Mandolin & Guitar Building Experience

A nearly completed mandolin
A nearly completed mandolin

Imagine, arriving at Planet Bluegrass eager to assemble your first musical instrument. After meeting your instructors and fellow students, you choose a kit, each one made of beautiful woods, and begin. Four days later, you leave with a mandolin, mandola, octave mandolin, or guitar, created mostly with your own hands and partly with the assistance of a group of remarkable luthiers who facilitate this unforgettable building experience. With over 200 instruments built to date, this experience just keeps getting better.

The Experience

Several years ago, a violist playing in an orchestra in Denver signed up because she wanted to play the mandolin. She spent the first three days intently focused on her instrument insisting that for her the class was all about the instrument she was making. During the last day, as the first mandolins were being strung up and she felt the joy of her fellow students, she turned to Michael and said, “Wow, I got it! It’s about the experience, not the instrument!”

2008 Instrument Building students
2008 Instrument Building students

The instrument building experience was born of a simple challenge to California luthier Rick Turner in 1992. Rick called his friend Michael Hornick, maker of Shanti Guitars, and asked if Michael would help design the mandolin. What they came up with was a simple, yet elegant kit patterned after the early Gibson Army/Navy-style models made during World War I. The beauty of the kit was that it incorporated old and new styles of instrument building: the old workboard style of building was combined with the modern techniques of X-bracing and composite materials. The kit has further evolved for 2012 with a unique sound-port on the side (pointing up) allowing the player to experience a fuller dynamic range.

2008 Instrument Building students
Completed mandolin

The experience would eventually lead Peter Rowan over to the workshop each day, following the progress and playing the newly strung instruments, delighting in the unique sound of each. Now, it’s a tradition that many of the Academy instructors drop by to play the newly strung instruments on the last day.

Mandolin/Mandola/Octave Kits

We offer kits and instruction for three different instruments in the mandolin family: mandolin, mandola, and octave mandolins. For these instruments, no building experience is required - just a good attitude and focus. Tuition for these instruments is $725, which includes a kit and expert instruction from luthiers Michael Hornick, Dan Roberts, Bobby Wintringham and assistants Chuck Midgley and Gary Lundy. Kits offered this year include mandolin (8 kits), mandola (3 kits), and octave mandolin (2 kits).

The guitar kit
The guitar kit

Guitar Kits

In addition to mandolin family instruments, we are now offering two advanced students the chance to build a travel guitar. As the guitars require more labor and skills, we ask that guitar building students have some instrument building experience through building a prior mandolin family instrument at the Academy. Tuition for the guitar building class is $925, which includes the guitar kit and expert instruction from our staff of luthiers.

We hope you're able to join us this July for an experience that head instructor Michael Hornick calls: "one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever been a part of.” Check out a slide-show from past years and connect with your fellow Academy students in the Festivarian Forum.