2020 Jake Wildwood 4-String Electric Mandolin w/Whammy

As a Tiny Moore fan (of Bob Wills fame), I've always wanted to make a 4-string electric mandolin with a whammy on it. There are more pedestrian ways of getting that rather than making an instrument for the purpose, but they're less fun. Besides, I had a nice chunk of smaller birdseye maple neck blank material left after making Mr. Steve's octave electric guitar that I needed to put to use.

In fact, I've had that blank glued-up with a rosewood board on it (but not cut) since September and parts to throw this together hanging-around since then, too. My lovely lady was nice enough to throw me some spare hours (what are those when you have kiddos around?) after work last week to get it done, and this is how it's turned-out thus far.

There's a detail I'm not super-happy about -- some tearout (caused by a torn disc on my sander catching the grain and yanking it... grr!) on the back -- but the temptation to leave it alone as a beauty mark of a "quick put-together" has kept me from dealing with.

The gist of this is that it's like a Fenderized version of an EM-150. I used a Mustang whammy and bridge (removing 2 of the saddles) to get that part of the design fulfilled. The pickup is a Korean-made Alnico-5 P90 that I've simple recovered with a blank cover and holes for just the central 4 polepieces -- then removed the two outer poles. People look at this and say, "where'd you get that pickup?!?!" -- but like Gibson's answer (doing the same thing) for electric mandolin, simpler is better, right?

The wiring is simple -- one volume control (mounted on the whammy plate!) and then straight to the jack -- which is on a recessed, Strat-style plate so that I could keep everything nicely shielded (and all easily removable right from the top).

I initially thought I was going to mount the pickup at the end of the fretboard (for a '50s jazzier tone, maybe?), but after playing a couple of electric mandolins that had a pickup in that position, I realized that the EM-150 plan of having it as close to the bridge as possible was definitely the way to go -- the tone is a bit more bitey (like a mandolin) and the pick doesn't hit the cover every other motion when you're playing. On this particular instrument, it also means the layout is kept tidy and the wire runs are really short.

I'm happy the instrument does exactly what I want it to do -- it has a big, fat neck that fits my hand the way I want it and the tone is very vintage and suitable for "western swing" vibes. The addition of a whammy with mandolin tuning and pitch is super-fun, too, as it's clearly not a pint-size guitar but also not just an electrified mandolin, either.

The body shape is borrowed from a Strad-O-Lin in the shop, though I went with a 14 1/2" scale length rather than a "more normal" 13 to 13 7/8" scale because that's what I'm used to on my own "main squeeze" acoustic instrument. In fact, I'm so used to the fat neck and longer scale of that instrument that if I play almost any other mandolin for the length of a jam, my left hand starts to cramp-up. I'm used to having that extra depth to give me extra leverage.

Initially, I was just going to leave it unbound, but I do like the silly factor of having a down-to-earth instrument with a little bit of extra bling. I was also going to have a snakehead-style headstock shape to begin-with but upon finishing the carve of the neck I decided I didn't like the way it felt so I cut a longer, shallower "shoulder" on the treble side of the headstock so my hand wouldn't bump into it as much with open chords in first position.

It was also supposed to be a zero-fret instrument, but I cut the headstock with a deeper slope than I thought, so that changed as well. Oh well! Works in progress, right?

The body is Douglas fir from a plank I've had for years, the neck is birdseye maple, and the fretboard is Indian rosewood. It has a bone nut and "normal medium" frets.

Setup notes: action is a hair under 1/16" at the 12th fret, and gauges are 38w-10 in w/nickel winding on the G&D.

Scale length: 14 1/2"

Nut width: 1 1/4"

String spacing at nut: 15/16"

String spacing at bridge: 1 5/16"

Body length: 13"

Lower bout width: 10"

Side depth at endpin: 1 1/2"

Body wood: Douglas fir

Fretboard: rosewood

Bridge: Japanese-made Mustang whammy

Neck feel: big C/V shape, flat board

Neck wood: birdseye maple

Weight: 4 lb 5 oz

Condition notes: it's "as new" save for a mild amount of usewear and the grain tearout on the back of the body which I still haven't filled. Gives it character, right?

It comes with: a hard case from the '70s -- for a thin-body electric mando! Unfortunately, the whammy arm has to be removed to get it into it... but still!


Dave said…
That's a nice piece of maple.