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"Les Paul" Octave Baritone Electric mandolin

"Les Paul" Octave-Baritone eMandoline

This instrument is a tribute to the famous "Les Paul" guitar from Gibson, the famous and much renowned 1959 "Burst".

Even if I am more inclined to build acoustic instruments, I wanted to try my hand at electric instruments and I decided to build an original model, that would recall the aesthetic and charm of that so nice guitar.

I made it mainly during the spring of 2013.

However, it is not a guitar ... despite appearances , it is actually a mandolin, and more precisely a "baritone" one, even if the word is somewhat usurped, one should rather say "tenor", but it seems that it is customary to call it like so, with the added precision of "octave" to avoid confusion. 


Mandolins generally have double string courses, this is intended to add volume and sustain to these instruments which tend to lack some, due to the heavy tension of the strings and the small volume of the soundbox.

Here, it is an electric instrument, moreover with solid body, thus the sustain comes naturally, thanks to amplification. Consequently, double strings are not essential.  On the other hand, in order to respect the proportion and the Les Paul appearence, the fingerboard is wide enough to support a fifth string.

So I have decided to go for 5 strings, with a scale of 46cm (18"), tuned to fifths, basically one octave lower than a mandolin.

The scale of 18" allows to keep the fingers stretch reasonable, and to use the same fingering as on a mandolin, at least for the melodic playing.

Concerning the tuning of the fifth string, I had choice between lower (C2), or higher, but the string calculation shows that to obtain a low C, I would need a way too big gauge, or a tension too low. I chose a high B, with a complete tuning for the instrument of G2 D3 A3 E4 B4.

A major difficulty has been to find the appropriate hardware and pickups, for such a non-standard instrument.

I was successfull thanks to Pete Mallinson, from UK, who makes the Almuse pickups,  specifically for electric mandolins and ukes. Pete also builds the custom hardware, he thus provided me with  the complete set of pickups, tune o'matic bridge, and stopbar, all being at a reduced size, designed for 5 strings, with the correct radius and string spacing that suited me.
I take the opportunity to thank him for this super work and his kind advice, and I warmly recommend him for anyone who whishes to address a specific project like this one.

Another difficulty raised when adapting the standard electronic parts (pots, toggle switch button) to the reduced thickness of the body. The tone pots with switch for coil splitting ended to just fit, but the toggle switch was too long. I had to hack it seriously to gain the 6 ou 7 mm that were too long.
See below in the diaporama the details of the operation..

The specs of my "Les Pauline" are as follow :

  • Curly ray flecked maple carved top
  • Sapele body and neck
  • 46cm / 18 " scale
  • 5 strings G2 D3 A3 E4 B4 (54 / 40 / 28 / 15 /11)
  • Almuse humbucker pickups, double coil with  6.5 KOhms at the neck, 7.5KOhms at the bridge.
  • 5 strings Tune-o'matic like bridge and stop-bar from Almuse, Nickel plated.
  • Ebony fingerboard, 12" radius, pearl inlays
  • Ebony headplate, inlaid with pearl and breton ormeau (abalone).
  • Schaller tuners
  • Volume + Tone adjustment for each pickup, Push/pull on the tone pot to activate coil split.
  • "Cherry burst" finish  (Alcohol based Fiebings dyes, applied with a rag)
  • KTM-SV lacquer


And here is the result  :


Sound sample :

       To come soon

The "making of" :

Follow all the steps of this build (Note: the process would be the same for making a regular Les Paul guitar) :

The case

To come : making of  a custom case for this instrument.

Any comment welcome  !


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Creation date : 21/08/2013 : 23:05
Last update : 22/08/2013 : 17:18
Category : - Mandolins
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Reactions to this article

Reaction #1 

by Bill 14/02/2014 : 18:31