I have developed and begun production on an affordable, one-man shop, tap tuned, varnish finish, made-in-the-USA acoustic mandolin. By optimizing the entire construction process, I am able to keep cost in the range of Chinese mass-produced imports, but with fancier features and providing tone and playability suitable for a professional recording artist.
Instead of traditional binding, the sides are glued using an inflatable bladder around the assembled top and back plates. The neck is installed last, after the top has been French Polished.
All rough work is done using a CNC machine I built myself based on the FineLineAutomation plans and parts from CNCRouterParts.com. It cost under $3000. Although it cuts paths “automagically”, it is still a VERY manual process, and requires thorough planning and constant attention to detail.
The construction is non-traditional, but it is intended to be a way to get very good tone out of an instrument that takes under 20 hours to build. I am getting close to that goal.
All the important parts are still “tuned” by hand, and many, many decisions are made along the way- including altering the G-code for each individual piece of wood and combination of materials in each instrument.
The grunt work, although enjoyable, is not cost-effective for me to do by hand for this price point, which is quite low for this market. ($1200 – 1500)
This method is not unlike the great builders of the 20’s and 30’s, just utilizing the great opportunities presented by modern technology.