The open C string on a cello would have to be my favorite sound. Its grinding organic growl makes what is left of my hair stand on end. If I were the owner of one of these instruments I could play just that string for hours in the same way the Australian didgeridoo is played. This instrument only produces one note but an infinite variation of sound.

Being a maker of mandolins it is therefore no accident that I have built 4 mandocellos. . . . so far. What is interesting and maybe a little sad is that my first mandcello is by far the best sounding one. To make matters worse the second mandocello is the second best and the last 2 come in as equal third or last.

As one can well imagine this outcome left me scratching my head, or, more to the point pulling my hair out. I guess I have fallen into the trap that many luthiers have where more than one variable has been changed between builds.  The scientific method of only changing one variable at a time does not take into account that  we are mortal beings.

The details of the build of these 4 instruments is not relevant however I do believe that I have solved the mystery of the diminishing returns and I will happily talk about it in my next blog. . . .just joking.

What I failed to treat as important was scale length. The first mandocello had a scale length of 860mm which is very long and I was lucky to find strings long enough so I needed to make the tail piece longer than normal. The CC string on this instrument has a thumping growling sound with all the fundamentals being fully expressed.

The next instrument had a scale length of 700mm which is the standard scale length of a full sized cello. The CC on this instrument was not as good as its predecessor and I made the mistake, at this point, of assuming it was because the body of this instrument was smaller. The following 2 instruments had bigger bodies and should have sounded better but their scale length was reduced to 640mm.

Of course the “trade off” with having a long scale length is decreased play-ability and this is what a player needs to “weigh up” when choosing an instrument. Having said that there is one more variable that comes into the equation when choosing scale length of a mandocello. . . . Wound strings can be used for the entire instrument if the scale length is 640mm or less. This would result in an instrument with very even response through out its range.

About the Luthiers Journey article series

Richard Morgan is a maker (luthier) from Australia and a member of theMandolinTuner community. From the moment that Richard joined theMandolinTuner we started exchanging e-mails and I was very happy to read about his work, especially as Richard mandolins (and mandolas, mandocellos, etc.) are truly innovative, featuring a unique sound-board design and lots of other innovations as well.

Soon, I start thinking of Richard as a friend of mine and I shared with him my vision of creating a section for luthiers within theMandolinTuner, something I believe would be very interesting for theMandolinTuner community. I am happy to say that Richard liked my idea and what you read now is a series of articles we have planned as the first step towards realizing this vision. I named  this article series “A Luthiers Journey”.

So, enjoy Richard describing his journey as an instrument maker.

– Chris Rizos 


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