Tell Us About Your Morris Mandolin!

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  1. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    I am the new, happy owner of a Howard Morris mandolin, having received Morris A5 #178 two days ago. Here are her specs:

    Morris A5 Mandolin (#178):
    DOB: May 2010
    Soundboard: Sitka Spruce
    Back & Sides: Big Leaf Maple
    Fretboard: Custom Cocobola Rosewood, Radiused (12)
    Nut Material: bone
    Neck Width at the Nut: 1 1/8
    String spacing at Nut (outside G to outside E): 1
    Neck Shape: Slight V profile
    Neck Reinforcement: Non-adjustable steel truss rod
    Tuners & Tailpiece: Grover
    Bridge: Custom Ebony adjustable
    Bracing: Parallel tone bars
    Finish: Tobacco Brown Sunburst, nitrocellulose lacquer
    Strings: Fitted by Sonny with Martin Bluegrass Strings (M450: 80/20 Bronze Wound 11-14-24W-38W)

    My initial impressions of the mandolin are all positive. The appearance, tone, and playability are all outstanding.

    Being relatively new to the mandolin, playability is critical to me, and this mandolin excels in that category! The 1 1/8" wide, radiused neck, the slight V neck shape, and the outstanding set-up by Sonny combine to make this mandolin remarkably easy and fun to play.

    Finally, it was great dealing with Sonny throughout the entire process of acquiring this mandolin. I could not be happier, either with the mandolin, or with the luthier/vendor.

    I wholeheartedly recommend Howard Morris Mandolins to anyone looking for a finely hand-crafted, domestic-made mandolin at a reasonable price.

  2. Steve-o
    I commissioned Morris #143, an oval hole A-style mandolin. It has a redwood top, claro walnut back/sides, and a sweet warm tone. I play mostly Irish, fiddle tunes, and a bit of jipsy jazz and blues on it. I wrote about it in this thread. I agree with you that Sonny's mandolins are a great value at an attractive price point.
  3. Mandobart
    I have the pleasure of knowing and on occasion playing with Sonny in the Washington Old Time Fiddlers Association (he is a member of both the Oregon and Washington groups, living on the border). I live about an hour from Sonny and I can say he is a fine fiddler, mandolin player, and luthier. I've played a few of his instruments and they have all had great playability, tone, volume and simple, clean, good looks. Add to that his handmade, American made instruments are less expensive than many overseas models. Sonny has built instruments for happy customers all around the world, and I feel very fortunate to have a luthier of his caliber so close by.

    After visiting with him down in Irrigon, and getting a nice bonus at work, we've worked out the details of a new F4 for me. I'll post more as it develops.
  4. Mandobart
    Sonny just sent me some pics the other day (I was working night shift so I couldn't get down to visit) of my F4 in progress. Western red cedar top, big leaf maple neck, sides and back. An extra reinforcing block between the tail block and lower bout point to support a jack for a pickup I'm sure to add at some point. Cocabola fingerboard & headstock veneer. May be done in time for my birthday!
  5. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Mandobart - That F4 sounds awesome...Hoping you'll post pics when it's done. Why did you choose Western red cedar for the soundboard (just curious)? Congratulations on your soon to be 'new addition'!

    BTW...I am beginning to have less and less playing time on my beloved Breedlove OO with each passing day! My Morris A5 is such a remarkably flexible, easy playing and great sounding mandolin! Even the music that should be in the oval-hole's wheelhouse (Classical, Old-Time, and Blues) seems to sound better on the Morris!

    ...and the action on the Morris! heavens...I would not have thought it possible for action to be this low! (It's lower than the action on any of my guitars, and they were set-up by one of the best set-up guys in Ohio!)
  6. Mandobart
    Ed - My Tom Jessen OM is an oval hole with western redcedar top. I love the deep, mellow ring it has so I wondered what it would sound like on a mandolin. A local music store had a used Michael Kelly oval with a cedar top that sounded quite nice. When I discussed the project with Sonny, he also felt that cedar has a mellower sound than spruce or fir. All his tonewood comes from here in the great NW, where we have sitka, engelmann, doug fir and western red cedar in relative abundance. Big leaf maple is also abundant on the west side of the mountains.

    Here's a clip of my OM:
  7. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Hi Mandobart - Thanks for the clip. What a beautiful looking and sounding instrument! 'Deep, mellow ring' for sure. Also, nice playing.

    BTW, will your new Morris F4 have tone bars or X bracing?

    Thanks; Ed
  8. Mandobart
    Ed - Sonny is using the transverse braces, as oppposed to my OM has X-bracing. I want to post some pics of it but can't figure out how, even after reading the post.
  9. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Mandobart - I just checked the 'Go Advanced' setting for posts to the group and it doesn't look like we get the 'paperclip' attachment tool for posts to the social groups like we do with the forums. However, please feel free to post your pics to the front page of this Group by using the add pictures button at the top right of the main page.

    Also, here is a video with some audio samples of my Morris A5...Please forgive the relatively poor audio quality (this was shot with my wife's small digital camera). Also, even though my playing doesn't do this great mandolin justice, I hope this video at least gives a feel for the versatility and wide range of this instrument!

  10. Mandobart
    I just posted some pics of my soon to be completed F4. I noticed Ed had the same pics; Ed, are you getting a new Morris?
  11. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Hi Mandobart: I love the pix you posted! Thanks much. Yes, I am having Sonny build me an A4! I find the playability and tone of my Morris A5 so seductive that it's basically the only mandolin I ever play anymore! However, I love the sound and sustain of an oval hole mandolin (I'm more of a blues/classic rock guy), so I've decided to have Sonny make me a Morris A4. The project is just now underway. I'll create a Facebook album with public access and post pics of the project throughout the build. My A4 will have a Western Red Cedar soundboard; big leaf maple neck, back & sides; and (like your F4) transverse bracing. I can't wait! Oh, BTW, Sonny sent me the images of mandolins in progress (including yours, how cool!) to show me what the soundhole on mine will look like.
  12. Mandobart
    I talked to Sonny at the WA old time fiddler's on Thurs. My F4 is getting strung up soon; I'll likely be picking her up next week. Pics and vids to follow...
  13. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Mandobart, I'm very much looking forward to seeing pics of your F4 when she's done...Also, when you go to pick her up, please tell Sonny I said 'Hi'.
  14. Mandobart
    Well I just got the word my F4 is finished! Got to work tonight, so I'll pick her up tomorrow afternoon. I've already told Sonny about this group; I'll tell him hi for everyone. I posted the pics Sonny e-mailed me on the main page of our group here.
  15. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Oh my!! Mandobart - your F4 is simply magnificent! Quite simply, it is one of the most beautiful mandolins I've seen (and I'm generally more of an A-Style guy!). The finish, and the figure on the back are outstanding! I also REALLY like the black binding (?) Sonny puts on the points...Just beautiful! Congratulations! Please post a soundclip ASAP!
  16. Mandobart
    Here are a couple clips of my new F4. I probably should have recorded something when my fingers were in better shape; I've been playing a lot the past day and a half:

    The first one is a medley of

    This second one is the standard by which all mandos are judged, at least at Dennis' Store!

    What I don't think really comes across on these is the deep resonant response on the G and D strings. I'll have to try some other tunes that show it better.
  17. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Mandobart: Thanks so much for posting the clips. Some very nice playing of a great sounding mandolin! I think the resonance on the lows is quite evident. I was also very impressed by the sustain and the richness of the tone, especially during and after your tremolo sections. You were getting some really nice overtones there. Great Job - Great Mandolin. Thanks again for posting.
  18. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Hi all; I've created this photo album for my new Morris A4, currently being built.

    I'll use the album to maintain photos mandolin of the mandolin from inception to completion and beyond.
  19. GDAE
    Just curious, as I don't know much about the whys of bracing...why the transverse bracing? My Morris A4 has x-bracing. What is the functional difference?
  20. Mandobart
    That may be a better question for the builders forum. When Sonny and I were discussing my build, he said transverse bracing would better help with the warm mellow tone I was looking for.
  21. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Ditto to Mandobart's post...After Sonny and I discussed the type of tone I was looking for (tubby and warm with lots of sustain), he recommended the transverse bracing, noting that it's the type of bracing the old oval-hole Gibsons have.

    Also, my Morris A5 has parallel tone bars, and I think it will be neat for the A4 to be substantially different (Soundboards: spruce vs. cedar, Soundholes: ff vs. oval, bracing: PTB vs. TB), thinking that the tonal signatures of the two mandolins will be as different as possible.
  22. Mandobart
    I will add that my cedar topped oval hole octave mando (clip posted 8/23/10 above) has X-bracing, and to me at least sounds very warm, with lots of sustain.
  23. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    I'll also add that my Breedlove Quartz OO has X bracing and I think it too has a warm sound with fine sustain.

    One thing that's interesting (and again, something probably more for the Builder's forum) is that the soundboards on transverse braced mandolins tend to be very slightly thicker then the tops used with other bracing configurations. I think this is a structural concern, but that the thicker board also affects tone (slightly less projection, but more sustain?).

    Finally, I believe that it's rather rare to find a long necked, oval hole mandolin with an elevated board that also has transverse bracing. This uniqueness appeals to me.
  24. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Howard Morris A4 #186

    Well, my custom build A4 arrived from Sonny yesterday. She's a remarkably beautiful mandolin (though, I must admit, I love A-style mandolins, and I think honey-amber is my favorite mandolin finish). It was hard to get good photos last night under artificial light, so I'll try again this weekend. When I get some pics that do her justice, I'll add them to the album linked above.

    Here are the specs:
    Howard Morris A4 Mandolin (#186):
    DOB: September 2010
    Body Style: Traditional A-Style
    Soundhole: Oval with violin purfling around soundhole
    Soundboard: Western Red Cedar
    Neck, Back & Sides: Big Leaf Maple
    Inlay work: violin purfling around soundboard and back
    Fretboard: Radiused Custom Cocobola Rosewood (12" Radius)
    Nut Material: bone
    Neck Width at the Nut: 1 1/8"
    String spacing at Nut (outside G to outside E): 1"
    Neck Shape: Slight V profile
    Neck Reinforcement: Non-adjustable steel truss rod
    Tuners: Grover with white pearloid buttons
    Tailpiece: Grover (Gibson-style)
    Bridge: Custom Ebony adjustable
    Bracing: Spruce Transverse bracing
    Finish: Dark Honey Amber, nitrocellulose lacquer
    Strings: set-up with JazzMando JM11 strings (flatwound 11-15-24W-33W)

    Plays as smoothly and beautifully as she looks! Has nice action, and I particularly like the feel of the frets, the fretboard and the back of the neck: smooth, clean, fast.
    This is my first experience with the JM11 strings, and although Sonny didn't think very highly of them as a builder (he broke 2 strings while stringing her up), I just love their sound and feel. I particularly like the smoother feel of the wound (G & D) strings.
    My chording seems a little faster and smoother on the A4 than my other mandolins (probably a combination of the great neck and the JM11 strings).
    I'd say the A4's tone is best described as warm, rich, full and sustained. Tonal EQ seems slightly favoring the bass response, and the volume is noteworthy across all pitches.
    I'm very pleased with the tone, and also very glad that the A4 sounds so different from my Morris A5.
    In closing, I am completely satisfied with Morris A4 #186 - What a great mandolin and an incredible value!
  25. Steve-o
    Congrats on your new A4, Ed. Sounds like a nice variation and addition to your stable. I use the JM-11 strings on my Morris A4 too, and really like the feel of them. Of course, you sacrifice volume for smoothness and playability. I think I would switch back to J74s if I wanted to play in a jam. Enjoy your new Morris!
  26. Mandobart
    Well I brought my new Morris F4 to a jam last Thursday. Several other pickers gave it a try and the comments were:
    1. how smooth and easy it is to play
    2. how great it sounds
    3. he only charges how much?

    On Tuesday I also had a chance to play #15 made by Sonny several years ago. All black finish A style with F holes. Sounded great; his work just gets better with time and playing.
  27. Steve-o
    It must be fun to see, play, and hear Sonny's new creations. I think I would go broke if I had a luthier friend like that! In fact, Mike Kemnitzer lives near me, and I'm glad I've never met him!
  28. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Steve, thanks for your words of congrats! Actually, I'm a little shocked at how loud the new A4 is with the JM11 strings - I was expecting it to be much meeker...I am pleasantly surprised!

    Mandobart, interesting to hear about your experience at the jam. It's similar to recent experiences I've had with my Morris A5. In the past month I've had two folks who are quite knowledgeable about the mandolin market (one is a working musician and the other works at a mandolin store) see and hear my Morris, and basically be in disbelief that it cost less than $1K. I found it interesting that both (on separate occasions, and independent from each other) were shocked that one could get a mandolin of this quality for under $1K.
  29. lhoyler
    I have two Morris Mandolins. After getting the first a F-5, it quickly took over the number spot from my Weber Gallatin. Then after getting to know Howard, he is such a nice man, and Nadine is awsome too! I can not say enough good words about them and his mandolins. I even talked my dad into getting one, and he loves it. If you ask me there is not a better deal out there for a good quality mandolin. I have played many Webers, Collings, Gibson, Laravee, and many others and I dont think any of them come close to my Morris #146! And oh yeah I have # 200 on hold! I am so exicited! -Landon Hoyler-
  30. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Hi Landon: Welcome to the Group & thanks for posting the video. Your Morris F5 sure has a strong, clear chop. Very nice!
    Also, Congratulations on getting Morris #200 on reserve - Smart thinking! Do you know yet what type of mandolin it will be?
    Finally I couldn't agree with you more when you say that "...there is not a better deal out there for a good quality mandolin...".
    In my opinion, Sonny's mandolins are by far the best value in the 'under $2000' price category, and this is really impressive considering his mandolins are considerably less that $2000!
  31. Mandobart
    Landon - I agree your Morris has the perfect bluegrass sound. Really liked the closeups of your Morris on "Working on a Building." Nice playing and singing, too. Be sure and let everyone know that Sonny builds A style, F style and two-point mandolins; as well as fiddles. He's also done a parlour guitar or two.
  32. lhoyler
    Ed I am going to have another F-5 made. I am tring to sell my Gallatin, and I need two F-5's. To me they are the most verstile for my playing. Howard has the quilted maple held back already. Thinking of going with a Engleman top since already have a Sitka. I want the two point head stock on it, with ebony veneer. flat ebony fretboard with stainless steel frets, and a tobacco brown sunburts stain. I think that is it. I talk to him once a week, probally more lately since I am tring to build a mandolin myself. He is very helpful with any questions I have. I will post pics of my Morris' later...F-5, Flattop, and my dad's A-5.
  33. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    I finally figured out how to get decent audio on my Dell webcam...I also recently installed a new set of J74 strings on my Morris A4 and she came alive! Interestingly, Sonny said he didn't like the JM11 strings and that he though the A4 would perform better with brass or PB strings...Boy he was right! Anyways, here's a couple of clips...Please forgive the novice playing, but I do think the clips convey the general character of the A4...Man, she's a ball to play!

    Soldier's Joy & Woody's Rag

    Rolling Stones Country Honk (chords with some blues arpeggios)
  34. mushroomboy714
    Well I order my Morris F 5...#192 and from the is going to be very nice....
    just waiting
    Sonny seems wonderful and I was very nervous buying a mandolin sight unseen...but I felt much better after talking to him.
    great transaction....maybe by Feb. she'll be in my hands....a second Christmas for me....
    thanks to everyone on the Cafe, happy holidays and a great New Years.
  35. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Congratulations, Skip!
    Be sure to post some 'work in progress' pics here! Looking forward to seeing her...
    What woods & finish have you chosen?
    Happy Holidays & again, congratulations!
  36. mandomanmike
    Hello friends: I am a new believer, just purchased a Sonny Morris 2 point oval hole mandolin on faith and what I have read here. Still waiting on delivery but Sonny played it for me over the phone.....hard to tell thought but it sounded nice. Welcome comments from the 2 point owners to hear what you think about the sound of your mandos. I play other styles besided bluegrass, favoring blues, swing and jazz so I'm thinking an oval hole will sound nice. What do you all think?
  37. Steve-o
    Congrats Mike, and welcome to the club! I play some swing tunes on my Morris oval. It has great tone and playability and should work well for any of those genres.
  38. mandomanmike
    thanks Steve!
  39. mandomanmike
    Hello friends

    Just received my two pointer. Sounds absolutely awesome and I agree with others regarding the action.

    It has a pretty thick beefy neck, which I wonder how long it will take to get used to. Have any of you had the same experience? It's probably the thickest neck I've seen on a mandolin and it is different to play, especially as I move up the neck.

    Your thoughts?

  40. mandomanmike
    oh, and I should say much of it has to do with the v neck configuration which I'm not used to
  41. Weez
    My first Howard Morris F5 mandolin arrived today!! It's an outstanding mandolin. The top is Engleman spruce; back and sides are maple. Has a 3 piece laminated maple neck with steel square bar epoxied in for stiffness. Radiused ebony fretboard and bridge. Has cocobolo on the headstock overlay. Grover tuners and tailpiece. Nitro finish. Martin bluegrass strings. Parallel tone bars. Cocobolo armrest. 1 1/8" at the bone nut. Right now, I'm just staring at it. Can't believe I actually own one and how beautiful it is! Thanks to "Clement" for telling me about Howard!!
  42. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Congratulations, Weez!
    We'd love to see pictures and hear clips!
  43. mushroomboy714
    Wow!! I had #192 F5 blonde mandolin built for me by Sonny...and had to wait because of the weather (snow, rain, ice and more snow). I waited and waited for a whole month or more and finally I had Sonny ship it, received it Thursday.. It's beautiful.. I'll wait a day or two before I tune her up... but she looks great... I'll post a picture or two a little later...
  44. Steve-o
    Congrats Skip. Glad you like your new Morris. No need to wait a day or two to tune it up. It should take no more than 8 hours to let the box, then the case, and then the mando to warm to room temperature. Best to have relative humidity around 40-50%. So get playing that thing!
  45. johnmarkva
    Just ordered the A4 listed in the classifieds. Can't wait to try it out. I'll update when I get it.
  46. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Congratulations, John!
  47. johnmarkva
    I got my A4 Monday and it is sweet. Here's a description from Sonny: "As for the construction, the top is western red cedar; back and sides are birdseye maple; fretboard and overlay on the headstock are cocobola. Has transverse tone bar. Martin bluegrass strings which are 11-14-24-38. I don't recommend any heavier as it puts too much stress on the top. Has Grover tuners and tailpiece; nitrocellulose finish which is a lacquer. Has violin purfling around the hole and edges."

    Now I got to get to playing it more so it will open up. I posted a couple of pictures in the Morris group photos.
  48. Ed Goist
    Ed Goist
    Congratulations, John! She looks beautiful!
    Do you mind if I post your pictures to the Morris Mandolin Facebook Page?
    Once you get to know her, let us know who she plays and sounds!
  49. Steve-o
    That's a very good looking cedar/birdseye Morris you got. Congrats and welcome to the group.
  50. johnmarkva
    It's okay Ed to post to the FB page. I need to get over there myself. Thanks
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