I will try and keep this reasonably up to date, but it will depend on how
much work (and news) I have at the time.
The last month has been slow in the workshop. Judith has been quite ill in hospital in Canberra so I have been looking after the dogs, cleaning up after the dogs, feeding the dogs, mowing grass, tidying up the garden etc etc. However, I am happy to say that she is now back home and recovering. I did manage to finish a new oval hole mandolin, although it was already 2/3 finished at Easter time. This one is #150 and has taken me almost a year to complete. I wanted to make something special for #150 so took my time and I think I have succeeded. It is made from Carpathian Spruce and European Maple and is a blonde. Blonde Maple mandolins are more challenging to make because every little flaw shows up like the light on a lighthouse. This one has turned out very nicely indeed. The sound is at least as good as the Tiger Myrtle mandolin, but is different. It is exceptionally sweet, clear and clean sounding. More delicate sounding than the Myrtle mandolin and does not have the solid bass sound it has. The Myrtle mandolin has more of a thicker, solid sound. The clarity of #150 is probably the best I have achieved in any mandolin. I really like it, just such a beautiful sound, can't put it down. Have showed it to Matt at Better Music in Canberra and Gillian Alcock and the first words of both was "wow" which is a good sign.
Now that #150 is finished, I have had some time to work on the (long delayed) classical model. #150 has inspired me because now I know what woods I am going to use in the classical model. There are a few other decisions to be made, such as how close to the original Lyon and Healey do I make it. Anything is possible, but some things come at a high price. The scroll headstock of the model A, for example requires modified tuners and is a lot of extra work, so probably is not feasible for the sort of money people are willing to pay. The tailpiece is also difficult and would need to be outsourced. I have pretty much decided to pass on the scroll headstock, and am trying to find a silversmith willing to have a go with the tailpiece. No success yet. I have been looking around on the net to see what other makers have done and Rigel and John Sullivan are about the only people who have successfully reproduced the L&H model A. I saw the Rigel in 1999 and it was an impressive reproduction, but came at a price point roughly double what a vintage example was going for. Some other makers make a two point oval hole mandolin, but they are mostly far removed from a L&H. Is much easier to notice the differences with an original in the lounge room! It is very different from the vintage Gibsons, different arching, different body size, different graduations, lower neck angle, lower bridge, which of course gives it quite a different sound. Anyway, I am now very confident I can make a "classical" mandolin that improves on the sound of my original - i.e. sweeter and clearer, but with the same balance of sound and the L&H mandolins are renown for. We shall see.
Charlie is still with us, but he has been sold, so that was a relief. 5 dogs is way too many.
Here is mandolin #150
7th April 2013
Echuca festival was quiet but the National Folk Festival was great. Sold 2 mandolins and there was a lot of interest, especially in the guitars. The instrument makers concert went really well, Martin Reese demonstrated my Tiger myrtle mandolin and his friend Terry backed him up on my Myrtle guitar. Here they are -
Unfortunately Judith is not well and was not able to attend. She is currently in hospital in Canberra. This has slowed down the mandolin and guitar making because I have been looking after the dogs and trying to sell 3 puppies. Only one to go now. Anyone like a pedigree toy poodle puppy? He is real cute and fairly quiet and gentle, a really lovely dog . He was my favourite puppy, but we have too many dogs already (4) so we can't keep him. Judith has named him Charlie. Here he is -
12th March 2013
All the immediately available mandolins are now on the web page, accessible from waiting list. Only 2 guitars to go now.
Port Fairy was fairly quiet, there were not many mandolin players, but I did get some very good comments about the guitars, particularly the Blackwood 00 guitar. Was a bit unfair on the Myrtle guitar because it was so new. Guitars do change far more than a mandolin does in the first few weeks of it's life. However, was good to catch up with some of the other makers and to meet Pat Evans from Maton who is a mandolin player as well as a guitar guru. The weather on the last day was unbearably hot, 36deg in the shade, but seemed hotter in the tent. Today was 40deg, but we moved to Apollo Bay to escape the heat. Didn't work, it was 39deg in Apollo Bay so we spent most of the day in the car with the air conditioning on. Not good weather for music instruments. Tomorrow we stay in Apollo Bay and then travel to Echuca the next day. Hopefully the weather will improve.
7th March 2013
Just arrived at Port Fairy. Was a big last minute rush and a long drive, so very tired. However, the Myrtle guitar is now finished. Turned out quite nice and the local guitar players seem to like it. Will be interesting to see what the reaction will be at the folk festival. I have quite a collection of instruments this year. Took some last minute pictures and did some sound clips, so have quite a bit of work putting all that on the web site. There are now 2 guitars and 3 mandolins finished but not in the for sale section yet, plus some sound clips. Too much work and so little time.
More on the new flattop mandolin - it is made from the best quality Engelmann Spruce I can get my hands on and some high quality fiddleback Blackwood, nice dark colours. The modifications to the bracing were to close the X as much as possible (is limited by the soundhole), and the X braces are 1mm narrower and 2mm higher. This was all designed to raise mode 4 of the top into the frequency range I get with the archtop mandolins. It worked, but more important it seems to have had a significant effect on the sound which is what I was hoping. This is easily the best sounding flattop mandolin so far. Nice warm sounding bass and crisp clear, clean sounding mids and highs. This one has black nickel tuners with Ebony knobs and it looks great. It will have a higher price tag than the others.
Here is the back
19th February 2013
The grand piano arrived last Thursday and I have been getting acquainted. Wow wheee, what a change from the old Pianola. It is like getting into a Ferrari after driving a Morris Minor for many years. It has required a significant change in technique, took me a couple of days to work out how to play it properly, but now I can hardly believe how lucky I am. Never thought I would ever own a piano like this. This piano is a seriously good instrument, far more piano than I can handle at the moment, but I'm working on it.. It is a joy to play. Put the lid up and wow, such a beautiful sweet rich sound, and some real power. There is no way I would ever go back to an upright piano. This piano is an inspiration to work on my skills and try and get back to how I used to play piano many years ago. Really glad I bought it, even though it drained all our savings, and more.
In the workshop - just finished spraying lacquer on the latest guitar. God I hate that smell, it hangs around for ages as the guitar gasses off. Glad the mandolins are varnished! Strung up a new flattop mandolin today. It has a small modification to the bracing that I though might improve the sound. It worked far better than I was expecting. More later. Apart from that, we are preparing for the trip to Port Fairy Folk festival.
A very hot and dry summer this year. I finally bought a dehumidifier for the workshop, mainly for those warm humid summer days, but the day it arrived it was 41deg and 15% humidity! But that was not the hottest day. Last Friday was 45.8 deg under the veranda. I am glad the workshop is no longer a colorbond shed! 3 more flattop mandolins are in the workshop, 2 nearly finished, and has been some progress on the next guitar, although not as much as I would like.
Had to go to Canberra on Tuesday to get a broken tooth filling fixed. Did something I have never done in my life before. I bought a piano. Second hand baby grand, beautiful sounding instrument. Could not let it go, a new one is around $50,000, and this one was less than a fifth of that, but as far as I could tell they sounded near enough to identical. The older one just has a few dings on the case. It is a Kawai GS40, made in 1988 so is still a child in a piano's life. Definitely one of the best sounding pianos I have ever played. So the old pianola that my grandfather bought new in 1923, and I spend thousands of hours playing has to go. There are many memories in that old piano. Fortunately my stepdaughter is taking it so I will get to see it occasionally. I have started playing piano again and Judith has been trying to persuade me to buy a new piano for a long time, so no problems from the other half. It is just that she likes small, and a baby grand piano ain't small. The big delivery day is 13th February. Very exciting.
21st December 2012
The latest Blackwood flattop must have been a good one. Sold already, less than a week old, did not even make it into the for sale section of the web page.
The last couple of weeks we have had Judith's grand children staying with us. 24/7 and no time to open the workshop door. They left last night and now I have my life back. So tired I slept in this morning. Funny how there is huge relief when they leave, but as soon as they are gone you miss them.
15th December 2012
Strings are on the Engelmann Spruce/Blackwood ftattop mandolin. Sounds very nice. Bright, clean clear sound with massive ring and sustain. I really like this one. Currently binding a Myrtle OM guitar.
23rd November 2012
The Blackwood 00 guitar has settled and is sounding even better. In fact I am so impressed with the sound of this guitar I have started an OM in the same woods, and also a flattop mandolin. The mandolin will be finished before Christmas. Sliced up a big piece of fiddleback Blackwood I have had for many years for the guitar and the mandolin uses some leftover bits. The Blackwood was tricky to cut, very hard and the bandsaw blade went blunt quickly. Changed to a new blade and that is now wrecked as well. Hopefully the resulting instruments will be worth the trouble. The Blackwood from Tasmania has arrived and it is quite a nice piece. Hopefully it will be easier to cut in the bandsaw!
13th November 2012
My first 00 size guitar has been finished. It has taken quite a while, almost 12 months to get this one finished. However the wait has been worth it. The sound is amazing for a small bodied guitar. The small number of 00 guitars I have come across I thought sounded somewhat strangled (for want of a better word), but this one has a huge sound, open and sweet with a surprisingly good bass, just beautiful. Woods are Engelmann Spruce and Blackwood, a nice sounding combination (in mandolins) I have not used in a while. Ray dropped around the other day to try it out 24hrs after the strings went on. Just about had to pick his jaw up off the floor, all he could say was "Wow". It has got me buying wood again. Some Engelmann guitar tops arrived in the mail today, and some fiddleback Blackwood is on it's way from Tasmania.
6th November 2012
The Tiger Myrtle oval hole mandolin is finished and it looks gorgeous and sounds gorgeous. I think it is one of the best I have made. It is the first Carpathian/Myrtle combination I have tried and will be making more from that combination in the future. It is the first Myrtle mandolin I have made for a while since I have been mostly using European Maple and Tassie Oak. I have always liked the warm sweet sound of Myrtle, but thought it lacked some treble clarity compared to Maple and Tassie Oak. This Tiger Myrtle mandolin has disproved that theory. It has superb clarity in the mids and treble.
Here is a picture of the Tiger Myrtle back
The second Engelmann ftattop mandolin is also now finished. This one has Rubner tuners with teflon bearings. The teflon makes a big difference, much smoother, will never go back to the tuners without teflon. In this mandolin I have tried to make the top as light as possible, so the bracing is Engelmann Spruce reinforced with carbon fibre. It seems to have worked, the mandolin is easily the loudest and most responsive flattop so far. I took it to the Kameruka gig on Saturday where it got a very favourable reception.
Currently trying to get the first 00 guitar finished. Nearly there.
6th September 2012
The camping by the beach holiday was great. Fresh fish for dinner today.
The first Engelmann flattop is finished and the first flattop mandola is also nearly finished. The mandola - WOW. Did something right with that one. It sounds very much like my arch top mandolas, just a bit different. Was not expecting a flattop mandola to sound that good. No pictures yet.
Currently am concentrating on finishing all the half finished instruments, so the new classical mandolin and F5 mandolin have been put on hold for the time being.
20th August 2012
The Goldfinch has been finished and shipped to the new owner. The next flattop is a King Billy Pine/Blackwood combination, finished today. We are calling it the poor man's Goldfinch. Very nice mandolin, with a warm sweet and clear sound similar to the Goldfinch. Not sold yet, but probably won't last long. Still need to take some pictures and a sound clip. More case troubles. 3 cases ordered weeks ago from the local music shop have not arrived, so have the dining room table covered in mandolins. Currently trying to get all the half finished instruments finished so as to clear some space in the workshop. The flattop mandola is being varnished, an Engelmann/Queensland Maple flattop mandolin has the varnish drying, another walnut flattop is just about ready for scraping ands sanding, and the Tiger Myrtle oval hole mandolin is ready for scraping and sanding. One day I will get back to finishing the 6th guitar.
Tomorrow we head off for a short holiday by the beach.
30th July 2012
The Walnut flattop and Myrtle flattop have been finished, as has the A5. Both flattops I think are an improvement on the prototype, especially the Myrtle flattop which has already been sold. So, we are certainly moving in the right direction with the flattops. Have ordered a new batch of Rubner tuners with teflon bearings. Will be interesting to see what improvement that makes. The standard tuners work well, and are very consistent in quality, although I think the Schallers are smoother. Unfortunately Schaller quality control is not as good as I would like. Some sets are excellent, others not so good.
The A5 has been a pleasant surprise. It has an unusually deep rich tonal quality that is just gorgeous. We have been comparing it with a couple of other A5's and it has trumped them all. I think it is probably the best A5 I have made so far, and I am having trouble deciding what to do with it since it is very tempting to keep. Most likely we will put it up for sale, bit with a price premium, and just enjoy playing it until it is sold. Trouble is I have no idea what I did right with this one to make it sound so good.
4th July 2012
The prototype flattop continues to amaze. It has settled down and just keeps sounding better and better. The top is 30% lighter than my carved tops so it is louder and more responsive than the standard model oval hole mandolins, and the sustain seems to go on forever. It is also very stable in terms of staying in tune. 24hrs after putting the strings on it stabilised. No more going flat. Normally a mandolin will take at least a few days, sometimes a week to stabilise. I suspect that is because of the carbon fibre in the X brace. Carbon fibre not only is very stiff for it's weight, it also has no memory - i.e. bend it and it will always return to the original shape. This not the case with wood. Wood has memory, so a brace subjected to a load over a long period of time will not return completely to it's original shape once the load is removed. The lack of memory in carbon fibre is a great advantage when used in bracing because it means the top will not slowly sink with time, which is a very common problem in flattop mandolins. I am so impressed with this mandolin I have started work on a flattop mandola. I think a similar mandola will have a huge sound, but that remains to be seen. Can hardly wait.
The prototype flattop mandolin had it's first independent test yesterday. A local mandolin player stopped by to try it out and he was blown away by the sound. He could hardly believe it was a flattop. So, first test passed with flying colours.
Just put up a Flattop page on the web site. Is not fully integrated yet (that takes time), the link is on the front page.
In the workshop - an A5 is being french polished, a walnut flattop mandolin is being varnished, a Goldfinch and a standard oval hole are ready for bindings, a Myrtle flattop mandolin and a walnut mandola are ready for the neck to be fitted. The first 00 guitar is ready for back bindings, and an OM guitar has the top and back braced. Phew, that is more than enough work for now.
26th June 2012
The prototype flattop mandolin is now finished. The strings went on 3 days ago. I love it, and can't put it down. The innovations have certainly worked a treat. I have never much liked the sound of flattop mandolins, but this one is an exception. The sound is light years ahead of any other flattop mandolin I have ever played. Beautiful clear, sweet and clean tone, not much different from my standard oval hole mandolin sound. This has been so pleasing and so much fun I have two more flattop mandolins and a mandola in the works. These will be for sale when I get them finished. I used Rubner tuners on it and have been impressed with how well they work. Waverlys are better, but they had better be at around 5 times the price! More Rubner tuners have been ordered from the manufacturer in Germany, and I am thinking about using them instead of Schallers. All in all this little project has been a rip roaring success. These mandolins are so much easier and quicker to make (and cheaper), and are a absolute delight to play.
Here it is. European Spruce top, Tasmanian Oak back and sides, Queensland Maple neck, Indian Rosewood bindings, Ebony fingerboard and bridge, dovetail neck joint and varnish finish. My name is not on the headstock because I ran out of Abalone logos and am still waiting for the next batch to arrive. That is a great pity because this is a great sounding mandolin which I am keeping it as a reference.
10th June 2012
Have been very busy with a new prototype mandolin. It is a flat top, but with some innovations that I am hoping will work in the sound department. The first one is being varnished and I can hardly wait to get the strings on. This hopefully will eventually become a new model mandolin that will sell for around half the price of the carved top mandolins. They are a lot less work to make, and I can use wood that is too thin for a carved top or back, thus saving on costs. Has been a lot of fun.
Now have some pictures of the Lyon and Healy
30th May 2012
Well the Lyon and Healey mandolin has finally arrived. It arrived safely 2 days ago, with no damage. Huge relief. A change of strings and a couple of days playing and it is settling down in it's new home. I must say, it was worth the wait. It is a bit beat up from being played a lot, but no wonder it is beat up, it is a ripper in the sound department. Best sounding vintage oval hole mandolin I have come across, and it is the first I have come across to get close to the sound of what I am making nowadays. It has similar tonal characteristics as my long necked oval hole mandolin, so I should not have any problem getting the right sound in my new classical model. The L&H has the vintage sound and loose feel that comes from being played a lot, so it is an absolute delight to play. It does not have the clarity nor volume of my long necked oval hole, but I love that old vintage sound. Now I can start work on the first classical model. It may be a while before the first one is finished. The black top Pinus radiata mandolin walked out the door today, so now I need to make another short necked oval hole mandolin to replace it.
The weather has switched to the typical Bega winter weather pattern. Cold nights and lovely warm sunny days. Is a blessing since the high humidity of summer has now gone and I can glue. Have been flat out in the workshop gluing as much critical stuff as I can.
13th May 2012
Well the Lyon and Healy purchase is turning out to be far more stressful that anticipated. The first attempt resulted in the mandolin being bounced back to the seller due to some problem with US Customs documentation. It is now with Australian Customs and finger crossed it will finally be in my hands very soon. There will be great relief when it does finally arrive. This has taken over a month and I now well know the anxiety some of my customers experience when I ship one of my instruments So there has been no progress on the new classical model mandolin yet.
The long necked oval hole mandolin is now finished. It turned out very nicely, definitely has an oval hole sound, no trace of the hybrid sound, so is exactly what I was aiming for. It is one of the loudest oval hole mandolins I have made, very resonant and with a huge ring and sustain. Is quite an unusually lightweight mandolin so should be popular. Now that this has been finished I need to finish and publish the paper I am writing about my long necked oval hole mandolins.
The winner of the National Folk Festival raffle has chosen one of my guitars as his prize, so I am very pleased about that.
Next instrument to come from the workshop is likely to be an A5 mandolin made from Carpathian Spruce and Tasmanian Oak. The last A5 made from this wood combination was exceptional, so I am hoping this one will be similar.
27th April 2012
In the workshop -
I am currently working on a long necked oval hole mandolin made from Carpathian Spruce and Tasmanian Oak. This is nearly finished. Also have started work on the next batch of mandolins/mandolas. This will include a Goldfinch mandolin, and a matching mandolin and mandola from some of the Tiger Myrtle I bought some years ago. Tiger Myrtle is the rarest of the rare Australian woods, and is one of the most striking. Also have the first 00 guitar about 1/2 finished, and started work on a blonde European Maple oval hole mandolin. Have not made a f hole mandolin for a while so have a Carpathian/Tasmanian Oak A5 about 1/4 finished. Lots of work there.
Here is a picture of the figured Tiger Myrtle that will become a mandola. This is extremely rare, especially in this size which is big enough for a one piece mandola back.
Shipment of rare wood arrived yesterday from Sydney. Honduras Mahogany and Brazilian Rosewood, stored in a shed in Sydney for 24 years. Both these woods have been CITES listed so are now a prohibited import into Australia. Except for old stashes like this these woods are impossible to get nowadays.
Here are some pictures
Honduras Mahogany, quarter sawn, 400mm wide. This must have been a huge tree.
Brazilian Rosewood, 250mm wide plank.
25th April 2012
We have made some significant decisions about what to offer in the future. Firstly, there will be a Coombe "Classical" model mandolin. This will be based on the Lyon and Healy mandolins, and will be aimed at musicians who play classical music on mandolin. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time, but have been unable to do mainly due to time constraints, and also the lack of a reference mandolin. To solve this problem I have purchased a vintage Lyon and Healy, which the seller assures me is one of the best sounding and playing examples he has come across, He should know, he is a vintage music instrument dealer. At this date it is in the postal system heading in my direction. I can hardly wait! In 1999 we travelled to the USA and I was able to play two Lyon and Healy model A's and have never forgotten the sound.
Second, I am going to start making F5 mandolins. Yes finally caved in. Judith has been telling me I should make F5's for a long time, and I can made them sound pretty damn good. As Lynn Dudenbostle told me - go for it, and you can suffer like the rest of us. Ha ha. The mold has already been made, so the suffering has started.
Third, Waverley mandolin tuners have been added as an additional option. These tuners are now easier to get, so is time to offer them as an option.
So, the web pages for the Classical and F5 models have been added, but as yet not much content.
We attended the National Folk Festival in Canberra , exhibiting mandolins and guitars with the other instrument makers. Overall was quite pleasing with a new order confirmed and many positive comments. This is the first time I have been seriously exhibiting guitars. Last year I had only one guitar and one guitar amongst 6 mandolins did not attract much attention. This year quite a few guitar players tried the guitars and comments were very positive, especially for my 5th guitar. This one elicited some "that's beautiful" and one "that is a magnificent guitar". This is also my favourite guitar, although the 4th guitar is catching up. The 4th guitar has a Red Spruce top, so is taking some time to sound at it's best, and needs to be played more. I had one Goldfinch mandolin, and that proved to be the most popular mandolin, but the choice was certainly not unanimous. The Pinus radiata mandolin was also popular, and there were quite a few surprised faces when I revealed the top wood, especially amongst the other instrument makers.
Martin Reese was there and he played the Goldfinch mandolin at the instrument makers concert. It sounded beautiful through the PA, I was very pleased. Had a few comments after the concert about how nice it sounded.
Weary after 6 consecutive nights in the session bar, but a very good time was had playing mandolin.
Here is my display, and yours truly standing behind.