Musician dopers, please recommend a luthier

Well, the time has come for me to take the plunge and start the process of getting my first truly custom made mandolin.

While I know and/or am familiar a goodly number of the luthiers in the the upper midwest and the mid-atlantic, I know that there are countless others I’ve never heard of.

So please, if you know or know of any luthiers who have made custom mandos, please chime in. I’m NOT looking for electric guitar setup techs, or luthiers who only specialize in electrics or archtops.

Damn these itchy fingers!

The title is suuposed to read: “musician dopers, please recommend a luthier!”

Could a mod please change the title, and, if you feel it is appropriate, move to CS?

(I really can’t decide if this is IMHO, GQ or CS territory)



I always liked Martin Luther’s work, but his woodworking was more related to doors.


I’ll fix the title and since it’s about music, move it to Cafe Society.

moderator GQ

Can’t help you with the thread, as mine have always been shop-bought, but just wanted to say it’s nice to see another mandolin player on the board! Even though I’m pretty bad at it.

I currently have a bouzouki that’s too big for my hands, and an octave mandola I bought for a song in Lisbon, that won’t tune. I hope to be in the position to have one made for me one day, though. I wish you luck.

Thanks, Bibliophage

Thanks for chiming in jjimm - What styles do you play? I play mostly bluegrass and jazz, although I’ve been playing a lot more Irish and French Canadian fiddle tunes recently as well. Currently getting my ass kicked by arrangements of Banish Misfortune and Cherish the Ladies. I’m trying to work them out in cross-picking arrangements, but man, that’s tough to do while keeping the feel…

I have continued to poke around on my own and found this listing of luthier on Mandolin Cafe. Shoulda checked there first… :smack:

jjimm - if you’re not familiar with that site, definitely check it out - probably the best mandolin site on the web.

Seeing as how I’ve answered my own question, I’d like to open the discussion up to general talk about luthiers and custom instruments of all styles, instead…


I play bluegrass, Irish, and English folk (I used to play for Morris dancers in England). Even though I played the fiddle for ten years, I find it very difficult to get out of first position on the mandolin. I really need to practice more, but a solo mandolin being played in a mediocre fashion is obnoxious to listen to, not just to my wife, but even to me. This is why I bought the mandola, because it’s not quite so tinny. Except the intonation is shot, possibly because it was so cheap, or maybe because I have the bridge in the wrong place. I’ll check out that site to see if I can get any advice about it. Thanks!

I had this tenor mandola built for me last year by Dave Freshwater in Scotland.

Another mandolin player here. If you do happen to find a good luthier, be sure to let us know who it is. Someday I hope to have enough money to get a custom mandolin made…

BTES ooohhhh…that’s one nice looking mandola. Does the tone compare? i love the celtic knot soundhole!

jjimm for the tinny issue, there are generally three main causes, although usually it’s a combination.

They are:

String type and gauge
Plectrum shape and weight
Right hand technique

Obviously, the right hand technique is by far the most important, but the slowest going as well.

I play D’addario J67 nickel strings - they are bright but not full, and a good middle ground gauge to compromise between speed and tone. When recording, I use Thomastik strings, also nickel. Unbelievable tone, but I change my strings weekly at the very least, so at $15 a set, I’m not using Thomastiks except in the studio.

For picks, I play with custom plectra that not very traditional shaped - imagine a triangle hammered dulcimer pick, and then smoosh the points until the pick is more like a slightly triangular circle. It’s a very thick polymer that’s very dense, leading to a super robust tone. If I had to guess I’d say that they are around 1.4 mm.

When I’m out of those, I play Dunlop Ultex 1.14 mm - they’re a little thinner, but they’re the closest I can find material-wise to my custom picks. FWIW, as flatpicker, I use the Dunlop Tortex 1.14 on my Guild. Totally different tone than the Ultex.

As for right hand technique, the best thing I can say is take both your fiddle tunes and scale and arp exercises, and take them to less than one third your max speed on the metronome, and play them 5 or 6 times each, concentrating not on the fingering but on the right hand action and ultimately the tone. Do this daily for ten minutes, and every week kick the metronome up 4-5 bpm. I guarantee you amazing tonal difference AND right hand control within 6-8 weeks, and probably a 40% increase in your top controlled speed.

Just my thoughts, let me know if you have any questions.


Guitar player here, but a couple of thoughts come to mind:

Check out Mandolin Brothers on Staten Island and see who they feature - they are a top-notch dealer in new and vintage/collectible acoustics and electrics.

On the west coast, there is Gryphon Stringed Instruments.

And in the Midwest is Elderly Instruments. Each are very well respected and should be able to point you in the right direction. When I am contemplating a purchase, I find that they are willing to take the time to talk to me, even if I don’t end up buying from them. I am sure if you described what you are looking for in an instrument, they could help pinpoint luthiers you should check out…

my $.02 - good luck!

yBeayf: see that link I posted above from Mandolin Cafe - very comprehensive listing, and if you’re like me you’ll be able to spend quite some time drooling over the various models.

Currrently, I’m lusting for the new Gibson F-9 and for custom models, the Rigel G-5, this Andersen and this Bertoncini