YOU ARE HERE: Home

Lefty's Construction Details

argaiv1785

I complete a maximum of two mandolin family instruments, two violins or one guitar each month. I build both exact Gibson Loar replica F5 mandolins and my updated F5 Classic mandolin, standard A-style, the new A+, H5 and A mandolas, three versions of the mandocello, solid body, archtop guitars and a several styles of flat top guitars including OM, 000 and parlor. I only build  replicas of the Stradivari violin. I recently began production of the unique Boomer. I am still discovering improvements for the Boomer so its' specifications are in flux.

The minimum flow time for my instruments is 90 days to allow adhesives and finishes to properly cure. The average flow time is 160 days from start of construction to delivery for standard instruments. On most instruments, roughly 25% of my time is spent on basic construction, 15% on tuning, 40% on finish, 10% on hardware installation, and 10% on set-up. My pricing is intended to reflect the amount of labor involved in each step plus the actual cost of materials. The inlays shown on the pricing page are done using a CNC mill in parallel with construction but more intricate inlays take extra time since I subcontract them out to those highly skilled in that exacting craft. When you order, we will establish a start time based on current backlog. I will send status reports at critical decision points.

Instrument weight is a critical factor, especially for the professional musician who does multi-hour stage gigs. All spruces are approximately the same weight of 26 lb/cu-ft but there is considerable difference in the weights of Rosewood (55), Maple (37), Mahogany (34) and Spanish Cedar (28) that are regularly used for rims, backs and necks.

The soundboard is the key to great sound of acoustic instruments and takes far more time to fabricate and tune than one would imagine. In my opinion Alaskan Yellow Cedar, also known as Canadian Cypress, makes the finest soundboards, both visually and acoustically. Adirondack (Red) Spruce and Englemann Spruce are the traditional soundboard woods used in North America; they are excellent visually though Sitka Spruce and Russian Spruce have equally good sound qualities and Russian Spruce is second in sound quality only to the finest Yellow Cedar. I build all violins with Carpathian Spruce (picea abies) and though it is more expensive, offer it as a standard product on mandolins and guitars. It has a very vibrant tone that requires a bit different tone bar and contour profile but holds great long term promise. On occasion, I come across a piece of old-growth Western Red Cedar that is as good as any spruce but it is not always available and low quality Red Cedar can be a disaster since it is quite split prone. Each mandolin and violin family soundboard is carefully carved into a graceful arch defined with finite element computer modeling then deflection adjusted to a standard; the soundboard is tuned during assembly by carefully trimming the tone bars, and then the assembled instrument is “voiced” using sophisticated electronics and years of practice. Finally it is played, electronically analyzed and fine-tuned before finish is applied. This is where experience and technical knowledge are most important. Similar woods and processes are used for guitar soundboards.

One valuable check while profiling the soundboard is inspecting with a strong backlight to evaluate the uniformity of the recurve area. Note that in this perfectly profiled soundboard that the recurve is slightly thicker near the tail than elsewhere.

Within limits, by using precise soundboard flexure and contouring, detailed acoustic measurements, and a bit of luck, I can adjust the sound of your mandolin or mandola for either a sharp bark or a balanced mellow tone when specified in advance. I define bark, as having the individual string’s fundamental frequency be significantly greater in amplitude than any harmonic and mellow tone as having both the second and third harmonics equal or slightly greater than the fundamental. Sound quality has nothing to do with amplitude (output volume) but rather with the production of harmonics, sustain, and tonal clarity across the entire frequency spectrum.

Classic Bark

The classic bark where the fundamental is dominant. Note the sharp rise of the harmonics above the background for great tonal clarity.

Classic Mellow

The classic mellow where all harmonics are equal to the fundamental. Note the higher background levels indicative of greater sustain

The spectrum on the left is attenuated 3 db relative to the one on the right. The sharp rise in fundamental and harmonics represents nearly twice the acoustic energy, giving a clear sharp ringing sound.

What you don’t see is as important as the appearance and certainly contributes more to sound quality and long life. The rim components of archtopped instruments; head block, tail block, and point blocks are precisely cut from laminated mahogany or maple and joined with Titebond I or hot hide adhesive to a carefully steam-bent rim of maple or walnut. Most guitar necks are cut from either Maple, Spanish Cedar or Mahogany. For those who wish a lighter instrument, I will use Spanish Cedar for the neck, head block and point blocks but a very solid tail block is critical so it must be made from a hardwood. Once bent, the rim is dried to less than 10% moisture content before being joined to the block components or neck. This assures that future wood shrinkage is minimized. The rim edge reinforcement that supports the soundboard and backboard is cut from Basswood or Maple. The neck is machined to very close tolerances and joined to the instrument body with a full contact dovetail joint or in the case of guitars, the Spanish style incorporated into the body. The interior of every instrument is protected with natural shellac.

The neck of all stringed instruments should be reinforced with a stiffener to resist bending under the tension of 6 or 8 strings. For years, a thin steel truss rod with an adjustable nut has been imbedded in the neck with the nut hidden under a small cover on the peghead. With the introduction of graphite reinforced epoxy splines some years ago, an excellent alternative is available. I use and highly recommend them. The splines that I use have the trade name Dragon Plate. This material is very light but stronger than steel and when properly installed, the neck will never bow. Dragon Plate was originally developed for structural components on fighter aircraft and military helicopters. A secondary benefit is that a truss rod nut cover is not required on the peghead so there is more room for decoration such as my original pot & vine inlay. I offer and will gladly install a steel truss rod since they permit some tweaking when setting up and tuning the instrument.

Fretboards can be made from any hardwood. Gabon Ebony is the industry standard closely followed by Rosewood. Many guitars are built with Maple fetboards and occasionally I get an order for one on a mandolin, mandola or mandocello. Little used but very beautiful are Cocobolo, Padauk and Lacewood, particularly when used as part of a two-toned peghead, fretboard and pickguard set paired with pure white Maple. Fretboards typically have position markers that are round dots of pearl but some wish a more elaborate set such as on this Boomer board shown below.

I offer 8 fretboard, 3 fret materials, 3 neck shapes, 3 point guards, 4 nut materials 5 binding trims and 5 tailpieces as standard options and within the limits of practicality, will build any configuration you desire. There are many F-hole shapes available but I normally use the standard Gibson version unless another is specified. Many pegheads are fitted with my trademark climbing vine, waving grass, or vase and branches inlays that are produced with CNC machining but through a skilled subcontractor I can provide stone, metal, pearl, or abalone inlay patterns in any degree of complexity that your budget can stand. A sketch or picture of the inlay is all that is required to get started. All Lefty custom instruments can be equipped with a K&K passive pickup with the output jack in place of the strap pin.

Each instrument is either left natural or colored and shaded with your choice of stain combinations followed by sprayed lacquer, spirit varnish applied in the French polish manner or brushed on oil varnish. Oil varnish is by far the most durable finish but requires a longer cure time and only a very experienced luthier can apply without bubbles. I also provide both opaque and semi-opaque lacquer finishes in white, black, green and red, an expensive but elegant statement of your personality, especially when gold dust is added to the final coat. My instruments do not require edge binding to cover poor joints but most customers prefer them. My standard edge bindings are 0.60 or 0.090 x 0.25 single-color white, ivory, pearloid, black, and tortoise. For a bit more, horizontal or vertical multi-strip bindings (base binding plus 2 purflings) can be custom constructed. I also offer custom wood bindings on the A-style instruments and all guitars. On the larger instruments such as guitars and mandocellos, I frequently install combination (both horizontal and vertical) multi-strip bindings. These complex bindings are a bit overwhelming on the smaller instruments but I will install them if requested.

Proper selection of a string set is critical to achieving optimum acoustic performance. Too light results in low response and no bass, too heavy results in weak treble and dull bass. In most cases phosphor bronze wound strings are preferred though on rare occasions a bluegrass tuned F5 requires nickel-steel strings to achieve that sharp bark. Of course, the finest classical guitars demand gut or nylon strings. String clearance of the frets (action) should be kept to not more than 0.020 to minimize the force required to get good contact between fret and string. This also minimizes altering the string's tuning by increasing the tension due to excessive deflection. The general rule of thumb that I use is that on the A and F5 mandolins D'Addario J74 or FW74 strings work best but on occasion lighter J62 strings brighten up the tone. On the A+ and many H5 mandolas J75 strings are best but on some mandolas the heavier J76 strings are required to get optimum bass response. There are literally hundreds of guitar string sets available, I select them to achieve the specific sound required by the customer. In all cases a set of detailed electronic measurements are made on each instrument using several weights of strings to determine which is best. The customer should not deviate from this selection and expect improved performance.

Many instruments that I build are standard right-hand but I also make a considerable number for lefties like me so specify which you want. A note about the A and A+; they are either X or parallel braced and thus ambidextrous, requiring only the bridge saddle and string nut be replaced to be easily converted should you wish to sell it to an opposite-hand person. This is not true for the guitar, though symetrically braced, the stiffness of those braces is adjusted for pick strike direction and the tone bar is unique for the playing hand.  Remember that the hand is defined by which one holds the pick. Whether you order one of my instruments or decide to shop elsewhere - BUY DIRECT FROM A GENUINE CUSTOM LUTHIER WHO SPECIAILZES IN ARCH-TOPPED INSTRUMENTS. There are several other top quality luthiers registered at www.mandolincafe.com and many more who are competent and ethical. I don’t cut ANY corners and neither do other legitimate luthiers; this shows in the final product. With Lefty, you get what you pay for, usually a bit more and no one beats my warranty.

Each custom signature grade Lefty instrument comes with a certificate of authenticity that describes all critical components and construction processes.

   

All sales of custom instruments are final.

The Lefty Luthier, Inc. will honor the warranty as shown below.

THE LEFTY LUTHIER WARRANTY

Upon delivery of a new custom instrument, the Lefty Luthier will for a period of 90 calendar days correct any defect in materials or workmanship at no charge to the customer for materials, labor or return shipping.  After 90 days, so long as the original purchaser owns a Lefty Luthier signature instrument, any failure of a glue joint or significant crack in the neck, soundboard or backboard will be either satisfactorily repaired or replaced with a new instrument having identical materials. Parts of the original instrument will be salvaged where possible. After 90 calendar days, damage to the instrument's finish is specifically excluded. Regardless of ownership, normal wear items such as strings, nut, bridge, and frets will be replaced, labor free, for the cost of materials with the owner bearing shipping costs both ways.  In the unfortunate event that a Lefty Luthier signature grade instrument is damaged, whether finish or structure, it will be restored to playable and the best possible visual condition, labor free, for the cost of materials with the owner bearing shipping costs both ways.

WARRANTY EXCEPTIONS

  1. Removal or defacing the Lefty Luthier label voids the warranty.
  2. Cracks in Burl or Birdseye maple backboards will be repaired to the best of our ability but that is the limit of our liability.
  3. The use of any wax or polish containing silicone voids the warranty on the mandolin's finish.
  4. Removal or replacement of the original tuning machines, nut, frets, bridge, or tailpiece by an unauthorized individual removes any obligation The Lefty Luthier has to the sound quality or damage to the instrument and should the instrument be returned for repair, a labor charge will be imposed.