Sam's Notebook

Periodic musings on the making of instruments and music

Mandolins for WinterGrass 2014

I'm finishing up 4 of this batch, trying to get them finished and played a bit before the WinterGrass festival in Bellevue, Washington at the end of February. Two with sitka spruce tops and two with redwood. The redwood tops are from one piece of wood, one with "f" holes and the other with an oval hole. These two instruments are matched pretty closely so we can compare these two styles of mandolin. Of course the oval has a different bracing, with an X brace. We'll see how they sound. 

X-Brace on Redwood, ready to trim down to size

X-Brace on Redwood, ready to trim

Update: We are having a great time at Wintergrass 2014. At the last minute, John Bear showed up and he and Ren helped me get three mandolins ready for the weekend. I brought one with a sitka top and two redwood topped mandolins. One with "f" holes and one with an oval hole, both redwood tops cut from the same piece of wood. The last one was strung up right in the booth on Thursday night and all are settling in nicely. It's has been so dramatic how much they change in those first few hours of playing. I love being able to sit back and listen to my instruments being played by all these very different players. I can really hear how each instrument and wood type projects out into the room.  

New Batch 2014

I'm working on 5 new mandolins right now. Wintergrass is coming up at the end of next month so I've got to stay on task. The Redwood topped mando that I made last year sold, and there have been several requests for others like it and an oval hole model. A woodworking/art school friend, Chris Schambacker gave me some beautiful very wide planks of old redwood he has been hauling around for many years. I ripped them down on my 18" bandsaw and got two tops out of each piece. Nice! I'm making two closely matched instruments out of those pieces. One with my standard "F" holes and one with an oval hole design. Can't wait to get these completed and hear what they sound like. Finally

Gluing solid kerfling

Gluing solid kerfling



Paduk, Ebony and Zeracote Fretboards



5 necks and neck joints ready to go.

the dreary winter cloud cover has settled in, although we really need some snow up in the Cascades to store up our water supply for next summer. 

Concert – Jack Dwyer & Tim Connell – Sunday, Sept 22

We are having our next concert next weekend on Sunday afternoon, music at 3 pm and a mandolin workshop at 12 noon. Jack Dwyer and Tim Connell teach at Lewis and Clark College near Portland and they are doing a "duo" mandolin musical trip around the world for us on Sunday. It should be a great afternoon of amazing music and I hope you all can make it out to the farm. If the weather doesn't cooperate we will move over into the barn. 

Jack and Tim are also doing a mandolin workshop for 2 hours at 12 noon. The workshop is just $35. Well worth it for a class from two top notch teachers. Appropriate for all levels. 

Music at 3 pm.... only $10                                                                                                             Get here a little early and hang out by the pond, it's a beautiful time of year.  

Lark Meadows Farm  4132 Hanson Rd Ellensburg, WA

John Reischmann & the Jaybirds Concert

What a day! It was hot in more ways than one. At about 102 degrees everybody was pretty laid back and tryin' to stay in the shade. I can't wait for our trees to grow about 50 ft taller (well I will have to wait won't I). The Jaybirds were right on, even in the heat. Our band Better Day did a little warm up set then the Jaybirds gave us 2 full sets of great music. Lots of in-tune vocal harmony and crisp, clean instrumentals kept everyone enthralled. Jim Nunally on guitar, Greg Spatz on fiddle, Nick Hornbuckle on banjo, Trisha Gagnon of bass and John Reischman on mandolin. I so hope they can come back some time in the future. Really nice folks and amazing musicians.

The crowd stuck to the shade for the afternoon event.

The crowd stuck to the shade for the afternoon event.


Duet with tight backup

Duet with tight backup (John hit the high ones that day)


Nick Hornbuckle and Jim Nunally

Nick Hornbuckle and Jim Nunally


Greg Spatz

Greg Spatz


Looking out to Manastash Ridge

Looking out to Manastash Ridge


Trisha Gagnon & Jim Nunally

Trisha Gagnon & Jim Nunally


Fine harmony vocals

Fine harmony vocals - mixing in the air


John Reischman Concert Soon

We are getting everything in place for our John Reischman and the Jaybirds concert on June 30th. Cory and Kiffen Dosch, came through over the weekend and we set up the stage in the "Cabana". We got to play a few tunes and try out the PA. The next day the sun was out and everybody was dancing. I think the concerts on our small farm are going to be a real hit, we've got to keep them just the right size though. Tickets for the June 30th show are selling so if you'd like to come go to:   and get them early we are limiting the sales. 

Glue the Top

The top is carved, sanded and braced. In this prototype mandolin I'm using a single cross brace and a "oval" hole. This video shows the putting in the upper lining and gluing the top to the ribs (sides), and a couple quick shots of the perfling and binding. 


The next video will show carving and shaping the neck. 

Carving the Top

I'm working on a new oval hole, two point mandolin prototype and I want everyone to see the process I go through. So I'm shooting video on my iPhone showing my mandolin construction process and sharing it with you as I move along. I don't think of these videos as instructional just a look into my process. There are many techniques that woodworkers and instrument makers use and my why of doing something is by no  means the only way. 

The first installment shows carving an arched mandolin top plate out of a single piece of sitka spruce. I've had this piece for a couple years and I'm finally getting around to using it. I rough out the shape with a good, sharp chisel and then use various power sanders to get the basic curves. A flexible scraper helps finalize the curves with hand sanding along the way. Sorry I didn't get shots of carving the inside and establishing the thicknesses of the top... maybe next time.  

 In the next video I'll glue the top to the ribs.  

Later, Sam

Mandolin Lessons at

There are many music lessons and videos online these days. It's amazing that we can see a video of a performance from just about anybody, past or present. And there are thousands of youtube videos from people of all levels from all over the world. I love it. Something the technology does well. A new, interactive way of learning over the web is happening at a site called I'm doing mandolin lessons with one of the great mandolin masters of our time, Mike Marshall. The thing about this site is that, we the students, send in videos of what we are working on and the teacher sends a video back in a few days with a reply. It's so cool! I just sent in my first couple videos the other day. It takes a bit to get comfortable sending yourself out there with mistakes and all, but that is the beauty of it,  the teacher can really know where you're at and actually help. There is a whole group of video lessons as well, to build a good foundation. Just the first response from Mike has opened some doors in my thinking that I've been struggling with for years. If you are into learning music I suggest checking out: 

Fan the Flame

Many years ago, when I was young and in art school, sprewing up our waxes, burning out the molds, melting bronze in the furnace and pouring the glowing molten bronze was a highlight of the college quarter. When we knocked off the "ludo" to reveal the solid casting inside, it felt like Christmas. I'm not making large sculptures anymore, but my mandolins need tailpieces so I'm trying to remember all the details of casting bronze. 


I made a little furnace from fire-brick and looked online for burner designs. That was fun, the flame kept back burning into the burner until I got the air intake right. A little hair drier blower really got the thing going and the bronze was over 2000 degrees in 25 minutes.




The casting went OK, but didn't get up into the vents all the way so the tailpiece will get melted back down and the bronze used again. After I get the bugs worked out of the design I'll cast several at a time. Here I'm just cleaning off the investment from the rough piece. There is something ancient and magic about melting metal and turning it into something unique and beautiful.  



Lambing Season


My wife Ren with the first lamb of the year, a couple weeks ago.  There are eight new lambs and the first kid came this morning, the end of March 2013. We'll keep the ewes with the black coats to get some color into the gene pool. I think all the others are already sold.