6/21/2017

1960s Homebrew Electric Mandolin





I hunt for electric mandolins all the time on eBay, but so few actually catch my interest. The '60s and '70s hollowbody, A-style Japanese ones are neat but it's hard to find ones that are aesthetically crazy enough to make me snag them. Fenders cost a fortune, and new instruments are not in my wheelhouse. So -- I hunt!

This instrument was clearly a homemade contraption from the '60s and the only things factory-bought that came on it were the tailpiece, fretboard (it appears to be a Harmony or Kay parts-sold board), and Kluson tuners. The body was made from tight-grain pine, bound in white plastic, sprayed in a folksy red/cream "sunburst," and capped on the back with a formica-like layer of the same material that the pickguard is made of. I'm not sure what the neck is made from, but it's a healthily-big, rectangular-shaped thing, and stable. The pickguard came with it, but there was no wiring harness, no pickup, no nut, and no bridge.

My work, then, included a fret level/dress, some enlargement of the rout, a new nut, side dots install, a new rosewood bridge, a new wiring harness, and a new Danelectro-style, Alnico-magnet, Strat-sized pickup. It's fairly hot for the type (8k ohm output vs the usual 3-4k) and so it keeps pace with your average Strat or Tele's output. It's playing on-the-dot with 1/16" action at the 12th fret, a straight neck, and it's strung with 34w, 22w, 13, 9 stainless-wrapped electric mandolin strings.

It has a 14" scale length and a 1 3/16" nut width.


The fret access is really good on this -- all the way up!

My new wiring harness has 500k pots for the volume and tone, a .01 cap for the tone (it only rolls-off into a "jazz" voice at its farthest and doesn't roll-off into mud). The jack is a Switchcraft unit and the pickguard has been shielded, too.




The pickguard (which came with the instrument) was cut (poorly) for something like a DeArmond gold foil or acoustic guitar soundhole pickup. I wanted to use the Strat-sized lipstick pickup, so the adapter ring solved that problem and the black knobs from my parts-bin ties the look together.



The rosewood bridge is the topper from an adjustable mandolin bridge that's cut-down to fit. Two small "set screws" hold it in place so it doesn't travel by accident when you're getting into it.


The tailpiece is simple. Note the foam I've stuffed under the cover (it's peeking-out on the bass side) to mute the overtones from the string afterlength.



Confusing, right? I like the crazy maroon paint. This is almost like a sci-fi prop.


The Klusons appear to be holding pitch just fine.


This came without strap buttons, so I added one here and at the tailpiece.






I also drilled and added a ground wire from the tailpiece into the control cavity. It's surprising how many homemade projects (and factory instruments) from the time were made without a ground to the strings!


As you can see, the neck is a bigger, soft-rectangular shape. It's not awkward for me, but then again I play on a mandolin with a deep, fat, V/C-shaped neck.

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