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Miniature Orchestra

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Another Buchanan has arrived, and it has new design features, mainly in the bracing, that make it sing. It also has an installed Headway undersaddle pickup, which sounds pretty good for a piezo. This model is the premium HE4 with supposed mandolin-specific EQ. With the right amp settings it is workable as the sole sound source. I tweaked it slightly by making a new saddle that was a bit tight at the bass end, so that its movement would be limited. This tamed the too-present C course. A heavier gauge helped the weak E string.

I added my favorite soundhole pickup, Steve Ryder’s stacked-single-coil 5-pole. I had him make it with a shorter pole piece for the A course. This I push down into the pickup rather far. The result is well balanced bronze strings for the bass and a well-behaved A and rich E. Outboard belt-clip tone and volume for the magnetic pickup sweeten the tone for jazz, country or enriching the piezo tone, when blending in the amp.(On right in picture.) Output jack is a 1/8” mini glued to the pickup itself, for a wire coming out of the soundhole on the bass side.

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Taylor has stopped offering its V-cable with built-in volume control, so I made a box for the piezo that plugs into the endpin jack. This softens the highs slightly due to capacitance leakage to ground, and it’s handy to have a volume control on the instrument. (BTW, when the volume is turned all the way down, you can unplug from the mando and plug in again with no transient noises.) I used a 500K audio-taper pot from CTS, and the male phone jack is the plate from Switchcraft’s old-style right-angle plug with the black plastic housing. (On left.)

I’m participating in a jazz workshop, using my solid-body Almuse 10-string. The smoother attack of the doubled courses makes it sweet, and it fits in well with saxophones and drums. I installed my favorite Steve Ryder pickups in it, and it has good sustain with a solid sapele body. We have tackled tunes from Joe Henderson (Shade of Jade), Bud Powell (Wail), Cedar Walton (Firm Roots), McCoy Tyner (Blues on the Corner), Thelonius Monk (Hackensack), and other straight-ahead jazz tunes. It’s a challenge learning useful chord shapes for the exotic jazz harmonies, and developing a good touch on the electric. I’m not using any overdrive or effects so it’s all about delivering cool notes with excellent timing and swing.

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The Buchanan is getting use for English Country Dance, where its extended bass makes it useful for adding bass lines or deeper chords when not playing the melody, and adding counterpoint and harmony within a melody is much easier with the larger range. First outing with the piezo pickup was disappointing, but I had not tinkered with the string balance at that time. I’ll have some chances this month to test it with one, the other, or both pickup systems in use.

Amp is still my little Gallien-Krueger MB200, with one or another small speaker. That rig has never disappointed me in any genre.

I cannot imagine doing any of the music I am playing without 5 courses. And I need the mandolins scale length to reach the chords I need---the Buchanans are 14.25” scale, and I specified the Almuse should be the same. Slightly long but still handy. String gauges are .010, .014, .022, .034, and .047 for the Buchanan (D’Addario phosphor bronze) and .009, .014, .022, .034, .048 for the Almuse (D’Addario nickel).

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