If the top is laminated: The line should end right at the edge, and NOT run through the piece of wood.
If the top is solid: The lines should run through the piece of wood around the sound hole.
Finally, before buying it is suggested to read the instrument specifications, either using the store web site or even better by looking at the luthier’s web site.
When you are shopping on-line, you start by reading the instrument description, hopping you can find there the important info. But the problem is that not everything is clear.
Here is how to translate the marketing talk
- Spruce = laminated
- Maple = laminated
- Solid Spruce = what it says
- Solid Maple = what it says
- Carved = could be carved entirely by machine
- Hand Carved = at least touched or finished by a human at some point
- If it says neither carved nor hand-carved = pressed into shape, not carved (using heat/steam over a mould)
- If a mandolin instrument is “solid top, hand carved” shops will never reticent about shouting the fact. It is more what they don’t say you have to watch for.
- Solid wood is almost always advertised, therefore if you do not see it mentioned, it means that the wood is laminated.
Now, in case the sales page does not describe much, it is advised to refer to the luthier’s web site, where you are more likely to find detailed specifications. In this case, do not afraid to e-mail the store and ask for serial numbers, which can then be sent to the luthier, so in case they keep a database of instruments made, they will be able to provide you detailed specs.
Woods for the Top (Soundboard) of the Mandolin
The most important piece of wood on a mandolin is the top, else called soundboard.
Acoustically, this is the part of the mandolin that produces the sound. The quality or colour of the sound is estimated to depend 80% on the soundboard and 20% on the sides and back.
Whereas a mandolin made completely (top, side and backs) from laminate will not have a good sound, a reasonably good sounding mandolin can be made from a solid top with laminate sides and back.
The next question is what wood to select for the top? Two options are mainly used, Spruce and Cedar.
There is no difference in quality between the two woods so the choice is one of preference. Spruce tends to sound brighter and clearer while Cedar is warmer and more direct. Both types of wood will improve over time but a cedar will sound closer to its mature sound at the beginning while the spruce will sound more raw and have a more dramatic improvement over time.
The choice of wood is an issue if you want a certain type of sound but at the lower price range it is a far less important issue than whether the top is solid or not (see above).
Sitka Spruce is the most dense wood to use and this is apparent to the sound which is very balanced with tight response .
Sitka Spruce is considered to spread out more tonality in the high registers and have crispy bass character.
Engelmann Spruce falls somewhere in between sitka and cedar. It’s higher cellular resin content brings in a deep richness in tone but slightly more balanced than cedar.
Engelmann Spruce is considered a bit more woody sounding than sitka.
Red Spruce (Adirondack)
Red Spruce is typically a creamy white, with a hint of yellow and/or red.
Red Spruce compares very similarly with Sitka Spruce in terms of mechanical properties, with the two species having perhaps nearly identical sound.
Norway Spruce, frequently sold under more “sophisticated” names such as German Spruce, Yugoslavian Spruce, European Spruce etc. is typically a creamy white, with a hint of yellow and/or red.
Norway Spruce compares very similarly with Sitka Spruce in terms of mechanical properties, with the two species having perhaps nearly identical sound.
Cedar is a relatively uniform light pinkish to reddish brown; colors tend to darken with age. Random pockets of gum and natural oils are commonly present. Grain patterning and figure tends to be somewhat bland.
Cedar generally is a very ‘woody’ sounding species. Quite punchy and warm. In classical guitars, cedar gives this Spanish sound, if you know what I mean.