I needed to go to Gryphon to get an estimate on a guitar repair. #My SCGC got crunched in transit, and there are some bad cracks in the mahogany on the treble side of the end block. #Repiars will likely be $400.00 and take about 8 weeks. #Ouch.
Ok so much for the set up. #The real fun of visiting Gryphon is sampling the wares. #Grypon has an amazing selection of guitars. #If you're looking for a guitar and you live in northern CA, you should definitely visit Gryphon.
However, their selection of mandolins, while better than every other hsop in the Bay Area, is still merely decent.
Gryphon carries Kentucky, MidMo, Eastman, Weber, Lebeda, Phoenix, Gibson, and Collings. #Mike asked me to compare the Phoenix Neo-Bluegrass and the Phoenix Deluxe, so I'll start there.
Phoenix (Rolfe G.) makes wonderful instruments. #Gryphon had the above mentioned models in stock and a neo-classical too. I played all three and liked all of them. #the neo-classical was a differnet kettle of fish, so I'll just say it was a cool mandolin, and with brighter strings (it was strung with Thomasticks I think) it would make a great Jazz mando too.
The NeoBG and the Deluxe were an awful lot a like. #the Deluxe was priced at $3600 and the NeoBG was $2880. #I couldn't detect almost $800 worth of tonal difference. #The striped maple was a little more uniform on the Deluxe, it carried an ebony finger rest, had a slightly larger headstock, and a vine inlay on the fingerboard rather than dots. #The Deluxe was a little less bright than the NeoBG, but both were wonderful and otherwise identical (or at least too close to call different). #Phoenix mandolins seem to have a clearer tone than Gibson design derived mandolins, but they are excellent instruments. #I'd be proud to own one. #
I didn't like any of the Kentuckys. #Tone was too thin, no chop.
One of the Eastmans, an A, was not bad, and all of them were better than the Kentuckys. #They were better quality than I was expecting, and I can see why people like them so much.
There were 3 Gibsons in attendance: an A-9, an F-9, and a Master Model. #The nines were nice, but nothing to write home (or a message board) about. #The F was a little sloppy under the fretboard extension: the support piece was cut roughly and not sanded well. #Tonally they were unremarkable and the F was a little better than the A. #I'll revisit the Master Model later.
Next came the Collings. #MT, custom MT, MF, MT-2 and MF-5. All were better than the Gibson nines, and their consistency was remarkable. #My personal favorites were the custom MT and the MF, but they were matched by the MF-5. #The MT-2 and the MT were the weakest of the quintet, but not by much, a hair. #They probably would have opened up a little had we given them as much attention as the other models.
The Webers were, frankly, thin and a little dull in comparison. #Personally, I don't like their necks (too thick) and their gloss finish (also too thick). #I love my Weber Alder #2 mandola, but it's a different beast. (I also had the neck rehaped and refinished by a luthier.)
So after running through all the mandolins, I concentrated on the Gibson MM and the Collingses. #The Gibson MM had a darker tone to it than any of the Collingses. #It looked a little rougher in the finish and tight spots too. #The binding in the scroll was rough on the top edge and the finish bled into it a little. #It had a very "hand made" look about it in comparison the the scarily consistent (and consistently good) Collingses. #At $14,500 I felt it was overpriced, and would rather spend the money on 2 Collings MF-5s than that one Master Model. #Good mando, but $8500 would be a more appropriate price.
My favorite mandolins in the shop were the Phoenix NeoBG, Phoenix Deluxe and the Collings custom MT and MF. #The Collings beat the Phoenixes by a nose and the MF beat the MT just 'cause of the scroll. #All four were excellent instruments.