View Full Version : Loarfest informal mando-tasting

Darryl Wolfe
Feb-09-2006, 4:38pm
OK. #First off, right out of the box, I do not want this thread to to go South or become a bashing forum. #I am only expessing my opinion from a general standpoint.

I have been out of circulation for several years and had not seen instruments by most of the builders present at Loarfest. #For example, the only 3 Master Models I have played was 3 years ago. #The last Nugget I played was 1-1/2 years ago. #There were enough mandolins present to get a feel for what each builders instruments generally would sound like. Between Greg Boyds display, the luthiers and folks in attendance, there was a lot to look at.

Using this as a reference point, I think my opinion should qualify as fresh and although a Loar fanatic, unbiased.

I was very surprised to find that most of the mandolins sounded more the same than uniquely different. #Some sounded better, but the response and general tone seemed the same. #They were all quite responsive, maybe to excess and complex in tone. #I believe this to be the "Modern Sound" we have seen referred to in other threads.

Could it be that we have engineered ourselves into a corner with all the specs and graduations and red spruce this and red spruce that?

They all sounded good, but none sounded like a typical Loar. #They all responded similar to Jack Shultz's Virzi Loar. #And if I had to pick one Loar that they seemed to sound the most like, it would be that one.

Any comments on these observations. #You really didn't have to be there.

Feb-09-2006, 11:22pm
my only comment would be Isn't it great to be live in a time there are so many great mandolins to be had no matter where you look!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Feb-10-2006, 1:26am
Darryl, I don't believe you were at the actual Loar Taste held late Thursday night or at least your Loar didn't get tasted. I was really amazed that they all really sounded pretty darn close take away the fact some had new strings, some had old strings and they all had different brands of strings. My July 9th might have been the only Mona-Steel there. What really was amazing was the 3 brand new DMM's they slipped in there for a taste. They really live up to their name. I tried to go around to most all the tables that had Loar type copies and found most all of them to be fine mandolins. Prices seemed to vary from a low of $2500 to a high of $10,000. While some possessed that cut out factor up the neck they all were set up and had pretty good punch to them. Not one IMO had that Loar sound. Sure some were louder, some even a sweeter tone but none really had that true vintage Loar sound or even a vintage Fern sound. I didn't see that many Gilcrist there and no Nuggets or Dudenbostels if you consider those the top 3 single builders today. There were several high end mandolins floating around that I didn't get a chance to see. I will say this for SuperGrass, there is no shortage of fine mandolins that could be bought today.

Daniel Nestlerode
Feb-10-2006, 2:47am
Could it be that we have engineered ourselves into a corner with all the specs and graduations and red spruce this and red spruce that?
In a word: No.

Modern luthiers know more about construction methods, wood properties, and finish characteristics than the factory workers at Gibson did in the 1920s. This means modern luthiers are freer than even Lloyd Loar was to attempt to affect tone by recombining significant characteristics.

Holding the opinion that modern luthiers are engineering themselves into a corner is like saying people who use trigonometry instead of a really tall ladder and some guess work to measure the height of a tree are thinking too much.

I wonder if perhaps this fixation on the greatness of Lloyd Loar's mandolins isn't going a little overboard. Let's face it, the execution of those designs was less consistent than (for example) the instruments coming out of Bill Collings's shop. Reischman bought one that failed to intonate correctly, so he had the fretboard replaced. Monroe-ologist Mike Compton said out loud at LoarFest West that he doesn't like but 2 of the Loars he's ever played. Reischman's Loar had way more bottom end than top end; Tony Williamson's Loar had way more top end than bottom end.

The real cultural value of a Loar signed mandolin is its historical significance, not its tone. The perception of tone is entirely personal and therefore utterly subjective.

Modern luthiers should use all of the tools at their disposal to achieve a tone that is both pleasant and saleable.

I will now don my flame retardant undies.

Feb-10-2006, 3:02am
Interesting comment darryl. Jack's 76547 is to me the ultimate mando-tone, and it has a virzi. Jack's has a "toonk" sound to it, a slightly heavy D, and amazing steinway tone up around 7-15 on the e. Then you also get a "clunk" from the box on the downpick. I get get some of that mr bill tone with a ts pick + playing hard nearer the bridge.. not like Bill of course but enough to remind me of it and want to play Jerusalem Ridge!!

That said, I see huge contrasts between that Loar and Nuggets. Nuggets are very responsive light touch mandos in my limited experience, and much bassier than 76547. Compton's Gil reminded me more of the july 9 batch than any other mando i tried at sg. Jamie's #22 sounded so much like 76547 that I probably pooped my pants.

Now as a redirect question for you.. I'm unapolagetically a virzi fan. Jack's Loar to me is what a *good* Loar sounds like when the virzi is in there. Tony W's "Rybka" was my favorite *non* virzi that I played at the wkend.

IMO in that clip I posted in the other thread, you hear what a broken-in *good loar* (there are dogs!!) sounds like vs a very accurate *virzi* instrument of the same quality, but 2 days old.. so no nice "clunk" sound in the bass on picking.. yet..

So here's my follow-up. You said in the pub that Jack's was the best virzi Loar you'd ever played. Do you think it'd sound like a july 9 w/o it? What do you now think the virzi does in that mando.. I believe prior to this you've never liked any with virzis in them?

Darryl Wolfe
Feb-10-2006, 8:43am
Well I figured this would get some contrasting opinions. I tried to be as opinionated as possible to convey the generality I was trying to convey.

Now that the ice has broken, it's a bit easier to explain: I perceived a distinct similarity between all the new mandolins I played. The Shultz Loar seemed to be the only Loar that captured that quality along with the so called "Loar" tonal/response qualities. ALL of these mandolins were incredibly good on the whole.

I didn't want to comment on the DMM's yet when posting above, but they were distinctly different from the general population of newer mandolins and more accurately captured some of the so-called "Loar" tonal quality. They did not have the overall response and "type" of tone that made the others "similar" in my opinion

Darryl Wolfe
Feb-10-2006, 8:46am
DNestler/Daniel. "engineered ourselves into a corner" I was fishing, hence the question mark "?" http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Darryl Wolfe
Feb-10-2006, 8:58am
Dan, great questions.

Yes, Jacks mandolin sounds great with the Virzi
Yes, Jamies mandolin sounded very very close
Yes, Virzis can "add" something
Point: I sold the Rybka Loar that Tony now has, essentially for the July 9 I have, so obviously I look for something different in tonal response qualities. #This is no slight at all on that mandolin, but merely identification of preference.
No, Jacks will not sound like a July 9 if the Virzi were removed. #It will sound like Reischmans.

I still do not particulary like Virzi's. #Given the risk of whether it adds or subtracts, I would opt out.
Quote from Loarfest by Siminoff regarding Loars Loar, "it's a typical Virzi Loar, nothing special"

Feb-10-2006, 9:28am
Hi Darryl, good to finally meet you at Supergrass. Interesting topic, and I will try to toss in my dime. I've had the unique pleasure of trying several Loars, and have had the pleasure of visiting Charlie's old Loar many times. Without a doubt, none of them have sounded alike at all. Charlie's old Loar had what I would consider the quintessential "bluegrass" tone...very pure, fundemental, almost MEAN sounding. Another had one of the sweetest, richest tones that I have heard from a Loar. I really thought it was German spruce at first, but when I settled down and listened, I could hear that fundemental sound of red spruce. Frank Wakefield's has that wonderful "thud" on the bottom end, but sounded nothing like the other two.
Now the one thing they all had in common (besides the red spruce/red maple sound) that no one talks about is that they all sounded 83 years old. My feeling is that a large part of the "modern" sound is the lack af age. Granted, we are all generalizing here, and everyone hears differently.
My F-4C is a case in point. Many folks think it sounds just like an old F-4. I have a dandy '22 F-4, so I can make a direct comparison. Most of the difference between the two is age. Another point is that I have had folks try an Italian spruce 23V and exclaim that it sounds "just like my Loar" or a German spruce 23V and say that it sounds "just like my Loar", so go figure.
As far as modern builders being engineered into a corner, I feel that we builders are wide open to experiment. I've learned much from experimenting with different spruces and maples and different combinations of the two. I've experimented with "A" model shapes and sizes, 2 point and 3 point, placement and shape of "F" holes, tone bars, depth, etc.
Many builders are not tying their hands by limiting themselves to red spruce and red maple. Spec wise, many of us are stepping out of the Loar box. In this day and age, builders have advantages over Gibson in the twenties. we talk to each other and share ideas, and are not limited to the spec sheet and print, and the red spruce stack/red maple stack of lumber.
In short, I feel that we are truly living in the second golden age of mandolins, and it's very exciting.

Darryl Wolfe
Feb-10-2006, 9:38am
Great post Hans. That's exactly what I was fishing for. Again, all the mandolins I played sounded great and tremendous strides have been made with regard to building for a specific result. Kudos to all of the modern builders for the results being acheived.

Feb-10-2006, 9:45am
it's very exciting

Yes, Hans, I agree. Even for those of us with bigger dreams than wallets! I'm glad so many folks have great mandolins that we can hear, and maybe try one day.

And, I love the experimenting with different types. I'm no longer stuck on the scroll, I love my two point. Keep at it!


Bill Van Liere
Feb-10-2006, 9:58am
Yes...the second golden age.

Many thanks from a regular ole mandolin player to guys like all of you; builders, collectors, players, administators, promotors, who make my life worthwhile.


Feb-10-2006, 10:15am

I really feel humbled to post among you masters here. Personally I have never seen a Loar, and would almost give me left (well thatís another story) to see/hold/play one. The stories I read here and the f5 journal sometimes give me chills --shoot I might actually pass-out if someone handed me a Loar to look over.

What would be Christmas to me (other than holding a Loar) is you masters posting here that own and or have access to Loars to play/record some .mp3's or FLAC's of them so folks like me (the little guys) can hear them. Not sure if this is possible given all the different combinations of mics, boards, environments, etc. I hope to be able to attend a gathering where Loars are someday.

I do listen to the Monroe albums, CDs, etc as well as folks like Bush, Williamson, etc ....my untrained ears can't actually tell the difference yet but do trust you all and know a difference exist.

I can relate to Darryl's comment "most of the mandolins sounded more the same than uniquely different" ...this is where I am in my mandolin hearing today. I have started hearing what I like -vs- don't like in a mandolin sound, then someone that can truly play comes along and makes me second guess my thought process.

...anyway, thanks for listening to my .02 worth -I am truly humbled like I said to have access here. ....with respect and best wish's for all

(shayne) http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

p.s. I hope my post did not take the thread "south"

Feb-10-2006, 10:16am
Aged to perfection, eh? Im gonna stick to my Cabernet!


Big Joe
Feb-10-2006, 10:33am
I was not able to make Loar Fest. #I was at SPBGMA. #Another event with no shortage of Loars. #Over the years I have played many Loars and many by most of the builders we admire on this forum. #From my perspective each mandolin has its own voice and even within #the Loar group, each is remarkably different. #There is a similarity in the core tone but still each is amazingly different. #Even the new MM and DMM models are that way. #You can take two...made at the same time by the same people and with the next piece of wood in the pile, and they will sound very different. #Not better or worse, just different. #I have two DMM's. #They are so different at to be two totally different mandolins, yet each sounds amazingly like Loars. #Some say one is the best, others like the opposite one. #One is not better or worse, just different. #Whether it is Hans wonderful work or that of Steve Gilchrist or Lynn Dudenbostel or any of the myriad of other great builders, it is not a matter or which is better. #They are all wonderful and possess a distinct greatness that only time will bring to fulfillment. #I would love to be here when all of these mandolins reach thier maturity. #That is not likely to happen, so I will enjoy what I can of what is available to me now. #This is the true Golden Age of lutherie for mandolins, banjos,and guitars. #I would own one mandolin from each of the great builders of today if that were possible. #Since it is not, I will play them when I can and admire them for their greatness. #In addition, each of these wonderful builders are men who are a joy to be around and thier passion for the craft is without question. #I love having the opportunity to surround myself with people and mandolins of this quality on a regular basis. #Not a bad life at all!!!

Feb-10-2006, 10:33am

"What would be Christmas to me (other than holding a Loar) is you masters posting here that own and or have access to Loars to play/record some .mp3's or FLAC's of them so folks like me (the little guys) can hear them."

Your Christmas wish will be fullfilled shortly. Ken Cartwright aka mandomedic took my true systems precision 8 preamp and a couple of very nice audix omni mics down to loarfest and recorded to DAT, John Reischman and Mike Compton playing about 16 of those Loars. As soon as I get through editing it, a CD will be available on Mandolin Cafe in the hear future.

Best, Fuzzy

Daniel Nestlerode
Feb-10-2006, 10:57am
DNestler/Daniel. #"engineered ourselves into a corner" #I was fishing, hence the question mark "?" # http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
I know you were Darryl. I was taking the opinion implied by the phrasing of the question as a position that I could "argue" with. You wanted opinions, right? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

BTW, regardless of my opinion about Loar tone I really enjoyed the panel discussion.


Feb-10-2006, 11:20am
I am fairly new to the mando, so what sounds great to me is not in relation to a loar, as I have only seen them on stage. #I have a friend with an early Gilchrist 5, that is awsome. #I was very impressed with the Stanely 5s that I played at SPBGMA. #I spent a day getting really impressed with the current Gibsons they let me play at the Showcase. #The MF I got was considered by many to be the best Collings to come through Gruhn Guitar and is a cannon. #I feel lucky that I am getting into mandolin with such great instruments being made. #We have the high end Gil, Dude, Mont, Nugget. #Then a large mid-high, Bentrup, Arches, Pomeroy, Wiens, Lewis, Silver Angel, Stanley and many more that I am leaving out. #What a great time to be playing mandolin. #I will say that there really is an huge variety in both sound and approach in these makers and I am only talking about the F models. #

Feb-10-2006, 12:14pm
Darryl and/or Joe,
Was there much of a difference from the $2500 mandolins and the $10,000 ones? I'm talking about sound and playability. And, beyond that, what's your opinion on the difference in workmanship? Or is it mainly inlay and binding? #Will glue joints begin to separate sooner on the $2500? #I know very little about building a mandolin. But I'd like to know.
I don't think the high talk about Loars is ALL culture hype. After playing 3 of Herschel Sizemore's Loars at a lesson, I'm a believer! It's like comparing Pavaratti to Alice Cooper. They can both belt out the volume, but that difference in tone/projection/whatever you call it is noticeable..........that's an understatement! And if we were talking about a difference of $4-5K, I guess I'd be trying to get one. But, $whatver a Loar costs now(somebody chime in and tell me), SOME of it is hype! (to poor boy like me.) I mean, where's it going to be it 20 years, all Loars at the Smiths Brothers Museum in DC? Sorry, I guess I strayed from the topic.

Darryl Wolfe
Feb-10-2006, 12:38pm
Bsimmers. I think you will find the $5-$6K price the starting point for your question. Not $2500

Big Joe
Feb-10-2006, 2:07pm
Your question is hard to answer because it is somewhat subjective and somewhat depending upon your experience and ear. To me there is a difference from the 6K to the 15+K mandolins in most cases. There are exceptions in each category, but that is the exception not the rule. I have heard a couple of Stanley's that are wonderful. All I heard from Hans and Brock are incredible. First, one has to decide if they want lacquer or varnish. Then one must decide if it is oil or spirit. They each have a different tone when completed. I prefer the oil varnish with a french polish top coat. To me that is the ultimate tone. These will cost more than the others. Are they worth more? Depends upon your ear and desire and pocketbook. For me and many they are. To many they are not. You can get a good sounding and playing mandolin for 3-4K and you may be happy with it for life. However, as you grow you may find your tastes become a bit more refined and you may wish for a little better tone or playability or http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif?? and you find that in a mandolin that cost more. There is a reason expensive mandolins cost more and it is not just the name of the builder. All too often they excell in the things that are important to the market that buys them. So, to answer your question simply, Yes there is a lot of difference from a mandolin that cost 2.5K or 10K and still more from there to 20+K. It is not just the name but the little things that give you the sound and feel you ultimately want. The upper end instruments are not for everyone, but for those who like them they are certainly worth the sacrifice.

Feb-10-2006, 3:00pm
Big Joe is right on.....IMO it takes first hand experience.... and hearing the subtle differences can be a learned
experience. How many times do we read a review of someones new axe that they think is stellar.....and then see them
trading up in a year, as their ear has developed & they are now looking for a somewhat different sound.
There are good deals to be found in a talented up & coming luthiers work, but in my experience you usually get what
you pay for....indeed as Joe says..with some higher priced instruments, you are paying for more than just the name.
I liken it to baseball and batting average...a less experienced luthier can hit a home run every now & then too...
but the more instruments a luthier has built, they get on base all the time & hit more out of the park.....the odds
improve that you will get a stellar instrument from a more experienced luthier. That said I liked what I heard from
many of the mid-priced luthiers at Supergrass.

Feb-10-2006, 5:05pm
To my ears, somewhat inexperienced admittedly, there is a big difference in the $2500 mandolins I've heard and the $6000 mandolins. However, I didn't hear any at higher prices at IBMA that I liked any better than the ones in the $6000 range (Brock, Kimble, Hamlett, Duff.) Some even not as well.


Feb-10-2006, 6:17pm
The Collins F5 and Prucha Fs were nice! There was a Weber F too that was nice. I didn't see any Eastman Fs but for the $1500 price range they are pretty darn hard to beat for sound, workmanship and price.

Daniel Nestlerode
Feb-10-2006, 6:40pm
I agree. I was impressed by the Pruchas especially.
Loved the Collingses.
Someday I will order a mando from Hans Brentrup and spare no expense. He builds great instruments.
There was a nice little teens A-1 for $1250 in Boyd's suite. Somone took that home pretty quickly.
The other retailer had a 2+ year old Michael Lewis F5 that was very nice too.


Feb-10-2006, 8:09pm
Great discussion. I have never played a Loar but from recordings it does represent what I would consider the "quintessential" bluegrass tone. I also agree w/ SternArt about the ear refining over time. I started on a Martin A and later added a Collings (MT-2) and now I have a Brentrup (L21V) which to me is as good as it gets. Would love to play a Loar though just to see what the excitement is really all about.

Mando Medic
Feb-10-2006, 11:19pm
I played quite a few of the Loars at Loar Fest. The two that knocked me out are the Schultz and Reischmans. Now if I can just sit in a quiet room and A/B those two instruments again. That would be Christmas. Had dinner with Tony Williamson and Mike Compton Thursday night. Now that Tony has some great stories as well as being able to play very well. Kenc

goose 2
Feb-11-2006, 1:34am
Good stuff here. I agree with Hans that many of the modern mandolins built today could sound Loarish in 80 years, however my Master Model sounds like that now after only 4 years of hard playing. I have only played two Loars so my sampling is limited but my opinion is that there must be something in the desin. My new Gilchrist is quite different from my MM, and I do not remember my MM sounding like it when it was new. The Gilchrist is just awesome but as others have said, different from the Gibson. I have played most of the great builders (except yours Hans and I am DYING to get my hands on one of yours) and I definitely feel that the high dollar mandolins are worth it and are superior in general to the less expensive mandolins; nothwithstanding the rare exception like my buddy's Stanley that he essentially got for free relative to the value of the tone that that thing has. But I hear that is about to change too.

Feb-13-2006, 8:40am
"I think you will find the $5-$6K price the starting point for your question. Not $2500."

I have a '91 Flatiron Festival(Weber) that I think is great. I paid $1800 for it new. Ive been in an actual studio once. I think it sounded OK. It's sound has improved with age. I've played some other mandos, and only a couple Loars, and a Gilchrist were better. I have not played a lot of $5K+ mandos, but a few. What mandolins do you feel are exceptional in this price range? I also own a 2000 Weber Galitin Maple Custom, and a 1974 Gibson F12 I could part with. This thread is making me feel a little inadequate with my cheap instruments. I'll part with them to get a better one, OR I think I need a higher paying day job!