For some time, Margaret Kennedy had been looking for the right mandolin. She had tried a variety of instruments in the States, but hadn't quite found the sound and feel she felt must be out there... somewhere. On a trip to Scotland, she followed a tip to a maker in Perthshire, and finally found her mandolin.
For sometime now, I have been looking for the right mandolin. I had tried out a variety of mandolins in the States, but hadn't quite found the sound and feel I was searching for. During one of my recent trips to Scotland, Fiona mentioned she knew a Celtic mandolin maker in Perthshire, so off we went.
Meeting with Euan Cattanach was quite an experience. He graciously guided us through his mandolin workshop, so I could see the process of instrument making from beginning to end. Then he brought me one instrument after another to play. When I started playing the third mandolin, I knew my quest had ended.
On a more recent trip to visit Euan, he arranged for an impromptu session at his house with other mandolin players, a singer, fiddler, and guitarist. We swapped tunes and instruments for a couple of hours on a chilly January evening, while enjoying offerings of pints, shortbread, and single malt Scotch. That was when my instrument truly found its home.
Euan Cattanach grew up in a family where his mother and father were very musical. His mother was a trained singer and his father, a gamekeeper on a large Scottish sporting estate, was a violinist. When he was quite young, Euan developed a love of the music of Lonny Donegan, a popular entertainer in the 1950s era of skiffle music. While Euan followed in his father's footsteps, and became a gamekeeper himself, he maintained his love of music.
In addition to Irish and Scottish tunes, Euan also enjoyed country and western styles in music. His plan was to play guitar and banjo, instead of violin like his father. During his search for a banjo, he found a mandolin which he bought for the magnificent sum of £1.10 shillings (around $2.25). Its strings were in sets of three, and it was tuned like a violin, so his father was able to tune it for him.
Over the years, he taught himself to play it, and also tried the guitar and banjo, but without much success. What he really wanted was a good mandolin. Fortunately, his grandfather was a cabinetmaker who had taught Euan as a boy the fundamentals of woodworking. Technically he was well equipped to try making an instrument. So, he decided to build his own mandolin.
He made his own tools, and bought special tools, some from the U.S. His very first mandolin was copied from the book The Making of Early String Instruments by George Buchanan. While that first attempt had a beautiful tone, it was not the shape he wanted. So Euan continued to refine his craft.
He decided to use only the finest tone woods, and chose fiddle back maple, used in making concert violins. Having built two, he started playing them with other musicians in pubs. After trying his mandolins, experienced players told him that they had a great tone and encouraged him to make more, which he has done with growing success and refinement.
My Euan Cattanach mandolin, made in Aberfeldy, Perthshire, is his #4 Tiger Lilly, made from lace wood (London Plane). It emits the clearest, warmest, and yes, loudest tone I have ever heard from a mandolin. It isn't a "bluegrass" mandolin. Instead, it is designed specifically for playing Celtic music. The sound isn't for everyone, but it suits my style perfectly.
(Margaret Kennedy has worked for The Thistle & Shamrock radio program since 1990. For more information on Euan Cattanach's mandolins, or to contact him, e-mail us: