Mandolin Setting Up

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   When you set up a mandolin, you are attempting to adjust several variables, to give you the sound you want, with the correct intonation and ease of playing, right up the fingerboard. The first thing to bear in mind, is that setting up a mandolin is a study in the art of fine tuning, but above all a compromise. It is never possible to capture that perfect intonation, nor keep it, when we are close, because we cannot control factors like changes in temperature and humidity in our different playing environments. So be kind to yourself and know when to settle for 'best fit'.

Can I make my own bridge?

   Of course, given a little assistance, some fairly basic tools and some woodworking aptitude, its not too difficult. The biggest problem is the familiarity with the technique.... when you are just making one, you have no previous experience to fall back on, so you can use mine here.....  making your own bridge


   The task of setting up falls into several categories, none of which is logically first or last, because each affects the other. In fine tuning you may need to return to any point in the process. However, that said, I do go about things in a certain order. On a good day this process can take me an hour or two......... on a bad day......... well, I quit and come back to it later! For more detail on each step, follow the appropriate link..........
1. Fret Levelling 2. String Choice 3. Bridge Set-up 4. Nut Adjustment 5. Fine Tuning
   It is important to check that the frets are in fact level before anything else, because otherwise, a good set-up is impossible. If the frets need to be levelled or dressed, you can do this with a few simple tools, but it is a whole lot easier with purpose made tools... notably a fret crowning file.    This is critical as choice will determine the width of string slots in both nut and bridge. With slots too wide you will get rattles, too narrow and the strings will bind in the slots making tuning difficult. I always try to choose the lightest possible combination to reach the desired effect. I do this in 2 stages: foot fitting, by carefully chiselling and repeatedly checking the bridge foot; and height, with  strings 1 and 8 on, so that the strings are 1.5 - 2mm above fret 12. A most useful tool for removing the bridge is my home-made 'string lifter', far easier than de-stringing for each trial, especially later when fine tuning with ALL strings on.    Obviously the nut must be on at least roughly to set up the strings, but I only work on the height of the strings above fret 1 once I have the bridge in place. I try to lower the strings so that only a thin piece of paper will slide between fret and string. Feeler gauge useful here!    Finally, with the frets level, bridge height set, and nut slots adjusted, I tune up to concert gradually and start fine tuning slots and individual string heights. At this point I tune a string down, and lift it out of the slot to work on it, unless the bridge needs substantial adjustment, when I remove using the string lifter.

A hand lens comes in very handy here!!

Fret levelling Strings BridgeFitting NutFitting String lifter

StewMac. about 50$

NB. If you have a radiused fretboard... don't start without a lot of thought and research, you will need more specialised tools. 

All of the above is equally true for all the other instruments that I work on.