View Full Version : tone bar vs. x-brace
I'm doing a little research here so any comments will be appreciated. My mando experience thus far has been limited to tone bars. What differences could I expect to find in an x-braced mando? I've heard they can be "overdriven" but I'm not sure what that means. Do they produce a different sound or greater volume? What are the benefits of each?
Hi Willard...can't say i'm an expert on this subject but i've been playing an X-braced A5 alot recently and my .02 is that it has a very wide, warm, sustaining sound right out of the box. This particular one doesn't break up in the least....quite robust in fact. i could see where some folks might consider it to sustain too long for the perfect bluegrass mando the notes don't drop off quickly but this one has good cut and is a very felxible tone. Love it personally. I'd be interested to hear other folks thoughts.
Thanks SC, hopefully some others knowledgeable/experienced players will chime in here.
You know if you go to Folk of the Wood's website, in their FAQ section on mandolin, there is a section on bracing where a whole bunch of the big name makers chime in on their opinions on bracing.
Here is the link:
Great info here by some big names in the business.
I think one of the big advantages of X bracing is that you get great tone and volume right away. Tone bar braced Mandolins can take up to 4 years to fully open.
Best to judge the mandolin, not the bracing system used in #the construction.
Best to judge the mandolin, not the bracing is damn good advice. A friend of mine (fantastic mando player) has a Gilchrist made around 1980 that is a wonderful sounding mandolin. Loud, sweet, well balanced, you name it. He swore to me it was because it was tone braced. Well I pulled the end pin out and peered inside, and blow me down if it wasn't X braced. Poor guy was terribly embarrassed since he had been telling everyone for years it was tone bar braced. So there you go, judge the mandolin, not the bracing.
I have an 1987 F5 Gilchrist that is X braced which is what most of his instruments were until fairly recently as I understand it based on his interviews. I have to say, it is one of the loudest mandolins around and is absolutely incredible on the treble side-plenty of sustain even above the 12th fret. I did an AB test with a new Gibson master model. The Gil was by far better on the high end. The Gibson Master Model (not yet played in) was at least even at the low end. What I need to do is compare the X braced one with a new Gil that has tone bars. After all is said and done, the issue is personal taste.
After posting my comments about my X braced Gil, I read the comments at Folk of The Woods. They folks there seem to dispute the high end clarity of an E-braced instrument over time. Well, mine dates back to 1987, and I know a good sound when I hear it. The high end is incredible on the Gil and anyone else hearing it would agree. The whole instrument must be considered on this one. Dogmatic approaches-only tone bars etc. are just silly. At the recent Joe Val Festival in Massachusetts, one of the lecturers on Bill Monroe, flat out said that the x-braced instruments were a complete flop. I quietly took offense until I realized that such opinionated blabbermouths simply dont know what they are talking about.
Well, Richard, I don't quite agree with your last statement. Charlie Derrington and I have this discussion from time to time. I have been arguing we should offer an X brace model for a segment of the market we do not currently have. He has been clear about his opinion that X bracing is not a good way to build an instrument that is expected to last for 80 years. Experience has shown us that X braced mandolin have a tendency to get top fatigue and can suffer a muddiness in tone after a period of years. Since we have worked on every major brand of mandolin over the years (pre-Gibson) we have a pretty good taste for the advantages and disadvantages.
Personally I like the tone of an X braced mandolin, but he is right about the top fatigue and muddy tone. Now let me be clear. There are always exceptions to the rule and I'm sure there will be a few who will wish to disprove our comments by their experience. I can appreciate that, but overall the statement still stands. It is a general rule not applying to each and every mandolin ever built.
I doubt we will build any X braced mandolins while Charlie is the big dog, but I still argue with him from time to time.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a jam and sit next to another mandolin player who had the same model mandolin as mine. The difference was that mine was tone bar braced and her's was X braced. She absolutely blew me out of the water on volume and the tone was right there. It was an eye-opening experience. I still enjoy the tone of my tone bar braced mandolin, but really love playing her's as well. It is much more open sounding and pleasing to the my ears. Of course all mando are not created equally, but in my opinion I have never noticed that her mando could be overdriven, but I do know what you mean.
I guess (now that I think about it) I am an opinionated blabbermouth and probably don't know what I'm talking about. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif #
BTW that wasn't me at the Joe Val festival, but it very well could have been. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif
So, Big Joe, how many years more or less are we talking about when it comes to developing top fatigue or muddiness? I really don't expect to be around in 80 years, but I also want to know how long I can expect to enjoy an instrument if it is X-braced. Plus, It would be good to be able to sell one before it goes muddy!
Charlie and Big Joe, I guess this means that my 92 Flatiron F-5 Artist that is x-braced should wear out about the same time I do. If it is 12 and I am 48 then by the time I am 80 I will need another one....right? #She sure sounds good now and I was hoping that my son or daughter would keep it in the family. Better make that trip to Nashville and pick out another....soon http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif #and BigMon told me it would only get better with time....
Charlie & Big Joe....what would you say the "sample size" would be of X braced mandos that have had these problems? So all those Gil's are going to go flat and get Muddy? Thats pretty hard to swallow guys. Seriously.
I'm sorry but you Gibson guys just are cracking me up. #What a bummer! #This means that many of us who own Gilchrist or flatiron mandolins, #if we live long enough, #will have to watch our mandolins either implode or see our necks go out of wack!!! # Or maybe both!!! # I love this site! # Nick
I don't have an informed opinion about bracing, but I would certainly be the last to blow off the opinions of experts who have sampled old instruments and have perceived a deterioration of tone or stability. #In fact, I would have to suspect their judgement if they were building such instruments in spite of their findings. #
Now, I might ask them a question or two about this, but I certainly would not disrespect them or laugh at their opinions. #Just who else are we supposed to listen to?
Any other builders/repairman with enough experience with vintage instruments to speak to this issue? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif
For the record, I play a 20s Gibson A model and a new Collings F.
I love Charlie and Big Joe dearly and they know a heck of a lot more than me when it comes to building and I consider them both my buds but I have seen tone bar mando's tops collapse just like some X-braced tops under fatigue
My opinion is that it is all in the carving. I think the X-brace tone will hold up fine if it is carved right. I believe the ones that collapse or suffer under fatigue are the ones that the tops have been carved to thin.
Read my reply again. I did not say all of them would, but enough will to cause problems later in life. The X braced do have a wonderful tone right from the start and seem to have a little more bottom end...not so midrange focused as the loars and Master Models. However, a very good percentage can be overdriven by hard playing. We have seen a good number of top name brand X braced with top fatigue and had to replace those tops. In our former life we were the warranty center for most of the mandolins on the planet...even the Australian ones.
I love the X braced sound personally and loved my Gil's. I would love to have the last one I had made for me back again. But, in spite of it all, I do believe Charlie knows more about mandolins and every aspect of them than I would if I had another two lifetimes to study. I say that and I'm pretty knowledgeable. He and I do have the X brace vs tone bar arguement from time to time but he wins. My opinion canot overcome knowledge. And, my experience verifies his statements. So, in conclusion, either makes a great mandolin. History is clear on the tone bars on a properly built mandolin. It is not so clear yet on the X braced. We could get into discussions on the structural integrity and so on, but it really boils down to two things. You either like the way they sound or you don't. Finally, if you've spent your money to buy one or the other, you are likely to be in love with it until you find something else and no argument based on reason is likely to change that.
I'm coming to the point in life where I would not likely have too many problems with an X braced instrument so I really don't care. However, it is disheartening to see what were some really great instruments just a decade ago now have to be retopped or sold over and over again becuase they cannot do what the owner wants due to problems inherent in X bracing. Again, buy what you love and love what you buy.
First, it was bolt-on necks that were problematic <neck re-sets> in comparison to (Gibson's) dove-tail, now it's X-braced being problematic <top sink> compared to (Gibson's) tone-bar bracing...
...I smell a sales tactic...
I stand with SpareChange and Mandocat on this one...
I find this topic very interesting as I am approaching a deadline in deciding how I want my Gil braced. Charlie's comment on the maturation of the tone over time seems right to me just based on my own experience.
Nearly all (with the exception of a couple of nice x braced Gils) of the very few mandolins that have completely captivated me and left me breathless were tone bar braced, red topped, varnish finished, and have been played a whole lot. I don't know which was the essential ingredient or if they all are pivotal in producing that sound. Maybe it is something else such as the carving as Maverick suggested. I do remember reading in one of the mandolin magazines a few years back where Steve Gilchrist mentioned that he was preferentially bracing his instruments with tone bars. I cannot remeber what his reasons were. I have not had the opportunity to ever play a tone bar braced Gil and would love any of you owners to chime in. Anyone out there have an X and a tone barred Gil and how do they compare? I have an awesome Master Model so should I get an X-braced Gil?. . .I mean this question actually keeps me awake at night. HELP!!!!...Maybe I should take up harmonica. They all seem to be braced the same.
Charlie and Big JOe, I certainly respect your opinions. HOwever, are you saying that Steve Gilchrist, who has made many X braced mandolins-it was his standard for years-should be faulted as a maker because generally his x bracing fails over time? That would be a pretty strond statement that I would hope would be backed up with a track record of inspections and/or repairs by you that was large enough to fully support your opinion. Otherwise, your opinion is just that-your view. My luthier friends tell me that x-bracing may be easier to make and is more forgiving that making tone bars and installing them properly. I do note that Gilchrist is now opting for the tone bar style but I believe that x or tone is still a standard choice offered on his F5. X-braced Gils still go for around $19,000 to $20,000+ on the used market. Marc Darrow just had an x braced Gil for same on this web site. Your opinion, if true, is contrary to at least what the market says about the value of a Gil. I suppose both Gilchrist and the high end mando market could be dead wrong-and you could be right. I would like more that just an opinion on this one. Your reply would be appreciated.
The Great-X-Brace-Debate aside, one thing I've always been curious about is the seeming extinction of the "single-brace" (probably has some other nomenclature) found in the teens Gibson A's.
As far as sound goes, good examples of these are the tone I'm personally most fond of...I know its not everyone's cup of tea, or can of Bud as the case may be for the bluegrassers.
But what I'm most curious about is the structural aspect...mine has held up for 90 years structurally going on strong. Just curious as to why and when Gibson moved away from this "single-bracing" practice??? Don't know if this was before/after the snakeheads...actually I don't know squat, but am curious.
take it easy on BigJoe guys...
he clearly said not every X-braced mando was bad or going to implode...
that being said, just about every Gil x-braced could very well be an amazing instrument...there are others building and offering x-braced mandos that they may have seen or repaired at Gibson...
and no, I'm not a Gibson owner...but I wouldn't turn down a Master Model either, or a Gil for that matter, or a Duff, or a ummm....Hilburn or a Nugget or another BRW or a ...ugh...oops...sorry...daydreaming overtook me
Hey Rich. I will not speak for Charlie, though I am more than aware of his argument. He was the only Gilchrist repair center for many many years and a good friend of Steve. When we did not have the current Master Models we lusted for our Gilcrhists and believed they were the best available. Now, we have the luxury of building mandolins the way we like. We can take the many years of experience with other instruments as well as Loars and nearly every other variety on the planet and put it to use where we find the best for our philosophy.
I have said in my two previous posts that while there are some problems with the X bracing that I still like it and wish we did build an x braced model. Charlie will win that argument since he is the boss http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif . If one wishes to argue the fine hairs of construction we can get so bogged down in the details that may never affect the majority of us that we loose the joy in owning and playing a fine instrument.
I had Steve build me a wonderful mandolin in 95. It had a neck just a bit larger than standard with block inlays...much like the current Bush model but before there was a bush model. When I got hurt I had to sell it. I have wished to have that instrument back ever since. I know who has it currently and he is not willing to sell it. He indicates it is the best sounding mandolin he has ever played. Others have verified the same. I have not played it in several years so I can only take their word for it. The point is that even though it is X braced and approaching ten years of heavy use...largely by pro's, it is still doing well. Just because an instrument is X braced does not all by itself mean it will be inferior in any way. There are a lot of things that go together to get the sound and playability an instrument has. On the other hand, many that are wonderful on day one are not so good in a number of years of hard playing. The answer is partly scientific, partly personal preference, and partly luck.
I should say if Charlie felt there was enough good about the X braced system he would allow us to build an X braced model. I keep arguing, but have not won and he does not seem likely to allow me to win that one. Oh well, he is the boss!
Big Joe.....of the X braced mandos that you have worked on what would you say is the "lifespan" before they exhibit these difficulties? i assumed we were talking about decades are you saying the liklihood is much sooner than that?
One thing that is very, very hard to get across on the internet is that when I state an opinion, it's not a dig or an insult to any other builder......it's just my opinion. Now, it's fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how one views it) that for right now, my opinion at Gibson is the one that counts. I have worked on many mandolins, I have owned many mandolins, and I have designed many mandolins in my lifetime. I am also prone to strong opinions based on my experience and don't mind voicing them.
Just because I don't personally prefer X-braced mandolins doesn't mean there aren't builders and players that do prefer them. It just means that as long as I'm in charge of the Gibson mandolin line, my preferences will prevail for us.
Joe has tried very hard to change my mind on this issue for many years. He hasn't succeeded......yet. I am firm in my belief that the Gibson/Loar F-5 is the perfect model and I won't stray very far from that model. (I am in the process of designing something a little different, but not greatly different, of which I can't speak of at this time)
I hope that's as clear as mud.
Thats why we all love ya Charlie but I am very interested in this topic as a player. How many mandos have you guys seen fall into this set of problems? The reason i ask is because there must be a substantial number of X braced mandolins on the planet. Have you worked on hundreds...thousands....? I have seen just a few sunken tops on mandolins but they all were of the tone bar variety so I would really like to get my mind around this concept. Also....Charlie like i asked Big Joe are we looking at a few years before you suggest this takes place or decades? Thanks.
Not too long ago, in 1996, at least three Gibson F5-X mandolins were produced. Were these custom orders, or were the builders just looking forward to the day when they could make top repairs? I will not outlive my three X-braced mandolins, but I will sleep better, knowing that there are competent luthiers around who will make the necessary repairs if/when required.
For all those who would like to see Gibson make an X braced mandolin model please let Charlie or I know. He is pretty set against it, but I think it would be a good addition to our product line. It would be interesting to see the feeling of the cafe.
NO X-BRACES!!!!!!!!!!!! I have to disagree on this one with you BigJoe! Sorry but I am a tone bar man!
No one has said what I thought to be the consensus generic answer to this question. #X bars for all around tone. #Tone Bars for bluegrass. #Isn't this the usual answer given to this question? #
Another thing. #Seems if a builder is used to building a certain way they will get a great sound out of it whether it be tone bar or x braced. #I would say look to see what they are used to doing and where they've seen results the most. #Say if builder A builds all x braced and you ask him to do a tone bar. #The tone bar might not be the best that builder could normally offer, but is stretching himself to try for a client. #Kind of like asking Charlie to do a X braced mando. #Would probably come out all right, but he's obviously more comforatble in the tone bar arena. #Does that make sense? #
Lastly the X braces that used to sink were from a different era. #Now builders have more knowledge, better resources, glues, etc. #It'll be a few decades before this topic is answered in a relevant way. #Until then pick on sounding good right out of the box if that's what suits ya.
I know nothing about this but that isn't a criteria for having an opinion. #The quote from Bruce Weber on the Folk of the Wood site (link earlier in this thread) seemed to be the right answer. #
And I'm not just saying that because I own a Weber.
Big Joe.. I agree I think a X-brace model would do great. Maybe we can get Charlie to change his mind http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif Afterall the Flatiron F-5 Artist was a great seller for Gibson and company and alot of people like that sound which was x-braced.
I for one enjoy the sound of a Tone bar mandolin as well as a X-braced mandolin.
Ok. who all wants a x-braced model raise your hand !
It's funny , this tone bar-X brace thing will probably keep going around for as long as there are builders and players . About 25+ years ago , I built two exact mandolins , from the same tone woods , doing my best to build two instruments as close to a clone to each other as possible . One was x braced & the other had tone bars . Both sounded very good , with the x braced model being a little louder and brighter . The tone bar model was maybe a little more balanced overall . Each buyer played both instruments and each picked the one they prefered , and both left happy . I haven't seen either mando in about 12 years , but at that time , both were doing great , holding up well and had opened up beautifully . The x braced one was even louder and very chrisp , while the tone bar model had aged like a fine wine . Both owners were still very happy with their choices . So , in closing , I say...To Each Their Own . http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif
Just because I don't personally prefer X-braced mandolins doesn't mean there aren't builders and players that do prefer them. It just means that as long as I'm in charge of the Gibson mandolin line, my preferences will prevail for us.
IMO, whether you agree with Charlie's stance on the topic or not, you have to give him his due as a leader in his organization. It's tough to be the one "where the buck stops", sticking to your guns on strategic decisions even when key employees feel differently. When it comes to leadership, that's what seperates the great from all the rest.
Now I'm no Gibson man, mind you. Just an observer, and sometimes an admirer, of leadership traits in business, the community, and philanthropic organizations.
Charlie, my hat's off to you.
Mine, too, Charlie.
But, it must say something that Gibson gets all this scrutiny. #I'd say every decent builder out there is doing exactly this--following his/her best judgment on the design and construction of their instruments. #For some reason, everyone wants to argue with Charlie and Big Joe about it. #I guess when you're Top Dog, you gotta put up with a lot of barking.
I vote yes BigJoe, Gibson (Charlie) should at least build a few to see.... If I ordered another Flatiron Artist would it be X braced or Tone Bar? Just curious.
All of the BS aside, you guys have one of if not the best product out there and that can be directly attributed to Charlie and his efforts to build a better mouse trap.
I'd like to see Gibson stick with the tone bar style of bracing. If you want a fuller sound, there are plenty of makers who offer X-bracing and have been doing it right for a long time. Although I believe Gibson could produce a wonderful X-braced instrument, it's not what they are known for.
Well, since we seem to have wandered off-topic a bit, I hope this comment is relevant. #Until I read through this thread, I hadn't given bracing much thought. #I didn't even know what bracing Collings used on my new MF. #So, I looked. #Lo and behold, tone bars. #(Lots of you knew that, I know....). #My point is, if tone bars are suppose to take longer to 'open up' , man I can't WAIT to hear this mandolin in 5 years!! #This thing is a cannon already! #From what I was reading, I expected to find X-braces. #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif
MikeB, I played a Collings MF over the weekend in a store. It sounded 40 years old. What a great mando. Enjoy!
Thanks, Eric, I am! I'm running through various strings, trying to find the ones that give me the best tone and feel. (Now that I have the bracing question solved.. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif) Everything is different with this mandolin. I just ordered some T-I strings. Never tried 'em before. Should be interesting. I have volume to spare (!), so I'm hoping this will sweeten things up a bit.
Hey Big Joe and Charlie, Thank you for your responses. I have read your comments on this website for a long time and find them insightful, interesting and helpful to those of us who wish to know more about this crazy mando addiction that we all seem to have. I certainly did not intend to attack you personally for your opinions-someone commented don't be too hard on you-I just wanted further explanation. By the way, I have a Sam Bush and love it as well as a few old Gibsons-2 early f4s and a teen A4 which I love. #Its truly wonderful how these old instrument have withstood the test of time and the elements. #One of my F4s was played in a Russion balalaika band in NY City that performed at Carnegie Hall among other venues as told to me by the very elderly lady whose deceased husband played in the band. Its a wonderful black-faced Gibson F4 that I will not part with until I meet my maker or more likely the other fellow-based on my sins as a lawyer in my day job. Sorry for the digression-Let the case continue of X-Brace v. Tone Bar.
Whether Charlie's opinions on bolt on necks and x-bracing are correct I have no idea, but I doubt it's some kind of sales tactic. It seems to me that if their goal was purely sales they'd just go ahead and offer models of both types and then everyone would be happy.
I don't necessarily agree that the Loar is the epitome of mandolin building and the goal should be to copy it, but the impression that I get is that Charlie really believes that it is and he's sticking with his belief of what produces the highest quality mandolin.
I don't think it's realistic to expect Gibson to manufacturer a mandolin for every ear. If they tried, I'd be concerned the attempt might somehow detract their fullest attention from their signature sound. They make what they make and they make it exceedingly well. If you want something different; shop elsewhere.
I know I've seen an X braced Gibson F5L on sale before. I don't know if it was special order. Seems to me the differences are in each mandolin if you looking to buy one... of any brand. When I went shopping I played dozens of gibsons, webbers, collings, rigel, sumi,other odds and ends of well known makers. but I still bought a new Gibson Fern that pleased my ear. There's lots of differences in tone between mandolins of the same specs. I'm not sure if comparing "Your'n against His'n" is a fair or accurate assesment of X-braced tone. Esp. in this light of different tone for each mandolin. I played mine at a jam this weekend and I thought I was blowing everyone away but, someone else might say they thought they were. Objectivity is hard to come by. I respect the discussion of Charlie and Joe because they have seen lots of em, and can give an educated opinion over looking a hundreds of examples of what they've seen.
Question?http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif I thought that tone bars were not structural but only for tone, Is this not so??? seemingly not for the X-braced in charlies opinion.
Bring back the Flatiron F-5 Artist but call it the Gibson FX-5.. Build it and they will come. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
That would be the Montana Flatiron F5 Artist with the X bracing. When they moved to Nashville, the Flatiron F5 Artist was built with tone bars. Yes, I think folks would be interested in an X braced, F style Gibson. FX-5 sounds good to me Mav.
What about an AX-5 (or any number)? # #The Gibson AX. #What could be #a cooler name?
[QUOTE]What about an AX-5 (or any number)? The Gibson AX. What could be a cooler name?
Now we're talking!
Hey Maverick, Do you know if there was much difference in the X-bracing of the Flatiron F5 Artist and the Gibson F5-X? The X-bracing of the Montana-built Flatirons IS different from the bracing STE is building in Weber mandolins.
Ken.. To tell you the truth I am not sure. Maybe Charlie or Big Joe will chime in.
If I understadn all this, somebody should break the news to Ronnie McCoury that an X-braced Gilchrist is not the way to go for bluegrass music.
Hey Kevin, Good point; however, if his Gil becomes "muddy" sounding, he can afford to acquire a new one. I guess the second-best thing he could do is have the top replaced. Personally, I couldn't afford either option and would just have to join the Many Miserable Muddy Mandolin Maniac Menagerie (6M).
My, my, my.