All posts by pmccombs

Getting Started

Hi, my name is Aly. I’ve been building guitars since I was fifteen (which hasn’t been very long so far). I can’t remember exactly when or how my dad and I came up with the idea to build instruments, but here we are. First off, here are a few guitars we have built so far.

This was my first guitar. I built it from a kit to get started, which was a pretty good idea thinking about how much could have gone wrong due to lack of experience.

Naturally for me, painting is the best part. Here’s my first attempt. My dad “helped” me with it. He screwed it up pretty bad.

The first paint job; I must say isn’t the best in the universe. I did the Sunburst technique backwards, and that’s what happens (thanks, dad). But now I know, right?

I spent a total of about three or so hours sanding off all that paint. Now I could officially get started, this time without any help. Here’s how it turned out:

Attempt #2! Not bad, eh? You just gotta keep at it (and knowing what you’re doing helps a whole lot).

At last, we finished the guitar! It was a lot of work, but worth it for sure. It took a bit of extra effort to get all the electronic and technical stuff to work, but we got it sounding fine.

My finished guitar! And it looks great.
I autographed the guitar head here. I hadn’t come up with a cool signature at the time (come on, I was 15) so that’s what it looked like. Still, you have to admit that the idea of signing your own guitars is pretty cool right?

A few months later, I participated in the annual Peaks Jazz Festival where I got my guitar signed by some of the artists. I didn’t want ink on my work at first, but my parents talked me into it, and I’m happy I gave in.

A – Ray Smith
B – Abraham Laboriel – Grammy Award winning bassist.
C – Fransisco Torres
D – Caleb Chapman
E – Jeff Coffin
F – Poncho Sanchez
G – Steve Reid
H – Rick Drumm


The next spring, we began working on another guitar. This guitar was also from a kit, since we still felt inexperienced. This guitar is my favorite to play so far. It sounds great!

Here’s me working on the electronics. It can be frustrating, but I look pretty happy, don’t I?

We finished this guitar in about two or three weeks, which isn’t bad at all. Here’s what it looked like when finished:

I love the colors on this guitar! It was pretty easy painting it, and look how it turned out! Simple, but great.
Signatures left to right: Andy Narell, Sean Jones, Tommy Igoe

In January of 2012 we got started on our latest guitar so far. This one is a hollow-body guitar, again from a kit. Here we’re still experimenting with painting techniques.

In this picture we’re trying a technique that is supposed to make the grain in the wood pop, in other word making it more sparkly! And who doesn’t want a good, sparkly guitar?

Naturally, you think “A” stands for Aly! No, it stands for Amberlethe. This guitar is unique because it’s representing Amberlethe. Here we have the head of the guitar, where we are doing our very own inlay work.

Here’s what it looked like while applying the Mother of Pearl inlay to the head. Doesn’t look like much now, but once it’s finished, it will look fantastic!

So far, this has been our most difficult guitar. First of all, we did the inlay on the head ourselves, which took a bit of time, mixed our own colors and lacquer, put our logo at the bottom, and the body is arched, making polishing more difficult. Despite all of that hard work, the guitar looks great!

Our finished guitar! It looks and sounds great!

That’s all we have so far. Our next guitar will be completely from scratch, and everything will be designed by us. We’ve gotten started, and now the hard work begins!

Mandolin Repair

I imagine most luthiers are primarily interested in making their own instruments, so when repair work comes in, it tends to languish on the workbench longer than it should.

An old Kay mandolin came into the shop earlier this year. This particular model was probably mass-produced around 1960, and it is definitely a “consumer-grade” instrument.

At the time when the mandolin was made, there were no CNC routers for mass production work, so the front and back of the instrument are not carved in the manner of a typical mandolin but are made of a thin plywood. To get the desired arching, these laminates were probably pressed on a mold.This strategy likely allowed the Kay company to cheaply produce thousands of instruments and make them available to casual buyers for very low prices.

The fingerboard on the mandolin appears to be made of pine, or maybe some low-density hardwood. It’s been painted to resemble rosewood. At first I thought the fret dots had been painted into shallow holes, but later discovered they had been rather poorly inlaid.

A fake wood pattern was screened onto the front and back of the instrument to simulate curly maple. The binding, inlaid on most instruments, was simply painted on.

When I got it, the instrument was in a poor state as you can see in the following closeups:

The mandolin had apparently been hanging from its pegs. It seems someone must have pulled on it in order to bend the tuning pegs like this.
Here you can see the bridge is chipped off at the E string slots. Note how the top is painted to simulate a figured hardwood.
The mangled tailpiece is missing a screw and is starting to tear away from the body. Note the painted binding.
The fretboard has cracked where it projects over the belly, and the fretwire has gone missing.


The nut has come loose. At first I thought this was made of plastic but was pleased to discover that it was not. I was able to reuse this piece.
The neck has been cracked out of its joint. A proper neck-reset would have required a good deal of reconstruction in this area and would have been more costly than the instrument is worth. I re-glued the joint with new hide glue and clamped it tightly. Kay’s machined mortise isn’t as tight as I’d like, so I worry that this could happen again if the owner isn’t careful.

While the mandolin itself will never command a high price on the market, the owner places some sentimental value on it. My goal was to restore the instrument to a playable state while remaining within a small budget. Here is the result:

I very much like the distressed (battered?) look that years of abuse (probably from kids!) have imparted to the finish. And in spite of being cheaply made, the instrument sounds great, proving that sound quality isn’t entirely a production of craftsmanship.


Welcome to Amberlethe. We are a small business specializing in artistic, hand made stringed instruments.This page is still under construction, but we anticipate a launch date sometime in spring or summer of 2013.

In the meantime, you’re welcome to check back periodically to see how things are coming along.

At the moment, we are working on securing a trademark for the company. To that end, we are offering our very first guitar FOR SALE, which you can see on the product page.

If you have any comments or questions, send them to Thanks for stopping by!