Troubadour OM. Preliminary review.
Yesterday I took delivery of a Troubadour octave mandolin from David Kilpatrick in Scotland. I thought I'd offer a preliminary review based on my first few hours with it. If any subsequent experience adds to, or modifies, the opinions posted here I will add them as and when.
David sources his mandolas, octaves and bouzoukis from Hora in Romania. The same factory makes similar instruments for the Ozark brand and for the Blue Moon brand distributed by Hobgoblin - David's Troubadour instruments are made to his spec with a different choice of woods from the other versions.
The instrument I chose was the 'Tamburlin'. David calls this an "octave mandola" after the European preference. I know our North American friends favour the more logical (though historically debatable) "octave mandolin". With a scale length of 23 inches one could settle the argument by calling it a short-scale bouzouki.
I had heard that these are of light construction, and they surely are. Before ordering I checked with David to make sure that he was confident that the Tamburlin would cope with D'Addario J80 octave mando strings. He said they'd be fine.
I wasn't expecting anything spectacular for £139 including shipping (within UK. Other shipping rates for elsewhere).
When I opened the box, the first thing that struck me was the inadequacy of the "gig bag". It is no more than a flimsy cover. Most owners will want to get a decent bag or case ASAP. The second thing that struck me was, as mentioned, the light weight of the instrument.
Overall construction seems neat and well finished. The finish itself seems competently done. The blonde natural look is very clean and, to me, quite attractive.
The factory strings are dreadful. The first thing I did was to replace them with D'Addarios. That done, the mando is transformed. It sounds pretty good. Adequate volume, pleasant tone and the 23 inch scale is about right for J80s. This match between strings and scale is much better than the floppiness I experienced when I tried an Ozark branded version of the Trinity College type OM.
I would suggest that the Tamburlin is more suited to confident tweakers as an upgrade project than to someone expecting a wonderful instrument out of the box. The fretting is just adequate, with some rough ends and just a tiny bit of waviness when one sights lengthwise along the neck. The plastic nut (for string spacing only, as action is addressed by a zero fret) is awful. Mine actually came off as I was removing the factory strings. The bridge is not really up to much and the tail piece is not perfectly aligned to achieve centring of the strings on the fretboard.
The tuners are pretty poor. They do not work smoothly, and the buttons on a couple of them are threatening to come loose. I do not have any expience of slot-headstock tuners except on low-tension Spanish-style guitars, so I don't know if this roughness of operation is usual.
None of these limitations is fatal. A keen tweaker will be used to making new nuts, shifting tailpieces and making or adjusting new bridges. I intend to do all of these things. Once done, I suspect that the light Troubadour OM will be a pretty nice instrument. The frets would still benefit from a bit of a dress and polish, but that can be done when I have the time (and the courage, as fret tweaks are not an area of wide experience for me).
Overall, I think the price is fair for a nice looking and sounding instrument that seems to be of sound basic construction. I do think that the slightly non-central strings, loose nut, cheap bridge and low-quality tuners may make life difficult for anyone who is not used to addressing these areas on a DIY basis.
I'll keep you updated.
Blue Chip picks, Tone-Gard