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See Dennis Elliott's own mandocello conversion.

Here's Red's mandocello conversion,
made from a $15.00 flea-market guitar.

1. Description
2. Additional details
3. Results from mandocello bridge trials

First, some pics:

mandocello image 1mandocello imagemandocello image 3

Now, how did I get there?

Here's the writeup I posted on line on October 10th,
a description of converting this guitar into a mandocello:

I hope that some folks might be interested in a brand-new project here, since it's a potential way to have yourself a good instrument without the long wait and heavy expense of either ordering something new or waiting until what you want comes on the market used.

For years, and especially ever since my first CMSA convention, I've wanted a mandocello. The trouble was that the old K-models rarely seem to come on the market, and they're high now anyway, and ordering a new 'cello from a good maker was impossible for me because of the expense.

So when I went to flea markets, I started looking for guitars. I needed an old guitar, preferably an archtop and preferably cheap, with a sturdy body that had no big problems. This summer I found that guitar at the Harper's Ferry flea market. It's a 1930s or 40s laminated archtop with a nice big body. Some of the binding was loose and there was one side-seam separation, but overall it was in (cosmetically) battered but (structurally) excellent shape. A few weeks ago I started work.

Fortunately for me, the neck was wobbling loose in the neckblock. This made it easy to take it out and work on it apart from the body. I dowelled in the guitar tuner holes, glued a pearwood overlay onto the headstock to hide the remains, and reshaped the peghead into a snake-head design, so that the future 'cello strings could all go as straight as possible through the nut. I drilled the peghead for a new/old set of Saga A-model tuners I still had in the box (I like Saga tuners a lot), and then was ready to work on the shank of the neck.

John Hedgecoth sent me the measurements from his 1928 K-1 (small neck, with truss rod) and I narrowed down this neck down to that width. Shaped it for pretty easy playing. Prepared to reset the neck (there was a lot of slop in the joint. Shimming and filing, shimming and filing) and finally got a good tight fit there. Fine-sanded and then finished the neck with some water-base stain and oil varnish-- that's easy-- and then got ready to glue the neck back in.

I didn't want to use Titebond or Elmer's to glue the neck in, after I found out with the maple bridge-ebony top experiment how that kind of glue could deaden a joint. I didn't have the materials and equipment to make hot hide glue. So I put the 'cello neck on with industrial 24-hour epoxy. "But now." I hear someone say, "You can never get the neck out to reset it." Right, but now it will never need to be reset in the first place. It's very close to being an integral neck and neck block.

I made a bone nut and a few maple bridges to try, and put a cheap mandolin tailpiece on there, and strung my 'cello up Monday before last. I didn't know what to expect, thinking that that 3-ply body might be boomy or tinny, or might just not have much sound in it at all. Surprise!-- instant sound-- excellent volume, gratifying richness, long-lasting sustain-- great satisfaction. I've been playing it every day. I took it to IBMA late in the week, and some of you saw (and heard) it at our Murphy Method booth.

I've tried three bridges on it so far. An American maple bridge did better than European maple on this f-hole instrument. This was a bit of a surprise too, because usually I expect European maple to do better with f-holes, but then I'd never experimented on a plywood instrument before.

The point of all this is that you can make yourself a mandocello out of an old guitar. It's fairly easy, too (it took me maybe 10 or 15 hours' work), and if you have the right guitar you'll really get a pleasing instrument out of it. Now I'm eager to get this 'cello around some others, to see just how I've done.

It's not beautiful. That is, until you close your eyes and listen.

But the flea-market price of the guitar? Fifteen dollars.

That, plus strings, is my cost for the whole project.

The moral: Keep your eyes open at the flea market.

Best regards,



Some Additional Information

Supplemental information in response to questions I've received:

Neck width: I narrowed the neck down to 1 3/8" at the nut and 1 3/4" at the 12th fret. It plays quite well like this. My favorite tools for the reshaping were a belt sander for the rough work, and then a Dremel tool with the 5/16" steel bit used as a power rasp.

Frets: I left the guitar frets in place. I dressed and polished them, and sanded the fingerboard a little. The instrument now plays very smoothly on the guitar frets.

Strings: I started out with all wound strings, .022" A - .032 D - .048" G - .070" C. Right away, though, the A strings began breaking, so I tried .022" A's and they broke too. These .020" and .022" strings were all extra banjo fourth strings. I resorted to .017" plain guitar strings, and they are satisfactory, although I miss the richness of the wound strings. I have some .022" nickel-wound guitar strings on order, and I expect that they will do better than the banjo strings, since those probably had an extra small core wire for flexibility.


Results of mandocello bridge trials

picture of mandocello bridge

Even before the mandocello was finished, I had prepared two bridges for it: one of European maple, and one of American, both quarter-sawn. The bridges were designed as "stretched" versions of my favorite mandolin bridge design, shown at the top of the bridge page. Initial thickness of both 'cello bridges was 7/16" at the bottom and 5/16" at the top. I anticipated that the European maple would work best on this f-hole instrument.

First thing when the 'cello was strung up, I tried out both bridges. To my surprise, the hard American maple bridge gave much more response than the European maple bridge. Apparently this laminated guitar body just needed that harder maple to sound right.

Bridge length: I made a bridge like the others, 5½" long, and began altering it to discover the results. First I reduced the size of the bridge wings a little. This gave more clarity but less richness in the sound. Next, I tried reducing the length to find out what it would sound like. At 5 1/8" long, the bridge gave quite a bit more clarity to the A, D,and G strings, but the low C string sounded pretty dead. Apparently mandocello bridge length is quite important, and on this particular instrument, 5½" is better than shorter lengths.

I'll answer any questions I can.
To email me,click here.

Red Henry.

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