View Full Version : Questions about new Johnson MA-550
I just bought a MA-550 and want to add a strap button. I have seen them mounted on top of and on the back of the heel. Which is better/recommended? Also thinking about switching to GHS strings with the wound A. Any thoughts?
I would mount it on the underside (lower part) of the heel.
As far as my thoughts...."meow,meow,meow,meow"
I bought a Johnson 550 not too long ago. I installed the button on the back of the heel...It still balances a little top heavy. But I don't think that the button placement could improve it much (I checked with my local luthier and he agreed)...still it is not THAT top heavy.
As for wound A's...I wouldn't use anything else...GHS makes a fine set of strings and the wound A is the only way to go...hope this helps
I just put an Orrico cast bronze tailpiece (available through Elderly or Greg Boyd) on my Johnson MA-550 and I was amazed at the difference. Louder, richer, more bass, and more sustain across all the strings. I know some folks don't like the ornate looks of the Orrico but I love it and think it looks great on the MA-550. It makes no contact with the top of the mandolin and fits perfectly with the existing holes. I don't know if it's better, worse, or the same as other cast tailpieces on the market but I couldn't be more pleased.
I know that the octave (according to FOTW) has a buzzy sound when played in the lower register. Has anyone solved that. How did the new tail affect it?
And was it hard to install?
On the low end buzz, I took it to a luthier near me for a set-up and he thinks that the G strings are too close at the bridge. #I ordered an uncut bridge from Elderly and will keep you updated. This may be a problem on just mine, but you never know.
On the Orrico tailpiece, I came very close to doing the same thing, but didn't pull the trigger. #However, hearing a good review, I might do it soon.
I don't have a low end buzz on mine. I had an odd sounding vibration going on with my A strings before the tailpiece change but that has complete disappeared with the new tailpiece. All the notes sound much more distinct now. The Orrico tailpiece swap was very simple (like most tailpiece swaps). I did it with a string change. Just take off the old strings. Unplug the strap button. Unscrew the 3 old screws and pull the old tailpiece off. Line up the holes with the new tailpiece and screw in the 3 screws supplied with the new tailpiece. Reinstall strap button. Install new strings. Tailpiece swap totaled about 5 minutes. String installation about 30 minutes.
P.S. Don't forget to use some lightly applied masking tape to mark the position of your bridge.
thanks for all the feedback...I really do appreciate it....
So how are you liking your 550? I have been checking them out at Folk of the Wood, their video samples. From those, I like the sound, but what is your real life experience? From the videos, they sound deeper than other Octaves, is this really true?
Actually I enjoy the Johnson a lot...I bought it because it did have a deeper warmer tone in comparision. I started using it in a duo and have found that I'm now playing it on about a third of our tunes. It is easy to solo on and the middle range has a sweet clarity to it. And I do enjoy the looks, since it does have a little odd shape to it. I get a lot of "What IS that THING?" when we play out.
It is a natural for Irish melodies and some slower classcial pieces. Once I pick it up, it is hard to put down.
Now, I do come from a guitar background and have only been playing mando for a couple of years, so the fret spacing is very comfortable for me. I imagine a person who played exclusively mando might find the adjustment a little more difficult. But it is definately worth.
Did you have to do any "tweeking" on your 550 after you got it? Or did it come out of the case sounding sweet?
I bought it from FOTW and their set-ups are adequate at best...or maybe I'm just really picky :-) It's probably safe to say that it's a balance of the two...
Out of the box, it played well, but needed some tweaking to remove excessive buzzing in the lower register. I am still going to take it to my local repair guy...who does excellent work...Walter is at Alpha Music in Virginia Beach and is highly recommended...he's been working on my guitars for over 10 years. Ok a shameless plug for my favorite music store.
ANYWAY, back to the point...I still hear buzz in the lower end, but other people don't seem to notice it at all...again I am quite picky...
Overall, I'd say it was a good value...and no matter how good the set-up is out of the box I almost always bring a new purchase to Walter to get it "right." Still it was quite play-able for the get go and I will get around to bringing it in as soon as I can put it down.
Just for the record and if anyone is interested:
I use John Pearse OM strings on my instruments and they are in my kits as well
BJC - one thing to be aware of with virtually any type of Big Mandolin, the heavier strings and longer scales require a bit of an attitude adjustment to keep the buzzes under control. To understand and literally see what happens to these longer strings, you can create a virtual strobe of a vibrating string by using a standard Cathode Ray tube, color tv *. Hold the instrument with the bridge pointed straight up while facing a television (it works best if turned on)with the strings level / parallel with the top of the TV. You need to be at least five foot away to see what happens. Strike any pair of the strings and note the amplitude of the strings as they vibrate. (The vibration will "interfere" with the scan lines on the TV.) If you watch the individual strings very carefully, you can see the vibrations split and double and do all kinds of neat things.
The point of this exercise is that ... longer scale instruments have much higher amplitude of vibration than a shorter scale. The consequence of this is, either pick closer to the bridge to get a crisper sound AND experiment and isolate where the sweet spot is regarding fretting. Some instruments can be fretted in the middle of the fret, some right at the fret etc. It's up to you to find out where yours works best, with the set up it currently has. The trade off if you do reset the fretboard relief ... the low position buzz may go away but it may be much more difficult to play past the sixth or seventh fret. And that is where Big Mandolin's really start glowing. Picking high on the neck and working against an open string drone is - ah - hypnotic.
* This idea may work with an LCD also ... I've never tried it.
I had a similar issue with a mando I bought from FOTW. It turned out to be a bad factory nut. The spacing and slot placement put the G and D strings in conflict at the tuners. There was an ever so slight contact which created a buzz above the nut. Weird I know. The replaced the mando and everythings cool now. Might want to take a close look up there.
[QUOTE]*. Hold the instrument with the bridge pointed straight up while facing a television (it works best if turned on)with the strings level / parallel with the top of the TV.
Dion, Does this work best with Dr. Phil, or Daze of Our Lives? #
Don # http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
Also look at the depth of the slots on the nut. #I picked up mine last night and even with the new bridge I was still getting a buzz. #We found that the nut was cut too deep and one G string was buzzing on the first fret. #It is not horrible, and it only happens when you really thump on it, but I will be replacing the nut soon.
Now I will go in a new direction. #What kind of nut material should I use? #Also, is it possible to do this repair myself. #I am fairly handy, but have never attempted to work on an instrument for lack of knowledge. #However, this seems pretty simple. #Any suggestions? Thanks, Nate
I had good success with fossilized walrus ivory. #I got a nut and saddle from Kurt Gliscair in Alaska. #I did all the work myself and it turned out pretty decent. #I just copied what was there.
Fossilized Walrus Ivory (http://huskyacoustics.com/huskivor.htm)
I dont have any interest here, Kurt was really great with me and jusy want to do him a good turn.
I almost forgot the most important part, Frets.Com
Making a new nut (http://www.frets.com/FRETSPages/Luthier/Technique/Setup/NewNut/newnut1.html)
I read this article about 10 times then just got the guts up to do it. #Good Luck
Just wanted to say thanks to everyone who chimed in on this...and I brought her to work with me today....really looking forward to my Mando break...
So after having the 550 for awhile now, what are your opinions? Would you buy it again? What work have you done on it?
Bob, I would buy it again, and other than a set-up which required a new bridge, I haven't done much to it. #In the near future I will replace the nut(thanks for the instructive article and nut supplier link) and I may swap tail pieces. #Let me say this though; #I finally chose this instrument for one reason, it's look. #After looking at many model's in the price range, and listening to sound clips, I felt that they were all very similar, so look became the deciding factor. #I love the sound and the playability, but the look is what sold me on it in the end. #Sorry for the delay in reply.
Seems like I am leaning toward the 550 for the same reason, looks. I do like the sound of the Johnson a little better than the Trinity college or Morgan Monroe octaves.
Bob, Just thought of this. I have had two other people play it and really like it, particularly for the price. My teacher, mostly a guitar guy, but also a good mandolin player, was really impressed, and will play in my lesson sometimes instead of his guitar as accompaniment. The other was the guy who did the set-up who also plays in an Irish/Scottish/Folk Rock type band. I believe he plays a Weber, but he really liked the low end thump and sustain. They are the only other people who have played or heard it, not counting my wife, but she just likes it compared to the mandolin because it isn't as high pitched.
Your wifes opinion is why I am looking into an octave. When I practice, I tend to hide in the bedroom with the door closed. My wife just doesnt like the mando sound. For chords and rythmn I myself would prefer the sound of the octave. I struggle with palying chords for rythmn on my mandolin. I have listened to the 550 so many times I lost count. My problem is that there is no music store around here that caters to celtic players. So I am going by these discussions and listening to sound clips. And research on the net.
That is too bad. it isn't that wife dislikes the one, she just likes the octave better. I hope you can get enough info to make a decision.
Sorry so long for a response, but I'm getting married in a week (GASP!!!!)...so I've been in bozo panic mode for a while and playing and reading have only occurred sporatically...ANYWAY...to answer your question "Would I buy the Johnson again?" YEs...like I've said I'm picky about set up and strings...still, it plays VERY nice has a sweet sound and I love the looks when I bring it to a gig or on the front porch...I get a lot of people asking me (in a THICK country accent) "What is THAT? I don't look like no git-tar I've ever seen..." And I've found that the Celtic melodies just sound right for it...when I downloaded a bunch of jigs and reels and played them on mando they sounded ok, but (I think) they come to life on an OM...If you're looking into it, I'd do it...I have no real regrets...So for Goodness Sake BUY ONE...tee hee
I have a 550, and for the money I think they are a good buy, even if they are an import. The tone is good on mine, but as some of you mentioned, there is some low end buzzing. I'll try some of suggestions on tweaking. My question is this: Do you have to use a one piece bridge like the one it came with? It seems I might have some luck on the action/ buzzing situation if changed to an adjustable bridge.
Mine is a one piece, however a replacment. The guy who set-up mine said it wasn't the height at the bridge, but the spacing of the strings. My only buzzing now is at the first fret, but that is a nut slot depth issue. I believe there is a discussion about bridges farther down the list. Nate