View Full Version : Mando Help
I am a beginning classical mando player and I was wondering what is the best American made mando for playing classical. I am assuming that an A style oval hole is the way to go but I'm confused about Weber, Collings, Bluett, Martin and Gibson. Thanks
You should look for a vintage Lyon & Healy Style A, B, or C.
Several have pointed out in the past that the carved top F-style was made for classical playing. I happened upon a Michael Kelley that sounds great, but I know that is not always the case. I'm no Bill Monroe or Detlef Tewes so it is enough mando for my needs, and I find classical music on it sounds great (well, it would if my playing were better at any rate). Just find one that sounds nice to you.
You can really use anything. There is no consensus--bowlback, oval-hole carved top, f-hole carved top, flat-top--although a bowlback would be historically correct for the turn-of-the-century repertoire (Calace, etc...), if that matters to you.
I second the motions above: find a nice playing instrument and go with it. As you play more you may be attracted to other makers or styles of mandolin. Vintage Gibsons are plentiful, reasonably priced and might be a good starting place. Of modern makers, in addition to the ones you mention, I find I like those made by Bill Bussmann who uses the Old Wave moniker. I have yet to play an oval hole mandolin of his that I didn't like. YMMV...
It's a fair point: one can play classical on just about any kind of mandolin. However, the OP specifically asked about the best American-made mandolin for classical music, and the answer remains the vintage Lyon & Healy archtops. They sing in a way that no other U.S.-built instrument can quite match. If the OP is looking at Collings and Bluett, then a good L&H Style C will be well within his budget.
Specifically for classical, there may be other instruments that some players prefer to an L&H, but those aren't likely to be American-made. If you'd rather have a bowlback than an L&H, you'd probably rather have an Italian or German bowlback. Brian Dean and Arik Kerman are making some fantastic classical instruments, but they're not American either.
Or it could be that the nice little Style B I got back from the luthier a week ago has clouded my judgment...
I do not play a lot of classical, but I do play some. I have played every type of mandolin and it really depends on the overall sound you want. Like said above, pretty much every style of mandolin can be used in classical. However, things you want to look for:
1. Playability needs to be good. You want nice low action with no buzzes.
2. Even tone and volume across the strings
3. Scale length that you are comfortable with. Many classical players like the more tradition short scale, while other like or don't mind the more modern longer scale.
One of the best mandolins you will ever play is a Cohen (http://users.erols.com/judcohen/models.html) mandolin. And Dr. Dave Cohen is building a short scale classical A, or whatever type of mandolin you want. Check out this thread (http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?48834-Two-Cohen-demos&highlight=Cohen). I believe he gets many orders from classical players.
Brian Dean and Arik Kerman are making some fantastic classical instruments, but they're not American either.
Brian's Canadian, so, you know, close enough. Kerman is of course Israeli, and he doesn't exactly accept orders in the regular fashion... I think the original question was more focused on retail manufacturers, in which case I'd have to recommend spending a little time at the shop(s) to find the instrument you like best. Don, Brian Dean (http://www.labraid.ca) is the finest luthier on the American continent, and he'll make you an instrument to your exact specs. It just takes a little longer than picking one up from the store.
If you'd rather have a bowlback than an L&H, you'd probably rather have an Italian or German bowlback.
I don't know about that either. Both vintage Martins and Vegas are fine bowlbacks. I certainly have nothing against the European instruments (I do prefer the Italian over the German) but the OP also seemed to indicate newer insturments. The other thing to consider is whether you prefer the shorter scale. Bowlbacks are usually around 13 inch scale length and some strictly classical players do prefer them. latter day L&H carved mandolins have that shorter scale length.
I feel that the L&H/Washburn carved mandolins represent the best all-around mandolins, suitable for every style except bluegrass. Certainly suitable for classical. I also think that short (13") scale is probably preferable for classical playing. I note that the OP seems to have overlooked the bowlback world in his search, which might be a mistake. While some expertise is indicated in selecting a fully functional example, no one can deny that there are many US-made bowlbacks that were and are well used in classical playing.
Martin bowlbacks are fine instruments, as are Vegas. In my opinion, the Vega Pettine Special is the finest production bowlback ever made in the US.