on "Careless Love" --

Though alternate tuning applications are limitless for this scale length, the fashion today is to tune these like an octave mandolin or tenor guitar. It would be really exciting to see this instrument strung like a tiple or uke or in a lower tuning of GCEA, too.

Both these ads I pulled off of Popular Mechanics on Google Books dating to 1928/1929.

Top, lovingly worn-in.

Snakehead-headstock gives it a snappy attack.


This body style is incredibly comfortable. It's big enough to give a lot of depth to the sound yet the double-cutaway top gives you great access to upper frets.

MOP dots on a (probably pearwood) board.

Fun rosette.

Someone's ebony bridge, cut for correct intonation. I've fit it to the top -- before it had a rather crude fit.


Side -- finish is in great shape for one of these guys.


Nice sunburst & double-bound back.

Tuners function perfectly and are originals.

Tailpiece end.

Yep -- it's a fun one. Definitely something to hold onto (I wish I could!).