View Full Version : Phoenix Ultra, making me so HAPPY

Nov-23-2008, 6:02pm
Hello Mandolin Café friends. I want to share with you news of my wonderful good luck. Please forgive the length of this post. I am the new owner of a very special mandolin, a Phoenix Ultra, made by Rolfe Gerhardt.

Now I know what the terms "complex tone" and "responsiveness" really mean. The Phoenix responds to any change in pick attack. It can play beautifully clear and bell-like or raw and cutting and all stops in between. It is capable of such a wide range of sounds that it's going to take a while for me to figure out how to access different qualities at will.

It is balanced up and down and across the fretboard. If I play a clean run, you can't tell when I change strings. It’s not “pop”—“gimme another note.” It’s more like, “I’ll just let this note swell while you come up with another.” The sustain can last so long that I have to plan for it and mute as needed. It is easily capable of as much volume as I could ever need, but it also plays clear and clean when picked softly. I’m amazed. The only drawback is that it plays each note so clearly that mistakes stick out all that much more. It has already started demanding that I fret more cleanly. There's no muddiness to hide behind.

I have been showing it off to every musician I know. There has been lots of gasping and no small measure of drooling. One mandolin player said outright, after only hearing it for two minutes, "that's the best sounding mandolin I ever heard." I agree.

I have played almost every spare moment. My fingers are fine. One of the best qualities of the Phoenix is how easy it is on my hands. I knew from many helpful posts on the message board that easy playability was a hallmark of all of Rolfe’s (and now Jenny’s too) mandolins. It’s true. I can play for hours without any strain.

Rolfe Gerhardt makes exquisitely beautiful mandolins. But I don't think anyone can catch the beauty of the inlay work in a photo. Before I saw my Ultra, I admit I was a little worried about the headstock. I thought that bird might be a bit too much, and I had resolved just to get over it. Well, it is stunning. It shimmers and glows differently, depending on how the light hits it. Similarly, the abalone purfling around the top and back just can’t be shown to advantage in a photo. Inset into the dark outer rim, it’s like a string of pearls on a perfect little black dress. (I'm sure a man would come up with a different description. It’s not a prissy looking mando.) It's not as red as pictures I've seen. It's a deep wine-colored burst, and one can see every line of grain—tight in the middle under the bridge, getting further apart as it seems to radiate outward. The varnish hardly seems to be there. I wish you could see it, up close and personal. It’s embarrassing how much time I’ve spent looking at it under lights while changing the angle.

My new mando was the Ultra "demonstrator" that Rolfe would take to festivals and camps and show to shop visitors. It was made in 2000, so the varnish has cured well and it's played in to a certain extent. It came to me in pristine condition. While most of the pre-2000 Ultras are topped with Douglas Fir, and most are now made with Red Spruce, mine was the only Ultra made with an Engelmann top. “The best Engelmann top I've heard,” according to Rolfe. He told me he may have a piece or two of that particular Engelmann stock left. The flamed maple back is graduated to maximize responsiveness, as are all Phoenixes. The fretboard, headstock overlay, and finger rest are ebony. So are the bridge saddle and base. Mr. Gerhardt now uses old growth maple for bridge bases. The nut is mother of pearl. The radius is his standard 7¼ and the neck profile is a rounded V. Willow is used for the neck block, tail block and lining strips. The tone bars are Engelmann with a carbon-fiber strip sandwiched between the Engelmann. Waverly tuners.

The happy outcome of these "facts" is a gorgeous tone coming out of a beautiful, easy to play instrument. Rolfe gave me a great deal on it, and despite a heart attack inducing tendency to tease about scheduled delivery, he was informative, funny, and an all-around good guy.

I know that most people love their mandolins. I know that many believe their “brand” is the best. I’m happy for them. I’m happy for me.
Play on! :grin:

Nov-23-2008, 6:21pm
I can't seem to get the pictures posted. I have to go play my mandolin now, so I'll try again tomorrow. :mandosmiley:

Chris Biorkman
Nov-23-2008, 6:53pm
Congrats, Laura. My old Phoenix is the only one I've sold that I've regretted getting rid of. Rolfe makes fantastic mandolins.

Roger Renfro
Nov-23-2008, 7:40pm
What Laura said!!!

This must be Rolfe's time to cycle his demo mandolins. I’ve just become the proud papa of a Phoenix Standard. According to Rolfe, it was a demo that was made in April, 2007. It's got red maple back & sides & a red spruce top.

I first have to say that it’s a real beauty & plays so easily it’s scary. And, it sounds SO good. The past few years, I’ve been primarily a guitar player, but for the past few weeks, my Leo Posch 000-12 fret has been sitting on the stand feeling lonely. I’ve really been having fun bringing my old mandolin chops (somewhat) up to speed again.

Laura (& many others on the cafe) are correct in saying how good Rolfe's mandolins are. He just has the touch. Laura did a great job in describing the attributes of his mandolins & I agree with all that she said.

You can see some pics of mine at:


Nov-23-2008, 8:13pm
So Laura, let me see if I get you. The Phoenix is pretty good.

It's wonderful to find a true love. Congrats on finding yours.


Nov-23-2008, 8:42pm

Congrats on the new mando. Sounds like it's a lifetime keeper.
I'd love to see it sometime.
Next summer at Kamp if not before.

P.S. You still need to come up to Union Grove some Saturday morning for the jam.

Jason Nagati
Nov-23-2008, 10:27pm
Congrats. I just played a neoclassical and standard model last Friday, so I know how you feel. It took five seconds of playing to know that I had to have one. Hopefully I'll be joining your club soon.

Nov-24-2008, 7:35am
You guys are great! Congratulations to you Roger. I looked at your pictures, and you were able to capture the nice wood grain. What a beauty. I know you are enjoying it. And nothing gets past you, Jamie. I am indeed VERY happy. I had forgotten about the Union Grove jam, Phil. I will try to make it. Thanks. Now if I can just figure out how to resize my pictures.

Nov-24-2008, 8:35am
Hope this works.

Nov-24-2008, 8:44am
The Order of the Phoenix...

Nov-24-2008, 8:54am
Just a couple more...

Nov-24-2008, 11:17am
a real beauty for sure!!!

Michael Cameron
Nov-26-2008, 9:13pm
VERY cool mandolin! Thanks for sharing pics and comments.

I'm jealous. I've wanted a Phoenix(the Standard would be fine for me) for a loooong time.

The "Ultra" takes the cake for visual beauty,no doubt. Abalone purfling just does it,for me.

I want one.