Mandocello

SEVEN INNOVATIONS FROM DAMMANN CUSTOM INSTRUMENTS


From our inception, DCI has been innovative.

Bass Design The bass hangs upright.

1. Bass Design

Our bass design originated with instruments made in the 1970’s Our instruments are designed to hang upright and present the instrument so that the left hand thumb can be behind the neck for quick pivots and shifts. The right hand is relaxed and extended in a natural position and presented over the strings. The forearm rests on the arm rest created for this purpose. These instruments are eminently practical and beautiful as well.

Dammann bass
Our bass hangs upright allowing your hands to fall naturally over the strings.


We use local woods
Quarter sawing a walnut log

We use local woods

We use local woods
Note the wide and perfect quarter sawn face of this billet.

2. We Use Local Woods.

Through our experiments we have found four extraordinary tone woods in the forests and yards around us. We harvest logs of walnut, cherry, locust and Osage orange and saw them, size them down, season and dry them and finally fabricate them into spectacular instruments. Our in-house control of this process allows us to regulate the cut of the lumber and the drying and seasoning of the important tone-governing materials in our instruments.


Hand splitting bridge blanks.


Processing stump walnut.


Stump wood mandocello faces.


Dammann Five Course Mandocello
Dammann Five Course Mandocello

Dammann Five Course Mandocello

3. We Use a Fifth Course on Our Mandocellos.

This innovation broadens the range of our instruments, makes shifting left hand positions less frequent, and makes fuller chords available up and down the neck. Once the player is used to the five course arrangement, the playing of these instruments is no harder than a four course model but the potential result is vastly superior. Our standard tuning runs from the C below the E of the guitar to the high e of the guitar. Thus five double strings cover the same pitch space as the guitar plus the added third at the bottom that yields that lovely low C . Our instrument combines the traditional four course mandocello with the octave mandolin as demonstrated below.


Pin Bridge
Five course mandolin Pin Bridge

4. Pin Bridge

The use of the pin bridge on our mandocellos makes the instrument more powerful and clearer than the floating bridge. Our instruments have a little less “twang” than a Mandocello by other makers. We discovered early-on in our development of this instrument that the pin bridge has many qualities to recommend it, and we have used it predominately in our instruments ever since. We do make floating bridge models upon special order request.


Neck Adjustment
Adjustment wrench ready to turn

5. Neck Adjustment

Our recent instruments ( mandocellos and acoustic guitars) have all used our patented Total Control Neck. This allows the adjustment of the angle of the connection of the neck to the body of the instrument. The Allen wrench adjustment tool ( shown pictured to left) turned ¾ turn drops the action 1/8 of an inch ( pics2 and 3). This instantly adjusts for seasonal changes in your instruments and eliminates the need for future neck resets. The necks is bolted in and can be removed by a luthier for work at any time in the future.

We build our necks to stay rigid using quarter sawn neck wood with a truss rod and two carbon fiber rod inserts running down the neck. The Total Control Neck adjustment will allow you to keep the action right where you want it.

Our Total Control neck is a response to one of the biggest challenges that string musicians face: finding and maintaining an ideal string height for his or her instrument. Between environmental factors and varying personal preferences, it can be difficult to find an instrument that achieves optimal string height for tone and playability.

Our neck joint can be easily set to optimal action on the fly. This adjustment changes the height of the strings off the fingerboard particularly as one goes to positions up the neck. You can go from a slide setup to ultra-low shredding with just a few turns of the bolt and brief re-tuning. This also eliminates the concerns of the dreaded neck reset and helps ensure enough adjustability for healthy playing for years to come. Seasonal action adjustments are a matter of a quarter of half turn. Ray Varona worked on this mechanism (which we now have under patent application ) for five years. It sounds simple but it is not and it took many tries and much experimentation to get it right.


The top routed out and the Nomex glued in
The top routed out and the Nomex glued in

Top ready for back laminate glue-up to complete the sandwich
Top ready for back laminate glue-up to complete the sandwich

Completed double top mandocello
Completed double top mandocello

Walnut stump top, member of double top
Walnut stump top, member of double top (no finish)

6. Double Tops

Along with traditional book matched ,quarter sawn options for top wood, we also build using a synthetic Nomex honeycomb material. The Nomex honeycomb is laminated between two thin slices of wood, to produce a soundboard that is light and strong. Double-top soundboards can help an instrument speak clearly, and are often louder and more responsive than standard tops. The double top pairs particularly well with the SP model mandocellos. Double-top guitars sound great in use with fingerpicks.

Double Tops, also alternately referred to as Sandwich, Honeycomb, or Composite tops, are a method of using relatively modern technology to produce a soundboard that is lighter, stifer, and more stable than what can be found naturally. Pioneered by German classical guitar builders Gernot Wagner and Mattias Dammann (no relation), these soundboards use two very thin layers of cedar (or spruce) that are separated by a layer of resin-impregnated paper honeycomb. By eliminating ~? of a soundboard’s weight and replacing it with lightweight honeycomb, not only is the soundboard lighter overall (typically reduced by 20-30%) but with proper bonding the honeycomb structure adds significant rigidity to the glued panel for a top that is stiffer than an equivalent solid piece of wood. Since the honeycomb is virtually impervious to dimensional swings and the multiple points of contact and support ensure that cracks are mitigated and practically cosmetic with the overall lamination providing support. With all these reductions in weight and benefits to strength double-top soundboards have less mass to dampen volume and response, enabling an even wider range of dynamic response and touch sensitivity while still providing a tone within conventional ranges.

The tonal signature of double-tops tends towards a more woody and transparent sound with round basses and sweet trebles but still with ample overtones and complexity. Western Red cedar is typically chosen for both skins since it offers the lightest possible weight and capitalizes on the benefits of double-top construction, but spruce can be used on one or both surfaces as well, with cedar generally bringing out the midrange and crispness while spruce sweetens out the tone and favors more low end. While double-tops are likely not an ideal choice for a vintage or bluegrass tone, the added clarity and separation makes for a well-rounded and adaptable sound that can work in a wide range of other styles and venues.

 


sound port bracing
Sound port bracing - no sound hole allows better bracing of top.

7. Sound Port

Our Sound Port (SP) model eliminates the front sound hole and replaces it with an enlarged side sound port. This allows the sound board to vibrate in an uninterrupted fashion as one piece. The top bracing can also be uninterrupted and the braces can be placed in a fashion that responds to the tonal requirements of the instrument uninfluenced by the spatial requirements of the sound hole. This design works wonderfully well with our double top and the fact that our neck and fingerboard are cantilevered the top of the instrument. The whole top vibrates as a sound board.



Instruments in process

Luthier's Statement

Our shop has produced and refined these innovations over the years. Much of the credit for the conception and refinement of these innovations goes to our Chief Luthier, Ray Varona. Ray offers these thoughts on his approach to producing lovely and supremely functional instruments:

Tone


Clarity, balance, and evenness of sound are the goals of the Dammann Custom Instruments sound.  This works hand-in-hand with the expanded chord voicings and tonal range of our 5-course instruments and creates a sound complete that is both broad across the tonal spectrum as well as finely defined and clear between notes.  Tonally, our instruments tend towards having an articulate bass with clear mids and detailed highs, which can be generalized as slightly brighter than traditional tones.  The appeal of round, warm, and sweet tones from vintage instruments isn’t entirely lost on us however, so our instruments are still built on tried-and-true bracing and voicing specifications and as a full-custom shop we can craft an instrument to deliver a tone more in line with a traditional sound.  However, part of the appealing character of vintage instruments lies in the changes resulting from decades age and playing so we still prefer to build on the brighter/stiffer side so that the instrument will settle into the right tonal range in time.

Playability


An instrument can sound fantastic but can still be useless if the player finds themselves struggling with the instrument.  To that end Dammann Custom Instruments puts stability and control over the neck and playing action as one if it’s primary goals.  All instruments feature carbon-fiber composite neck reinforcement for neck stiffness and stability and double-acting truss rods for fine control of neck relief.  While the neck can be stabilized against movement from swings in temperature and humidity, the lightly-built soundbox can’t be similarly fixed yet still remain responsive.  To that end, our user-adjustable neck joint lets you dial in just the right amount of string height to find that delicate balance between playability and tone on a day-to-day basis depending on how the body responds to the ever-changing conditions.  

Working in conjunction with the ease of play for the fretting hand and articulate tonal signature is a lively, responsive feel under the plucking/picking hand.  By calibrating the stiffness for top and back the feel of the strings is quick and precise, much like a finely-tuned sports car.  With double-top composite soundboards this is taken to another level with the instrument providing ample power at the slightest touch while opening up the limits of volume when driven to the limit.

Longevity


At Dammann Custom Instruments we aim to build instruments that will last for a lifetime but not at the expense of tone, so we build using designs and techniques that ensure that your instrument won’t fall victim to many common ailments and that any needed repairs can be easily addressed.  All the bracing and internal components of the soundbox are cut from split brace stock for tonal purposes but this also helps to prevent brace failure from short-grain stock.  Additionally, the braces are glued using hot hide glue for tonal clarity but primarily to make the re-gluing of any components a simple procedure in the event of repairs.

Recognizing the varied climates our instruments may see, we build at a consistent 45% relative humidity to split the difference in extremes of dryness and wetness.  Additionally, both the tops and backs are built into a domed shape to serve as a safety check against cracking in dry conditions, allowing for the dome to flatten as the top shrinks instead of stressing to the point of cracking had the top been built flat.

Given the significance of fretwork in the intonation and playability of an instrument we put a premium on fret durability and use either stainless steel or hard brass fretwire so that the frets remain true and free of divots for much longer than what would be normally possible with standard nickel silver.  We also bind the fretboards to cover the fret tangs to protect from unwanted, sharp fret ends if the instrument dries out.

Our adjustable neck joint not only enables pinpoint control over playability but it ensures long-term playability over the course of the instrument’s lifetime.  Instruments built lightly enough to be lively and responsive are also prone to changes in shape over time given the years of seasonal changes and string tension.  At best, the saddle needs to gradually be shaved down and in most cases a neck reset is needed to bring the neck back in line.  With user-control over neck angle, this becomes a moot point since the neck angle is adjusted with a simple turn of a wrench and the saddle can remain constant regardless of action so that the saddle can be set at it’s optimum height purely for tonal purposes instead of at a height dictated by playability needs.

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