A mandolin is a small stringed instrument, traditionally with 8 strings in 4 courses of  2, this means you play it like a 4 string instrument such as a ukulele. The term "Army-Navy" mandolin or "Pancake" mandolin refers to the body shape in that it is flat on both the front and the back instead of domed like an "A" style or "F" style archtop mandolin. A quick Google search will tell you more than you ever cared to know about their history.

This instructable chronicles my progress through making one as cheaply and easily as possible. Please note: this is not a for dummies guide, it is just what I did and how I did it. 

Recommended reading:
The Ultimate Bluegrass Mandolin Construction Manual by Roger H. Siminoff
If you're interested in more details, or want to build the genuine article, I highly recommend getting your hands on this manual. It is a wealth of knowledge by the man who literally wrote the book on the subject. 

The attached instructions from Stewmac.com about assembling their campfire mandolin kit. I didn't do things quite the same as they did, but it's handy to read so you get a good picture of what is involved. 

basic woodworking hand tools
heat gun & spray bottle or water pistol for wood bending
dremel tool if you want to get fancy
lots of clamps

3/4" softwood scraps, ideally spruce
3/4" hardwood scraps, I used an old floorboard
1/4" hardwood for the fretboard
4mm plywood, alternatively wood planed to this thickness
an 8" piece of 3/16" steel rod, I found mine in an old dead printer
Mandolin hardware (strings, tuning machines, fretwire, tailpiece, nut)

I was able to do the whole thing for under $45, but if you're not a penny pinching cheapskate such as myself, you can find a kit here.

siminoff.net an excellent source of kits, parts, and information
stewmac.com another great place to find parts
Crystal Forest Mandolins a quick overview of the proper process
Chris Williams' mandolin a more detailed review of a 4 string flat top

Step 1: Cut out

If you followed any of the above links, or if you already know anything about luthiery, you will have no doubt realised that these aren't traditionally made out of cheap plywood. Tradition dictates bookmatched quartersawn hardwoods such as Maple or Honduras Mahogany, and tonewoods like Sitka Spruce or Californian Redwood. However, for me I have found that the 4mm exterior grade 3ply that I had left over from my boat building project fit the bill for both strength and lightness. As a bonus, it's easier to work with, you can cut it with a knife, and it's only NZ$20 for a full sheet. You're more than welcome to use the proper materials, but some of the methods you'll need will be similar to those in the links section than what I'll show here. 

Enough talk, lets get down to it. Start out by printing off the blueprints for the neck and the top & back.

Cut a couple strips for the sides, 1 3/4" wide by 20" long. You can do this with a straightedge and a sharp knife, just score it a few times and snap it like sheetrock.

Cut one piece of ply for the top, try to pick a bit with some nice grain, and cut it about 1/2" wide of the line.

Cut another for the back, also about 1/2" oversize all around, making sure to include the bit at the top for the heel of the neck. I forgot that bit and had to scarf on some scrap later on.

For the headblock and tailblock I had to laminate together some pieces of my hardwood floorboard to get 1 3/4" stock. Once you have a block about 6" x 3" x 1 3/4" trace the headblock curve onto it from the blueprint. You can cut the neck heel tab off of the blueprint for this, we won't need it again.

Carefully cut out the headblock making sure to keep the blade square, we'll be needing both halves of it.

Cut out a piece of hardwood for the tailblock as per the blueprint.

Trace & cut 2 or 3 pieces for the neck, it needs to finish at least 2" thick for the neck and about 3" at the peghead end, but you can add  ears for that later.
As you'll see later on, my peghead finished to about 6" long, so I ended up cutting off a lot of material from the end. It will depend on the peghead design you choose, but the neck profile blueprint allows for a full F-style scroll peghead length.

Glue up your neck.
<p>what size paper to print the blueprints on? i am going to make this mandolin (looks great BTW) but i am going to do a carve out style instead of a glue together style.</p>
This is amazing. I will have to start working on this soon...can't wait :)
Beautiful! <br> <br>An MP3, maybe?
I bought a Washburn A style mandolin for under $200, w00t!
Score! Well done, they make a mighty fine mando
Hows the sound on this? I love the idea of making my own instrument, but I also want to know how it compares.
I was actually really impressed with how it sounds. Mellow tone, good volume, and really great sustain. To be honest, I think it sounds at least as good as my last F5 archtop I made
u should make a instructable for that F5 archtop.
Most definitely.
Yeah, if you want to do an F5 you should definitely buy the book. I think mine was about $20 on Amazon, best resource you'll ever find. It's where I learned everything I know on the subject, and I could never come close to writing anything nearly as comprehensive.
Thanks for the great instructable, it has been my go to source for my build. It's not quite done yet but close, I have put on the tail piece but am still working on the bridge.
Very well done indeed! You do beautiful work, love the photos!
Beautiful work!
That looks great man! Good job, you could sell these on ebay easily, but it does take a bit to build one so it all depends on how much your time is worth.
Sir... this is quite amazing

About This Instructable


115 favorites


Bio: I work in IT, but enjoy a variety of things. I'll usually do something until I'm almost good at it and then move ... More »
More by andrew.spencer.2: Heated Hoodie Bubbly Glass Bead Bracelet Power Tool USB Charger
Add instructable to: