mandolin strata

mandolin parts and ideas at Big Muddy Mandolins

I spent a great couple of hours with Mike Dulak of Big Muddy Mandolins. Mike’s been making instruments for years, and is the largest industry in Rocheport. I caught him in the middle of moving his shop, so things were a little chaotic. The above pile of part-finished, discarded or otherwise parts summed up the state of the workshop as I saw it. And yes, that is a uke body.

Mike’s really refined his workflow. He’s built a nifty broach to cut all the string slots in a nut in one swipe. He has a fretting jig that cuts all the slots in one pass (hey, mandolin fretboards are quite short). But to make up for that, he shapes heel necks by hand using a rasp and sandpaper.

I’m really glad I visited, and makes my mandolin a little bit more special to know who made it, and see where it was made.

oliver postgate’s world

Sad to hear that Oliver Postgate passed away. Bagpuss was my series; it started just as I started school, and I caught the first episodes. I spent the whole evening learning the theme on the mandolin, and watched a couple of episodes, half-teary. Was it really nearly 35 years ago?

The music and sounds are what stuck with me. I didn’t know it at the time – but did as soon as I picked one up – that the Bagpuss waking up magic sound is a slow upwards glissando on an autoharp. Similarly, the falling asleep sound is an autoharp strummed slowly downwards. Gabriel’s instrument confused me for years – I now see it has a 5 string banjo neck, but no fifth string (like someone else I could name). To add further confusion, it’s really a mandolin that’s Gabriel’s sound.

aagh! brainscrub required!!

So I was idly picking away on the mandolin sort of playing scales when this song from my childhood starts playing itself. It’s the Uist Tramping Song, and has ultra-cheesy lyrics:

Come along, come along, let us foot it out together,
Come along, come along, be it fair or stormy weather,
With the hills of home before us and the purple of the heather,
Let us sing in happy chorus, come along, come along.

No, really. I always thought that footing it out would involve a lot of squelching, this being Scotland. Must’ve learnt it when I was 8 or so; our headmaster was a teuchter, so my head is filled with Gaelic-ish things still. One of the pieces I recently heard Rhiannon Giddens perform with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, so they’re not all bad.

Anyway, to share the brainmelt, here it is in all its awfulness:

Plus the score, if you care to: Uist Tramping Song [pdf].

mandolin madness

Lack of recent posts have been almost entirely due to this:

It’s a Big Muddy flat top mandolin, hand made in Missouri with a lovely Adirondack spruce top.

I really like the portability of the mandolin. I didn’t think I’d like the tiny scale (hey, its entire fretboard is only as long as 6 of my banjo frets), but it’s pretty comfortable. Way more so than a ukulele.