Graham McDonald, Australian author/luthier

IMG_0532Graham McDonald with one of his Kickstarter mandolins and his own, personal player, and Marv with his autographed copy of Graham’s book


Monday, May 16, we had a special guest here at the Pickin’ Parlor. Graham McDonald, a luthier from Canberra, Australia, dropped in to buy some cases for several of his mandolins, and ended up staying for several hours, talking with us here and packaging his mandolins for mailing.

Graham is a 5th generation Australian; his family moved to the island from Scotland in the 1840s. He has been building bouzoukis, mandolas, mandolins, ukuleles, and hardanger fiddles for over 35 years.

The official reason for Graham’s visit to the United States is a lecture he is giving to the American Musical Instrument Society at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, SD, on Wednesday, May 18. He will be talking about mandolin acoustics and the difference between classical (European) mandolins and American mandolins.

Like the best of 21st century multi-taskers, Graham is taking advantage of his visit to the States and using it as an opportunity to deliver several Kickstarter rewards to his backers. The Kickstarter was for the publication of his third book, The Mandolin, A History. The rewards are his gorgeous, hand-carved mandolins. Graham came to the Pickin’ Parlor on the recommendation of members of the Mandolin Café website: he posted on the board asking, “I’m flying into the Twin Cities: where can I get cases for my mandolins?” The very first answer he received was, “The Homestead Pickin’ Parlor!” Thank you so much to the users at the Café for the recommendation!
Graham had three mandolins with him when he stopped in. All of them were beautiful examples of his skill and artistry. Two were Kickstarter rewards and the third was his personal player.

HPP - 051616 - McDonald -DSCN0183 (CER-)Photo by Ron Miles


The first was based on an Italian, deep-bodied mandolin, with an arched and canted top of simple spruce, and back, sides, and neck of Tulip satinwood. The headstock was slotted and topped with an exquisitely carved finial that hooked forward like a letter “J” and terminated in a flat-heeled, ebony faceplate.

HPP - 051616 - McDonald - DSCN0178 (CER-)Photo by Ron Miles


The second was a copy of an early-Twentieth century, deep-bodied Lyon & Healy mandolin. It was again made with Tulip satinwood for the back, sides, and neck, and spruce for the hand carved top. The body style was a two-point A-style body. The inlays on the fingerboard were in the shape of clouds, which echoed the hand-carved, art-deco-style cloud motif on the top of the headstock.

HPP - 051616 - McDonald - DSCN0181 (CER-)Photo by Ron Miles


The third was Graham’s gorgeous personal player, built in 2014. The body was a simple Gibson-based A-style, built with woods native to Australia: a King William Pine top, Huon Pine body, and Australian Red Cedar neck (Graham explained that Australian Red Cedar is similar to mahogany, and used as a premiere cabinet-making wood in Australia). This mandolin smelled INCREDIBLE. Since none of the woods used are readily available here in the United States, there are no good words to describe the smell, only that it was very strong in a pleasant way, and smelled almost minty, like menthol, and sweet, and piney.

All three mandolins used Rubner tuning machines, with contrasting bright, polished brass backing plates and black buttons and tuning gears. Rubner is a German machining company started in 1843. They are still today based in Markneukirchen, the birthplace of C.F. Martin.

IMG_0536Packing up the Kickstarter mandolins for shipping to NJ & TX


And all three sounded amazing! The tone on these mandolins was well balanced, with clear high notes and a pleasant mid and low range. Bruce Johnson played Graham’s personal player and said, “Wow. That’s really nice. That’s really well done. It comes across in all the ranges and plays really well.”

The book—Graham’s third—has taken 6 years to finish. Along the way he got to travel all over Australia, the United States, and Europe, researching, taking pictures, meeting folks, and talking to experts about the history of the mandolin. He said that sometimes you meet a person who is the absolute expert on ONE particular aspect or piece of history, and their knowledge is deep and fascinating. He also got to take a lot of the photos himself, while others were provided by various collectors and collections. With either source he had to take the backgrounds of the photos out himself, and said, “I now know more about Photoshop than I ever thought I’d need to know!” He also said that one of the most fascinating things he discovered while writing his book is that, for the most part, Americans are ignorant of the existence of European mandolins, and Europeans are ignorant of the existence of American mandolins.

Before going to Vermillion, SD, and the conference, Graham is heading to Mason City, IA, to pursue another interest of his: the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. We told him about the Frank Lloyd Wright gas station in Cloquet, MN; he was very interested but didn’t have time on this visit to go and see it.

After the conference, Graham will head to Seattle to meet with a film-maker/mandolin player about the possibility of doing a documentary based on Graham’s book. Graham said that he is excited about the possibility, but mentioned that documentaries can be hard to get finished because the licensing of the music for them can be very expensive and difficult to navigate.

You can learn more about Graham, his book, and his instruments at McDonald Strings.

Marv is talking to Graham’s American distributor in the hopes of getting copies of the book here at the Pickin’ Parlor. I’m personally hoping we can figure out a way to carry a few of Graham’s mandolins here at the shop, too.

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Breedlove Mandolins: We’ve Got Them, We Love Them!

A few months ago we had a visit from the new Breedlove Mandolin dealer in our area. We played the mandolins he brought in and fell in love!

They have a natural, bright, woody tone that is associated with the best of mandolins. Think Bill Monroe’s classic Llloyd Loar with modern body details and hardware.

All of their models feature solid Sitka Spruce tops and solid maple back, sides, and necks; arched top; radiused Rosewood fingerboard and a wider neck profile; and a bone nut.

We currently have in stock the FF NT, FF SB (pictured F-style), OO Natural, and OO VS (pictured A-style) models. Come get them while we’ve got them: the last shipment we got in sold out in two weeks, with two going in the first week!

P3860244 P3860243

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Dakota Dave Hull at HPP May 7, 2016, 12:30 PM


Our friend and music legend Dakota Dave Hull will be here live and in-person at the Homestead Pickin’ Parlor signing copies of his new CDs, “Heavenly Hope,” and, “This Earthly Life,” on Saturday, May 7, 2016   at 12:30 PM.

All are invited! Folks who participated in Dave’s Kickstarter are encouraged to drop by and pick up their goodies: help save a tree!

Come June, Dakota Dave will be celebrating the release of these two CDs at the Celtic Junction. For more information go to http://www.thecelticjunction.com/home/dakota-dave-hull-june-4/

We hope to see you Saturday, May 4, 2016, at 12:30 PM, for this LIVE in-store appearance by the man Dave Van Ronk described as, ““One of the best guitarists in the world.”


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Deering Banjo Ukuleles arrive

Just received our first shipment of two Deering Goodtime banjo ukuleles.  There has been lots of buzz about these instruments and our first examination tells us they are everything they were promised to be.  The attached photo replaces the 1,000 words we were going to put in this space.  We have more on order, but you should check these out before they disappear image

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Join us to wish Holle Brian Bon Voyage and Happy Trails

Holle Brian will be leaving The Homestead Pickin’ Parlor this Thursday, May 28. Holle and husband Rich have sold their house in South Minneapolis and have purchased another in Taylors Falls, MN.  We are inviting all interested parties who have had a chance to be served by Holle here at The Homestead Pickin’ Parlor to gather with us here at 6:00 tomorrow evening.  Holle will be the guest of honor and we will have some pizza and refreshments to mark this new phase of their lives.  I’m sure Holle and Rich will fill us in on the move ahead of them next month and we can all celebrate the contributions that she has made to this acoustic music clubhouse and hangout we call The Homestead Pickin’ ParlorHolleBrian-100x100.  I can’t speak for any of you, but we’re going to miss her dearly.

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Loring Park Acoustic Music Festival Date Set

And don’t you dare miss it.  Saturday, June 13, 2015.  It’s held in Minneapolis’ historic Loring Park.  It’s a FREE festival and runs from 12:00 noon to 8 pm.  Food vendors are on site and horse and carriage rides will be available.

This year, the festival will feature The Wild Goose Chase Cloggers, The Little Thunderbirds, Frank Hornstein & Friends, St. Anthony Main, traki, Joyful Noize, The Good Intentions Bluegrass Band, Brady Perl, Patty & The Buttons, Blue Hazard and the Diversity Street Dancers.

It’s always an afternoon packed with entertainment.  You won’t want to miss a single act and definitely plan on bringing the entire family.  Bring a blanket or lawn chair and make yourself comfortable.

Post the attached flier where you won’t forget it. LPAMF 2015 Flyer 8.5x11




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Seydel Harmonicas since 1847

With the sale of Hohner, C.A. Seydel remains the only German Company making harmonicas which they have been doing since 1847.  When you are ready to take a step up, try out a Seydel.  We have in stock the Blues “Session” which sells for $34.95 and the Blues “Session Steel” featuring stainless steel reeds for $59.95.  The Stainless steel reeds have been finding a home with blues players.  The standard “Session” is available in the following keys:  LC, LD, LEb, LE, LF, LF#, G, Ab, A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, F#, HG, HAb & HA.  The “Session Steel” is available in LC, LDb, LD, LEb, LE, LF, LF#, G Ab, A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, Eb, E & F.  We have most of the common blues keys in stock and can add more within days once we find out what keys are most in demand.   Check out the C. A. Seydel literature on your next visit.


Seydel 002Seydel 003

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Win Tickets to see Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn

They are very likely acoustic music’s most prominent couple and they’re coming to town.  Bela fleck & Abigail Washburn will be performing at The O’shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine University on Wednesday, february 25 at 7:30 p.am.  Their concert is a joint production of The Dakota and The O’Shaugfhnessy.  

Our friends at The Dakota, whose calendar features a wide variety of performers of great interest to our customers, have given us this opportunity to give away two pair  of tickets to this very popular show.  When you visit The Homestead Pickin’ Parlor, you will see the sign up box right on the front counter.  No purchase is necessary to enter the drawing, but please limit yourself to one sign-up per visit to give everyone an equal chance.

If you need more than the two tickets you may win, you can contact The O’Shaughnessy Box Office at (651)690-6700 or on line at www.oshag.stkateedu.  Good Luck in the drawing and enjoy the show!Fleck Washburn 001


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Bryan Bowers is coming to town. Friday, January 9, 7:30 PM

Yes, Santa has come and gone, but close on his heels comes Bryan Bowers and his trained Autoharps.  And the gifts he brings are musical delivered vocally and instrumentally.  And, here’s a suggestion for what could be your most easily kept resolution for 2015:  “I will not miss this year’s twin cities appearance by Bryan Bowers, King of the Autoharp”.

Bryan Bowers has been a major presence on the North American folk music scene for nearly a half century.  He’s a powerful singer, a commanding performer and is widely known as one of the world’s foremost masters on a truly American folk instrument – The Autoharp.

 Born in the state of Virginia, Bryan was first drawn to the world of music while listening to and learning the call-and-response songs of the field workers and the gandy dancers in that area during his youth.  When that music he had come to love collided with the Autoharp in Bryan’s hands, his fate was sealed.

He has recorded for the Flying Fish and Seattle Sounds record labels with eight albums to his credit and an instructional DVD titled which he produced for the folks at Homespun.  The Chicago sun-Times has said of Bryan “He plays the Autoharp and when he picks up the instrument, the entire room changes…a very magical world, a music never heard before”.  Bryan simply says “I want to have a good time and I want people to have a good time with me.  I want the joy of bringing people together and communicating…if I can say it like I see it, I can bring happiness”.

Bryan has a special spot in his heart for Minnesota and tries to come through the Land of 10,000 Lakes at least once a year.  This year, Bryan will be appearing on January 9, 2015 at 7:30 pm in the Armatage School Auditorium located at 2501 West 56th Street in Southwest Minneapolis.  It’s a mere 10 blocks North of The Homestead Pickin’ Parlor on Penn Avenue and 2 blocks West of Penn on 56th Street.

Tickets for Bryan’s concert are $17.00 in advance or $20.00 on the day of the concertThey are available NOW.  Each time Bryan has appeared in this area, someone will come in the store afterwards and hear us discussing the concert and lament the fact that they missed the concert.  So do all your musical friends a favor and let them know about this show.  And bring your resolution cards with you.  We will be checking off the one about attending this event and signing them for you.  See you on the 9th.Bryan Bowers 002

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Miles and Miles of Mandolin Smiles

One of the most often requested instruments during the holidays is the mandolin.  This has been true for several years.  We very likely have more mandolins on hand than any other music store in Minnesota.  Somewhere south of 50 on hand.  We have “A’ Models as well as “F’ Models in some of the most popular and reliable brands we have found during our 35 years of existence.  We have Kentucky, Loar, Michael Kelly, and Weber mandolin on the wall and ready to go home with you.  Remember, all of our instruments are set up before they go on the wall.  If you have any unique set-up requirements, we will certainly accomodate them, but for the average picker, you can be picking as soon as you get home.  If you have a mandolin picker on your list, stop by today, or if you have always fancied yourself a mandolin player, come and get one for yourself.


Michael Kelly Legace FS-e




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