View Full Version : 12 fret vs. 15 fret mandos

Mar-31-2005, 12:27pm
Hi friends!

Referring to where the neck meets the body, is one sought after more than the other? I'm currious of reasons aside from access to higher notes.



John Flynn
Mar-31-2005, 1:13pm
The 15 fret is definitely more popular, although I prefer the 12 for oval hole mandos. The 12 puts the bridge back closer to the tailpiece, which seems to be a factor in that signature oval sound. Also, I know that a lot of people regularly play up that I high, but I rarely do in the kinds of music I play.

The mando gets into the "dog whistle range" up there. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif

Mar-31-2005, 2:24pm
Al, the other thing that I notice is that generally the shorter length necks have less tension and are a bit easier to fret for those of us with hand problems. This is not an absolute, but a general observation.

John Flynn
Mar-31-2005, 2:29pm
the shorter length necks have less tension
Why would the neck length have anything to do with string tension? String tension would change with scale length, but not neck length. The 12 fret mandos are generally still a 14" scale, just like the 15 fret mandos.

Mar-31-2005, 3:54pm
I'd say the oval hole which has the fretboard onto the soundboard (a/f4)
[rather than elevated]
,and the bridge closer to the tailpiece, and is 80 years old, would be a lot different than a newer #f5 #style,{the source of 15 fret design} or even newer oval hole with long neck, due to the fact that contemporary builders are the ones making that combination.
time will tell.. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif one variable at a time?

Paul Hostetter
Mar-31-2005, 11:39pm
Mando Juan has it: there is utterly no difference in tension. There can't be.

The bridge location on the top has changed, but the string length hasn't changed at all. As long as you use the same strings tuned to the same pitches, voilŗ, it's all the same.

Gibson made plenty of A-50s with the bridge where it has to be in a 12-fret neck configuration. Two flavors in fact:




So much for the "oval hole" sound coming from the neck length.

There is an oval-hole sound: it comes from the oval hole.

There is an f-hole sound: it comes from f-holes.

Chris Baird
Apr-01-2005, 12:01am
The geometery associated the those short neck Gibsons has much to do with how they sound. The hole is important but there are other things to consider as well. Some old Gibsons have a shorter scale length than 13 7/8".

Paul Hostetter
Apr-01-2005, 12:16am
Really? Which ones?

Apr-01-2005, 1:11am
I just measured my 1915 Gibson A vs my 1999 Gibson A5L.
The outer E string lengths are different by 3/4 of an inch in total length from tuner post to tailpiece hook.
The 1915 is 21 1/2; the 1999 is 22 1/4.
This difference of 3/4 inch may be a factor.
Maybe neck angle/geometry and bridge height/geometry has something to do with it??, but I definately find that my short necked mandos "SEEM" to be under less tension and are easier on my hand than my long neck mandos.
I don't know how to measure string tension,,, all I know is that that is how it feels to me.

Paul Hostetter
Apr-01-2005, 1:59am
The only thing that matters in string tension is the distance from bridge to nut, and whatever is going on in between those two points. You could have the tuners a block away, it would make no difference. The primary evidence is the pitch of the string, which is a direct index of string tension. If the tension was different, the note would be different. The rest of it - all I know is that that is how it feels to me - is squarely in woowooland, very subjective and scientifically out of bounds.

Apr-01-2005, 3:17am
Hey Paul, I am all for learning anything and everything I can about mandolins from any source available to me and it looks as though I snapped off an opinion based on my gut feelings on this without having studied it to death.
Not the first time,,,, wont be the last. I also haven't spent a lot of time figuring out how they decide when Easter is going to fall. (it seems to fall on different dates every year don't you know! I guess it's one of those things that you actually have to care about before all is revealed)
So, now I have something to ponder. I have just been experimenting with the 2 previously mentioned mandos that are both strung with J74s.
I have to try to figure out why the short neck one is easier on my aching knuckles.
Not to throw sand in the face of science or anything but creaking joints don't tell lies. Back to the drawing board.
And, oh yeah Paul,,, lighten up a bit.I realize that you are very passionate about this stuff but personal insults are so droll. #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Chris Baird
Apr-01-2005, 10:30am
Many old Gibsons As have a scale length of 13.750", and many Martins and I believe some Gibsons have scale lengths of 13 1/8".

Apr-01-2005, 10:51am
"There is an oval-hole sound: it comes from the oval hole. #

There is an f-hole sound: it comes from f-holes."

This is interesting. F-hole instruments and oval-hole instruments sound different (at least usually - I donīt know if this is always the case, Iīm no expert in this at all). But what is the main factor that changes the tone? Is it really the shape or surface area of the hole(s)? Or is it the different bracing? Does the hole configuration affect the top plate vibrations? If one would imagine three otherways indentical mandolins (dimensions, bracing etc), one of which would have an oval hole, another f holes and the third no hole at all on the top, but a "side port" for example - how would that affect the tone?

To my ears, oval-hole instrumentīs tone changes more according where you pick (at the bridge, over the soundhole, over the fretboard) that changing the picking position with F-hole mando does (again, I donīt know if this is generally the case). Why?

just curious,

Paul Hostetter
Apr-01-2005, 2:06pm
Arto: If one would imagine three otherwise identical mandolins (dimensions, bracing etc), one of which would have an oval hole, another f holes and the third no hole at all on the top, but a "side port" for example - how would that affect the tone?

This would be the most meaningful comparison. Finding the first two just among Gibsonís own offerings is fairly easy. I donít think I ever saw a 15-fret Gibson oval hole, but there sure are lots of 12-fret f-hole and oval-hole instruments, often from the same year. So that much of a comparison is really easy to find, and to quantify based on lots of examples that can be averaged into a coherent sense of what those differences really amount to.

The only side port mandolins I know of are much more modern, and comparing them to the body of Gibsons wouldnít be very helpful. I do know that the side ports affect the player dramatically. Most side port instruments, mandolins and guitars and so on, also have front holes because some sound has to go in the direction of the listener.

The issue of f-hole sound and oval-hole sound is confounded a bit by the fact that most f-hole mandolins on the market now are copies of the 15-fret A-5 that Lloyd Loar launched with his two known specimens. There's nothing to compare in the oval-hole realm; they only came in 12-fret models.

A lot of factors feed into the tone of an instrument: the wood, the arching and bracing, the neck angle, the condition of the strings, the location of the bridge, the fit of the bridge, certainly the type of soundhole, but most of all the skill of the luthier and the style of the player. I think the best we can with all that is settle on some generalities that seem universal. To me f-holes shape the sound differently than oval-holes, no matter what else. But even then, itís only generally different, and not better or worse, just different. I have heard A- and F-4s work magnificently in bluegrass bands. Lots of chop, edge and penetration, all the qualities that some folks believe only come from f-holes. Ya gotta take each instrument on its own merits.

Regarding scales, Martins, with a few notable exceptions, keep to the 13" Neapolitan (violin) scale while Gibsons have the 13.875 scale, which is essentially one fret longer. I have never seen a Gibson with a shorter scale, not even from the lyre-label or even the real early Orville-era. Which is not to say it never happened, but I have never seen one that didnít have the customary long Gibson scale. Except perhaps this one:


PS: Ate: I apologize if I said something that offended you. I have been at this instrument thing for more than 40 years professionally, and if thereís one thing Iíve learned, itís the nuances of playability. And that thereís always more to be learned. I have no doubt of your perception that your short-necked mandolins seem to be under less tension and are easier on your hand than your long neck mandolins. This is impossible to diagnose over the internet, but I think you will eventually find the explanation is different than what youíre thinking so far.

Apr-01-2005, 2:53pm
Paul, point taken. I'll be more careful about my observances in the future. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the theoretics of these things.
I now understand what you are saying and the technical aspect of it and I bow to your 40 years of experience.
I have spent several hours now trying out several different mandos (long neck vs short) and I still don't know why the short ones seem to be easier.
I am now wondering if it has something to do with my personal geometry i.e. - do the longer ones cause me to change my wrist/elbow angles and thereby cause more (or a different) strain on the tendons/joints which translates into requiring that more pressure be applied, causing more discomfort? Maybe.
Not that I expect anyone to give me the definative answer on this but it is something that I am going to keep an eye on and maybe try to correct if possible, if indeed I am on the right track here.
At least this discussion has me thinking about it.

Paul Hostetter
Apr-01-2005, 3:47pm
...do the longer ones cause me to change my wrist/elbow angles and thereby cause more (or a different) strain on the tendons/joints which translates into requiring that more pressure be applied, causing more discomfort?

Now you're onto the stuff. Other things, besides the obvious ones like string gauge and action height: fret size (this is really important), neck relief, the size and shape of the neck and board where you play it most often, the shape of the edges of the board there (sharp, rounded). There's a long list of things that add up to playability, you just have to consider each and every one of them in some sort of order.

My approaches and considerations are entirely practical, but after years and years, the way the practical things connect turn out to be more complex than you might think. It might seem theoretical, and at a distance that's the only way you can think, but with instrument in hand, you can systematically identify and dial in just about any detail that affects playability. It just takes time and an open mind.

John Bertotti
Apr-01-2005, 6:11pm
There have been so many oval vs f sound threads in the builders section over the last several years it is amazing. What I have taken from them is this. In a ideally perfect situation where you could take and instrument with all the exact same properties and change just the hole the sound would change. Better or worse I imagine is subjective just like this post of mine. The reason things would sound different is because of how the modes of the top are affected by the change in placement of the holes. Would the differences be apparent in the audible portion we as humans hear is beyond me. When builders build they build to what they feel and hear and sense. You could take any one instrument and build it as an f or a and in the hands of a master craftsman get the same sound. He could do this just by changing some other parameters like arching or plate thickness etc.. I am sure Paul or Dr. Cohen will correct me if I'm to far off base. John

Paul Hostetter
Apr-01-2005, 7:01pm
Thanks for your thoughts. Thereís at least one other aspect to an instrumentís response in your idealized model. Itís the issue of how the player hears the instrument - in other words, by what path the sound goes from the openings in the body to the playerís ears. This is especially driven home when playing a side-ported mandolin like this:


When John Monteleone was developing this sort of thing many years ago, he made plugs for the ports so you could hear for yourself. In fact the open ports change everything, a bit, but I believe what really changes is how it sounds to the player, and much less so to the person ten feet in front. In fact, so much less so as to be almost insignificant.

Another example with which Iím very familiar is Selmer guitars. I am constantly asked "Whatís the difference in sound between the large soundhole and small one?" It's entirely in how the player hears the instrument. The small hole is much more directional. And the differences, again, are largely evident only to the player, not to a listener.

All of which tells us, once again, we have to please ourselves.


I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say you could deliberately build an oval-hole to mimic the characteristics of an F-hole.

John Bertotti
Apr-01-2005, 8:30pm
"I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say you could deliberately build an oval-hole to mimic the characteristics of an F-hole." Hey Paul thanks I agree I may have gone a little far with this. I think some could get close, though I have no proff. John

Apr-04-2005, 3:35pm

Sorry to get off subject here, but what is that little 3-course Gibson beast you posted a photo of above? Looks like the cross-binding (can't remember what this is called) that's typically aligned with the 12th fret of an Gibson oval-holed A is at the 13th fret...


Paul Hostetter
Apr-04-2005, 3:52pm
Ah, I was wondering if anyone would notice! I filched the image from a George Gruhn book. Pretty wild, eh? I know nothing more about it. Gibson's done some strange damn things in their day.

Apr-04-2005, 4:50pm
Yes, Gibson never ceases to facinate me. I'm smarting right now for having missed a chance to buy an 8 string (4 course) Gibson Tenor Lute from Schoenberg Guitars in Tiburon, CA:

1924 Gibson Tenor Lute, An extremely rare version (8 stringómost were 4) of an extremely rare instrument that Gibson produced solely during the Lloyd Loar years (possibly only in 1924). Originally manufactured to be an alternative for tenor banjo or guitar, in this 8-string version it is far more effective as an octave mandolin.
ē Original hard shell case
ē Price: SOLD

Here's a photo of one from frets.com:

Paul Hostetter
Apr-04-2005, 5:13pm
A friend of mine's student bought it, and allegedly it's coming down here sometime soon for some work. Assuming that comes to pass, I'll try and take some better photos of it when it's here.

Apr-04-2005, 5:49pm
That would be cool - thanks!