Mandolin maker hones his skills

In times past the Iveragh area produced many skilled craftsmen and tradesmen but it is difficult to recollect anyone who honed their skills in the making of mandolins. However, the craft is now alive in the area in the hands of Paul Evans who operates under the name 'Siveen Mandolins' in Cahirsiveen.

The 'mandolin man', so to speak, is originally from Dun Laoghaire in Dublin but now lives in St. Joseph's Terrace in the town, having moved to Kerry in 1989.

He lived in Glenbeigh until 2004 , then sold up and moved to Spain. Having returned home to Kerry in 2007, he moved to Cahirsiveen in 2008.

Paul has been making furniture for a living for the past 25 years and is trained as an architectural draughtsperson. However, he only practiced for 10 years as he did not like being stuck in a office working on a drawing all day.

Making use of his technical drawing experience and the skill of his hands he started making furniture in 1989 and it 'just took off from there', as he says. He had also started restoring banjos back then which led to a huge interest in instrument building.

Since the age of seven Paul has been playing guitar and took up the banjo and mandolin at the age of 15. He loved music and played in many folk bands until he was 26.

No surprise then that he looked at mandolin making as an opportunity of making a living at something he always loved. His first mandolin took him about eight weeks to build with everything being done by hand. Glasses were also required as the fine details needed good vision. He started to build more and soon he found that he was getting huge compliments on the sound and build quality. He states that you need a lot of patience when building instruments as the smallest mistake could mean you have to start from scratch again. Soon after, Paul started to take commissions for mandolins built to a customer's specifications on timber choice, scale length, body depth, neck size, as these all give a different feel , sound and playability.

He points out that it is very important to use wood with the best tonal qualities - a good tone wood should be quarter sawn and should have a good tapping sound. For these purposes he uses several different types of spruce and for the top sound board, sitka spruce, engelmann spruce, Adirondack spruce and European spruce (Italian) are used. The back and sides are made of hardwood, again quarter sawn. These are bought mainly from North America and include woods such as maple, curly maple and quilted maple. Cuban mahogany and African mahogany are also used. The making of the neck wood incorporates the use of a multi laminate of mahogany and maple which gives great strength and stability. He can now build a mandolin in the space of two weeks and it then takes a few days to hand polish the instrument.

'I can say it's the most rewarding job ever when the mandolin is completed and you are putting on strings for the first time. The thrill of the first strum makes my heart beat faster," says Paul.

Recently, Davey Arthur of the famous 'Fureys and Davey Arthur' folk and ballad group received his Siveen Mandolin and is thrilled with the sound, playability, and build quality. Manus Lunny, a brother of acclaimed Donal, now plays a Siveen Mandolin and numerous clients come from such places as Clare and Dublin.

Paul also recently shipped a consignment to England and Switzerland. He hopes some day to dispense with furniture making and to concentrate on making mandolins on a fulltime basis.

Paul considers himself so lucky and proud to be living in Cahirsiveen. He says that it's a wonderful town and that the people are so friendly. Having lived in many places he considers Cahirsiveen to be the best, with so many talented musicians as well as artists and craftspeople.

He also looks forward to the coming of the fleadh cheoil to the town this summer and his long term aim is to start a school of musical instrument making from the base of 'Siveen Mandolins' at St. Joseph's Terrace. His mobile number is 085-1537211