View Full Version : For those of you who have custom instruments

Feb-25-2004, 12:00am
I have been looking over the many fine builders that are around and find myself wondering how I would chose a builder. What factors do style, price,....etc play in the choice? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif

Jim M.
Feb-25-2004, 12:30pm
Well, when I got my first OM I got a Freshwater, partly because David came highly recommended from the Cafe. Also, it was a custom, handmade instrument for not much more money than a Trinity College or Johnson. I also talked to David extensively before ordering. And I was very happy with the instrument. My second long-scale is a Phil Crump B1, which I won in the Zoukfest raffle. Phil's work is second to none, and I highly recommend him, but he is much more expensive than Freshwater.

Feb-25-2004, 12:44pm
I commissioned a Paul Newson A5 a while back based on the tone of his other mandolins I have played. All were consistently loud and balanced. Also, his price was comparable with other 'A' styles out there, but I got to customize the specs I wanted with no extra charges...one piece back, blond finish, one piece maple bridge, Price tailpiece etc...Pics can be seen here: Newson A5 (http://f1.pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/darrenjweiss/album?.dir=/Newson+Mandolin&.src=ph&store=&prodid=&.done=http%3a//photos.yahoo.com/darrenjweiss)

Feb-25-2004, 4:24pm
Read a lot of the older posts. There are a lot of credible builders but - you need to decide what you "really" want in an instrument. After I'd worked through three or four factory made instruments, I weighed what I liked and didn't like in each one. I made a list up and went shopping on the internet.

When I found one which offered the style and design I liked and the luthier had a good reputation for delivery and quality of workmanship ... if his price met my criteria, I made a commitment to him and started the transaction. I think I would have made a few mistakes if I hadn't owned a few earlier / less specialized instruments. What I thought I wanted in the beginning was a far difference from what I needed when I ordered.

Steve L
Feb-25-2004, 6:27pm
Dion, this is why I kind of like the somewhat "lower end of the spectrum instruments" like Trinity College or Lark In The Morning, etc. I was convinced that a long scale bouzouki would be everything I ever wanted, but after owning (and liking) one for a while, I would be much more inclined to get a 21" scale deep bodied octave if/when I get something built for me. That might have been a $1000-$3000 dollar "mistake" without the chance to live with a few different instruments over a long period of time.

Feb-25-2004, 11:48pm
Exactly Steve ... initially I was absolutely postively, without a second thought - convinced I NEEDED a long schlong Bozoukoid. Then, after owning a few 21-22 inch scale instruments and playing a few even longer ones, mandola's came into the vision. I still have a few O/M's, a few more Mandola's but seldom really play the O/M's. What I gravitated to are short scale mandola's with big bodies.

For me, it works.

Feb-26-2004, 6:20am
Having never touched a Zouk before, I too bought a Freshwater based on Price, and advice from this and other lists. #I loved it and I learned alot about what I want. #Additionally, I attended Zoukfest for the last 3 years and got to play all sorts of different Zouks and OMs and I was able to fine tune my "requirements". #The big thing is to play your first instrument and think to yourself "can this be better?" Then compare it to your friends' Zouks. #Everyone's hands and styles of playing are different etc. #But beware.... #I now have 5 Zouks and there is no end in sight. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif #So how to choose a builder? #Each one has strengths. #Some builders may prefer a close string spacing with "fat" mandolin profile neck. #While others may like a flatter electric guitar style neck..Talk to them see if they make what you want! #Here are some of ths things I consider...

number of courses/tuning
Body Shape (A/teardrop or Pointed or Guitar...)
Body depth
Carved vs. Flattop
Floating vs. "fixed" Bridge
Scale Length
Nut width (neck width)
String spacing (related to nut width)
Fret type (Guitar vs. ....)
Radiused Fingerboard?
Neck profile
Wood type for top, sides/back, fingerboard, neck, bridge etc.
Nut and Saddle (where applicable) material
Inlay, special features- Binding type...soundhole design...etc
Type of Tuning machines

I'm sure I've forgotten a bunch of things here... But I think the more info you know about what you want the easier it becomes to pick out a Luthier! ... and to know what you want, you need to know what kind of sound you want to make... Lead playing? Melody Playing? Song acc.? #The luthiers you speak with can tell you what features they recommend to meet the sound and style you want.

Buying a custom built instrument is one of the coolest things ever. #Take your time. Talk to the Luthiers and enjoy!

Good Luck.


Feb-26-2004, 11:13pm
I dont want to sound like a groupy but what I like the sound of is what's on Dan B's "Shatter the Calm". The rythm and back up chords and the solid deep drones are what I like. But the idea of a mandola scale instrument tuned GDAE or GDAEA so I wouldnt afight with trying to figure out new chords from the mando is kind of what I am thinking.

Feb-27-2004, 9:00am
The one on the disk is a Sobell "large-bodied mandola", 10 str, 20 3/4", GDAEA. the other is a Steve Smith 10-str bouzouki 26" scale, DAEBE, often capoed or slightly retuned on the disk. Which track? The sleeve notes should show you which instrument it was.

That's mostly just a style thing by the way, I tend to play more drones & chords in my lead lines than many players, some evidence of old-timey fiddlers in Milwaukee that I used to love playing with. Some of my favorite music to listen to is a single player doing complex things combining lead & backing on an instrument like a fiddle or uillean pipes, etc.

Some times I played multiple instruments on a single track (track 1 has mandolin, zook, mandola + Zan's guitar) which also helps fill in that "wall of sound". The "Jackson's Morning Brush/I Buried My Wife.." track was just the Sobell, single take, no overdubs etc. The "Hanged Man's Reel" and "Aires de Pontevedra" were the Steve Smith with just the drum accompannying it, same deal- one take, one track, no dubs. You can compare the two that way and see where it's the instrument and where it's the technique, to some extent.. or at least how roughly the same technique works on 2 different instruments.

The "Battle March Medley" track on there has a splice in it (see if you can spot it!), but is just the sobell without overdubs. That stuff works pretty well acoustically (ie without any studio effects) too, I sort of developed that style mostly from playing the Sobell at home and wanting to hear the sound of an old-time fiddle in it while I was playing the melody. That's probably my favorite sound in the OM/zook world, I want to hear the drones along with the melody rather than the zook being playing single notes only like it's a banjo. Part of it was also me immitating Gerald Trimble's sound on "First Flight", but I later found out from talking with he & Johnny Cunningham (who produced it) that they used a number of effects & dubs on that record.. I believe Gerald used a chorus effect on some tracks (but please correct me if I'm wrong!) too.. a similar sound on the Silly Wizard "Live Wizardry" disk where Phil plays his Sobell to intro "Donald McGillivray". Phil tunes his like the top 4 strings of a guitar, by the way!

Back to your original question though Bob, I'd say you should try to encounter some of these beasties in the wild. Next zoukfest in 2005 ( http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/sad.gif ) would be a great place to hear & try some zooks. I think the style itself is easier to try out too, it works on mandolin just as well, it's just a bit higher pitched. Tuning your G string down to a low D is a great way to dip your feet in.. tune it low, let it creep up a little and just hit it as a drone in a D tune. It's fun!

Feb-29-2004, 7:37pm
What I 'd like to get is something like this:

Sobell Citern (http://www.sobellinstruments.com/index.htm)

But I dont know if I'd be able to make use of it for a while unitll my abilities rise to it's greatness. I am probably struggling with the desire to want to advance faster than my abilities allow. How does one get over this?

Mar-05-2004, 10:09am
one gets a better instrument than one thinks one deserves, and then you just get on with it http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Good instruments really help inspire you..

Mar-05-2004, 4:04pm
Hi Bob, I just got a Weber hylite octave with the maple upgrade instead of mahogany. Also the weber D sound hole. I am very pleased with it. The scale length is 221/2" and I think it is useable but definatly a strech. I have pretty big hands so I think I'll get comfortable on it. I am using mostly three note chords but some four. For the first time I am getting into chords and trying to find some rythm grooves. I am thrilled with the way chords sound on this instrument. Also starting to through some drones into fiddle tunes. I have a feeling that the octave may become my primary instrument, but i will keep the mando and dola too. All the best in your search.

Mar-06-2004, 12:17pm
My problem is that all these opportunities keep coming up and the temptation to jump on one is becoming difficult to resist! #The other problem is that were I live, there is no place that keeps these instruments in stock to look at and try. #So I listen to alot of music and try to figure it all out. #

How does one differentiate(sp?) between the zouk, mandola, and octave? #Does it all come down to what you are comfortable with? #Which could mean owning and playing alot of different instruments.

[QUOTE]one gets a better instrument than one thinks one deserves, and then you just get on with it

Good instruments really help inspire you..



Sorry I dont mean to beat a dead horse here. Thanks for everyones patients.

Mar-06-2004, 1:54pm
Hi Bob -

I've participated in some of the discussions you've started and understand the problem you are wrestling with. #It seems to me that you have several issues you need to decide on:

1. #Do you want to be focusing primarily on melody or accompaniment?

If melody, then you will probably be happiest with a mandola (which if I were you, I'd tune DAEB), to which you can easily and painlessly transfer a lot of your mandolin know-how. #If you want to do mainly accompaniment, then you're better off with a zouk (which you can tune GDAE, GDAD, ADAD, or whatever you prefer). #In between the extremes, you have the octave mandolin, but it is clearly a compromise instrument: harder on melody than the mandola (due to the scale) and IMHO not quite as nice as a zouk on accompaniment. #Yes, you can do accompaniment on a mandola and you can play melody on a zouk (especially if you use low-stress tuning like ADAD and a capo), but you may find yourself a bit disappointed or frustrated if that is your main application.

2. Do you want 4 or 5 courses?

To me, this is to some degree an extension of the melody versus accompaniment issue. #If you're playing melody, the extra course at the upper end can help avoid some nasty stretches with the pinky. #But if you're doing accompaniment, the extra course complicates chords and adds 1 more opportunity for discordant sound. #Be aware too that although the extra course may make some melodies a bit easier to play, the price is a wider neck which may or may not be comfortable to you.

3. Should you buy a "starter" instrument or jump immediately to a high-end instrument?

Depends entirely on your economic circumstance (i.e., how much money can you afford to throw away). #If you're wealthy, by all means go ahead and buy a Sobell and if you don't like the way it plays or sounds you can resell it for $1k less than you paid and try something else. #

Personally, I think you'd be better off with one of David K's instruments as a starter: if/when you outgrow it, you can keep it as a "beater" or #sell it for about what you pay (and certainly not take a hit for more than about $50 or so), and in the meantime you'll have gotten a whole lot smarter about what specifically is right for you in terms of sound, feel, looks, etc., not to mention the issues of scale, number of courses, etc. addressed earlier. #I can tell you from my own experience that there are some very significant differences from one maker to another with respect to things like neck width and shape that you can't tell from pictures and really won't understand until you have some sort of yardstick to measure against. #For that reason alone, I think it would be a big mistake to plunk to $3-4k for a Sobell on the assumption that a Sobell must be great because (a) it costs more and (b) lots of great players play Sobells. #I personally can't play a Sobell zouk for more than few minutes before my left hand gets exhausted, but I couldn't tell that from looking a pretty Sobell pictures or even from reading the Sobell specs until I had some point of comparison.

Mar-06-2004, 10:32pm
The point Dane made about whether you want to play melody or accompaniment is a good one.

Here's my 2 cents....

Mandolin: excellent for both melody and accompaniment (which is why it is most popular...it works in any setting)

Mandola: great for melody, not as good for accompaniment

Octave Mandolin: covers both melody and accompaniment #pretty well, a good all around instrument (although not as versatile as mandolin)

Bouzouki: great for accompaniment, not so good for melody

So basically you need to figure out whether you want to play mostly lead or backup.

It also depends on the kind of music you want to play. Again, mandolin works best in all settings, I'd say next in line is octave mandolin.

Also octave mando is tuned the same as a regular mandolin, which I think is a plus. Mandola and bouzouki generally use different tunings.

Hope this helps.

Mar-07-2004, 2:06am
Ok, this is all good info and gives direction where I need it. #This is what I play now:

Mar-07-2004, 2:15am
It is korean made, all solid wood, sycamore back and sides, with a spruce top. #It is brite on the treble but lacking on the bass. #When you dive it hard it plays good. #But when trying to play chords in accompaniment it just doesnt sound right to me.

It has sentimental value because my wife got it for me as a surprise, my first mando. #I started playing bluegrass which this works well for, but I have fallen for the celtic sound. #Melody seems to be my strength but I know rythmn is the foundation. #I am definately still deep in the learning process and want to build a strong rythmic foundation before I get to out there.

I probably need to get the new ivory bridge and nut on it and see how it sounds. #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/coffee.gif

Mar-08-2004, 11:18am
of course I go by the obvious stuff, materials, reputation..

I wanted a bowl backed mandolin. I have one on order from Italy that I am really just gambling on... the builder is a popular musician in italy, "mario artese" I see many articles aobut him and I trust him just on that....

then I have a greek style one from new york. I like this builder, he is in the states, first of all, so I can go see him, send my mando in for repairs (god hope I never need to) or whatever... I feel like he is right next door.

I'll be shopping for a zouk soon, maybe from the same guy, maybe a less expensive one.... it will be another post showing up in a few....

Mar-08-2004, 4:03pm
I'd just add to what dane said--
There is no substitute for hands-on experience with instruments. It's great to listen a lot so that you know the kind of sound you aspire to... but that doesn't come only from the instrument... it comes from the combo of the instrument and the player (ok, and the recording technology if you're listening to a recording), so you're gonna have to spend some hands-on time to feel for what works in YOUR hands (and of course what you're already doing, which is developing your hands!).