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Thread: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

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    Default First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Hi esteemed pickers,

    I previously started a thread "Flirting with the 5-string electric mandolin (again)", which implausibly resulted in me purchasing the 4-string Fender Mando-strat reissue. I've read plenty of threads in here re: Mando-strat, but wanted to share some (possibly redundant) observations I've had since receiving the instrument last night.

    (Quick note: I played through a '78 Fender Video Champ).

    Tone (clean): sure sounds like a Fender instrument. Admittedly I think single-coils are where it's at for electric guitar, so I was pretty pleased when I plugged this baby in. No "weak E," no hum/noise (apart from minimal, standard single-coil noise). I mostly wanted a 4- or 5-string for jazz-type exercises and messing around with ragtime, and the clean tone does not disappoint. My only other solid body mando, a Mann, always sounded a little anemic/flaccid. Thankfully this Fender doesn't have that problem.

    Tone (dirty): I ran the Mandocaster (I know, I know..."Mando-strat") through three different dirt pedals; Boss Blues Driver, Crowther Hotcake, and Proco RAT. To put the mildly, they all sounded like sh*t. Single note licks sounded decent, but any kind of chord or doublestop crunch produced a bizarre, unpleasant set of clashing overtones that dissipated rather quickly (maybe half a second?) before the actual notes I was playing in the instrument could be heard sustaining. I made sure to check my settings using my Telecaster, but didn't have the issue with the guitar. It's been a few years, but I'm hazily remembering that I may have had a similar issue with the Mann. Maybe single-string mandos just don't take distortion well? I doubt it though...I've heard some pretty bodacious dirt sounds from Jim Richter's Fender. I'll have to keep tinkering with this, as I play an 8-string with distortion quite frequently and have not had a problem.

    Play/feel: the neck is great. I like the semi-V shape it takes on near the headstock. My other mandos don't really have this, but it's a welcome change. Fingerboard feels nice.

    Bridge: not surprisingly, this is the real shortcoming of this instrument. Not only is the intonation hard to dial in with the two saddles (on mine, everything plays in tune open, but the A string goes quite sharp once fretted), but the bridge itself feels like it's made out of cheap tin. I will definitely do some hunting for an after-market bridge replacement, as I know many others have done before me.

    Overall build: decent? The pickguard on mine seems to have a tendency to bubble out, away from the instrument, in a few places. Upon arrival, the instrument's input jack was coming unscrewed; I fixed it, and it's already coming unscrewed again. As others have mentioned, the position marker dots on the side of the neck are too small, and are horribly placed, being bisected by the different wood colors of the neck and fingerboard. Tuners feel fine to me. Ditto for the volume and tone knobs. While cute and tiny, the instrument is definitely heavier than I expected.

    I fell asleep on my couch playing it last night, so despite my qualms with its imperfections, I'm digging my Mandocaster so far. I'd be interested to hear from other 'Caster owners/players as well.
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    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Quote Originally Posted by digitalshrub View Post
    Tone (dirty): I ran the Mandocaster (I know, I know..."Mando-strat") through three different dirt pedals; Boss Blues Driver, Crowther Hotcake, and Proco RAT. To put the mildly, they all sounded like sh*t. Single note licks sounded decent, but any kind of chord or doublestop crunch produced a bizarre, unpleasant set of clashing overtones that dissipated rather quickly (maybe half a second?) before the actual notes I was playing in the instrument could be heard sustaining. I made sure to check my settings using my Telecaster, but didn't have the issue with the guitar. It's been a few years, but I'm hazily remembering that I may have had a similar issue with the Mann. Maybe single-string mandos just don't take distortion well? I doubt it though...I've heard some pretty bodacious dirt sounds from Jim Richter's Fender. I'll have to keep tinkering with this, as I play an 8-string with distortion quite frequently and have not had a problem.
    I'm not completely sure, but I suspect many pedals treat different frequency ranges differently - and mandolins are straight into the "scream range" rather than the bluesy bottom range. That's my excuse anyway

    It would be great to know what Jim Richter's using in his Hendrix-mandolin videos as those seriously rock... not sure I have the chutzpah to pull that off though! Anyway perhaps someone will share a distortion setup that works for them....

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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    The clashing tone with a lot of drive is partly due to using wide-voiced chords--those 6ths never seem to have sweet overtones. But a trick you can use is to roll off the treble from the mando, even all the way. Big chords will sound thick and sweet. In practice I always have my tone rolled off some.

    It does of course test your tuning issues. The nut is likely too high, so a G chord will have a very sharp B on the A string, and the G will be high, too.

    The short strings have the common behavior of being slightly sharp on attack, and dropping a bit right after. The overtones are non-linear, as well. That is, they are not the correct integer-ratio harmonics, so they will clash for that reason, too. Another reason to use a fatter, darker tone if you need to use a lot of sustain. Cutting the treble reduces total power, so you might consider a boost of some sort. I am very happy with a Baggs Para D.I. for its sweepable midrange and high bass, and two high frequency bands. It provides great control over the tone, either going into distortion, or coming out, with very low noise, and plenty of gain boost if needed. Even on my solid-body electrics I like a dramatic midrange cut at 1200 Hz, which takes away the toy-like tone and gives it much wider, spread sound. This is on my instruments with Ryder stacked-single-coil pickups.

    I find the combination of short scale, sometimes weird pickup location, and tuning issues make electric mandolin a long way from plug and play. They need major help.
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Just ordered a new bridge for mine from Moongazer to solve that problem.
    Play it like you mean it.

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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    I'm not completely sure, but I suspect many pedals treat different frequency ranges differently - and mandolins are straight into the "scream range" rather than the bluesy bottom range.
    ....
    I seem to remember (I could be wrong) that our own Daniel Nestlerode mentioned something about this in one of his blogs. If I have it right (I can't find it) he expressed a desire for a family effects pedals and amps designed specifically for the range of the electric mandolin.

    I myself don't have enough electric experience (and no electric guitar experience) to know what to expect. I have this very same phenomenon, as described, but I thought it just went with the territory.

    Very interesting issue.
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Just ordered a new bridge for mine from Moongazer to solve that problem.
    That's great to know Bill; I thought they'd discontinued those. Which version did you get?
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    I play non-Fender electrics these days (with a new Mann on the way!), but back when a mandocaster was my instrument of choice, I developed a unique picking technique that really gave it a sweet tone (and compensated for the un-sweet-tone pickup position): I used the rounded edge of a 3mm Big Stubby, and I always tried to play (within reason) at the center-point of the string. Meaning, if I played an open string, I picked it at the 12th fret. When I got used to the odd placement of my right hand, it actually became very easy, 'cuz I was kinda just rubbing the pick on the fretboard.

    It's worth a try.

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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I seem to remember (I could be wrong) that our own Daniel Nestlerode mentioned something about this in one of his blogs. If I have it right (I can't find it) he expressed a desire for a family effects pedals and amps designed specifically for the range of the electric mandolin.

    I myself don't have enough electric experience (and no electric guitar experience) to know what to expect. I have this very same phenomenon, as described, but I thought it just went with the territory.

    Very interesting issue.
    MMm...
    That was a while ago!

    I haven't been playing much electric in the last 5 years. I've been focussing on the 'folk' circuit here in the UK. But I am itching to get back to more electric playing. (Amps need power conditioners and new fuses, mandos need setups)

    I was thinking as I read the original post, that intonation may have a lot to do with it. Getting the bridge sorted should help.
    Also, for a dirty sound I prefer overdrive to distortion. Better to let the power of the signal determine the amount that the sine wave is squared off than to force it. That way at least we're in nominal control of the tone. (Never liked Rat pedals myself anyway.)

    I am of the opinion that 99% of the gear for electric instruments is not made for mandolins. Considerations as to power coming off a pickup and general range of tone are assumed to be in the guitar range rather than the more limited mandolin range. This is partially why using a mando-family instrument with a lower range the mando works well.

    I also believe strongly in small speaker cones.

    best,
    Daniel

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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    I had a used 4 string strat briefly. When it arrived, a screw on the pickguard near the jack was loose. I tightened the screw, but the threading was shot, and the pickguard kept popping out so I sent it back.

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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    I have 4 distortion pedals--and the one that works best with my 8 string Mandobird (Not exactly the same thing I know) is the Empress Distortion. Which is also the most expensive of the four.
    Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?

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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    I have found that for some rigs, eq is totally needed for an emando to sound good. Other rigs have needed less tweak. In short, the amp and effects world seems to be geared to 6 string, bass, and keys in that order. We are a niche, and barely on the radar. I was stunned when I realized how the Baggs Venue DI was a total hot rod upgrade for Stealie. If there is one pedal I'd take with me to that mythical deserted island, this is it.

    I've never been a fan of the fuzz, and distortion just makes me wonder. I know some songs have to have "that sound" to be "authentic". Even so, I've found that with the right tweaking my DOD250 can replicate a fuzzy-enough fuzz. I think that one of the great things about the 5 string is the ability to be a little more subtle. Less pedals to start is a good sign of more subtle out the gate. Don't get me wrong; I love the Robben Ford toneprint on my Flashback, and really dig the plate setting on the Polara. The Almond Blossom is a great envelope filter for those Jerry tones and tunes.


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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Wow, so many great comments to respond to!

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Nestlerode View Post
    I was thinking as I read the original post, that intonation may have a lot to do with it. Getting the bridge sorted should help.
    Also, for a dirty sound I prefer overdrive to distortion. Better to let the power of the signal determine the amount that the sine wave is squared off than to force it. That way at least we're in nominal control of the tone. (Never liked Rat pedals myself anyway.)

    I am of the opinion that 99% of the gear for electric instruments is not made for mandolins. Considerations as to power coming off a pickup and general range of tone are assumed to be in the guitar range rather than the more limited mandolin range. This is partially why using a mando-family instrument with a lower range the mando works well.

    I also believe strongly in small speaker cones.
    On the big 'D' Distortion spectrum (which I guess is something like overdrive--distortion--fuzz), I prefer the outsides, meaning overdrive and fuzz. I play a lot of blues-inspired stuff on guitar, so I love having an overdrive pedal set to 11 o'clock when I'm playing rhythm. I also do a lot of open G slide stuff, and I dig playing slide leads thru overdrive or fuzz. (By "fuzz," in my case I mean a Russian Big Muff). But general "distortion" boxes always sound gross and generic to me. I'm not the hugest fan of the RAT either (it lives at home, not on my pedalboard) but I like it better than say, a Boss distortion.

    I realize this stuff may not translate over to emando, and I agree that 99% of gear out there isn't targeted or designed for the emandolinist. Somebody needs to change that! Anybody good with a soldering iron, and at coming up with whimsical stompbox names?

    After messing around with more effects, I found that using my Blues Driver as a clean boost (drive all the way down, volume around 3 o'clock) sounded dope AF. Really improved the clean tone on the Mando-strat, which I already liked. Felt a little meatier, more alive. I have a feeling that the EP Booster pedal on my board would also work wonders.

    Stepping away from the Vibro Champ, I tried running the Mando-strat thru my Vox AC4TV Mini without any effects (using the built-in attenuator to try the really broken-up settings), but kept getting that clashing sound with anything involving doublestops or chords.

    Other effects: Deluxe Memory Man sounds exquisite. Not that I find that surprising; I frequently run my RM-1 through a delay pedal when I play live. Spring reverb sounds very nice, but plate reverb takes the cake with this instrument (maybe that's just my weird, spacey taste). It really seems like the dirt category is the tough one.
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Bevan View Post
    I play non-Fender electrics these days (with a new Mann on the way!), but back when a mandocaster was my instrument of choice, I developed a unique picking technique that really gave it a sweet tone (and compensated for the un-sweet-tone pickup position): I used the rounded edge of a 3mm Big Stubby, and I always tried to play (within reason) at the center-point of the string. Meaning, if I played an open string, I picked it at the 12th fret. When I got used to the odd placement of my right hand, it actually became very easy, 'cuz I was kinda just rubbing the pick on the fretboard.

    It's worth a try.
    Wow, Jim. That's impressive! Did you find that technique carried over (uninvited) when playing other instruments? I'm picturing an entertaining zigzag picking pattern.
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Wright View Post
    The clashing tone with a lot of drive is partly due to using wide-voiced chords--those 6ths never seem to have sweet overtones. But a trick you can use is to roll off the treble from the mando, even all the way. Big chords will sound thick and sweet. In practice I always have my tone rolled off some.

    The short strings have the common behavior of being slightly sharp on attack, and dropping a bit right after. The overtones are non-linear, as well. That is, they are not the correct integer-ratio harmonics, so they will clash for that reason, too. Another reason to use a fatter, darker tone if you need to use a lot of sustain. Cutting the treble reduces total power, so you might consider a boost of some sort. I am very happy with a Baggs Para D.I. for its sweepable midrange and high bass, and two high frequency bands. It provides great control over the tone, either going into distortion, or coming out, with very low noise, and plenty of gain boost if needed. Even on my solid-body electrics I like a dramatic midrange cut at 1200 Hz, which takes away the toy-like tone and gives it much wider, spread sound. This is on my instruments with Ryder stacked-single-coil pickups.

    I find the combination of short scale, sometimes weird pickup location, and tuning issues make electric mandolin a long way from plug and play. They need major help.
    This is fascinating, along with what Dave said about eq. I've never been a huge user of eq (actually I don't have an eq pedal per se, but I do have the LR Baggs Venue DI, which I tend not to use these days as I run everything thru my amp when I play live). I can see how eq could be a bigger factor for emando than acoustic mandolin, or electric guitar. To your point about 1200 Hz, I'll tinker around with this in Logic and see how it responds.

    And I definitely agree about rolling the tone off; I've been leaving the tone knob around where '3' would be, if it had numbers. It hasn't helped with combating the clashing tone from doublestops or chords, but it definitely has a sweeter, chiller tone. Most days, my Tele tone knob is usually around there, too.
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Congrats on your Mando-strat. I concur about the weight - when I first took one off the shelf I was a bit taken aback with how heavy they are. My FM60E is a thinline hollow-body build so it doesn't suffer from excessive weight.

    Single coils don't have enough output to really drive distortion. I put rail humbuckers in mine and they are more than adequate to push my tube amps into a nice distortion.

    If you're looking for a great, all around distortion box, check out the Vox Satchurator. It was designed for Joe Satriani and goes into his signature high-gain violin distortion, but it's also got some really nice blues and rock tones when dialed down. The gain control gives you control over how much distortion, the tone control gives you lots of control over tonal shape and the volume control is great for evening out sound levels. And if you need more, the More button pushes everything completely over the top.

    I've designed and built pedals and find the biggest detractor to be in the pickups. Fender single-coils are great for that country surf twang, but pretty much suck at most everything else without a ton of help.
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    I got the rectangular saddle model, ships tomorrow. It's a direct replacement. Also got the almuse pickup upgrade.
    Play it like you mean it.

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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Quote Originally Posted by Verne Andru View Post
    Single coils don't have enough output to really drive distortion. I put rail humbuckers in mine and they are more than adequate to push my tube amps into a nice distortion.

    I've designed and built pedals and find the biggest detractor to be in the pickups. Fender single-coils are great for that country surf twang, but pretty much suck at most everything else without a ton of help.
    I'm going to respectfully disagree, as somebody who gigs with single-coil guitars. There are plenty of single-coil players who've got great distortion sounds out of their rigs (Black Francis of Pixies plays a regular old Tele; the guys from Mudhoney used Fenders; and of course Kurt Cobain...and those are just the 90s examples). I've played a Telecaster and a Jazzmaster as my main gigging axes for years, through a rig with various overdrives and fuzzes, and have never had a problem driving distortion.

    Single-coils definitely nail the "country surf twang," but then again you've got jazz players like Julian Lage, who only plays a Telecaster.

    Not only that, but "single coil" is actually a broad category. It encompasses everything from the ubiquitous strat- and tele- style pickups, to lipstick pickups, P90s, etc. There's a ton of variety model to model, and they all respond differently. I had a guitar with P90s that sounded like I was automatically playing AC/DC when my volume was anywhere past 6. It was crunchy and loud AF.

    But I'll concede that when it comes to 4- or 5-string electric mando, I might have to throw all of that out the window. Totally different beast.
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    After I acquired a nice distortion pedal from Analog Man (King of Tone) I demo'd it in these clips. No tubes involved, only the pedal, playing my Ryder 5-string with stacked-single-coil pickups. This was before I started using my Baggs EQ, so it is straight from mando to pedal to (solid-state) amp to speaker to microphone*. Red House and Street Fighting Man are at Soundcloud, and Sunshine of Your Love and Whole Lotta Love are clips at my website. If those last don't play, right-click to download. For Street Fighting Man I begin without overdrive, then I kick it on.

    https://soundcloud.com/twtunes/red-house
    https://soundcloud.com/twtunes/street-fighting-man

    http://twtunes.com/pages/SunshineOfYourLove.mp3
    http://twtunes.com/pages/WholeLottaLove.mp3

    I did have humbuckers on one axe but replaced them with my favorite singles. Without the low end of a guitar I feel I want all the high end clarity I can get. Humbuckers were too narrow in tone.

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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Nice playing, Tom! Sounds fantastic. Solid state amp, eh? Can't argue with the tone you achieved!
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    I did say "Fender single-coils are great for that country surf twang, but pretty much suck at most everything else without a ton of help."

    Plugging most anything into a Marshall or other high-gain amp through a ton of pedals will give you some reasonable OD. My point was, without "a ton of help" they sound pretty anemic.

    Yes, there are differences in single coils - which is why I referenced Fender in specific. P90's are more like humbuckers and lipsticks are even more anemic than Fenders (but they sound gorgeous).

    Take an anemic Fender 6 string pup, remove 2 pole pieces and a ton of wire that isn't needed for a 4 or 5 string pup and you have an even more anemic Fender pup. Which is what you get with a Mando-strat - a hyper anemic single-coil pickup.

    I love the sound of a nice Stratocaster and have one, but even it needs to be boosted to drive my amps into OD.

    Do keep in mind the difference between even and odd order harmonics that you get out of tube od vs transistor/diode/opamps.
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Quote Originally Posted by Verne Andru View Post
    I did say "Fender single-coils are great for that country surf twang, but pretty much suck at most everything else without a ton of help."

    Plugging most anything into a Marshall or other high-gain amp through a ton of pedals will give you some reasonable OD. My point was, without "a ton of help" they sound pretty anemic.
    Point taken, but I've gigged for the last six years with single coils and a Fender Blues Deluxe amp, and have never had issues getting my 'pups to drive the amp. I don't consider a chain of Guitar-->Maxon Overdrive / Big Muff-->Blues Deluxe as "a ton of help." Again though, I'll concede that emando is an entirely different beast.
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Wright View Post
    After I acquired a nice distortion pedal from Analog Man (King of Tone) I demo'd it in these clips. No tubes involved, only the pedal, playing my Ryder 5-string with stacked-single-coil pickups. This was before I started using my Baggs EQ, so it is straight from mando to pedal to (solid-state) amp to speaker to microphone*. Red House and Street Fighting Man are at Soundcloud, and Sunshine of Your Love and Whole Lotta Love are clips at my website. If those last don't play, right-click to download. For Street Fighting Man I begin without overdrive, then I kick it on.
    Great samples - those rock

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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    By means of an update: had a friend come over to check out the Mandocaster the other night. He's not a mandolin player, so he had some interesting approaches to playing it (while I dialed in tones on the amp and various pedals). This was a helpful exercise, being a set of ears instead of being the player. He kept playing fingerstyle, which, because of a gentler attack, avoided some of the harsh overtones. He was also doing things like playing just the G and E strings together, or D and E strings, which similarly avoided more "mandolin" sounding doublestops, hence weeding out some of the aforementioned clashing sounds. Anyway, the dirt thing is still a work in progress.

    I must say, I'm super happy with this instrument. At 300 bucks, I have no qualms about traveling with it (especially since it's solid body), and being able to go unplugged was great for playing in a coffee shop the other day without disturbing even the table next to me.
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    Default Re: First Impressions of my Fender Mando-Strat / 'caster

    I added three more screws to keep the pickguard flat

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