Build Your Own Mandolin With a Ham Can (A Hamdolin!)

Follow Wayne Erbsen's instructions to build your own mandolin (or "hamdolin") using a ham can and some inexpensive building materials.

| January/February 1985

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    "There is beauty in the unambiguity of an instrument made from a ham can," says the author. Note the tailpiece, made from a brass strike plate.
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    Tuning pegs are made of nuts, bolts and wing nuts.
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    The neck piece of this instrument looks professional, but it's relatively cheap to recreate.
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    A chair rung joins the body to the neck.
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    Use these measurements to create frets that will keep you in tune.

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Before I explain the particulars on how you can build your own mandolin that is playable, attractive and almost-one-of-a-kind out of a ham can (I call it a hamdolin, naturally), I'd like to tell you how I came to tackle such an unlikely project in the first place.

Five or six years ago, I was rooting around in a wrecking yard near my home, searching amidst a sea of abandoned cars for an exhaust manifold for my old Dodge van. Call it fate (or just outright compulsive curiosity), but for some reason I happened to peer through the window of an old truck, and I spotted two empty ham cans sitting peacefully on the seat.

Well, right off, those pear-shaped tins reminded me of mandolins (we musicians tend to see music in almost everything), and that got me to thinking about the banjo-like instrument I'd once made out of a plastic milk jug, and that got me to cogitating on the possibilities presented by the pair of lonely-looking castoffs on the seat of the truck. Hmmmmm...

I left the junkyard that day with an exhaust manifold and two adopted ham cans.

Of course, inspiration is one thing, and motivation is another. Since the manifold meant mobility, I installed it right away. But I only recently, as a result of an unanticipated burst of energy, picked up one of the containers I'd rescued, brushed at least five years' worth of dust off it and decided maybe it was time to make a mandolin.

Not being one to do things the easy way (which in this case would've been to walk into a store and buy a mandolin, or at least the parts for one), I also figured I'd saddle myself with a small handicap. I'd do this thing strictly on the cheap, and I'd stick to a design that anybody with some ingenuity, a ham can and access to a hardware store could more or less duplicate. I wouldn't spoil my concept by relying on fancy woodworking tools, either. I'd make do with whatever humble implements I had on hand.

1/13/2008 10:00:40 PM

can you email a picture of your hamdolin and the deminsions for it, my computer is having problems loading the picture



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