Resources > CoMando Guest of the Week > Mandolin Builder's Super Summit

Max McCullough - Moderator
Hans Brentrup - Technical Moderator - Brentrup Mandolins
John Monteleone - Monteleone Instruments
Mike Kemnitzer - Nugget Mandolins
Will Parsons - Parsons Mandolins
Steve Gilchrist - Gilchrist Mandolins
Pete Langdell - Rigel Mandolins
Bruce Weber - Sound to Earth, Ltd.
Phil Davidson - Davidson Instruments
Michael Heiden - Heiden Stringed Instruments
A. Lawrence Smart - Smart Musical Instruments
Charlie Derrington - Gibson Mandolins
Lynn Dudenbostel - Dudenbostel Stringed Instruments
Oliver Apitius - Apitius Instruments



Max McCullough - Moderator
Maxwell (Max) McCullough has been a multi-instrumental musician since his youth. He played ukulele for his Boy Scout troop, played guitar and sang in a folk band in college in the 1950s, briefly took up banjo and performed in folk groups in clubs and coffeehouses in Washington during the '60s, bought a mandolin, a dobro and a bass and got into Bluegrass and Celtic in Texas in the '70s, rekindled his interest in Russian music and instruments in the '80s. Formed the Washington Balalaika Society in 1988 and serves as its principal conductor. Played with Takoma Mandoleers mandolin orchestra in the '90s and is a member of the board of directors of Classical Mandolin Society of America. Serves as executive director of the Balalaika and Domra Association of America. Retired in 1994 after a 35-year career with IBM. Currently focusing on music and splitting time between homes in Northern Virginia and the Ozark foothills near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Happily and luckily married to Francie Fite, herself a versatile musician and tolerant partner.


Hans Brentrup - Technical Moderator - Brentrup Mandolins
Hans Brentrup has been around mandolins his whole life. His father played in a mandolin orchestra in Germany, and continued playing after immigrating to the United States. After serving in the armed forces, Hans attended a technical school for cabinetmaking, where he built his first guitar. He then went to the first class of instrument repair at the Red Wing Technical Institute in 1972, and built his first mandolin in 1973. He was the "in house" luthier for a well known instrument store in Minneapolis during the '70's. In the middle eighties he turned to cabinetmaking, but returned to instrument building in 1998. He has been building mandolins only since then. He currently builds A and F model mandolins in three trim options, and plans to build oval hole A and F models in the future.


John Monteleone - Monteleone Instruments
My first childhood encounters with a guitar began with a horrible excuse for a guitar which stood in a corner in our family dining room; a cheap Harmony acoustic archtop model, It had three or four of the blackest, rustiest, and nastiest strings ever seen on any guitar. It was dangerous enough that it could have sent its victims to the hospital for tetanus shots. Since it was of no use to anyone I took it downstairs into my laboratory where I conducted an experiment which tool, only a minute or two. I was only twelve. I wound up with a round house swing and smashed it to bits around a lally-colum. It was perhaps the best sound that it ever made. It produced a pile of interesting splinters of spruce and maple and at the same time revealed the inside of this lousy guitar. I then realized that there was a reason for all of these things and the inside and that it was somehow important to the sound of any guitar. This was an enlightening experience for this curios twelve year old boy.

I met the Mandolin Brothers in 1973 and began repairing and restoring vintage instruments for them until about 1980. My first workshop was a kitchen table and the next shop appeared in my bedroom where I shared space with a workbench and a table saw. I opened my first real shop in 1976 at the waters edge in the town of Bayshore, New York where I remained until I built my current shop in 1989.

My early instruments reflected my experiences with many fine (and otherwise) examples of vintage guitars, mandolins, and banjos encountered during the Mandolin Brothers years. Although influenced by the greatest luthiers, I responded to the need for a better and more advanced approach to designing the sound, look, and feel of my instruments. I therefore began building with my own evolutionary concepts at a time when new ideas and designs were discouraged by those musicians who had more traditional expectations.

As the guitar market went soft in the 1980's the reputation for my mandolins was reaching new highs. I continued refining my, guitar designs during this period and was ready for the renewed interest in vintage archtop, and flattop guitars at the end of the 80's. More importantly, the recent acceptance of the "new" luthiers has opened doors to the possible realization of finer guitars from John Monteleone.

I am consciously working toward broadening the Musicians' interest in both archtop and flattop guitars. The weakening lines of division between the various classifications of music have made it possible for a great melding of music. These influences have generated a need for inspirational instruments of greater versatility for the musician. The music itself has always been the driving force behind the success of all musical instruments and the artisans who make them. There has always been a supply and demand for fine musical instruments. The demand for guitars and mandolins of extremely fine performance quality has never been greater than now.

See Also John Monteleone CGOW


Mike Kemnitzer - Nugget Mandolins
My mandolin building career began in 1973 with a year long apprenticeship under the guidance of the fine mandolin player and builder Bob White of Shade, Ohio (it’s near Coolville). Previous to that I had been building banjo necks, playing old time music and repairing instruments at Blue Eagle Music in Athens, Ohio.

To date I have built approximately two hundred and fifty instruments, mostly under the name Nugget Mandolins. Nugget was a nickname given to me by John Huchison and probably because I didn’t initially care for it, it stuck. After a time, Nugget’s mandolins became Nugget Mandolins.

One hundred and forty three of the instruments I’ve built are F-5s, eighty one are A-models, sixteen two points, seven mandolas, five octave mandolins and two mandocellos.

All of these instruments were custom built for individuals with the exception of seven A- models that were Winfield mandolin contest prizes, a couple for the Telluride festival contest and a few instruments that were built on speculation.

In 1997 I stopped taking custom orders as my backlog became unmanageably large. Within a year or so from that keeping up with the large number of inquiries became difficult and I stopped answering them altogether. I had been keeping a list of folks to contact once I started taking orders again and even though I stopped answering inquiries I have added all those folks to that list. I look very forward to building mandolins after my backlog is completed but rather than take custom orders I think I will contact folks from my list as an instrument becomes available.

Enough about me, I have already scanned a couple of pages of questions and I’m really looking forward to this exchange! Mandolins…what is there about them.


Will Parson - Parson's Instruments
Will grew up in Cross Lanes, West Virginia near Charleston. His musical life began early as his Grandfather, Dad and Uncles all played. At age 9 Will began playing the guitar and mandolin. When he turned 10 he received a banjo that became a major part of his musical interest. Will's Dad was a carpenter by trade and fine woodworking was a major hobby, an area that Will also developed an interest in at an early age. It seemed a very natural thing to combine the two areas of interest that worked together so well anyway and so at age 14 Will built his first instrument, a fiddle. When he was 16, Will went to work for Joe Dobbs at Fret n Fiddle in St. Albans, West Virginia. This was a wonderful place for a budding young musician and builder. Many of West Virginia's great musicians frequented this music store and Will became acquainted with several of them including Buddy Griffin, Kevin Call, Robert Hale and others. He also began giving lessons at the store around this time. One of his greatest influences in building at this time was Jerry Collyard. Jerry is the in-house Luthier at the Fret n Fiddle even now. While at Fret n Fiddle and studying under Jerry Collyard Will built several instruments including fiddles, banjos and mandolins. Mandolins quickly became the instrument that he preferred building and by age 21 he was building mandolins for sale on a limited basis.

Still plugging away at building and repairing in the basement of his home in Berea, performing took him away from home more and more. In 1995 Will and his family moved back home to southern West Virginia and bought a small farm. The mandolin business began to grow and the wonder of Internet sales opened doors never before dreamed of. Will built a couple dobros and guitars but the love of building and creating mandolins soon won out. For the last several years the mandolin business has been the main breadwinner in the Parsons household. With new and innovative ideas as well as creativity Will is fast becoming an internationally known builder.

Along with building mandolins Will has a major performance schedule with his band Meridian and does quite a bit of session Studio Work in the Virginia/Tennessee area in addition to helping chase 3 children to Little League Baseball, Basketball and 4H activities.

See Also Will Parson CGOW


Steve Gilchrist - Gilchrist Mandolins
Luthier Steve Gilchrist was born in 1955 in Warrnambool, a town in the state of Victoria in the Southeastern part of Australia. His first mandolin memories come from just looking at and holding his brother's old bowl back mandolin. Later on while attending art school and building surfboards, his interest in mandolins surfaced again and he began drawing plans from magazines and album covers of Bill Monroe as there were no actual F-5's available to him for study. Using Monroe's fingers as a scale reference he actually drew plans, built molds, and constructed his first instruments.

At 21 he moved to the state capital of Melbourne where he continued to build instruments, but more importantly, he began getting a lot of work repairing instruments. This, of course, gave him access to original instruments and the quality of his work began a rapid improvement.

In 1978 Steve returned to Warrnambool where he established Gilchrist Mandolins and Guitars. The following year he traveled to the U.S. to gain better access to wood and materials for his work, and to find and study more original instruments.

During his visit he became friends with reknowned vintage expert George Gruhn. At Gruhn Guitars he studied and researched dozens of classic vintage instruments and met many talented musicians that, in turn, inspired a new level of motivation and development in his work. It was during this time that he met his longtime friend David Grisman, who as Steve says," then and now, has encouraged and inspired me every step of the way."

After this intense sojourn to the U.S., Steve returned to Warrnambool to set up a new workshop. He worked diligently filling the orders that had been generated from his exposure in Nashville. Throughout the 80's he continued to supply instruments to Gruhn Guitars as well as taking direct orders from customers around the world.

In 1992, through an association with David Grisman and Dexter Johnson, Carmel Music Co. became the exclusive U.S. distributor of Gilchrist guitars and mandolins. Over the years we have had the pleasure of working with a great number of wonderful and talented musicians including David Grisman, Ronnie McCoury, Mike Compton, Aubrie Haynie, Ricky Skaggs, Buck White, Tom Rozum, Matt Flinner, Andy Statman, Jerry Garcia, Tommy Comeaux, Butch Baldassari and members of the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, G.E. Smith, Evan Marshall, and many more.

Steve lists his main influences as, "Lloyd Loar and all the engineers and craftsmen at "The Gibson" plant between 1910 and 1925."

See Also Steve Gilchrist CGOW


Pete Langdell - Rigel Mandolins
I was born in the 1950s and raised on a dairy farm in Northern Vermont. I've always had a love for acoustic music in general, especially bluegrass. Since I can remember, I have been fascinated with musical instruments of all kinds. I constructed my first instrument in 1964. In high school, with all the woodworking shop tools available, my building became more prolific, building guitars, basses, and mandolins. I made my living for 20 years as a machinist, machine designer, and production designer. During this time, I was also building a number of instruments. Shortly after I sold my machine shop, I started building mandolins full time using my modern approach to mandolin construction, which I patented.

In 1988, I began using the Rigel name for my instruments (which incidentally comes from the name of a star in the constellation of Orion). I worked alone building mandolins out of a shop on my property until 1997, when Rigel Instruments was incorporated. At that time, I joined forces with long time friend and mandolin aficionado Peter Mix. It was at that time we increased production and went from working by hand to mechanizing the process where possible. Since that time, Rigel has expanded, has introduced new models and concepts. Rigel outgrew my home shop and moved to a larger facility in Hyde Park, Vermont.

When time permits, I restore vintage instruments and indulge my fascination with all makes and styles of acoustic instruments. I also enjoy making replicas of classic instruments. In addition, I am always dreaming up and designing new models. It's the R & D work going on in my head that takes time to sort out and execute. As an example, as most of you may know already, Rigel just unveiled our latest model, the G-5. I take great pride in continuing to introduce new models and refine the classics.

I live in Jeffersonville, Vermont with my wife Margo Rome and our two Labrador retrievers. Although I've played mandolin in bluegrass bands for over 25 years, I currently play guitar in Big Spike, a bluegrass band based in north central Vermont.


Bruce Weber - Sound to Earth, Ltd.
I grew up in northern Minnesota where I enjoyed hunting, fishing, riding horses, and wood working with my dad. My love for the outdoors led to my ownership of a sporting goods store. I moved to Kalispell, MT in the early eighties where I bought my first mandolin, a Flatiron. In Kalispell I discovered pottery; and after moving to Bozeman, set up a small studio for throwing pots and creating wood sculptures.

While looking for strings for my Flatiron mandolin, I was directed to “the little red shop” that housed the Flatiron Mandolin and Banjo Company. This was in the spring of 1987, just before Gibson Guitar Corporation purchased the Flatiron Mandolin and Banjo Company from Steve Carlson. This purchase led to the building of the Gibson mandolin line in addition to the Flatiron line. I was instantly drawn to the processes and integrity of craftsmanship seen in the luthiers and instruments. I talked Steve into hiring me, and have never looked back!

This began a very busy time for me trying to absorb all that Steve Carlson and Ren Ferguson had to share. I built mandolins during the week and did repairs on the weekends. When Steve got the go-ahead to build the Gibson acoustic guitar plant in Bozeman, we eventually moved the whole Flatiron crew to the new building where I headed the engineering department responsible for tooling guitars.

However, mandolins were my first love. Steve and I felt the mandolins and banjos should be moved back into their own shop, and Gibson Guitar Corporation agreed. Steve Carlson left Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1993 to pursue other projects, while I had a great time working in the custom shop of the Gibson/Flatiron Division. I was also the production manager and was eventually hired as the general manager, where I divided my time between management responsibilities and building custom instruments, also reviving the Gibson H5.

Early in my mandolin career while backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, Mr. Bill Monroe found out I was from Gibson, and shoved his mandolin in my hands and said, “Do something with these frets!” I couldn’t do much backstage, but I did get the chance to refret and setup his instrument when he visited Belgrade to oversee the building of the Bill Monroe model. A little known story is that when we took Bill through Yellowstone Park, he named his mandolin “Ole Faithful” in front of the actual Old Faithful geyser.

Just before Christmas 1996, Gibson Guitar Corporation made the decision to move the Gibson/Flatiron Division to Nashville. Five luthiers and I moved the shop to Nashville in January 1997. While we were setting up the new shop, we decided that Montana was our home; and we were encouraged by Gibson Guitar Corporation to return. Prior to having any specific plans after we returned home, I started receiving instrument requests from dealers who had just learned of the relocation of the Gibson/Flatiron Division to Nashville. Rather than being a one-man shop and missing out on the fellowship of other builders, I chose to create Weber Fine Acoustic Instruments.

Pulling from the pool of recently unemployed luthiers in the valley, I hired Bob McMurray and Joe Schneider, both of whom I’d worked with for years. I had a shop at home so we moved the pottery gear into the barn and started planning, designing and working with our own mandolins. Paula Jean Lewis, who believed so totally in our endeavors, invested her time in sales and marketing for a number of months until we were able to put her on the payroll.

We had a lot of fun feeling there were no barriers to innovation and experimentation while we kept the best in tradition. I have since fulfilled the dream of building four members of the mandolin family, and offer the player personalized instruments to meet their needs. As we have grown, other experienced luthiers that I had worked with in the past have come on board. We are training some of tomorrow’s builders, which to my joy, includes my son and younger brother. Even Steve Carlson’s youngest daughter, Jamie, has joined our luthiery family.

As to the future, I am working on fulfilling another dream, a guitar line including arched and flat tops. We have recently purchased an old school building in Logan, MT near the headwaters of the Missouri River. While we have no plans to grow into a production facility and lose our family shop atmosphere, we do hope to eventually realize yet another dream…a school of luthiery.

I feel very privileged belonging to the music world in this way and know that while I enjoy building, my ultimate goal is to serve the player, the artist, and the music.

See Also Bruce Weber CGOW


Phil Davidson - Davidson Instruments
Our distinguished panel includes UK luthier Phil Davidson, who was recommended for the panel by Simon Mayor as one of the UK's leading builders. Phil builds mandolins, guitars and b*njos. Phil's workshop is near Bath, England, in a converted piggery, according to his website. To see Phil's workshop and instruments, check out his website at http://www.davidsoninstruments.com/ We are delighted to have Phil Davidson as a member of our panel, which includes top builders from Australia, Canada, the US and the UK.


Michael Heiden - Heiden Stringed Instruments
In 1963 at the age of 9, I got my first cheap drugstore variety acoustic steel string guitar. I realized very soon that it was really only worth $12 and saved up for a Yamaha FG120. It was used, so I made my first attempt at setting up a guitar. adjusting the neck and dressing the frets. I actually made it play better. I think I was about 11 and was playing Beatles and Duo stuff with a good friend who taught me all the chords and harmonies. I found Bluegrass through a guy I met in Grade 11 who became a best friend and musical partner for many years (he died 18 years ago). Dave had "big ears " and had a great record collection. Bill Monroe, Django Reinhardt, Bob Wills. I had found the music I really loved; brilliant acoustic instruments played by masters. He also collected vintage Gibson and Martin guitars and I was fascinated by the way they were made and the esthetics of the wood and designs.

In 1973, for the first year after high school, I went to live on a farm, a co-op run by several instrument makers and their families. They just kind of took me in. a kid from the city looking for a place to find himself. I apprenticed in the loosest sense of the word. I made coffee and cut firewood for the wood stove in the log cabin workshop. I watched as they sat hunched at their benches carving dulcimer heads and planing Red cedar tops made from driftwood hauled off the local beaches. Eventually they allowed me to plane my first dulcimer top. I was hooked. I moved back to Vancouver, got a house/shop space, took up playing the fiddle and mandolin, began building dulcimers while learning to repair instruments, and played in oldtimey bluegrass bands. Since then I have done much more of the same. Dulcimers led to guitar and mandolins and Bluegrass to Django and back to Bluegrass. I played in bands and built and repaired instruments. The music has been the main reason I love to make instruments. In the last 4 years I have quit gigging and now make mandolins full time. These days I am mainly making mandolins and a very few guitars.

I spent many years doing repairs as my main income. I've restored hundreds of Martin guitars as well as all types of stringed instruments. This has given me an insight into what makes a great instrument work well, and its failings. I incorporate this knowledge into everything I build.

See Also Michael Heiden CGOW


A. Lawrence Smart - Smart Musical Instruments
I first became smitten by acoustic stringed instruments in the early 1970s, when I was a high school student in Salt Lake City. I credit numerous guitar-playing friends, but especially The Deseret String Band who were playing all around town in those days. Their banjo player, Leonard Coulson, was and is a very talented banjo maker. I spent a lot of time in Leonard's shop, Intermountain Guitar and Banjo, pestering him with questions and generally being fascinated with the process. I credit him with early inspiration and encouragement, even though he ran me out of the shop on more than one occasion.

While in college in the mid '70's, I built a few crude banjos and dulcimers, and picked up "junker" instruments that I could rebuild without doing too much harm. I continued repairing and restoring instruments throughout my years as a public school teacher, until I eventually decided that a career change was in order. In 1986, I quit teaching and attended a four-month guitar building workshop under the tutelage of George Morris in Post Mills Vermont. After returning to Idaho, I set up shop and began struggling to make a go of luthiery. The early years were filled with temporary carpentry jobs; buying, selling and restoring instruments; and whatever else I could to stay afloat.

Since 1986 I've built 154 instruments. About 35 are guitars, and the rest are mandolin-family instruments. I make several models of mandolins, mandolas and octave mandolins, as well as a bouzouki and Florentine mandocello. Some of the better-known musicians who own mandolin-family instruments I've built include Ben Winship, Matt Flinner, Nick Forster, John Reischman, Mike Marshall, Rickie Simpkins, and Co-Mando's own Arthur Stern.

I live and work in the west-central mountains of Idaho, in the small town of McCall. The surrounding mountains have been a great source of Engelmann spruce, and I've spent countless hours searching for, harvesting, and learning to bring the best out of this wonderful tonewood. I also enjoy playing mandolin, fiddle and guitar in a couple of local bands.

Thanks so much for letting me be a part of this computer-age luthier's super summit.

See Also Lawrence Smart CGOW


Charlie Derrington - Gibson Mandolins
Charlie likes to think of himself as a tenor singer who plays mandolin OK and loves wood. He won the Tennessee State forestry competition 4 years running in high school while learning to play music at the same time.

His first mandolin was a gift in 1976 from an elderly lady whose door he knocked on because he needed to use a phone when stranded with a flat tire. He noticed this instrument in the corner and asked her what it was. The old woman replied that it was a mandolin, and as she knew he was a musician, offered it to Charlie as a gift. He took it home and before learning to play it, stripped the finish and refinished it in varnish. What a way to start!

Charlie hired on at Gibson in 1984 as their only mandolin repairman, and you pretty much know the rest, including the repair of Bill Monroe's badly damaged Loar and the development of the current line of Gibson Mandolins. Charlie was recently promoted to General Manager of Gibson Original Acoustic Instruments. Under his guidance, Gibson is producing a complete line of fine quality mandolins, banjos and resonator guitars at the Gibson Bluegrass Showcase in Nashville.

See Also Charlie Derrington CGOW


Lynn Dudenbostel -Dudenbostel Stringed Instruments
I've been involved with music, in one form or another, since I started playing clarinet in the second grade. During junior high, I discovered guitar and started taking lessons. My teacher was Charlie Hagaman, the gentleman that Jethro Burns credited with teaching him all the old jazz standards. Charlie played on the WNOX MidDay Merry-Go-Round here in Knoxville, and when he went into the Army, an unknown guitar player from Luttrell, named Chet Atkins, took his place. The gentleman who taught in the studio next to Charlie was Aytchie Burns, Jethro's brother. The music those guys could make was incredible, and the jokes were even better! But, during that time, my brother took up banjo, and my love of bluegrass began. I'd wait until he was away from the house, take his banjo and the music he brought home, and learn it before he did. Banjo always came easy for me. In the late '70's, with bluegrass becoming more and more popular, I discovered the live music scene in Knoxville.... Buddy's Bar-B-Que. Many great groups came thru there, but the house band was the Knoxville Grass, with Darryl Wolfe on mandolin. I got to know Darryl and my first exposure to mandolin was thru him and several other local pickers. Needless to say, hanging around Darryl, I got to see my fair share of Loars! That did it for me. Forget the banjo and guitar, mandolins became my obsession. Several of us would go on Saturday morningsto Westel, TN and visit luthier Gene Horner.

I always thought it would be great to be able to build these things and visiting Gene planted the seed. After marrying Amy in 1987, I found out she wanted a dulcimer. I thought, "here's my chance to start putting together a shop"! I built one for her, and now about 75 instruments later, here I am, a full-time luthier. I left my job with Lockheed-Martin about 6 years ago and have never looked back. It's a great job, although it rarely feels like work! Outside of building mandolins and guitars, I enjoy camping with the family (my wife Amy, the kids, Lauren (14), Andy (10), and Matthew (7)). I also enjoy photography having just given up a longtime film habit for digital technology. I was born in east Tennessee and have lived in the area all of my 45 years.

See Also Lynn Dudenbostel CGOW


Oliver Apitius - Apitius Instruments
Born in Toronto, Ontario Canada, Oliver Apitius began his instrument making career in 1976, building acoustic guitars for local artists.

In 1985, Canadian mandolinist Randall Hill convinced Oliver to attempt building a mandolin, and so started the career of one of the foremost mandolin makers in the industry today. His instruments have found homes with such legendary musicians as Adam Steffey, Dan Tyminski, Mark Newton, Emory Lester, and Canadian talents Randall Hill and Ken Whiteley, to name a few. Oliver's mandolins have been seen by many on CMT television, on the Grand Ole Opry, and on the covers of Adam Steffey's 'Grateful' CD, as well as Mark Newton's 'Living a Dream' project. Now living and working out of Shelburne, Ontario, Oliver is booked up through 2005 with orders for mandolins, mandolas, and his 'mandalto' - which is a 10-string mandolin. Making exclusively mandolin family instruments for the past 10 years, he currently turns out about 7 mandolins per year, and his instruments are available from Mandolin Brothers in N.Y., and from Elderly Instruments in Michigan.

With plans to expand his operations in the near future, he also enjoys playing mandolin with some local bands in the area.