Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

Sporadically posted here in 2017. I recently sold a Fender FM62SCE mandolin with the intention of "upgrading" or "sidegrading" or whatever you’d like to call it.

I haven’t been gigging the mandolin in a long while so had no deadline as such to find a replacement.

Most of my playing would be accompanying guitarists in a band or 2 piece scenario, so I’d have a few tunes, but mainly chords and melodies.

Main criteria for a replacement was a wider neck, so I’ve thrown everything into the mix, from mandolins to bouzoukis. Recent strumming on a tenor guitar has only added to my decision making process…

While the tenor guitars feel good to me, they sound pretty much like, well, a guitar, so worried they might get lost in a mix or a session. I’m a guitarist anyway, so not sure if a tenor would be a waste of a purchase.
It would be fun to learn some tunes on one, but maybe I could just retune a guitar and do the same thing…

I just can’t get used to bouzoukis. I’ve played cheap ones, and more expensive ones, and I just can’t get used to the first four or five frets. Coming from a mandolin, it just feels weird so I’ve had to rule them out!

Mandolins and Octave Mandos have been more hit and miss. I’ve seen some cheap ones that felt good, and the Tanglewood TSM Master mando felt good, even though 0 fret looked a bit odd. So, this is in the running.

The Siveen mandos I played had great projection.

So, by chance, the tenor guitar is in the mix. Lovely feel and chords and tunes were easy to play, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone play one in a session? (I tried a cheap enough Blue Ridge tenor)

Maybe the Pono Octaves might be along similar lines, but no chance of finding any in Ireland at the moment.

One thing I can say is that almost all instruments I tried out felt different and sounded slightly different so trying off the shelf is a must.

Re: Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

Picking up instruments, playing a bit and then putting them down because they ‘don’t suit you’ is a bit of a waste of time. It takes time to learn to play any instrument.

Bouzouki, OM, mandolin and tenor guitar are all different instruments that sound different and perform different roles within an ensemble. If you don’t know which one you want to play, go away and spend some time listening to other people playing them until you do know which one you want to play. We can’t tell you what you should like, only you can decide what is going to suit you.

Re: Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

To narrow it down a bit, I wouldn’t be leading any sessions playing tunes.

Maybe I’m basing it on my experiences as a guitar player. You know, sometimes, when you pick up a guitar, and it just feels great straight away.
If it sounds good, but doesn’t feel good….
The tenor felt the most comfortable in terms of "yeah, I could get used to this". That’s just first thoughts/reaction.
I did play an APC bouzouki with an acoustic body, relatively cheap, that felt ok to me as well. I liked the regular acoustic body on it and the deeper sound it generated. This is something I’d explore, but I notice there’s a fairly big price step up with these types of instruments, as I guess they’re custom jobs mainly at the higher end of the scale.

Re: Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

Yes, these things are expensive, that’s why you need to know what you want before you go out and buy anything. Listen, listen, listen, and then buy an instrument because you really want to make that sound, don’t look for someone else to tell you what instrument you should play, or choose something just because you think it’s going to be a simple cross-over from guitar.

And forget this ‘feels right’ business. They are different instruments and they all feel different in your hands, but you’ll get used to the feeling of them very quickly. A mandola/mandolin that feels good to you as a guitarist probably isn’t a good mandola/mandolin.

Re: Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

I suppose. That’s some good advice. In the meantime, I’m trying to learn the violin, so that’ll keep me going.
I’ve seen Andy Irvine a few times, and loved the sound of his guitar/bouzouki. A high end custom job obviously, but I could think of all types of scenarios I could use that for.
Might not be suitable for jigs and reels, but….

Re: Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

The nice thing about OMs is that they are out there in a wide variety of scale lengths, so chances are you would find something that would feel right to you. A session mate plays one as if it was a bouzouki. It works well, if a little on the quiet side. In a band context, playing through a PA that wouldn’t be an issue. I would try playing a tune on it, to see how that felt, but he’s left handed.

Those Ponos, and other guitar bodied OMs do have a very interesting sound all their own. I’ve been looking at them recently, not for trad per se, but they seem like they would mix great with guitars for singer-songwriter type stuff.

Good luck in finding the right dance partner.

Re: Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

Yeah the guitar bodied OM/Mandolas appeal to me based on demos but I’d be wary of buying blind off the net.
Hobgoblin stock a guitar bodied bouzouki and guitar body OM/Mandola. Might be worth a flight to the UK to try them out.
Singer songwriter type stuff would be most likely where it would get most use…

Re: Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

I can certainly empathize with your efforts having gone through a somewhat similar progression of instruments. First there was cheap manolin, then a better mandolin, then a Joe Foley mandolin. I don’t play any of them anymore. Then there was a cheap bouzouki then a Phil Crump bouzouki. The Crump has become my instrument of choice. You’re correct in observing that the transition from frets that are close together to frets that are far apart is an onerous task but I think it’s worth the effort. I do play melody on the zouk and lead the occasional set on it as well as play backing. Best of both worlds in a sense. I even sing a song with it at times but Daoiri Farrel I’m not. I also capo the zouk at the 7th tuning it DADA and play it like a mandolin albeit a somewhat strange one. Then there was a cittern - haven’t gotten good on that one but I have an excuse - my left hand is 10mm shorter than it used to be after having three bones removed. The excuse might be valid but a bit more effort on my part would overcome that. There is also a hammered dulcimer but I find that too finicky to haul to a session and I have a limited repertoire on it anyway. Add in a tenor banjo and two acoustic guitars and you’ve got a full range instruments and in the end - I settled on just one - the bouzouki. Just before the most recent surgery on my right wrist this October I bought a B/C box (unrestrained optimism). I have every intent on learning to play the beast but I’ll probably be well into my 70’s before I traipse into a session with it. It’s not hard to accumulate a large selection of instruments but I doubt there is ever sufficient time to learn and enjoy them all. Personally, I suggest you give the bouzouki another shot or try out an octave mandolin.

Re: Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

@callison. Yes, I come back to the OM when I think it all out in my head, so I’ll keep looking and try some more.

I know Hobgblin make a small guitar bodied OM/Mandola, but I’d really like to try that one out, which might involve a short plane hop to Manchester. :)

Something about the guitar bodied ones really do it for me, but I’ll pay of course for those.

There used to be a guy up around Mayo, O’Loughlin I think he was, who was making guitar bodied instruments, but I can’t find any trace of him online. Anyone know?

Whatever I decide, I’ll try and get something with solid wood, as it’s not something I’ll be getting rid of

Re: Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

Don’t discount the "Zero Fret." The fret technique has been around a very long time. While it’s often relegated to cheaper instruments as part of a cost saving process in manufacture, it can also be found on quite a number of high end instruments (like the Gretsch Country Gentleman and other models). Advantages are that the strings rest on the fret, rather than the nut, making use of the first fret easier, and improving the intonation up the scale. My current OM build I’m working on, is calculated with a Zero Fret on the fingerboard. There’s even a company (Stewart-MacDonald) that has came up with a zero fret nut, for replacement on Gibson, Martin and other manufacturers, that requires very little fitting and modification.

Re: Decisions, decisions. 4/8 string decisions…

The Tanglewood TSM Mandolin has a zero fret. Some people give out about the wide radius on it, but I didn’t mind it.