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Thread: Help me go electric

  1. #1
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    I am wavering about going to the "dark side", as my strictly acoustic friends claim, and plugging into something electric. Can you kind folks share your wisdom and experience? My knowledge of all things electric ends at a toaster and a blender, so I have many questions regarding an electric mando. My thought: an eight string in order to emulate the feel of an acoustic, other than that I am lost. What is the difference between solid body/ hollow body? What sort of pickups, where are they located and what sort of strings do you use? What do those funny little knobs on the body do? How much of the sound is dependent on the mando and how much on the type/style/brand of amp? Will I have to sell my youngest child in order to afford one (mando plus amp)? At present I suffer through old timey,early bluegrass, fiddle tunes, folk, and cowboy, but I am excited about swing and blues. My current collection includes an Old Wave A and a Sumi F, with another Old Wave on the way (now that Bill has quit having fun at Wintergrass). I currently live in a "electric-mando-free-zone", so when I do travel to sample I hope to have some idea as to what I'm looking for. Please feel free to educate this ignorant geezer. Each and every opinion is appreciated. Thanks Rand
    mr.randy

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    I currently own two extremes of an "electric" mandolin. One is an acoustic mandolin, Rigel A+ Deluxe, about $1800 new, with a piezo pickup built-in under the bridge. No funny knobs, it just plugs in to an amp or acoustic processor. With a processor, like the BOSS AD-3, you can add reverb, chorus, and adjust the tone before pumping the output through an amp. In the end, it feels and sounds like an acoustic mandolin.

    The other mandolin is a 4-string solid body electric, make by Ryder, about $1000 new. It has two single coil pickups, lead and rhythm, a switch to pick one or the other, or a mix of both, a volume knob, and a tone knob to adjust the bass/treble balance. I use the rhythm / mix setting to play chords, and the lead setting to play scales. The solid body 4-string doesn't sound like a mandolin; it sounds like the high end of an electric guitar...which is great for playing blues lead, if you're interested in that...it really screams! I feed it through a guitar processor to adjust distortion and sustain, into a Fender Pro Junior amp, which is a cheap, about $300, tube amp that sounds pretty good. It's a lot of fun, and an interesting change of pace from the acoustic mandolin.

    Hope this helps!
    Obsessed with four strings...

    Alan Duncan

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    If I were you I would work backwards: What kind of sound are you trying to get? The cheapest way to go electric is to add a pickup (or two) to one of your acoustic mandos. If you add something like an old dearmond pickup, and put on steel strings, you get basically the sound of an electric guitar, without the wood of the mando adding anything. This type of pickup, just like most electric guitar pickups only senses the vibration of the strings. Other pickups like a contact pickup attach to the wood of you instrument and give you more of an acoustic sound. You could get your feet wet without buying a new emando for something like maybe $200. A 15 Watt practice amp goes for $90 on sale, and a pickup and cord shouldn't cost more than $110. I have a Crate 15 W amp that has a bunch of onboard effects, like chorus and delay and reverb, which is nice a light, but gets pretty loud. Not a bad starter amp.
    If you are going to go for a new emando, I would get an 8-string, because you can always take 4 of the strings off and play it like a 4-string.
    Electric solid body instruments are a LOT easier to make than acoustic instruments, so you could probably get a cheapo emando for $100 if you really wante to go low end. Look on Ebay. Having played my share of cheapo emandos, there really is a quality difference as you move up in class, but if you're not sure, I'd start with a cheapo one.
    Forget with the cowbell, already...

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    corrections to above:
    "wood of your instrument"...
    "which is nice and light"...
    "really wanted to go low end"...

    sorry for the typos
    Forget with the cowbell, already...

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    Randolph, if your idea of going electric is along the same lines as putting down your Martin guitar and picking up a Stratocaster and playing like Buddy Guy then forget all about acoustic mandos with pick-ups. The Epihone Mandobird seems to be a good starter. Tho personally, I'd wait until a used clean Blue Star MandoBlaster comes up on Elderly Instruments. And a Fender Blues Junior is a great versatile amp.
    Wye Knot

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    And the reason I make these selections for you is that the re-sale of a used MandoBlaster or Fender BJ amp will be relatively easy and you'll loose practically nothing.
    Wye Knot

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    Epiphone lists an 8 string mandobird on their website, but I havn't seen those yet... I'd like to, I have a 4 string and it's a cool little axe, and goes well with my vox pathfinder 15. It's not the greatest rig but it's just about the cheapest and I think it sounds pretty good (not having much disposable income or a real use for an electric it was the perfect way to go for me!)

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    I wouldn't go as cheap as $100 for an electric ... you're basically buying expensive firewood at that price. Expect lousy fret jobs, crappy pickups, and impossible intonation. If you play Old Waves and Sumis it's a safe bet that you appreciate quality. You could get a pickup in your newest Old Wave, or maybe sell one of the Old Waves and spring for the Rigel A+ Deluxe (sounds acoustic, but louder, when you plug it in).

    There will someday be an 8-string Mandobird, but when is anyone's guess. If you happen to live in Seattle, you can try out my Yanuziello 8-string -- sweet little piece of lumber, that.
    Emando.com: More than you wanted to know about electric mandolins.

    Notorious: My Celtic CD--listen & buy!

    Donaldson Wood Thormahlen Andersen Old Wave Bacorn Yanuziello Fender National Gibson Franke Fuchs Aceto Three Hungry Pit Bulls

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    Wow! #Thank you all for the support, information and well reasoned opinions. #Since my original post my life has made a change (hopefully sweet)in an uncertain direction. #As California sinks below the level of fiscal sustainability, so goes my job. #Due to "unforeseeable budget cuts" I have been offered a position in a lock-down facility as opposed to working with preschoolers in a therapeutic setting. Well...no thanks. I'm to old and ornery to work behind electric coded locks, even if I get to leave after ten hours. So here's my plan: I have an old Washburn, bought several years ago in a strange fit of pos-mas. You know, "I really need a campfire mando" sort of urge. The action is good, with a comfortable neck, and it already has the tonal qualities of a solid body---unplugged. #Following Mikeomando's thinking I'm considering a non-acoustic pick-up, looking for that electric guitar sound. Suggestions on pick-ups would be appreciated. #Thanks, #Rand


    # # #
    mr.randy

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    Dearmond stopped making pickups a while back, but you can still find one on ebay or in the classifieds if you look and you are patient. I don't know of any other manufacturer that makes a retrofit electric-style pickup that doesn't require modification to your mando, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Anybody?
    Forget with the cowbell, already...

  11. #11

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    What about some of those modern "ultra thin" jazz guitar pickups that attach to the pickguard? They'll work if they have blade magnets - perhaps also if they have individual polepieces, but you'd have to be sure the spacing is good. They're guitar-sized, so you'd have to cut a slot in your pickguard or have the pickup stick out beyond the strings on the bass side. These pickups are less than 1/2" thick, so with any Gibson-style mando there should be plenty of space for them between the strings and body.

    Something like these:

    http://wdmusicproducts.com/Merchan....=JZZGTR

    http://www.fralinpickups.com/jazz.htm

    That should get you sounding electric and be easier to find than a vintage Dearmond (though I think Fralins might have a waiting list). You may still have feedback problems if you want to get really loud, but stuffing rags inside the mando's body will cure that.
    Peter Klima (not the hockey player)

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Barcus-Berry would be another option if you can't find a DeArmond. Details at emando.com. Or maybe a Sunrise guitar pickup if you can find a way to mount it.
    Emando.com: More than you wanted to know about electric mandolins.

    Notorious: My Celtic CD--listen & buy!

    Donaldson Wood Thormahlen Andersen Old Wave Bacorn Yanuziello Fender National Gibson Franke Fuchs Aceto Three Hungry Pit Bulls

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    I glued a Barcus Berry magnetic pick-up onto the top up near the bridge on an Epiphone MM-30. They recommend down towards the bridge but you'll get nicer sustain towards the neck. Just make sure there is enough string clearance so your not hitting it with your pick. Run the wire in through the f-hole and ask a luthier to install and end-pin jack. This served me very well for many years.
    Wye Knot

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    Thanks for all of your input. I visited the Seymour Duncan site and came away only slightly less bewildered than before. However, now I'm on a mission (impossible, perhaps)to convert my clunker Washburn into a cool blue electric. The top measures 5mm thick at the F hole with a solid brace running the length of the top along the center seam, so I'm not too worried about collapsing the top if I cut into it to install a in-body pick-up. Heaven only knows how thick the top is in the center! Your input has inspired me to launch a mandolin "soul project" and I truly appreciate that. #If my idea is totally whacky, let me know. #If all the eletric stuff is feasible I only have to worry about how to strip the bullet proof finish off of it before refinishing it. I don't know what this stuff is, but it reminds me of the layers and layers of resin on a 60's wood-hatch coffee table. #Further suggestions, warnings and insights are appreciated. #Rand
    mr.randy

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    I wouldn't cut into the top of an instrument you like. The whole point is to find a pickup that you can stick on there without doing mods, so if you don't like it you can just take it off again. The key measurement is how much clearance between the top of the mando and the strings. This will tell you how thick a pickup will fit under there. You could always tape one on with painters tape, and take it off later. If you cut into the top of a mando, whether it manages to stay in one piece or not, it will never, ever sound the same again. At the very least, the top will flex more than it does now, and it will be hard to stay in tune.
    Forget with the cowbell, already...

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    MandoChuck
    I chop a hole in a LLoyd loar to install this (if I had either of them)
    JonR.

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    Mikeo, #Thanks for your concern about cutting into a loved acoustic. In this case, this is not the case. #I paid $200 for this Washburn years ago and it has been in the case for a long time. #I spent the last two days stripping the bomb proof finish as part of my "mission." #Lordy me, I swear its a half pound lighter and tapping it brings a fuller response than before. #However, I'm still committed to "rebirthing" her as a full blown electric. #I have visited the S. Duncan site and loooked through my new Stew Mac catalogue to get some idea of price and availability. Musico, the pick-up on ebay looks interesting although out of my price range. #Its listed as a mando-guitar pick-up, what does this mean? #The set-up, with tone control, volume control and in-body placement is what I'm looking for. Do you have any suggestions? #Thanks, Rand
    mr.randy

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Well, since it didn't sell, you could try writing the seller and making an offer on that pickup. If you get it installed properly, you'll have the equivalent of a vintage EM150 ... can't beat that!
    Emando.com: More than you wanted to know about electric mandolins.

    Notorious: My Celtic CD--listen & buy!

    Donaldson Wood Thormahlen Andersen Old Wave Bacorn Yanuziello Fender National Gibson Franke Fuchs Aceto Three Hungry Pit Bulls

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    mrmando, #Thanks for the heads-up, but for the life of me I can't see how this would be installed in a hollow body mando. #The pick-up area looks way too wide, and what does one do with the attached plate with the allen screws attached? #Does the unit come apart leaving only the pick-up body? #I can't figure out how to contact chudking via email to ask questions, so I suppose I'll have to let this one go.
    mr.randy

  20. #20
    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    That is a good point ... looks like you might have to take the top off in order to get the pickup in there. Probably more work than it's worth.

    The three allen screws go right through the top, a bit south of where you'd cut the hole for the pickup. Look at any photo of a Gibson EM150 and you'll see what I mean.
    Emando.com: More than you wanted to know about electric mandolins.

    Notorious: My Celtic CD--listen & buy!

    Donaldson Wood Thormahlen Andersen Old Wave Bacorn Yanuziello Fender National Gibson Franke Fuchs Aceto Three Hungry Pit Bulls

  21. #21
    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Here's a DeArmond pickup.
    Emando.com: More than you wanted to know about electric mandolins.

    Notorious: My Celtic CD--listen & buy!

    Donaldson Wood Thormahlen Andersen Old Wave Bacorn Yanuziello Fender National Gibson Franke Fuchs Aceto Three Hungry Pit Bulls

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    Okay Randolph, jump on that Dearmond mentioned above. I personally wouldn't go over $80 myself...
    Forget with the cowbell, already...

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    Again, thanks for the heads-up, forgive my ignorance, and thanks for your patience. I am looking for an in-body pickup with both tone and volume controls #The above mentioned pick-up appears to mount on top of the top. I am looking for an "all electric" sound rather than any acoustic input, ala solid body electric. Please continue to educate me (unless boredom kills you first:p ) #Thanks. # Rand
    mr.randy

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    The Dearmond only senses the vibration of the strings, so it will give you that all-electric sound. My first foray into electric playing was a Dearmond attached to a gibson acoustic. I've never seen an aftermarket pickup with a tone control, and very few even have volume controls like the Dearmond. Most of the time you just get the pickup, and then have to wire in a tone control and a volume control. The easiest way to do this is by using the volume and tone controls on your amp. I have also used a preamp that had volume and tone controls to boost the signal going to my amp. When I did this on an acoustic mando with a Dearmond, it gave me overdriven distorted sustain for DAYS.
    This is what you seems to be asking for, and this is the easiest way to get it. You throw a Dearmond on there, crank up an amp, and you won't hear any acoustic-like tone. Take off 4 strings on the mando, and you have officially gone electric. After I played with a Dearmond for a while, I started buying more emandos, and looking for more specific things (like 5 strings). But let me say it again: A Dearmond with a set of electric strings will remove any trace of acoustic sound from your sound. The rest is up to you and your many groupies.
    Forget with the cowbell, already...

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    If you are still comitted to installing a permanent pickup wired with volume and tone, you should know that usually a hole is cut into the back of the mando to install the wires and pots and knobs, which is then covered with a cover. That way if something breaks or needs adjusting, a tech can get to it. You should look at a "bar" or "blade" pickup, instead of a pole pickup, because it's hard to find a pole pickup that lines up with the strings of a mando. Folks use a bass pickup because it has four poles, which line up with each course of strings.
    Forget with the cowbell, already...

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