View Full Version : Loar Question
I've had the good fortune to play a Loar recently, and am amazed at the tone. #I've played other really good instruments, including a Gilchrist, Nugget and Collings, and while they were all great, the Loar sounded totally different. #I'm wondering what accounts for the difference in tone: the age of the instrument, differences in construction, Loar's touch, or what? #I'd appreciate any insights and opinions from others who are more knowledgable and experienced than I am.
That is definetly the Million dollar question...... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
It's the scroll. #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
I have ventured to guess in the past that they don't sound better. Of course a single Loar may sound better than another mando but as well, another mando may sound better than another Loar. I think in this case it is certainly possible that the Loar you played did sound alot better, or possibly it sounded better to you because you knew which one the Loar was. If several had been played for you behind a curtain, would you have said, "whoa, that's the Loar!" I have my doubts. There are other threads around here covering this topic. There's lots of good input on the subject.
I often wonder if we don't hear what we want to hear, hence it will be very interesting to see how many will be able to pick out the Loars when Ken and Scott upload sound samples from the mando tasting. I would like to think that I was being objective each time a different Loar was played that night. However, in addition to the Loars, other instruments sounded VERY good as well. So, in partial answer to your question, I think that part of it is the woods that Gibson was getting at the time, the selection process used to select the woods for the mandolins, the aging process that has happened since, the construction techniques, the finish and aging of the finish.
Tone is so hard to replicate on demand.
I suspect that Big Joe and Charlie could tell us stories about attempts they've made over the years at reverse engineering particular instruments. I know they feel that they're doing a pretty good job these days. One wonders if you could set up an imaginary mando tasting and give Bill Monroe 5 mandolins (including his own and four brand new "distressed" Master Models) if he would be able to hear his and consistently pick it out of the five as played by another player.
Good question. I think there is a psychosomatic element to some degree, but I also believe that great instruments are great sources of inspiration... the age almost certainly helps, but then again probably not much more than a 30 year old mandolin would. I expect that in 2020, the number of fantastic mandolins will much greater.. but a Loar will cost $500,000 by then minimum!
Do non-bluegrass influenced people think Loars sound good? #Do some people think Loars sound good because they sound like Bill Monroe's mandolin?
It seems to me that with lots of really smart people working at this for 80 years that a better sounding mandolin could be built unless better is defined as "most like a Loar".
I think the real question is why does the watermelon mandolin sound so good?
I hope that I am stating the obvious here. It has long been known by Chinese chefs that good looking food and a good looking presentation can enhance what the taster percieves. Shoot, the great European chefs have known that as well. In other words, what you see preconditions what you taste, or hear, or etc., etc. But if you blindfold the auditioners, the advantage of the Loar may very well go away.
I have played Loars which I thought were very nice, and I have also played some Loars which I thought were just another mandolin. Some more serious players than I have recounted to me in confidence that they know of some Loars which are NOT particularly great sounding instruments at all.
I recently had the opportunity to study the physics of a Loar F5, as well as several Loar era Gibson ovals, a Lyon & Healy A, a Vega model 205 "cylinderback", an H1 mandola, and a couple of Neapolitans. I am writing up the results now. IF ASA accepts our abstract, I will be presenting the results at the 75th Anniv. meeting in NYC, May 24-28. Imo, this particular Loar was a nice sounding one - not the loudest, but a good, refined sound. I hope to see some mandolin enthusiasts there, in addition to all of the physicists.
Im with peterbc on this one! At the tasting there wasn't one mandolin that sounded bad in Johns hands! I think he was a big part of the equation but I also think they are a TON of great mando's out there to be had. I for one can't wait for the soundclips/CD to become available and see how folks do in the guessing game. I'd say 99% will be fooled, and a few may make the right guess!
"Do non-bluegrass influenced people think Loars sound good? Do some people think Loars sound good because they sound like Bill Monroe's mandolin?"
Very well put. I am a non bluegrasser and have been fortunate to have played 2 Loars. One I played around with for a couple of hours so had a good opportunity to check it out thoroughly. As a non bluegrasser I don't have scroll envy and don't think the F5 is the most beautiful thing in the world, and a Loar is just another very expensive vintage mandolin with a certain amount of charisma attached. The 2 Loars I thought were nice sounding mandolins but one was definately a lot better than the other. I think I would go so far as to say that the better one was very nice, but not really outstanding. On the other hand I have played a couple of Gilchrist classical F5's that I thought really were truly incredible sounding instruments, and ended up ordering a Gilchrist Model 3C for myself. Now I have got it, I don't think it sounds any better than what I have recently made myself, just different. In fact the Gil mostly stays in it's case.
"It seems to me that with lots of really smart people working at this for 80 years that a better sounding mandolin could be built unless better is defined as "most like a Loar". "
Yes, that is a bit like saying why has nobody ever been able to make a Strad violin. The literature is full of all sorts of garbage about the "secrets" of Stradivarius. If you define perfection as the sound of a Loar, then "perfection" will be very difficult to achieve because the originals are 80 years old, have had 80 years of playing, and a lot of the information about how they were made has been lost. It is the 80 years of playing that is the hard bit. Some people do define perfection as the sound of a Loar. I don't because I believe there is no such thing as perfection in sound. Different sounds work better in different situations.
I think everyone would agree that an instrument's tone is an entirely subjective thing. My (limited) experience with the Loar I played was that it was far less woody than a Nugget or Gilchrist, and had a bright, ringing tone all the way through the neck that I found really great. That's just my opinion, but it sure seems as though a lot of other folks seem to share it, based on the comments I read here on the Cafe. I guess when people figure out if Williams was a better player than DiMaggio or Bach was better than Mozart they can decide if the Loar's as a group are better sounding instruments than today's mandolins.
The Loar is still considered the gold standard, and posts like this one continue to prove that. Does that make all Loars perfect? Of course not. Each instrument will have its own voice and its history will be part of what gives it that voice in addition to the particular pieces of wood and all the invisible elements that go into building an instrument. So, that begs the question, "Is there any instrument today that is like the loar?". We firmly believe our Master Model does. If you compare them side by side you will be amazed at the similarity of tone. Again, each has its own voice, but there is a tonality shared with the original loars and the current Master Models. This was clearly seen at SPBGMA when Chris Stanley and Dave McLaughlin played their Loars and the Master Model side by side and could not tell any difference in tone. Actually, they felt the Master Model sounded a little better. It was nearly impossible to tell them apart, and if you did not know which one they were playing it was impossible.
The Master Model is built in every respect as close to the Loar as is possible. There are other great mandolins on the planet, but they each have their own voice. If you like the mid rangy voice of the Loar, you will be enthralled by it and not feel other tonalities are as good. If you like the Gilchrist tonality best, you likely will not like the Loar as well. The same is true of other builders. While there is an overal agreement the Loar is the gold standard, there are many deviations from that which result in a different tonality. This does not diminish the quality of these other instruments. They all have a place and agreement as to which mandolin is the greatest sounding instrument on the planet is a useless exercise. That would be so individual as to never have a clear winner. Personally, I like that we each have differing tastes and can find what suits us and drives our musical tastes.