Master Mawhee 89 inch VSL
Master Mawhee August 2020
It is based on the Mawhee pieces from a hundred year ago, just a smidge larger! I started with the peg head by laminating salvaged pallet Pine 1X4’s and glued them up strategically cutting away all the material I didn’t need to lighten the piece. It has three store bought machine tuners that I glued Walnut scales to and finished them with several coats of shellac. The peg head was sealed with two coats of shellac and then got two spray paint base coats of black. I then started on the tail piece. It is three laminated pieces of very old heart pine, again cutting away all that wasn’t needed to lighten it. I selected the heart Pine for strength seeing it would be anchoring a number 18 and two number 8 music wire pulled up as high as they can go! I thought about making it Maple as I did with the outer layers of the peg head, but stayed with the Pine. The tail piece was also sealed with two coats of shellac and two coats of spray paint for the base coat of black. The string anchors are two ¼ inch bolts cut off and the ends rounded. Next is the staple board. Two select 1X4X8 S/P/F from the hardware @ $3.50 ea. I believe it is Spruce. I ripped the staple board top to a 3” width and then cut a ¼ inch by ½ rabbet on each side to receive the two resawn strips from the other piece. The resawn pieces were also thickness sanded to ¼ inch. I then glued them up with fiddle clamps. Once dried I sanded the piece smooth, died the top and edge black, rubbed it out and then applied an oil finish.
I made a quick run to the local hardware store for a $17 piece of ¼ inch Luann sub straight. I laid out a rough sketch and cut the plywood into two pieces. I doubled up the two and laid out the shape. I cut them both together with a jig saw and sanded the edges as close as I could with a belt sander. The sides are a little “wonky” but hey, “it aint’ no Stradivarius!” The sound holes are 3 inches wide so they were cut with the jig saw too, and sanded smooth. I went ahead and died them black. I scribed a line along the edge to align my kurfing and I glued it up. The staple board is cut to length and glued to the top panel. The over laps of the top panel on each end is cut off flush with the staple board and glued to the tail piece and peg head. Once dried I flipped it over and glued up the bottom panel. I then drilled two one inch sound holes in the staple board. Whilst attempting to protecting the bottom with a piece of plastic to keep the black stain off the inside of the bottom panel, I dropped it and broke it apart!!!! I easily stained the two staple board holes seeing the bottom was now leaning agin the wall in the corner safely away from the stain. Once stained, I glued the two pieces back together again. I’m trying to not get the inside bottom panel messed up. I’ve always had trouble with this so I cut up a sandwich bag and with double sided tape sealed the sound holes on the bottom side.
The side bows are 1/8 inch shipping plywood I salvaged from work. It comes in 3 and 4 foot pieces so I went with the prettiest 3 footers. They are ripped 4.5 inches wide and I wet two of the sections out with water and cold bent them over the resaw fence on the table saw and let them dry overnight, then glued up the joints with 1/8 inch plywood patches. I fitted them into the sound box and cut off the excess from the peg head end. They were then glued up with fiddle clamps one side at a time. Once I removed the second side I cut the grooves for the nut and bridge and set them. I used a hack saw to cut the large string groove and filed the lighter grooves with a triangle file. I then fitted a tail piece staple.
I thought I’d have to make up a wire twisting tool but I went ahead and tried to make a loop end with the tool I have and it worked fine! I made up a string and strung the melody. I pulled the string to what I thought the tension should be and then made another two strings. I strung them and continued to raise the tension on the bass string until I got to an A1. (It was just a little tense seeing I didn’t know if this thing would hold just under 200 lbs of tension!) I made a staple placement tool and it worked wonderfully! I marked the staples and quickly played Shady Grove on the upper registry.
I removed the strings and gave it a quick sanding and finished the edges around the peg head and tail piece. A coat of black alcohol stain was then applied and it is ready for shellac. Two coats of shellac and four days later it is ready to string again. I pulled the .041 bass string to A1. The melody and middle drone are .020 and tuned to E2.
So what we have:
· 89 inch VSL
· 16 inch bout
· 5 inch high sound box
· 17) .090 staples set by ear to Ionian
· 9 feet ¼ inch OAL
· 28 pounds
· Tuned A1, E2 and E2 Ionian
· .041 bass and .020 middle drone/melody
· Button scroll
· Black alcohol stain and shellac finish