View Full Version : General help to new player

Feb-07-2004, 11:39am

In the last 6 months, I've acquired 3 mandolins. I've figured out that I like the instrument, and in the next 2 years hope to get a Breedlove KO - if I can find one to hear before I buy. Not too common around here (Ottawa ON area). I also cannot find a teacher locally.

The three I own are from Ebay and reflect that. 2 are older and have been to the luthier, but I don't believe that they are up to regular playing. The third, I believe is. They are all 'round back' mandolins (Neopolitan?).

I have some questions about the mandolin and playing it:
1. I assume blisters on the tips of the fingers is normal until callouses develop? Hoping so. Kind of distracting.
2. I've read to fix buzzing strings, it is recommended to 'raise the bridge'. Mine is fixed - no screws for adjusting up or down. Is there a solution for this? Is it the way I'm playing as they don't buzz unless certain notes are played?
3. I've been learning from: Nigel Gatherer's Scottish Mandolin pages. I find it a great resource - the tutuorials seem to be quite clear. I was wondering if anyone knew of a comperable site? I've been to most links I've found from the Mandolin Cafe.

I've read that there is a lot of discussion about 'types' of mandolin, but here's another:
4. When talking to a retailer in a town 400KM from here - nearest that can get Breedlove in, I asked about the resonance/fullness of sound, and he said that you won't get that unless you have a 'round back' like I do. Is that true?
5. How do I take care of the mandolin?
- should I loosen the strings after playing?
- what about these 'humidifiers' I've read about? Should I get one?
- I purchased a 'wall hanger' and use this to store my mando, keep it away from the dog and cats. Is this ok for the instrument?
- Any idea where I could get a hardshell care for a round back mandolin?

Sorry for all of the questions. I'm usually a lurker, but needed to find a source of information. I appreciate your time and guidance.


Bob DeVellis
Feb-07-2004, 11:56am

Let me try to get you started. Regarding buzzes, the most common cause of a buzz is the strings making intermittent contact with a hard surface as the string vibrates. This can happen for several reasons. Sometimes, if you don't fully depress the string when fretting, the contact between string and fret isn't solid and the string will buzz against it. Another possibility is that your contact is solid on the fret you're playing but another fret closer towared the bridege (usually the one just up from the one you're playing) is a bit too high and, as the string vibrates, it hits that fret and buzzes. The best way I've found to test this is to put the mandolin in your lap, strings side up. Then, press the string down with your thumb at the spot where pressing caused a buzz before. By using your thumb and having the instrument in your lap, you can press really hard. If that stops the buzzing, than the cause is not pressing hard enough when playing. If the buzzing persists, it's something else. It's not unusual to get buzzing when you're first learning because it's hard to push down with those tender, blistered fingers (which will eventually toughen up -- but don't tear them to shreds in the meantime).

WHat the dealer told you about only getting resonance/fullness from a bowlback isn't true. Bowlbacks have their own distinct sound. But resonance and fullness are godd descriptions of the sond that many types of mandolin produce. If anything, I'd describe bowlbacks more as birght or bell-like.

Don't loosen the strings after playing. Leaveit tuned to pitch. Hanging on the wall should be fine as long as it's not hanging in a way that puts undue stress on anything. For example, I wouldn't hang it in a hanger by the tuning knobs. It's better if the wood of the headstock is the bearing surface. Hanging by the tuners is probably okay if it's done with string or fishing twine (the way delares often do) but I'd be worried about accidental, potentially damaging twisting or"leveraging" of the tuners when putting it up if you weren'treally careful.

Had cases are difficult to find. Harptone used to make a nice one for I think around $90. But I'm not sure if they're still available. Elderly Music in Lansing, MI (www.elderly.com) carried themat one time and you might check their web site.

I'll let others both comment on my suggestions and cover topics I haven't addressed

Good luck, and have fun.

Eric F.
Feb-07-2004, 5:18pm
I think Elderly now only sells chipboard cases for bowlbacks. THe good news is, they're only $25. Be sure to humidify the room you're hanging your mando in. Low humidity can lead to all kinds of problems. I try to keep my room in the 45 percent to 55 percent humidity range.

Building callouses is a terrible thing, isn't it? I suspect the blisters are just normal. I wouldn't overdo it, though, despite the temptation to keep playing. They will come in time.

The Breedlove you mentioned would be a fine mandolin, and most likely would have the rich sound you are after. To my ears, oval hole mandolins tend to have more resonance and richness than f holes, which tend to be more ... percussive. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions. I have heard and played f hole instrumetns that were rich and resonant. It just seems to me that you are more likely to find that sound in an oval hole until you get to a certain price range.

Finally, I think a lot of bowlbacks purchased on eBay come with heavy-gauge strings. That's likely to be too much tension for a bowlback, which was never designed to bluegrass strings. If your luthier didn't suggest it, look for some light or extra light strings for those puppies.

I recently discover Nigel Gatherer's page, too. I like it. Maybe a good place to go would be the Tabledit site. You can download software and about a zillion and a half songs, play them at speeds ranging from dirge-like to blazingly fast. It's a good learning device. The trial version is free; I think the full version is $55, and well worth it. There's also a site called Simple Gifts that has some tab and midi files. And, for more bluegrassy stuff, www.jaybuckey.com is a good place to investigate.


Mar-02-2004, 11:50pm
Hi Wendy,
I too have a very old bowlback but I do most of my practice on a decently set up A-style Washburn. For me the bowl back is nice for "effect" has a special quality for some of those ballads etc. Also many of the older bowlbacks are smaller scale i.e. the frets are closer to each other and it is good to make your practice on an instrument with the same scale.

Mar-03-2004, 9:56am
Hi Wendy

Fellow Canadian here. You can contact Steve at, Musicland
427 George Street North
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada K9H 3R4
(705) 743-8586
They have Breedloves in stock and he is really great to deal with. The 12th Fret here in Toromto has many to choose from and it would be a good idea to make the road trip as they have the most selection of mandos in these parts. They have Gibson,Collings, Weber, Breedlove and many more. There are sometimes some used mandolins in stock as well. I own a Breedlove and am more than pleased with it. PM me if I can be any help to you. I would happily go to the 12th Fret to help you out if you get down this way.

Chris in Canada

Mar-03-2004, 1:04pm
Well some may laugh, but if you feel like you need to raise the bridge and just want to try it out, I have used aluminum foil. This is not the correct thing to do, but by adding several thin layers beneath the bridge, you can see if the problem goes away. What you do after that is up to you.

If you are new to the mandolin, make sure that you know the bridge location is very specific. So, if you remove it, use something like masking tape to mark the location prior to taking it off the instrument.


Mar-03-2004, 3:56pm

In the last 6 months, I've acquired 3 mandolins. #I've figured out that I like the instrument,... #Not too common around here (Ottawa ON area). #I also cannot find a teacher locally.

Hi Wendy

I have some friends in Ottawa that might be able to help you. I bet they could direct you to a teacher, as Charles worked at a music store before and he and his wife play the mandolin. I wish we lived up there to hang with them, they play at Patty's Pub in Ottawa South every Thursday night. # LINK HERE! (http://www.sfsite.com/charlesdelint/)

We got to spend the day with him last year when he was in town, really nice guy. Tell him Tom & Amy from So CA said hi!