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Three Things We'd Like To See for the Mandolin Community

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No harm done in wondering how things could be improved in our little corner of the stringed instrument world. Here are three scenarios we'd like to see.

1) An abbreviated mandolin line from the C.F. Martin company.

No, it's not an April Fool's subject. Isn't it time for another U.S. based company to step up and be great, and what better choice than the legendary Martin? No need to engage in model sprawl (hint, hint, your guitars, Martin). Gibson? Sadly, limited to a few instruments a year out of the custom shop. Little or no support from corporate to be represented in any numbers but they're the obvious choice.

There are a lot of employable builders in the U.S. that could come in and create this from the ground up. Get as far away from the early Martin design as possible and go for the traditional F/A market. Build a respectable snakehead styled A model and a great mid-market priced F. Face it: Asian companies like Eastman and The Loar own the low end, Collings the high end. Unfortunately, Breedlove and Weber which were supposed to prosper under the Two Old Hippies parent company--haven't--but sure do a fine job burning up the social media game. Reports of Weber falling behind on production (absent any increase in demand) has retailers steamed.

Prediction: a sizable price increase announcement from one of the latter two at Summer NAMM.

2) Progressive online communities like Yelp employ local specialists to monitor the activity and legitimacy of the reviews they host. They're like moderators and traffic directors. Isn't it time major player eBay do the same to cut down the fraudulent auctions they're hosting? Instead of basing representatives by region, they'd hire by area of expertise. One individual working alone with the right background could easily represent much of the stringed instrument market (banjo, mandolin, guitar--acoustic and electric--and uke) in North America alone. The fact that you can't speak to someone at the company that's one of the largest retailers in the world is just sad.

3) Music schools, please place more emphasis on business skills.

There are a number of fine educational schools like Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory for stringed musicians. Not picking on them. They do a fine job. Their ability to turn out seasoned musicians that are skilled in their craft is without question. What seems to be missing and what's commonly heard from graduates is how difficult it is to make a living as a touring/teaching string musician. The gap between performing and the skill of succeeding in business is sizable and daunting. More than a few recent graduates have expressed frustration online (mostly Facebook) at the reality of "being out there doing it" vs. making a decent living wage. 2-3 recent high profile graduates immediately come to mind. Sadly, the world is filled with hot guns working minimum wage retail jobs. Making a living is about way more than grasp of technique, skill on stage and mastery of the instrument. It would seem that schools would be wise to develop a sound curriculum around the subject of making a living once one graduates. Are we wrong? What schools are focused on this?

Have your own suggestions and opinions? Sound off. Let's hear them.

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Updated Oct-12-2013 at 8:32am by Scott Tichenor

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General Mandolin Comments

Comments

  1. Santiago's Avatar
    As a part-time management professor number three above really caught my interest. So many talented musicians are ill-equipped to handle the business pressures that come with independence. Couldn't agree more. My college has an MBA program for doctors, who know all about medicine but less about running a practice in today's complex regulatory/insurance environment. Music departments at universities should definitely consider partnering with their business department, or local institutions for music schools.
    Updated Jun-24-2013 at 11:27am by Santiago (adding comment.)
  2. mandopete's Avatar
    1) More "affordable" large scale mandolin builders like Northfield.
    2) Mandolins as "carry-ons" on airplanes everywhere.
    3) A nice rectangular tweed F-style mandolin case! (my personal)
  3. Tavy's Avatar
    Nice post Scott.

    Actually it would be great if Martin could revive their old design, maybe with a few updates (points?) for the modern era. There are plenty of great A's and F's already
  4. Ted Eschliman's Avatar
    1.) Would add to Pete's request more "open nest" rectangular wood mandolin cases that can accommodate a variety of alternative body style mandolins. Tweed would indeed be cool.
    2.) My 5 year tirade for a flatwound string with no silk windings and long enough to accommodate both mandola and octave mandolin. They can be the same gauge and same SKU. 13, 24, 34, 44.
    Boom!
  5. Russ Jordan's Avatar
    It would be great if there were more community college programs for stringed instrument (both fretted and unfretted) repair and set up. It seems there is always plenty of work for good repair/set-up technicians

    Scott mentions Collings owning the high end line--seems they have a pretty strong presence in the mid-line market as well?
  6. mandomedic's Avatar
    Good rants Scott.
    1. I could honestly see Martin making a small jumbo or dreadnought shaped mandolin with their famous headstock design both in a flat and archtop configuration.
    3. Many years ago I taught a music business course at a community college in Oregon. It was interesting to note at that time how many musicians and wannabe players had no clue that it was a business. Some things never change. I agree with you that to my knowledge, there are no business courses taught at any of the major schools for musicians.
  7. BradKlein's Avatar
    I think that Martin could succeed with an adaptation of their cant-top design. Increase the scale 7/8" +or-, keep the bridge where it is and lengthen the neck a bit. Cost would be much lower than competing with Collings in the carved top market, it would be in the tradition of Martin's most successful design, and the more guitarish sound of the flat-top might appeal to a lot of Americana musicians.
  8. Bill Baldridge's Avatar
    I am old, but when I was in grad school I can't recall any business course in a fine arts program....beneath their dignity. The more things change the more they stay the same.
  9. Cheryl Watson's Avatar
    Interesting. I don't think that Martin will be getting their feet wet building serious mandolins any time soon. I don't really know why but the poor economy, the relative unpopularity of the mandolin (as opposed to the guitar), and perhaps the concern of lawsuits if their products were too close to the Gibson standards might be solid reasons.

    Ebay needs to back up their "rules" of no fraudulent/counterfeit sales.

    Yeah, business and playing music are separate things. College and the real world are also very separate. Every college major needs to teach students how to apply what they have learned to real world situations. I can play, I can sing, but I myself have failed several times trying to make a living with my music. It's a rough road whether you are on the road or teaching. Musicians just don't get the same respect as a car mechanic or a plumber. I think that most people think that musicians don't have any expenses and can play for free (or fries and a beer).

    Thanks for your thoughts, Scott.
  10. Traveling Tracks's Avatar
    Someone above mentioned the "unpopularity" of the mandolin.....not that it's a criticism...just an observation....I point this out: Sweetwater...one of the largest, if not the largest, online/catalog music retailer....has in their latest catalog.....300 guitars presented for sale...and obviously on the website there would be thousands.
    Yes, I did in fact count all the guitars in the catalog...to make this point....there are ZERO mandolins in their printed catalog! There are 9 ukulele's...a whole page of ukes...but no love for the mandolin...what's with that Sweetwater???
    I know there are plenty of great retailers selling mandolins, most of which advertise on the cafe...but getting some mando's in the Sweetwater catalog would help get our instrument in front of a lot of prospective musicians.
  11. multidon's Avatar
    Another vote for Martin bringing back their flat tops. But I don't think it will ever happen. We can dream can't we? And an update would be nice- the longer modern scale, adjustable truss rod and bridge, maple or walnut for the body instead of mahogany? I would be first in line to buy a Martin like that if it was finished blond with a AAA flame maple body!

    I think the so-called "unpopularity" of the mandolin is due to the ignorance of the general public and even a lot of the music community. We are in some ways victims of the popularity of bluegrass. This success means bluegrass music is the only contact many people have with the mandolin, and therefore they think of it as a bluegrass only instrument. Some music stores perpetrate this attitude by presenting mandolins and banjos as their "bluegrass department". Most people and many musicians even don't have a clue about mandolin being used for classical, blues, jazz, or Celtic. Old Time? Most don't know the difference between that and bluegrass. To me this problem is actually the reason why Martin doesn't bring out mandolins again. If there was money to be made they would do it. But again the popularity of bluegrass causes a lot of people to have the perception that the F-5 style is the only style. If Martin was to make their flat tops which are not useful for bluegrass they would have a very limited market. We would need something like another folk revival craze to make that happen.
  12. Dave Greenspoon's Avatar
    I'd love to see Rainsong or Composite Acoustics come out with a great sounding, active eq'd, CF mando for under/around a grand. I'm less considered about A or F style as I am the ability to go from the outdoor jam to the indoor stage or vice versa, and not worry about ambient conditions affecting the instrument.
  13. JeffD's Avatar
    I would think there is a real opportunity for someone to do a third party auction "monitoring" site. The idea would be a site, say "SniffTest.com" where a potential bidder would submit an ongoing web auction for the experts at SniffTest to evaluate and "grade" as to likelihood of being as represented. Like a "Snopes" for auctions instead of rumors. There would be competition immediately as the claims of bias mount, so "TooGoodToBeTrue.com" could be checked if you did not like the answer from StiffTest.
  14. Kurto's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by mandopete
    1) More "affordable" large scale mandolin builders like Northfield.
    2) Mandolins as "carry-ons" on airplanes everywhere.
    3) A nice rectangular tweed F-style mandolin case! (my personal)
    You can get a rectangular tweed F case from Cedar Creek Custom Case Shoppe. I have a few of their cases and they are very nice. You can also choose the interior color, style, hardware, and even the color of the stitching.

    Have fun!

    http://www.cedarcreekcases.com/optionc.php
  15. Tom Wright's Avatar
    1) I worry that my 10-string Buchanan is not easily replaceable, and I actually hoped to emulate Martin tone (succeeded, to my ears), so it would be cool if Martin used their guitar construction style, as did Buchanan, to reduce costs and use their expertise, both. I doubt they could beat Tom's price, but he needs a longish lead time, as a per-order builder. I probably should just buy a spare and keep it locked up.

    2) Ditto.

    3) I don't think Julliard talks about business at all, except as it pertains to auditioning for union jobs. If Berklee advised more effectively about the business aspect the scene would be even more choked with excess talent, and not enough gigs. Acoustic string band music is not the only type suffering a glut of supply, and a weak market for down-list bands and players. If anyone finds a way to increase the demand for live performance at high pay we all would like to hear about it. The best advice teachers should give students is to not major in music, not even toward an education degree, (with current budget cuts), but study for the same reason as studying literature--it makes one's life better.
  16. mandopixie's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Traveling Tracks
    ...there are ZERO mandolins in their printed catalog! There are 9 ukulele's...a whole page of ukes...but no love for the mandolin...what's with that Sweetwater???
    I know there are plenty of great retailers selling mandolins, most of which advertise on the cafe...but getting some mando's in the Sweetwater catalog would help get our instrument in front of a lot of prospective musicians.
    I just checked the Sweetwater site after reading this post: Today there are 22 mandolin-type instruments listed. Mostly Washburn and Epiphone items, a couple of Fender, and the Gretch re-issue 'New Yorker' model.