Pricier mandolins and tone

Pricier mandolins and tone

Hey, all,
Was talking with the girlfriend hte other day about cars. She said since I wouldn’t need to drive, that she could splurge on a car when we live together. I countered with wanting to get a pricy mandolin.
I was thinking and looking up some pricier mandolins and considering the tonal qualities of some of the ones I’ve heard on mandolin recordings.
Marla Fibish’s mandolin really has a kind of mellow round tone, not sure what she plays.
Mick Moloney’s mandolin to me sounds very bright and a lot sharper than Marla’s mandolin. Not sure what type he plays.
I heard that Stephan Sobel’s mandolins are good, but not sure what any of them sound like or what they look like.
Anybody willing to give some information on some of the more pricier mandolins and descriptions or info on what type of bracing-holes some well-known mandolinists have?
Thanks

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Marla Fibish plays a ‘Sheraton Brown’ finish 1923 Gibson A model that belonged to her grandfather. She has had a lot of work done to keep it in top-notch playable condition. Her ‘round tone’ seems to come from the thicker pick and attack angle she has perfected in her playing style. She also uses slightly heavier than average strings (.011, .016, .026, .040)

Finding a similar mandolin that plays and sounds well is a major project, buying one on eBay is a crapshoot - I’ve been trying for years and am still not there. I finally bought a very nice, somewhat ‘pricier’ Breedlove OO model that is great for Irish music, doesn’t look or sound like a bluegrass mandolin. I think it is close to an old Gibson in tone, and will probably cost you less overall, once that old Gibson has been to a competent luthier and made playable.

Not sure exactly what Mick Moloney plays, but I recall pictures of him with an old Gibson similar to Marla’s. Undoubtedly his choice of pick, strings, playing and recording technique could account for the brighter sound.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Stefan Sobell’s mando-family instruments come with a 2-3 year waiting list, and I understand that you can collect it in person, but payment is by cash only ! He makes them with an arch-top design and an oval sound hole, and quite a deep body I recall, but he does refine and reconsider his designs over the years.
Pete Coe’s comment on his Sobell bouzouki is well worth quoting; "There’s something wrong with this fucking bouzouki, I can’t put it down !" ! I can only say that they don’t come up for sale secondhand very often. Amazingly, his second-ever bouzouki DID appear for sale on ebay, but damaged; it’s second owner ( only two owners, you note ) had left it in the boot of a car on a hot day, and the soundboard had split. It actually sold for only about £150 I recall, but you have to allow that this was only his second -ever ‘zouk, and would need a total re-build.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Somebody will probably correct me but Mick Moloney’s mandolin on the cover of his "Strings Attached" Lp looks like a Gibson A-3.
I’ve got a Gibson F-5 which I play bluegrass on but if I was looking to get another one for Irish music I’d be investigating some of Davy Stuart’s instruments. He’s based in New Zealand. I’ve played 3 of his instruments, 2 citterns and a larger mandolin type tuned down a tone, and each one of them was stunning.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Mick Maloney does play an old Gibson A model. Weber makes a very nice oval hole mandolin I believe they are made in Oregon, and generally available in the states. I’ve been impressed with the Eastmans I’ve seen, they seem to be a really good value and you would be likely to find one locally to try .

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

I’ve got myself an eastman md 305. Quite a lovely mandolin and set up beautifully. Plays like a dream.
Was just curious what else was out there as far as mandolins go. I think my next one will be an oval-hole mandolin.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

I"d like to get my hands on an old gibson some day. What sound characteristics do most old gibsons have? I usually like playing with pointier picks and medium strings.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

After trying several different mandolins: Gibson and Collings oval-hole and f-hole in A-style I finally found one that works for me in Irish traditional sessions. It’s a 1920 Vega cylinder-back. The unusual shape of the instrument and the larger internal volume seems to give it extra warmth and projection. If you really lean into it, this mandolin will respond with a with a lot of volume and presence. In many a session that’s the only way you’ll be heard on a mandolin. Being heard on the mandolin in a session isn’t only about volume though. It’s also about playing definition, clarity, precision, timing, and that hard to define presence that the instrument has to provide.

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Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

I’ve got a 1914 A4 that I like very much, I got a good deal on it about 35 years ago because the neck had been repaired, it plays well though. There are shops around that carry them and will send them to you on approval, Elderly Instruments is one I’ve dealt with, and I’m sure there are others.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Tone is a very subjective thing, but I would offer the suggestion that if you see yourself playing in a lot of session environments in the future your priority may end up being to find a loud mandolin.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

I probably won’t end up actually looking for a more expensive mandolin for several more years. Maybe five years or so. If I’m going to have a mandolin that costs a thousand or more, I want to have the playing experience to make it shine.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Like dfost, my favorite session mandolin is a 1920 Vega cylinder-back. It has remarkable presence and volume. Of course, if a session is too big no mandolin will really cut through.

Those Vegas are often available on Ebay, but buyers should beware, as some have sunken tops. Due to the fact that bluegrass players favor Gibsons and clones Vega cylinder-backs are still relatively cheap; I paid $900.00 for mine ten years ago. They’re often selling for about $1200.00 these days.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

No mention here of Andy Irvine yet, so I will throw him into the mix,
as he does play mandolin, amongst other instruments.

He put down a few words about his instruments at this site:
http://www.andyirvine.com/about.html

About 30-35 years ago, "Frets" magazine had an article about the appearance
of mandolins on the ITM scene, and interviewed the in their view prominent
mandolin players on the Irish scene at that time- Mr.’s Moloney and Irvine.

Seems they were perceived as groundbreakers.

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Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Look into Webers as well! They make a pretty wide variety of fantastic mandolins.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Several years ago Enda Scahill set out on a quest to find his perfect mandolin and settled on one made by Dave Shapiro. The instrument is superb and Enda still has it. Dave lives in Doolin on the western shores of County Clare and makes his instruments there. I have one of his zouks and it is awesome.. I have other zouks made by more famous craftsman but when I play zouk, I play the Shapiro. Not sure what Dave’s turn-around time is now but if were buying a mandolin, the wait would be worth it.
;-)

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Nice video (with reasonably good sound quality) of a Sobell mandolin at http://vimeo.com/86513350 - I’ve played this instrument, and it is a very , very nice mandolin indeed. It is played in the video and owned by Edinburgh-based musician Kevin Macleod - he has a number of CDs featuring this mandolin (amongst other octaves and bouzoukis and things) that are very good indeed!


If you’re interested in a Sobell second-hand, monitor the Mandolin Cafe classifieds - they do come up from time to time.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

The gibson ovals like Marla uses is a great sound for recording or small groups. But in a full on session, MOST of them just get drowned out. They are very variable though and some are particularly powerful.

I second the vega cylinderbacks being pretty much the perfect mandolin for session use. Also of course the f5s and A5s work great in a loud session

I have an ellis a5, definitely a pricey mandolin. It has a much sweeter and rounder tone than the typical f hole mandolin. It’s extremely versatile, works well in any kind of music. But I still like oval holes better for playing solo at home or small groups.

The oval holes that builder like weber and collings makes are actually sort of hybrids. They have the oval hole but they also have the longer neck and raised fretboard commonly found on bluegrass f hole mandolins. They’re certainly worth looking into as well, as they project better than a 12 fret gibson style oval hole.

Also don’t discount the flat top pancake styles like the flatirons. They can really be quite loud.

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Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

I use a banjo-mandolin at sessions. It can be heard without having to over-play.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

I have a 1923 Gibson oval hole mandolin I got for a song from a player who wanted another player to have it … instead of selling it to a collector. Lucky me. You can get those old Gibsons for under $1,000 usd if you look around. It was reincarnated by a master luthier in 1976. It stays in tune! You can’t beat the sound. I have a 20’s Gibson mahogany soprano (smallest) ukulele that makes a very big sound. I’m of the opinion that aged wood has a special sound that’s difficult to reproduce in new mandolins … at least for a price that I can afford.

Saw Marla’s mandolin up close and personal. It’s pretty worn out looking, but looks aren’t everything. It’s loud and sweet.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Breedlove does indeed make a pricier round hole mandolin that has warm tone and longer sustain that sounds great in a small ensemble. But, like every other mandolin, it would get lost in a loud session.

I long ago gave up any hope of hearing my mandolin or octave mandolin in sessions. With that in mind, I recently bought a Breedlove KF Premier F-hole Bluegrass mandolin. It has a sharp attack and short sustain.

I chose this mandolin precisely for the precision of its voice. Big sessions can become acoustically muddy if instruments just ring on and ring on. I find that a tenor banjo or a plunky mandolin can add definition and precision.

I don’t actually need to hear the mandolin in a session. I already know what its effect in an ensemble is.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Does it have to be a vintage instrument or would you consider buying new? Davy Stuart’s instruments are well priced, sound lovely solo and hold their own in a session. I have a mandola made by him and know several people who play his mandolins.

http://www.stuart.co.nz/index.asp

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Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

For sessions, volume matters big-time. I’ve played Gibson As and Fs, and the Fs fully take it in sessions. Oval-hole mandos are too quiet, and the tonal properties (of any instrument) are lost in the sonic clutter of a session.

My F-9 rocks and I can totally change the sounds with pick and string changes. These IMHO are another reason why a loud F is good: you can’t really make an A louder, but an F’s tone is changeable should you want to record/solo/play bluegrass etc. If there are F doubters, listen to Chris Thiel: he plays a Loar andnit’s amazing.

Also, get a tone-gard. Majorly up your mando’s sound projection.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

I’ve considered a tone-guard for a while but never looked into them. I’ll do some research.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

Some of the best toned mandolins I’ve heard were made by Victor Smith at www.flatbush.dk . Really great volume for sessions to.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

I’m not exactly in the market right now— was just curious what options were out there as far as other good mandolins went. I will look into a gibson some day.

Pricier mandolins and tone

I used a flatback Washburn for many years but knew it didn’t really cut through in a session of more than a few players. So, two years ago I went to Hobgoblin in Crawley, having first told them what I was after: an instrument that would give me more volume in a session but have a nice rounded sound, at up to £1,000.

I sat for several hours going through their stock with my wife listening and giving me her opinion (you really can’t hear how a stringed instrument sounds when you’re playing it). Anyway, to the point, having discounted several expensive instruments, we settled on a round-holed flat-back built by Paul Hathway of London. It has a deeper body than my Washburn, but gives a good volume while keeping a sweet tone, something that several people in sessions have told me.

At around £600, it was less than I was prepared to pay. But the whole experience showed me what a lottery choosing an instrument is when price is a major consideration. But that’s a fact of life for most of us, so I suppose the lesson is: whatever your budget, take time to try everything in the shop, then go for the best you can afford having heard what the more expensive instruments sound like. Some of them will not be as good. Oh, and take a reliable friend who can hear the instrument from a place you can’t!

I have another mandolin by Tony Black, another English maker, built on the Hardanger Fiddle principles, with four resonating stings under the fretboard that emerge over the soundhole. That sounds brilliant in a quiet session, or when practicing, but loses its subtlety in a loud session. It’s still quite loud though, and can be heard in most sessions. I’m not sure Tony is still making them, or if he is taking orders.

The point about pick choice and playing style is good to mention. I use a .60mm Dunlop plectrum, pretty common, that gives a loud and bright sound. The brightness is dampened in a session. Any thinner seems to lose volume and increase pick noise (the ‘thack thack’ on the strings). Any thicker reduces the volume and takes out all the higher frequencies.

That’s my experience anyway, I’d be interested in anyone else’s comments.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

I’ve owned and/or played many mandos by different makers in my time - Weber, Eastman, Gibson, Stuart, National, Coombe, Washburn, Suzuki, Collings, Fylde, Freshwater etc etc. No contest for the best - Peter Coombe from Bega Australia. Just perfect in every aspect for my folk/Celtic playing. Exceptional quality woods (mainly Australian) and an expert luthier. He just has the knack of getting it so right. That’s why I now have 3 of his mandos and a mandola.

Re: Pricier mandolins and tone

I will second Dave Shapiro as being a maker of instruments to aspire too, an inspirational and gifted luthier who puts huge amounts of energy and dedication into his instruments and the results are awesome.