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Mandolin Top

Q: Greetings, would you tell me the best way to remove a top on an a-model Strad-o-lin? The top has many cracks and is very weak on the treble side. I have another top that will work. My main question is do you disturb the neck?It is elevated and rest on the top.

Thanks for your time and knowledge. Kirk

A: You will have to remove the part of the fingerboard that is glued to the top. There is no reason to disturb the neck joint or the rest of the fingerboard. Pull out the fret that is over the point where the neck joins the body (the 14th?), and then, using a razor saw, cut down through the fingerboard. Then heat the fingerboard extension until the glue melts and take it off. We have a complete set of Watlow Heater Blankets in many shapes and sizes. We choose the one that fits the area needing heat and the job is done. These blankets are available from Stew-Mac. If you are working on the cheap, a clothes iron will work. Use crinkled aluminum foil to wick heat away from things you don't want cooked. Since you are removing and discarding the old top, you could use your iron to melt the top to side joints while you are at it. Cracking the top off with the fingerboard still attached and then heating it from the under side would be cool. Excessive heat dries and cracks fingerboards. At best the old fingerboard extension will fit slickly back in place on the new top with a minimum of refitting. At worst it may need cracks filled with black epoxy and need a full plane and refret job. Actually, it would be a rare Strad-o-lin that does not need a plane and refret, but that's a whole other problem.

The first technique to try for top removal is "cracking" with a spatula. We buy Echo spatulas with a metal blade about 1" wide and 6" long and thin and sharpen the end to a dull edge. Stew-Mac sells tools made specifically for this purpose. We then force the blade into the joint and if the glue is Hide and old and brittle, the joint will open. This describes the glue that your Strad-o-lin is put together with, so try this first. Standard technique is to saw out the inside of the top and attack the joint from the inside. Doing this you are less likely to scar up the outside of the mandolin. If the "cracking" method proves too hard or if the joint is splintering too much, go with the iron. Heat the joint until the glue melts. Be prepared to refit and reglue the liner strip.

Steve Mason

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