By THERESA WINSLOW
The Capital of Annapolis

GLEN BURNIE, Md. (AP) — Gary Van Asdale isn’t afraid of a challenge. When he wanted better beer, he taught himself how to home brew. When he wanted fresher coffee, he decided to roast his own beans.

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And when the mandolin he’d been playing since college started to fall apart, he decided to make his own replacement.

The Glen Burnie resident didn’t let the fact he’d never done any woodworking stop him. He did a lot of research, bought tools and supplies and set to work. Without a workshop, he handcrafted parts under his carport.

“I’d read the book, check the book, measure and check the book again,” said Van Asdale, who maintains video equipment at Fort George G. Meade. “It didn’t look like anything I couldn’t do. I’ve made things before.”

He didn’t have any frills in mind when he took on the project, but the end product is fairly ornate and gleaming. The mahogany and spruce mandolin took 18 months to complete, since he tackled the job in spurts, and he only had one major redo – the neck. He’s been plucking away at the eight-stringed instrument with pride ever since, at home and as a member of the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra. He’s in the second mandolin section of the 30-plus member group.

“It sounds so much better than my old mandolin,” said Van Asdale, who started playing the instrument as a unique-sounding alternative to the guitar. “I like doing stuff. It gives me satisfaction.”

David Evans of Towson, the conductor of the orchestra, admires Van Asdale’s handiwork. “There’s a lot of very nice things about that mandolin,” he said. “First of all, it sounds great. It also looks great. He did a fantastic job. I always tell him when he makes another one he’s got to give it to me.”

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Van Asdale finished the mandolin in 1999, then set about making an archtop guitar out of maple and spruce. The six-string guitar took about a year. The necks of both instruments are adorned with a large, inlaid mother of pearl and abalone “Vs,” denoting the maker.

Next up for the 56-year-old is a bowl back mandolin, the type played in Italy. Van Asdale already has a few examples in his basement to study. When he relocated from Columbia to his present home, there was enough room for a workshop, so there’s no need to once again head outside during the construction process.

The bowl back mandolin will be Van Asdale’s most complicated project. The back of the instrument is made up of many long, thin strips of wood, whereas his current mandolin only has one piece.

Nevertheless, he’s confident he can handle the work.

Jim Blanchard, who handles publicity for the mandolin orchestra, believes in Van Asdale, too. “Look at the craftmanship,” he said, referring to Van Asdale’s finished instruments. “It astounded me. Some expensive ones don’t sound as good.”

That’s a big plus, because Van Asdale’s retirement plans include making and selling his instruments. Not bad for someone whose initial goal was only to build something playable.

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(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)