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#luthiery

She’s done. Essentially. Some cleanup of the fretwork, some more wax, an end pin. Essentially done. Her voice is sweet.

And now onto the island. The kitchen island. My life is not that relaxed.

This is a big update, as the last couple weeks were crucial to finish this and I haven’t had the time to post updates here. I have kept the Instagram up to date, though.

Last photo I shared here was a hollowed out— very rough— body. That got cleaned up on the router table. Braces were added to the inside of the box and to the top, a beautiful piece of locally sourced sassafras from Lumber Logs. Lumber Logs is a great place for all wood-loving guys and gals with really good prices on locally cut lumber. It’s all rough sawn, so my buddy at River Soul helped clean it up with his planers and jointers.

The Bigger News

I mentioned in the last post that I couldn’t yet show the headstock. Why? Well, when this instrument was conceived— heh— the plan was a simple, cheaper banger for travel, campfires, and having everywhere I go. That meant cheaper hardware, no electronics, and locally sourced top— my previous build had a $125 top. But then my wife told me we were expecting our fourth child.

So as any sane man does when his legacy is expanding, I got up at 4 the next morning and started drawing an inlay. I had yet to do a complex inlay, so this was a big first. I wanted yellow and white mother of pearl, but the prices were not right and I don’t have the tooling for cutting MOP in my shop. So I did what I do: I sourced from SendCutSend brass and titanium, laser cut pieces for the inlay. Four leaves for our four children, a butterfly for my wife, and my Minotaur brand.

So the banger got a bit more complicated and the price went up a bit, but still under $300 total. It is my cheapest instrument yet. Final photos and videos will be coming soon.

A Baby!

Enough about that: baby is healthy, growing quick, looking to be as big as our oldest two, and another boy. Yep, three boys now. We cannot be more psyched and are prepping the house for another baby. So as I wrap this beautiful mandolin up, I am going right back into the shop to work on a kitchen island, a queen size bed, and more over the next couple months. Let’s go!

A ton more progress on the mandolin over the last week. Including stuff that I cannot show just yet: the headstock inlay. The body is being hollowed out of a solid block of beautiful, locally sourced walnut, like the new Fender Highway Series acoustics. The neck is ready for mother of pearl dots on the front and side. Tuning machine holes have been drilled.

15 days to go. No pressure.

A couple weeks ago a fire was lit under my butt to finish the baby rattles I started… earlier this year. Last week I sold one of them. Now I’m back to the banger build which is part of the Great Guitar Build Off that I have now done for three years. And it’s due at the end of the month. Both the prior builds were essentially done in 5 weeks, so I’m not terribly concerned about time here.

Saturday and Sunday I finished the headstock inlay, Sunday through to this morning I’ve been thicknessing the headstock, and today I started to profile the neck. This is big progress.

Something always funny to me when building a mandolin— I built an electric mandolin last year— is that the headstock is almost as long as the neck. It feels wrong until the profile starts being revealed. So many strings.

As you recall, this is to be my low-cost instrument that I bring with me places I might not want my very nice mandola with me. Camping, roadtrips, music festivals, etc. I’m still below $300 total on her. I may have gone a bit overboard on the headstock design for the a low-cost instrument, but it’s for me and I wanted to. lol

Back to the Shop

I posted about a new set of builds in May. That was before DelFest. That was also before Denver. We’ve been… a bit busy. And my… priorities have shifted a hair. You see, I had said I was building two instruments hopefully this year: an electric mandocello and a Telecaster-inspired guitar. But then I took my nearly $1000 mandola on two major adventures and realized that maybe I need an banger. A cheaper, lightweight, acoustic instrument I could bring everywhere with me. Because I truly bring my mandola almost everywhere with me. Everyone is well aware that it is a security blanket.

The banger. Now my wife laughs at me because I cannot create a truly cheap instrument and my woodworking buddy Boushard would chime in to say “because he’s a woodworker,” so my budget is around $200 total. Most of that will be hardware and the inlay. The wood is all locally sourced. Walnut for the body, sassafras for the top, and bird’s eye maple for the neck.

Since I am very comfortable on an iPad, all the design work for these types of projects starts as a sketch in Linea and then goes to full vectors in Affinity Designer. I can easily export SVGs and have the Cricut cut them out of paper. There was a lot of refining and getting the headstock to a point that I love it.

Over the weekend I was able to get paper templates cut on the Cricut, MDF templates made for the headstock and body, and the wood cut down to size. It honestly felt great to be back in the shop working.

Much more is coming on this and you can follow along on Instagram at @MinotaurGuitars.

Third year of doing GGBO— the Great Guitar Build Off—, here we go! Last year was the first year of the Freestyle category which opened up the competition officially to acoustics and non-guitar instruments like ukuleles, mandolins, and exotic instruments. I have a thing for small instruments, so I built a mandolin.

This is one of my favorite instruments that I have built so far. For 2021, I built a full-scale guitar and it was a ridiculously cool instruments. I took inspiration from F-style mandolins in making an offset, claro walnut-topped guitar with all black hardware.

So what do I do for #GGBO2023? Well, I’m working on a few things. One or two might be for GGBO. I had two instruments on the agenda for this year, both for myself. First up is a 5-string mandocello. 23.5 inch scale, same body-shape and headstock as the mandolin from last year’s competition. Ignore the 4-hole headstock, I only have the 4-hole (ukulele) headstock and 8-hole (mandolin) headstock vectors done.

Mandocello

The second instrument I was planning on building this year is a T-style guitar. Obviously, I don’t build other company’s instrument designs, so I’m working on my own T-style body shape. Unlike my mandolins that have shiny chrome hardware and vibrant gradient tops, this guitar will use reliced hardware paired with a bourbon barrel top for a more rustic look. I want the echos of a Telecaster to be clear, but bring my own taste to it.

T-style guitar

So far I have done the math for the neck shape, neck pocket, bridge placement, and hardware placement. If I achieve what I want with this, it might be my new daily rider.

Beyond these two instruments for myself, there is another idea I’m noodling that could be spectacular. Those I’ve talked with about it agree.

As Spring is springing and Summer right around the corner, I am excited to get back in the shop and start working a few projects this year. The design phase is fun, but I’m psyched to make some sawdust and make a joyful noise.

The Loot on the Lute from D&D: Honor Among Thieves

I kinda like instruments. And by kinda, I mean a lot. So it should be no surprise that when the first Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves trailer dropped, my eyes were on Edgin’s lute. The first promotional images and trailers didn’t show it well enough to know much, but the headstock looked… wrong. And as more promotional material dropped, I noticed more details. First I noticed what appeared to be a scalloped fretboard. Which, if I wasn’t mistaken most lutes used gut frets. Second, the headstock had a violin-like scroll. Third, there were only four strings, which most historic lutes had way more strings than modern instruments.

So I was excited to see the film on the big screen. Because huge fantasy action film with a great cast. And a bard with a cool instrument. And we got the chance to see it early yesterday in St. Louis. And I got the details. Gorgeous instrument, yes Chris Pine plays it, it sounds great, and he uses it as a melee weapon… But that scalloped fretboard wasn’t scalloped, it had weird triangle frets. I’m not well-versed outside Western instruments, I’ll admit, so I didn’t recognize them. Didn’t take long on DuckDuckGo to find out those frets are from a Chinese Pipa.

So what do we have. A reentrant tuning like a ukulele, gut strings, pyramid frets like a pipa, a sound hole like a guitar/lute, scrolled headstock like a violin, and a pipa-/lute-like body. Weird. Not a lute.

And then I found the man that made the instrument. And his video has less than a hundred views. He gives a lot of great details. Yes, it was designed to be an amalgamation of European and Eastern instruments. And he even has the prototype that he made for the movie.