1990s/2019 Lotus 5-String Electric Octave Mandolin Conversion

This is either a late-'80s or early-'90s Lotus "mini-Strat" with a 19 1/8" scale length. I just received it in trade the other day and spent part of yesterday cleaning it up and converting it to a 5-string instrument. It was pretty dingy, but it cleaned-up nicely and has just the right amount of "age" to it to make it feel broken-in. I'm pretty sure this is Korean-made and it's comparable, quality-wise, to a late-'70s Japanese Strat copy. All the hardware and pickups are full-size and the pickups are interesting in that they have metal baseplates.

After conversion, it's a 5-string tuned like an octave mandolin with a high B -- so GDAEB low to high, with the lowest note just a step lower than guitar's A string and the highest note a step above a tenor guitar's A string. There are plenty of alternate tunings that could be great with this mix of strings -- GDGDG modal G or GDAEA "Celtic" semi-modal come to mind... but the all-5ths setup gives it an interesting voice and allows for lots of logical chordal and melodic moves around the fretboard even if you don't bother to go out of first position. It's no wonder so many of the famous old country emando players used a 5-string, single-strung variety.

What's neat about this guy is that it's only slightly-larger than an F-style mandolin in the lap or on a strap, yet plays so much lower. Depending on where you've got your pickups selected, too, it does a nice '50s "clean jazz" tone at the neck to a twangy, bitey "country" tone at the bridge... and definitely gets some of that clucky Strat-style stuff going on in the bridge/middle selection.

Work included: a fret level/dress, fill of the 6th tuner hole, install of backwards-mounted Kluson Deluxe tuners (so the string path would align correctly with the nut... and I had a set of lefty pegs on hand... voila), cleaning, mod of the bridge to top-mount stringing with 5 saddles, and a good setup. The neck is straight, the truss rod works as it should, and it plays bang-on with 1/16" action at the 12th fret (though a light-touch player could yank it down farther). I've actually set it up so that the whammy will work nicely, too, though because I don't have an arm that fits the threading of the bridge, I've blocked the bridge with a piece of mahogany. Someone who wants to use the whammy just needs to pull that out and retune for a free-floating crazyfest. Strings are gauged 46w, 36w, 21w, 13, 9.

Scale length: 19 1/8"
Nut width: 1 5/8"
String spacing at nut: 1 5/16"
String spacing at saddle: 1 5/8"
Body length: 14"
Lower bout width: 10 1/4"
Upper bout width: 8 1/2"
Side depth: 1 1/2"
Body wood: probably basswood, solid
Neck wood: maple
Fretboard: rosewood
Neck shape: slim C, 12-14" radius board
Bridge: adjustable saddles, Fender-style
Nut: black plastic

Condition notes: plastic parts are yellowed, there's a square of un-yellowed white on the pickguard, the tuners are replaced and the headstock modified slightly (note the funny fill where I used an amp jewel to hide the old hole), and the strap buttons are aluminum Gibson-style ones... I just like the look/feel of those better. They're also easier to get straps on. Note that due to the repositioned spacing, there's plenty of extra room on the board to bend that high B string way over to the side of the neck...!


Phillips said…
I'm speechless..WOW.is all I can say..