Re: Big Mon's setup
Bill's action was really dependent upon how recently it had been set up and if the strings were ancient or still reasonably fresh. We would set his mandolin up with factory spec setup and new strings. He loved it that way. However, Bill did not like to change strings and would continue to play the strings that were on it. As they aged and lost tone and volume he raised the action. When we would get the mandolin again, sometimes months later, the action would be terribly high. He would call and tell us, "Uh, this madolin, it's not playing and sounding too good. Can you come get it and fix it up?"
We would go and get the mandolin and take it to the shop and set it up, and do whatever work was needed, clean it ... a lot! ... and then put new strings on it. We would take it back to him and after a couple days he would call and say, "Uh, this mandolin, it's sounding and playing good now. You boys done a good job!"
He often had high action but he was not one to do a lot of messing with his instrument. It was a tool that was used to accomplish a particular job. As long as it performed he was happy. When it did not, then he wanted it taken care of. Had he changed strings on a regular basis he may not have had to have his action so high many times. Bill was an incredibly strong man and earlier in his career there were less qualified people to do many of the jobs that are easier to get done today. The quality of setup and repair nationally has certianly improved over the years. A lot of this has to do with internet access to others who do have knowledge, skill, or experience and more quality luthiers than there were many years ago... or even fifteen or twenty years ago.
Bill was an interesting person without question. He rarely, if ever, cleaned his instrument. Again, to him it was his tool to accomplish a particular job that needed doing and as long as it worked, he was happy. This applies to the last fifteen or so years of his career. I cannot imagine it being much different before that.
Twenty years ago I would often hear people say that a Martin had to have high action to get good sound. I still hear it from time to time. That really was not true then, nor is it true now. The guitars just needed setting up properly and often the neck set to get the action where it should be. High action, whether on a Martin (or guitar of choice) or on a mandolin does not have to have high action to get great volume or tone. Just getting setup properly and any needed repairs will take care of most issues that lead to high action. It is easier to get that done today than it was twenty, or thirty, or forty years ago. With a combination of better understanding of how these instruments work, better lutherie skills readily avialable if one wants them, and more information from so many sources make this possible today where it was not in the not so distant past.
Have a Great Day!