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Thread: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

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    Default Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Hey all, I know there are a bunch of threads similar to this, but bear with me.

    I mostly play 8-string acoustic mandolin. (That's already a lie; I guess my main mandolin in my band these days is a Nat'l RM1 with hot plate. I digress). A few years back, I had a 5-stringer made custom by Mann. It was truly a thing of beauty, made to my exact specifications. Trouble was, I just never dug the sound of it. I'm too much of a journeyman to suss out whether or not it was the instrument that didn't jibe with me, or if -- perish the thought -- 5-string electric mandolin just wasn't my thing. Hoping I'd get a change in tone, I swapped out the rail pickups for strat-style pickups. It still didn't mesh with my ear; the tone always sounded kinda "farty" or "flabby" to me. No offense to Jon, his instruments are incredible crafted. This thing was gorgeous, and had a fantastic feel to it. But ultimately, I decided to part with it.

    Cut to now: I've been taking jazz guitar lessons and really, really digging it. Been applying my lessons to the mandolin, and I want a sound that's a little, well, jazzier than my current arsenal of lil' hatchets. Something that could handle some gypsy jazz or western swing. Always been a big fan of Tiny Moore, but yeah, any instrument modeled after his is a little out of my price range. Despite previous experience, I'm into the idea of a 5-string, maybe a 4-string. The old Fender Mandocasters are sexy as hell but a little too pricey (and did they only make 4-strings?)...the newer FM-60E's have a pretty decent look (I'm not nuts about the f-hole) and can be nabbed for fairly cheap. And then another part of me has always craved an 8-string Harmony batwing, even though I know it's a different sound.

    Since I broke the bank on the Mann, I'm leery of spending too much. Around 800-1300 seems more responsible, especially since it's unlikely I'll be playing this style of music live anytime soon. I could maaaaybe save up for a vintage Mandocaster, but if I'm going to spend that much money, I could instead get two electric mandolins (a 4- or 5-string and an 8-string). MAS personified, over here.

    Of course, getting my hands on any of these instruments to test them out is part of the really great, totally-not-frustrating challenge.

    If anyone has suggestions or thoughts, I'm all ears. Thanks in advance!
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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Cafe sellers and some dealers will sell instruments on approval, but shipping them back and forth can add up.

    I gather that Guitar Center's approval process is astoundingly liberal: you can try an instrument out for something like 30 days if I'm not mistaken. And if you return it, it doesn't need to go any further than your local Guitar Center, so you needn't pay for shipping more than once.

    Granted, there aren't that many electric mandolins on offer at Guitar Center.
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    CAUTION: financial self interest and crazy self-promotion follows.... you have been warned!

    My next 5 string electric will be in that price range - it's currently tucked away until the end of the month waiting for finish to cure before sanding out and top-coating. Compared to the first prototype that I posted about here (sorry can't find the thread right now, but the videos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPrWo5m-OtM), it's been reconfigured with a shorter neck (to put the pickup in a more favourable location for a thicker sound) and more hollow body for hopefully.... a jazzier/cooler sound. What I haven't decided yet is whether to cut a hole for a second pickup - I was very taken by the sound I got from 2 blended pickups on this 'zouk, but whether that translates to a 5 string mandolin is another matter... so much still to learn about these:


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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    I'm glad to know you are tinkering with short-neck designs, as Tiny Moore's Roberts is. Definitely include a second pickup, even if you rarely use it. I recommend a location of about (or smidge under) 1.5" from the bridge for treble pickup and 4.5" from the bridge for bass. This is referencing the center line of a single-coil. I have stacked singles on all four of my amplified instruments, and the fact I have identical pickups on four different instruments means I can hear real differences in wood and pickup location.

    My Ryder has a bolt-on maple neck, whose compliance I think gives it more of the Fender tone, even though the body is a Les-Paul-style maple over mahogany. My Almuse is sapele, a very hard wood, and the tone is somewhat harder than the Ryder, a bit less resonant in feel. It feels more Gibson-like in response, even with single-coil pickups. The Buchanans, with the same pickup (but different location), have a big sound, and a different attack. There is less "pop" and a a more spread attack, although total sustain is longer on the solids.

    An interesting result is the acoustic instrument, with the same string gauges and scale length, has a more solid, less rubbery bottom, than the Almuse, which is also a 10-string. I think the compliance of the top softens and spreads the attack to make it less of a splat. I am finding the amplified Buchanan a very satisfying sound for solo play as well as duos or trios without drums. (In a loud drum band I'd use a solid body for the more focused tone.)

    One more thing---I find I need a large cut at around 1200 Hz for the Buchanans to not sound harsh and it helps the solids to sound less toy-like, also.
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    CAUTION: financial self interest and crazy self-promotion follows.... you have been warned!

    My next 5 string electric will be in that price range - it's currently tucked away until the end of the month waiting for finish to cure before sanding out and top-coating. Compared to the first prototype that I posted about here (sorry can't find the thread right now, but the videos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPrWo5m-OtM), it's been reconfigured with a shorter neck (to put the pickup in a more favourable location for a thicker sound) and more hollow body for hopefully.... a jazzier/cooler sound. What I haven't decided yet is whether to cut a hole for a second pickup - I was very taken by the sound I got from 2 blended pickups on this 'zouk, but whether that translates to a 5 string mandolin is another matter... so much still to learn about these:

    I'd be interested, if I was asked, about such a thing, providing it was octave like this - sense it's not?
    that zouk is awesome.
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    I can only speak for myself, however, about 20 months ago I became smitten with a fender 4 string my wife and daughter gave to me as a retirement gift. It took a really good setup and some different offset barrels for the headstock/bridge and now the intonation is dead on and it plays like butter. About a year ago I purchased a BlueStar 5 string mandoblaster and found my new favorite instrument. With reverb, chorus and a couple of effects pedals I'm in harmony heaven. I was burned once purchasing a Fender FM60E unseen from Guitar Center (the neck was warped bad) but they refunded my money including shipping, so no harm, no foul. I still had the yen, however for the Fender FM60E, and have ordered one just a few days ago off Reverb. Hopefully lightning won't strike twice and this one will be a go. If I were you, I'd go for it and get that five string....have some fun with it. If you find a good used one, you can't lose much money.

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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    I also enjoy the 5 string Blue Star Mandoblaster. I found that moving from 4 strings, or 8, to 5 strings made sense to me when playing melodies with some 3 string chords, and that the extra 5'th was an accessible, almost natural, playground.
    I still struggle with playing chords because I don't easily incorporate a fifth string so sometimes it's sort of gets in my way.
    I like the sound and playability of the Mandoblaster. It's @ $650 new at Elderly Instruments. I'd like to try their 4 string.

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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kenny A View Post
    I still had the yen, however for the Fender FM60E, and have ordered one just a few days ago off Reverb. Hopefully lightning won't strike twice and this one will be a go. If I were you, I'd go for it and get that five string....have some fun with it. If you find a good used one, you can't lose much money.
    Thanks, Kenny. I'll be curious to hear how your second FM60E goes. That's how I'm leaning now.

    Those Blue Stars sound cool, but...I dunno, I realize I'm picky, I just prefer an emando that doesn't look as much like a little guitar.
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    I recently purchased a Fender FM60E. I am loving it. I like the feel a bit better than my Blue Star mandoblaster, which I am letting go.
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord of the Badgers View Post
    I'd be interested, if I was asked, about such a thing, providing it was octave like this - sense it's not?
    that zouk is awesome.
    The one tucked away drying at present is a 5 string mandolin (CGDAE on 14" scale), I'm hoping to build a couple more 'zouks starting in April - one like the last one, and one idea that's been nagging at me is for a short scale OM on something like a mandolin sized body - sort of an ultra-portable mini-zouk. But first I have a couple of acoustics to build... just scrapped one body because it's not right which certainly doesn't help the schedule

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    Lord of All Badgers Lord of the Badgers's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    The one tucked away drying at present is a 5 string mandolin (CGDAE on 14" scale), I'm hoping to build a couple more 'zouks starting in April - one like the last one, and one idea that's been nagging at me is for a short scale OM on something like a mandolin sized body - sort of an ultra-portable mini-zouk. But first I have a couple of acoustics to build... just scrapped one body because it's not right which certainly doesn't help the schedule
    was round at Paul Shippey's yesterday, and he showed me pics of a zouk he once built (he only builds pure acoustic these days, so nobody get excited please!) that was as he put it "what a rickenbacker mandolin type instrument should have looked like"... it was stunning. There's a lucky person somewhere in europe with that beast!
    My name is Rob, and I am Lord of All Badgers

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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    I love the five-string. Barely play anything else at this point.


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    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Quote Originally Posted by Magnus Geijer View Post
    I love the five-string. Barely play anything else at this point.

    That sounds outstanding ! What's the scale length and tuning - high B or low C on the 5th course?

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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Thanks! It's a GDAEB at 18.5".

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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    I nabbed an FM60E off Guitar Center years ago for peanuts. I had to put a ton of work into it to get it where I wanted it, but it was well worth it. Here's a build thread I posted that should have some audio clips as well:

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...ktop-make-over

    "That" jazz sound comes from a humbucker placed as close to the neck/12th fret octave as possible. I believe Tiny's Bigsby was something like 17 frets, which put the neck pickup much closer to the octave than my 60E with 19.

    I get a really descent jazz tone from my neck pickup with the tone rolled down a bit, and a rocking lead tone with the bridge pup wide open. I also really like the nasally out-of-phase tones I get.

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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Did you go to a music store and play the 5 string through a variety of amps?
    IMO there is no way to judge an electric instrument without doing it.
    The rest of this is my opinion as an experienced e-mando player/"builder",
    going for a clean mellow tone. Avoiding harshness...
    You generally need humbuckers in the neck position to get a good
    electric mandolin tone. Certain "rail" pickups are completely unsuitable
    for electric mandolin: "Hot rails" and single coil sized pickups. I'd suggest
    Lawrence humbucker size rails ie. L-500. From this site:
    http://www.billlawrence.com/ There is another company called Bill Lawrence
    selling similar looking pickups. I wouldn't use their products.
    Any rail humbucker used for jazz guitar is also suitable.
    Last edited by Joel Glassman; Mar-04-2017 at 8:08pm.

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    Quietly Making Noise Dave Greenspoon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    +1 on the Wilde Bill twin blade; I found the LS45 perfect for Bessie, the Kentucky 300 I had for a while. Those Lawrence pickups give off amazing sound, and wow could Bessie scream when she wanted to let loose.

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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Thanks Tom for sharing your very practical experience in the above post from 2/24 (1500 Hz cut?, ok). I'm also learning a lot from the rest of you (Joel, Tavy, Dave, Verne, et al) about how you get the sound you seek. I have a cheapo Morgan Monroe Tele style mando and your pickup suggestions and advice is much appreciated. It's an 8 string emando, not a 5 string as the thread title reads but I hope to try out some new pickups in the near future. Cheers!!

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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Quote Originally Posted by Joel Glassman View Post
    Did you go to a music store and play the 5 string through a variety of amps?
    IMO there is no way to judge an electric instrument without doing it.
    The rest of this is my opinion as an experienced e-mando player/"builder",
    going for a clean mellow tone. Avoiding harshness...
    You generally need humbuckers in the neck position to get a good
    electric mandolin tone. Certain "rail" pickups are completely unsuitable
    for electric mandolin: "Hot rails" and single coil sized pickups. I'd suggest
    Lawrence humbucker size rails ie. L-500. From this site:
    http://www.billlawrence.com/ There is another company called Bill Lawrence
    selling similar looking pickups. I wouldn't use their products.
    Any rail humbucker used for jazz guitar is also suitable.
    Thanks for your response, Joel. If you're referring to my Mann hatchet, I did indeed play it thru a variety of amps. Granted, it had hot rails in it initially, and strat-style single coils later on. I was still trying to get a rock sound out of it back in those days, and wasn't considering humbuckers. I agree with you that 'buckers will get me closer to a jazz sound.

    Seems like the Fender FM60E makes the most sense for somebody like me who's hoping not to spend oodles of cash on an instrument that he struck out with in the past. I'll def look into those Lawrence pickups; I own a '75 Gibson Marauder with his unique pickups in there, and I'm a huge fan of 'em.
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Another benefit to the Bill Lawrence pickups is the price. Only $45.00.
    These: http://wildepickups.com/Wilde_Bill_s_Twin_Blades.html
    Not these: http://billlawrenceusa.com/

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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Quote Originally Posted by Verne Andru View Post
    I nabbed an FM60E off Guitar Center years ago for peanuts. I had to put a ton of work into it to get it where I wanted it, but it was well worth it. Here's a build thread I posted that should have some audio clips as well:

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...ktop-make-over

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Thanks, Verne. That was an excellent thread. I loved hearing the audio samples from your FM60E, she sounds great! Sadly I don't think I'm handy enough to attempt those mods m'self.
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    The OP, digitalshrub, asked for my comments after receiving the Fm60e I was waiting on delivery, so I thought I would add my 2 cents, but with inflation etc, that's now a nickel, I believe. I received it about 10 days ago but waited two days to attempt any changes due to the 2 day trial period. There was a slight bow to the neck and I did a slight truss rod adjustment and the bow disappeared. The functioning truss rod came as a surprise as the first one I purchased and returned did not have a truss rod. There must have been a period where truss rods were used. Maybe if Martin from emando.com reads this he could give the history of the truss rod use. The strings were badly corroded and appeared to be years old so the first task was to give it a thorough cleaning (it was absolutely filthy) and install a new set of emando flatwound strings. (fwiw, I use his strings on all my electrics). After some nut filing, and much tweaking with the bridge, it was playable with acceptable action. There was only one cosmetic issue that could not be corrected with polishing coumpound and elbow grease, but with a touch up pen from Stew-Mac, it's now nearly invisible. I love the appearance; it looks like it just rolled off the assembly line. It feels good in my hand with the exception of the neck finish. The high gloss slows my hand movement up and down the neck, making the use of baby powder necessary. As I said, the action is acceptable but not as low as my Bluestar Mandoblaster. It would require modification of the bridge saddles, I believe, to lower it further and I might attempt it if I decide to keep the instrument. I'm not wild about the sound. My Bluestar has a very mellow, warm tone while the Fender has that twangy typical Fender sound. Kind of a Mel Tormey vs Steven Tyler. Both sounds have their place. I try to use it an hour or so each day in an attempt to grow accustomed to the voice, but so far I end up back on the Bluestar. The Bluestar has a funky, bordering on ugly, ugly appearance but sounds oh so sweet with classical and jazz. If I decide to keep the Fender as a player, I will definitely have to change the pickups to accommodate my old, somewhat worn out ears and I'll have to modify the saddles to lower the action. That's my uneducated opinion so far, digitalshrub. On a scale of one to ten it gets a 9 on appearance, a 7 on playability, and a 5 on sound produced. My Bluestar gets a 2 on appearance, but a 9 on sound and playability. It you've not yet made a selection, I hope my two cents (oops, a nickel) helps. However, If you've already made a choice, consider my ramblings to be the senile drivel of an old man with far too much time on his hands.

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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Many many thanks, Kenny. That was helpful indeed.

    Especially regarding the tone on the FM60E. I'm feeling fairly certain that for a 5 stringer, I'm going to want a warmer tone more akin to what it sounds like you get from your Bluestar. I agree that the appearance of the Bluestar instruments isn't very appealing (to me), though. Hmmm.

    Meanwhile, I'm feeling keen to get a passable 4-stringer as well, with a more "Fender" tone. The "Mando-Strat" reissues, with a little saddle work, might be just the ticket. I spent most of last night scouring thru old threads on here re: the Mando-Strat. I'll probably hold off on the FM60E in favor of saving up for a middle-tier 5-string.
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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    I can help you on that 4 string Mandostrat as that was my first e-mando. I sent that one out for a pro setup and he did A bang up job. The action is low and fast and by using some offset barrels in the bridge it has perfect intonation. The voice is typical Fender as you would expect. I've seen some great prices from time to time and they don't seem to sell quickly so maybe you can get a good deal. It's a good instrument to add to the herd.

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    Default Re: Flirting with the 5-string mandolin (again)

    Sweet! Thanks, Kenny. Yeah, the idea of getting a used reissue Mando-Strat (I still really just wanna call these Mandocasters, but I know about the Eastwood thing) just hit me a few days ago. I was absorbed in drooling over the vintage ones, but there seems to be relatively little point (or reality, for me) in dropping 2.5K for something like that. 200-300 for a reissue is vastly more feasible, and wouldn't get in the way of a slightly fancier 5-string purchase. I'm glad to hear the reissues sound good and play well.
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