Cittern-June 2009

This is my eighth mandolin family instrument and my third CBOM. the first two were four course instruments and this is my first five course instrument. I have photos of both the instrument and its construction, as well as a few soundfiles. I am a hobbyist instrument maker and musician and decided to build this instrument with the hope that it would be more versatile and easier to play than my longer scaled octave mandolin. Please take the time to look it over and if you don't mind, offer some feedback and suggestions to me via email.


Dimensions: 4 inches deep at tailpiece, 3 1/2 inches deep at neck, 14 1/8 inches wide, 36 inches total length


My approach to instrument building is an individual one and I don't follow patterns very closely. For example, the neck, headstock, tailpiece, and bridge were shaped mostly by eye and the body isn't exactly symmetrical, though you might not notitce this unless it's pointed out.

The back, sides and neck are from aged, local walnut. The white binding is holly. Holly bends very easily. The top is redwood I acquired from Bruce Harvie at Orcas Island Tonewoods. He's always been great to deal with. Inside bracing is red spruce. Both the top and back are X-braced. The back is bent to a 15' radius arch and the top is carved.

The headstock overlay is Macassar ebony and my logo is inlaid using six pieces of square silver wire. The tuners are Gotoh mini tuners which I obtained from Asa Chock's ukulele school in Hawaii. I recommend him--great service and you can buy ten at a time!

The truss rod is a double action model from Luthier's Mercantile in California. A flat surface bears against the fingerboard and bows out or in with just a slight turn of the nut with an allen wrench. I need to add some wood blocks to the space between the body and the fingerboard.

The neck joint uses barrel nuts to secure the neck. No glue is used. the neck can be easily removed and either shimmed or carved to change the break angle across the bridge if needed. BTW, fish glue is the only glue used for the entire construcion of this instrument. I even use it to help glide the frets in. It sticks to metal and glass as well. I did use epoxy for gluing the tailpiece together and for inlay. Fish glue is similar to hide glue in its properties, but takes hours to dry and is completely reversible with water. For this reason, I sealed the entire inner surface with a light spray of shellac sealer. The outside of the instrument is also sealed with shellac and then hand wiped with five thin coats of Tru Oil (gunstock finish made from linseed oil) with steel wooling in between. I didn't fill the grain and prefer this easy-to-refinish treatment.

The tailpiece is made of a bent piece of brass with two pieces of ebony glued to it. The brass rods are inlaid by routing grooves with a Dremel and then filled with epoxy. This design works very well by bending the loop in the string up and then inserting the string under the tailpiece to pull the loop over the rod. I made this from a scrap from a headstock overlay and the end of a fingerboard.The strings are crossed because I first strung it up right handed to let some friends try it. When I set it up lefty, I had cut the strings so that some were shorter than others, if that makes sense...

I could use some advice on string spacing. I have just done this by feel, starting by centering the middle course both at the nut and the bridge.This is just a rough bridge, by the way. It's made of black locust and I have had good luck with this wood for bridges.

Once again, advice on standards for string spacing would be appreciated. I'd also like to get some idea of how thick the neck should be. For example, should it be similar to a guitar?

See several construction photos

Below are a couple of soundfiles of me playing this cittern. It's still mildly confusing for me to play, since the extra course disorients me if I lose concentration. I recorded using a single MXL condenser mic through a Presonus preamp into a G5 Macintosh computer using Audacity software. This sounded boomy in the low D range and is probably because I had the mic to close to the soundhole (4-5 inches). Then I recorded again using my Zoom H2 recorder on mp3 setting and set the Zoom about three feet away. No reverb or eq at all in either case.

Using the condenser mic

Using the Zoom

Thanks for any feedback you might provide! I encourage constructive criticism and have a thick skin... :-)


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