Joe K. Walsh demonstrates his go-to mandola.
by Teja Gerken
April 27, 2018
Idaho-based luthier Lawrence Smart has been at the forefront of custom mandolin-family building since the 1980s. Smart builds traditional A- and F-style instruments, as well as nontraditional designs like multi-scale ten-string mandolins and mandolas and single f-hole instruments. Peghead Nation mandolin instructor Joe K. Walsh first became aware of Lawrence’s instruments through recordings by John McGann and Mike Marshall, and chose Lawrence to build a new mandola that would project more than the vintage Gibson H-2 mandola Joe owns.
“I wanted the same scale length as the old Gibson mandolas from the teens,” says Joe. “I got really comfortable with that, and I wanted the same playing comfort.” Joe also wanted f-holes rather than the oval soundhole on his Gibson. “I love the way the Gibson sounds at home, and playing by myself, it’s got a beautiful warm tone, but I found that playing in a group, it wasn’t cutting through; it got lost in the shuffle. I was hoping that building a mandola with f-holes would help with that, and I think it really did.”
The instrument is the first of a new design that Lawrence now offers for his A-style mandolas. It has a large body diameter and slight shift in the neck/body joint position, which allows the bridge to be positioned closer to the center of the top. Joe’s instrument is built with maple back and sides and an Engelmann spruce top.
In this video, Joe discusses the instrument and demonstrates its sound by playing “The Stream Is Flowing from the West” with guitarist Grant Gordy.
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