View Full Version : Would this be a good buy or a bummer of a deal

Feb-02-2004, 12:05am
Lark 4 course Cittern (http://larkinthemorning.com/product.asp?pn=MAN067)

Steve L
Feb-02-2004, 8:21pm
I've got one of these. I like mine, but I would be reluctant to recommend them to anyone. The frets are brass and are soft and cheesy, the action is high, the nut is high, the saddle is uncompensated plastic and if you shave it down very much to lower the action you will lose the string break angle at the bridge. It has a slotted headstock (which I hate) and the tuners are horrible. The fretboard is very wide.

Having said all that, for a cheap import (Mexican), it looks and sounds kind of nice. I lowered the action and somewhere on the web is a guy who did a lot of modifications to his to make it better. I've had it for a few years and havent had any "trouble" with it. But if you want a cheap octave, I'd go with a Trinity College before this.

Feb-02-2004, 10:24pm
Wow, that's alot to say and still like it. #Have you played the TC? #What do you think about it? #What I want is something tuned in GDAE so I can play it like my mandolin but I want a deeper bass sound for backing with a guitar playing the melody. #My curent mando is killer but is an F style F hole and tends toward the treble side.

As far as the Lark goes, if you re-fretted and put say an ivory bridge from Husky Acoustics, would that help?

Steve L
Feb-02-2004, 11:00pm
Once you start investing in major repairs the whole point of buying a cheap instrument kind of goes out the window. #By the time you do a re-fret, a new nut, bridge, saddle, set up, l you're now looking at about a $650 instrument that's still fundamentally a $375 dollar instrument. #If you want cheap and playable right away, I'd get a Trinity College Octave (I have one of their long scale zouks). #If your going to spend $600-$700, you should think about something like a Freshwater or see if you can dig up an old Flatiron. #Mid Mo is making octaves now too...certainly worth a look.

Don't expect a lot of deep bass notes...that's not really part of the tonal characteristics of these intruments. #You really might want to listen to a bit more of this music before you buy.

Bill Busmann on another thread told how he just came back from Ireland and heard great music being played on pretty low-quality intruments everywhere he went. #(And if I could afford a nice custom axe, he'd be one of the first guys I'd talk to...what an artist!) I think you have to approach some of these instruments with a somewhat sociological sense of humor or else just wait until you can afford a nicer one. #The advantage of owning a number of cheap instruments is that you get to figure out what you like and don't like about woods, scale lengths, octave vs. unison stringing, etc rather than waiting a year and getting your $2000 custom built instrument and wishing you had gotten something else. #These things aren't like Fender Stratocasters where you can literally play a hunderd of them in an afternoon if you live near a few music stores.

This is just my take on this...if others disagree we'll have a lively thread on our hands! #I don't mean to sound didactic Bob. I'm far from the most knowledgeable guy on this board. #You're clearly trying to make a decision and I'd like to see you end up doing the right thing for yourself. # For what it's worth, the trial and error/learning curve aspect of this is part of the fun. Good luck.

Feb-03-2004, 2:38am
I'd be cautious about any "bargain" instrument from LOTM. #They do sell some fine instruments (e.g., Foley bouzoukis), but at the bottom end there's a lot of garbage.

If you're looking for a bargain, I'd suggest checking into the Romanian zouks and mandolas that David Kilpatrick sells. #David is a musician and seems to be an honest guy, the instruments have a good reputation (for what they are) among those of us on the CBOM newsgroup (of which David is a long-time member), and they're incredibly inexpensive: the zouk runs $220 delivered to the U.S., the mandola is $195. #As gigbag will run you an extra $35 or so. #These are "no frills" instuments, but buyers seem to be satisfied with them. #Here's a link to the web site:

Troubador Instruments (http://www.troubadour.uk.com)

Feb-03-2004, 4:51am
Sounds like Steve's experience with this particular instrument bears listening to... you start piling up additional repairs/costs, and you might as well have bought the better instrument to start with!

I've heard/read good things about the Troubadours too (Kilpatrick always seems to one of each for sale on ebay, and you can also go to him directly)-- that they're good value for the money and cost on the low end.

Also think there's no substitute for going and playing some instruments, if you are anywhere near a place that would have more than one for comparison. But the "you get what you pay for" rule generally applies to instruments... to me, it's not worth buying bargain bin instruments... they tend to be so rife with problems (e.g. high action, bad tuners, poor intonation) that they are discouraging to play... for me, if I get stuck early on having trouble getting the sounds I want out of an instrument, I'm not likely to continue with it... on the other hand, if the instrument is good, then even early efforts can be quickly rewarding, which (for me) means I'll play more and enjoy more and get better faster.

my 2c.

Feb-03-2004, 1:17pm
The real thing here is a case of MAS. I have this grreat mando but it doesnt make the sound I want. My playing is progressing with it just fine. But I've got this idea and sound in my head of what I want and where I want to go, and this is the hard part. Know what I mean.?

Rodger at Fylde has given me a quote to make a 10 string mandolin for about $1200. It would be a Touchstone style.

Feb-03-2004, 1:44pm
Just looked at the Troubadors again. Could a mandola be tuned GDAE so I wouldnt be learning new chord shapes? What would it be called , a tenor mandola?

Feb-03-2004, 3:20pm
No, a tenor mandola is just the British (European?) term for what we call a mandola -- with a 15-17" scale and tuned CGDA. The term we use for an instrument tuned GDAE an octave below a mandolin is (no surprise) octave mandolin. #

And the practical answer to your question is no -- the 15-17" scale on a mandola is too short to tune down to GDAE. #To tune GDAE reasonably, you need a scale of at least 500mm/20" (and preferably longer). #And at this scale, quite a few of your mandolin chord shapes won't be playable unless you happen to have incredibly long fingers.

Feb-04-2004, 8:53am
I've got a couple tests that I employ on any instrument at any price point.. first off, I check that the neck is reasonably straight by sighting down the fretboard from the nut, and looking at the surface of the frets compared to the straight line made by the strings. Next I check the action at the nut, and then the bridge height.... there's a nice description of this process at Frank Ford's Frets.com page (http://www.frets.com/FRETSPages/Musician/GenSetup/NutAction/nutaction.html) (which you will become lost in if you've never seen it before!)

While you're there, check out Frank's Tips for Tone (http://www.frets.com/FRETSPages/Musician/GenSetup/InYourHands/inhand1.html), that's very helpful for debugging what is the instrument's fault, and what is your own in terms of buzz/tone issues..

ok back to the setup test. After I've satisified myself that the action is decent, I'll check intonation. Tune the instrument as precisely and ponderously as you can to an electronic tuner. First check that the 12th fret harmonics are very close in pitch to the strings fretted at the 12th. If they are different, the bridge needs to be moved a bit. The bridge compensations should make minute adjustments to the scale length for each pair of strings so that the fretboard intonates properly for them.. compare them by testing the harmonic at the 7th fret to the 12th on the pair above (ie 7th on D string should match 12th on A).

If that passes, we're nearly ready to clear this instrument for take off. I next test the tuners, detuning each one a full turn, then winding back up to pitch. Here, I'm checking that the pegs hold, turn smoothly, and that the nut or bridge slots don't bind. You'll hear little popping noises as the string jumps up to pitch if it's sticking on the bridge or nut slots.. that's a warning to make some adjustments there.

Strum on it then, as hard as you go and as soft as you go. if there are issues with pegs/nut slots etc, it may go out of tune. New strings will also flatten quite easily at first, after taking some time to tune it up and play it a bit though, it should stay in tune!

And that's about it. Obvious structural issues aside, any instrument that intonates properly and is capable of staying in tune passes muster for me, and with a lot of the "great deal" instruments you'll find that they are lacking sometimes in setup issues described above.

Editorially speaking.. I've owned quite a few mandos in the very low price range that could pass these tests, and several that did not. You'll drive yourself crazy if you have a mando that isn't or can't be setup properly!

I personally think that the goldmine for value instruments is in a cosmetically challenged used instrument that is set up competently. THese used to be the old Gibsons, but they've gone up in price, so now it's best to run these kind of tests on any potential candidates!

Feb-04-2004, 9:00am
As an aside.. I did try the lark/Johson zooks up in Northern Cal & San Francisco a few times, and they all failed at least half of these tests.. as an earlier poster notes, you can loose a lot of the bargain price in setup fees!

steve V. johnson
Feb-05-2004, 1:56pm
Just looked at the Troubadors again. Could a mandola be tuned GDAE so I wouldnt be learning new chord shapes? What would it be called , a tenor mandola?
David Kilpatrick is a great guy, and has commented on this on the Yahoo Cittern email list, rec.music.makers.guitar and elsewhere. The answer is yes, but you should email him about the details.

I bought one of the Gervaise Tenor Mandolas from him as a gift for a friend, and I made sure it was here for a while before I gave it to my friend. I loved it. There is one in my future.

Also, the chord shapes are the same in CGDA as in GDAE...

Write to David! These are nice instruments and a good value. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


Feb-09-2004, 12:25pm
I don't want to start an argument here, but sliabhstv's comments notwithstanding, I would reiterate that my answer with respect to using GDAE tuning on a Troubador mandola with a scale less than 16" would remain a very strong NO. #Adequate tension on that low G string would require about a .066 gauge string -- i.e., one very fat string. Between that fat string and the relatively (i.e., compared to an octave mandolin or zouk) small body size, you just won't get satisfactory tone with that tuning.

FYI, Stefan Sobell recommends against using GDAE tuning on his own mandola -- and that has a scale of over 20".

Feb-11-2004, 2:25am
Been talking to David and he showed me how easy the chords change over from mando to mandola. Pretty cool.