ToneWoods & Hardware


I am still exploring and learning my way around this instrument called the mandolin, and I haven’t settled on a single design or set of dimensions or the perfect combination of woods and hardware and finishes.  And, given the infinite number of possibilities and variations to explore, I can imagine I will never run out of things I want to test or experiment with or techniques I’d like to try. That said however, I do have some preferences and some natural inclinations: I love natural wood and clear, satin finishes and I like modern interpretations of classic designs. 


Instrument woods



Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis), Adirondack Spruce (Picea Rubens), and Carpathian Spruce (Picea abies) are all options and I have made soundboards from all of them.  I have read or heard different arguments in favor of each and why one is preferable over another or the best choice for a given sound but at this point in my career I do not have an opinion on the matter.  What is critical is that the thickness of the top be determined in relation to the particular piece of wood and that the graduations be carefully and accurately done to yield a top with the right combination of strength and flexibility to be responsive to the energy imparted by the strings.  I currently have several sets of Carpathian Spruce in my shop and plan to use this for the next group of instruments.  My most recent mandolin and mandola are made with this wood: I enjoy the way it works and I am pleased with the sound of instruments.



 I typically use Western Big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), Claro Walnut (Juglans hindsii), Eastern Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) and Red Maple (Acer rubrum) for backs.  I have experimented with some other woods but like the tonal qualities of maple and walnut and for the present I am happy to work with these. 



 The rim is primarily structural and as such doesn’t have a large impact on sound production.   This allows the use of a variety of woods and I particularly like Bubinga (Guibourtia spp.), Purpleheart (Peltogyne spp.), Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) as well as Western Big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), Claro Walnut (Juglans hindsii), Eastern Black Walnut (Juglans nigra).


Peghead Veneers

I usually use the same wood on the peghead veneer and the rim.



Curly maple of some variety, either Western Big leaf (Acer macrophyllum) or Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is my standard, though walnut or mahogany make very nice necks. 



Here is a short list of what I typically specify for my instruments, though there are options, particularly for tuning machines, fret wire and strings.











Bill James:


Tuning machines





Straight Up Strings