Madison’s Mandolin Maker

This is a grand story.

When Madison Fire Chief Debra Amesqua took up the mandolin a few years back, she wanted a quality instrument, specifically a 1923 or 1924 Lloyd Loar Gibson F-5 archtop.  (I hope Amesqua was able to see the recent Madison performance of Grand Ole Opry star Bobby Osborne and his amazing mandolin playing.)

She couldn’t find one for under $125,000, so she changed her plans. She transformed her basement into a shop, bought a mandolin kit from supplier StewMac and replicated the F-5 piece by piece.

Now Amesqua is working on her sixth instrument and plans to keep churning them out, one by one, for the foreseeable future. She doesn’t do it for the money. With about 200 hours invested in each instrument, untold thousands of dollars on tools, hundreds of dollars for just the wood for a single mandolin, she’s not likely to break even anytime soon. The most she’s fetched for one of her works of musical art is $3,500.

It takes a lot of work. Amesqua sees it as a defining endeavor that intertwines her love of music with her considerable technical talents.

She enjoys playing her creations, seeking out venues such as bluegrass festivals and jamming with a group that plays traditional Irish tunes on Wednesdays at Brocach pub on the Capitol Square. But she calls those musicians “way out of my league.”

“I’m a builder, not a player,” she insists.

The first mandolin she sold went to a professional musician, who took it to Ireland for several months to learn to play traditional music in the pubs.

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