SUPPORT

A Little Support Can Make Playing Easier and
Your Instrument Sound Better

Below are some of the most commonly asked questions we receive here at Montana Lutherie.  If your concern isn’t addressed or you need more information, please don’t hesitate to Contact Us.  We love to talk about mandolins.

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I'm a beginner. How do I know my mandolin needs work?

Beginners, logically, often start out with a more mass produced and less expensive instrument. Many guitar players buy their first mandolin in a pawn shop just to try it out.  These instruments almost always benefit from a basic tune up to make sure the neck,frets and action are correct and the tuners, nut and bridge are in good working order.
Many times all, or one of the above, are too worn or installed incorrectly. Getting these basic repairs, tweaks taken care of will really improve your playing and reduce frustration.
For instance Bruce recently received an instrument in which the bridge base was flipped bass for treble, and another where the tuners were installed backwards…and many, many where the nut and/or bridge string slots were cut badly. These fixes make a lot of difference.

It is easier to get these things checked locally. We have found over the years that many repair people work mostly on flat top and electric guitars and may not have experience with carved instruments, like your mandolin. It is worth your time to ask mandolin players you know about their experiences.  While it costs a bit to send it here for a tuneup you can have confidence everything will be done correctly and you and your mando will be ready to jam.

Below we’ve included troubleshooting tips and how to check the action on your mandolin family instrument. Take a look, but don’t hesitate to give us a call or send it in to be checked out.

What Brands of mandolins do you work on?
Any and all brands- not just Webers, Flatirons and Gibsons.
How do I check the Action and Intonation?

A good medium action on your mandolin is 1/16” from the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the G string and a hair less on the E side.  Most mandolins will have some way to adjust your action at the bridge.

If you’ve done either a major truss rod or action adjustment, the intonation may need to be tweaked.  If the instrument intonates sharp at the 12th fret, loosen all but the outside G and E strings and gently move the bridge towards the tailpiece checking the intonation on those two outside strings as you go. Small movements of the bridge will serve you well in this process.  If it intonates flat, move the bridge towards the peghead.  When you are satisfied with the intonation you can bring the remaining strings up to pitch while insuring the saddle and bridge base haven’t started leaning towards the peghead as you go (we’ve had many sent in that turned out to be the bridge leaning, robbing the instrument of tone and volume).

Note:  If you play with a high action, your bridge placement will be slightly closer to the fingerboard.

When, and how, do I adjust the truss rod?

Please read Bruce’s full blog article on truss rod adjustment.

The correct order in basic setup:  Truss rod, Action, Intonation.

TRUSS ROD ADJUSTMENT
The neck should be near flat as you sight down or lay the edge of ruler down the length of the fretboard on both the treble and bass edges.  Under full string tension, just adjust the rod 1/4 turn at a time, checking the neck as you go.  The neck may groan and pop a little. If the neck is slightly twisted, use the first edge to reach true as a good place to stop.

1.  To take relief (bow) out of your neck, tighten the truss rod. (turn CLOCKWISE)

2.  To relieve hump in the neck, (rare, unless you’ve over tightened the rod) loosen the truss rod. (turn COUNTER CLOCK-WISE)

3.  If the rod will not move or spins freely and you still have a bow, it would be best to visit a local luthier or send it to Bruce.

CHECK ACTION:  More often than not you’ll have to adjust the action (playability) after a successful adjustment session (the fingerboard is flat). Tightening the truss rod, bringing the neck back to true, will lower the action.  A good medium action on your mandolin is 1/16” from the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the G string and a hair less on the E side.  Most mandolins will have some way to adjust your action at the bridge.  If you’ve over tightened the rod, the instrument will buzz on the first five frets at a good action.   

CHECK INTONATON:  If you’ve done either a major truss rod or action adjustment, the intonation my need to be tweaked.  If the instrument intonates sharp at the 12th fret, loosen all but the outside G and E strings and gently move the bridge towards the tailpiece checking the intonation on those two outside strings as you go. Small movements of the bridge will serve you well in this process.  If it intonates flat, move the bridge towards the peghead.  When you are satisfied with the intonation you can bring the remaining strings up to pitch while insuring the saddled bridge base haven’t started leaning towards the peghead as you go (we’ve had many sent in that turned out to be saddle and bridge base leaning robbing the instrument’s tone and volume).

Note:  If you play with a high action, your bridge placement will be slightly closer to the fingerboard.

What is wrong when my mandolin buzzes, goes flat, sharp, etc. while playing?

If you’ve made sure that the fingerboard is flat and the action correct but are still having issues perhaps the information below will help you figure out the problem.

1.  Buzzing:
-While played open: action is too low, nut slots are too deep, or cut at the wrong angle. The nut should be replaced.
-while fretting at a single fret:  the next fret is too high.
-buzzes on frets 1-5:  truss rod needs to be loosened and adjust action.
-buzzes on frets 6+:  truss rod needs to be tightened and adjust action

2.  One or more strings sound fuzzy or won’t note clearly as played up the neck:
-slots in the saddle need to be recut at the correct angle.

3. String goes sharp while playing:
-String is sticking in nut slot:  first try graphite (pencil lead) in slots- slot may have to be widened or the nut replaced. 

4. String goes flat:
-String is sticking in bridge saddle slot:  first try graphite (pencil lead) in slot- slot may have to be widened or the saddle replaced.
-Machine heads may be worn and slipping.

5. Instrument will not intonate:
-If you’ve recently changed your strings make sure your saddle is not flipped, bass for treble.
-Make sure the bridge is not sitting at a steep angle across the top of the instrument.

6.  If, while fretted at the 12th fret:
-Plays flat:  move the bridge towards the peghead
-Plays sharp:  move the bridge towards the tailpiece

What strings do you recommend?

There are so many good brands out there that it’s hard to recommend Just one and all have situations where they may perform more to your liking.
String gauges Bruce recommends for carved mandolin family instruments are listed below. Although other gauges may work better for different playing styles or instruments.  He has found these sizes sound great and aren’t hard on the instrument.

Instrument                           Strings/Gauges

Mandolin                            E-12, A-16, D-26, G-40
Mandola                             A-12, D-21, G-32, C-49
Octave                               E-14, A-22, D-36, G-48
Mandocello                        A-22, D-34, G-48, C-74