Four digit serial number, begins with 8. The case looks pretty old too. Any opinions?
Four digit serial number, begins with 8. The case looks pretty old too. Any opinions?
It's a style A. What kind of opinions are you after?
I'd like to know the year, the woods used, whether or not it's a "keeper", are there a lot of this type still around?
Martin mandolas are quite rare. According to the Martin Guitar book, the peak year for manufacture looks like 1927. A serial number beginning with 8 might indicate 1920, when 19 model A and AA mandolas were made.
Style A from this period was topped in spruce and backed in mahogany. I really like Martin's flat-backed and canted-top models, especially those backed in rosewood (style B and above). Style A was the most basic of Martin's flat models, E the fanciest, and D the rarest. Such things are definitely keepers, but they don't really have chop-appropriate tone. Don't expect them to sound like bluegrass.
Eugene, I've seen that word CHOP a lot on this site. What exactly is it?
BTW, that's an interesting avatar you have. Is that the soundhole of a Lute?
Martin A style mandola. There's one you don't see every day.
Since no one else has tried yet, CHOP is the rythmic sound of a sharply strummed, then muted, F-style (usually) mandolin, played bluegrass style. Although chop is the territory of F style instruments, the skill of the player has a lot to do with it, and I've heard a good chop from a Martin Koa-A.
Like Dave says. Another description might be a technique to accent a particular beat by sounding a chord in a percussive, staccato, sharply muted fashion. Archtop, f-holed mandolins do it splendidly in bluegrass (typically on off beats in alternation with the bass on strong beats). Archtop, f-holed guitars are often so used in swing.
My avatar is the rose of my 6-course mandolino after Smorsone. It's the piece by Luciano Faria on this eye-candy page.
By the way, are you pursuing or do you own this Martin, Claughaun?
I own the martin mandola.
Thank you and congrats. Yours is beautiful too.
...And my previous breakdown of Martin's flat models was in reference to mandolins, of course. As noted, the mandolas are just plain uncommon on all counts.
It arrived today. It's not a Mandola. It's a 1920 Martin Mandolin - model A. Mahogany back and sides, spruce top. It's in need of a good cleaning. I would appreciate any tips on what to clean/polish it with. The strings are old but it plays in tune and surprisingly loud. The instrument is very light. I think I may need to replace the bridge. Any suggestions on a replacement bridge?
It's been repaired (badly). Any suggestions on what I (or someone qualified) might do with that?
Regarding cleaning and other maintenance issues, the Frets.com big index page is your friend. Note the series of pages on cleaning beginning here.
Why do you feel the bridge might need to be replaced?
Regarding a bad repair, if it's still stable and functional, my first instinct would be to leave it as is in spite of its "bad" status.
Echoing Eugene - Unless there is a structural problem with the bridge, I'd probably leave it alone.
I expect that the bridge would sound better, however, if it were maple. If you're a bit handy with home tools, this is something you could do yourself.
And a new bridge, a bit thicker than the original one, would give you the chance to add compensation cuts, helping the instrument play more in tune.
If you'll read back, Celtic Saguaro, the bad repair is an independent issue to the bridge. I didn't voice an opinion on what to do with the bridge because I don't know what Claughaun believes to be wrong with the bridge. There is not enough resolution to tell much about the bridge that's in place.
Many of Martin's solid bridges of the era, in either ebony or ivory (and in spite of being relatively thin), incorporated compensation. I don't believe I've ever seen compensation in Martin bridges with an independent saddle, but I don't believe the style A bridges ever carried a saddle. Again, I can't see enough detail to tell if I think this might be an original bridge. Still, a compensated bridge on an instrument with fixed frets set to roughly approximate equal temperament is generally valued more than I personally value them. Fixed frets to span multiple strings are an intonation compromise at their very best.
Personally, I think ebony is a great material for the low-type bridges on canted mandolins. It's very hard and dense, and I think it's great for more directly relaying vibration to soundboard. Maple, which may be friendlier to carving, is great for bridges that can accommodate more carving. Some folks have done some truly interesting things with maple, carving away decorative scrolled holes to reduce mass in emulation of violin bridges, on archtop mandolins that tend to sport greater distance between string and soundboard.
There is an excellent pruduct sold as "martin & co professional guitar polish", made by guardsman. I have ussed it regularly for cleaning and polishing with very satisfactory results.
Help me with this one, Eugene. By 'fixed frets' do you mean frets 'permanently' set in place--eg set into fretboard slots. I know little of the early instruments that you play, but it seems I recall seeing some with some type of tied-on or otherwise 'adjustable' frets.Originally Posted by (Eugene @ Jan. 23 2008, 21:27)
Is this the kind of thing you are thinking of in contrast to the set-in or fixed frets? How do you manipulate these in relationship to the bridge/saddle and to string diameter in order to get the intonation you desire?
(You don't have to answer that question if it is too complicated.)
Ever tried, ever failed, no matter. Try again, fail again, fail better.--Samuel Beckett
About bridges for these instruments-- I've done some A-B testing with various designs of ebony vs. maple bridges on flat-top mandolins. Solid maple seems to significantly improve tone and volume over solid ebony, and adding some relief in the bridge (a simple half-dozen round holes will do) wins out over that, as it would for ebony too.
A maple bridge's distinctive bell-like tone on the E and A strings is worth changing bridges for, alone.
Bridge compensation is the individual's choice. I have played mandolins for months without it, and someone as particular about tuning as Sonny Osborne (the first person in bluegrass to use a Strobotuner, I think) doesn't even like compensated banjo bridges!
Indeed. Earlier fretted instruments with gut strings usually carried frets of tied gut, at least through the baroque era.Originally Posted by (brunello97 @ Jan. 23 2008, 23:15)
Myself, I don't. I like approximating equal temperament using frets that span all strings, movable or fixed. There were some experimental "enharmonic" guitars, most notably by Panormo and Lacote, with sectioned frets that could be set to near-perfect intervals in any key, but a change of keys would require resetting the frets of the fingerboard under each individual string. To me, that just seems like more effort than its worth to hear pluck in perfect thirds.Originally Posted by (brunello97 @ Jan. 23 2008, 23:15)
Those who do adjust frets on early strings do so to various intonation schemes, 1/6 comma meantone being a relatively common one to lutenists. The problem with doing so is that this is nothing like tuning each individual note of a keyboard, but rather sets a series of parallel intonation schemes under the intervals of the open strings. The benefit is that those notes that fit in that scheme are much closer to perfect than they would be in equal temperament. The detriment is that some notes are way out and accidentals or modulations are often illogical.
There is fair evidence that guitarists and lutenists were deliberately applying roughly equal temperament to their movable frets by the 1600s, Galilei and possibly Gaultier being some well-known lutenists. My favorite example from the guitar realm is Angiol Michele Bartolotti's Libro Primo di Chitarra Spagnola (1640). It's written in that funky, hybrid "mixed" tablature that combines alfabeto chord symbols with punteado scalar and arpeggio passages. The book opens with a series of 24 "Passacaglie" that move through every single major and minor key. Each one ends on a chord to lead into the following, implying that through performance without taking time to reposition frets was acceptable or even expected. I can't imagine how that could be achieved with frets spanning every string unless those frets were positioned in an effort at equal temperament. By the time music to specify (gut-fretted) mandolins began appearing in volume, equal temperament was relatively common.
Wiki on meantone temperaments
Hartig's "Temperaments and Tunings: A Guide for Lute Players"
I absolutely do not doubt you, but of course will point out that any perceived "improvement" in tone is strictly in the ear of the beholder. I'm not one to indulge too much in tampering with the original intent of a builder. There's nothing wrong with those who do, it's just not usually for me.Originally Posted by (Red Henry @ Jan. 24 2008, 06:36)
I think that mandolin players do generally have faith in our mandolins' builders, though (in the cases of Gibson and Martin instruments, for example) it might sometimes mean accepting profit-decisions which those commercial companies made due to prohibitive costs inherent in additional experimentation and development. In other words, the mandolins we have are the ones the companies could afford to build, not necessarily the best ones they could have built.Originally Posted by (Eugene @ Jan. 24 2008, 09:11)
For example, Gibson's 1921 change to adjustable bridges is reputed to be a business decision on Gibson's part, to save on warranty work fitting new bridges as customers' mandolins changed with age, not an enhancement to the sound.
Gibson and Martin may never have realized the possibilities of radically different bridges enhancing their mandolins' sound, but just continued using the same bridges year after year, instead of taking the time and effort (which means money) of making, say, a hundred bridges or so of different designs and woods to find out what sounded best. I've heard that the old F-5 mandolins were already a very marginal product financially due to their cost of production, so this may have limited the additional development costs Gibson could put into mandolins in that era.
I respect the design and construction of the old Gibson and Martin mandolins very highly, but after all, a lot of space in the old Gibson catalogs was devoted to promoting the advantages of new ways of doing things.
Just as Gibson and Martin made useful discoveries about instruments in their day, we can still make discoveries ourselves, if we're willing to experiment. And a maple bridge is an easy and inexpensive way of enhancing a mandolin's sound, as has been been verified to by lots of people who've played them and heard them in action.
Absolutely. I don't dispute any of this (although some of it may apply more to Gibson-scale mass production than that of pre-depression Martin).
My personal interest is in considering dedicated musical composition in the context in which it was created. Thus, if I want to play an instrument, I want to play it as it was made in playing music written near to the time it was made. There's nothing at all wrong with anybody else's musical interests.
A good example of the point I'm trying to make can be found in guitars around 1800. Just before, the "standard" guitar format was five pairs of strings (like the modern 12-string minus E), A and D often in octaves (A-a and d-d') but sometimes in reentrant schemes (i.e., solely tuned to the upper octave, especially a-a). The classical era came on, music changed, and guitars changed to follow suite. Many 5-course guitars were modified to carry six single strings, E to e'. ...But I actually like the guitar music that came before, and the best tool to interpret it really is a guitar like that around which it was conceived.
Obviously, the change in guitars described above is rather extreme compared to something as simple as a change of mandolin bridge material. However, also consider that changes in tone or function can be technique- or repertoire-dependent in many ways. What is useful in guitars to Metallica is different than what is useful to Julian Bream. Similarly, what somebody expects of a mandolin to chop chords audibly above banjo, bass, and steel-string guitar isn't necessarily the best voice to realize self-accompanied tremolo line in duo style. Again, it all comes to a matter of personal taste and preference. There's nothing wrong with mine nor anybody else's...mine just isn't necessarily the same as everybody else's.
It is good to learn this information about the course of guitar development, and it's even better to know that you enjoy performing pieces on instruments which are contemporary in type and design to the compositions involved. I think there are great advantages to that practice in older music, and I'm often disappointed when (for example) a baroque piece is performed on piano instead of clavichord or harpsichord. Keep up the good work.