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Thread: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

  1. #1
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    Default Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    I got to thinking again about this question now that IBMA is underway. All the big dogs in the mandolin business, makers and dealers, all want to be there. Elderly and The Mandolin Store, Northfield and Gibson are all there, and letting us know that they are there. Probably a lot more I don't know about. Is there any other event that brings together so many entities of the mandolin world? Probably not.

    I think we all realize that Bluegrass players make up a significant portion of mandolin players. And what Bluegrass players want in an instrument and in their playing style is very specific, and at least somewhat drives the market. So much so that we have a plethora of variations on the sunburst F style theme. Also, books about how to build a "Bluegrass" mandolin, how play "Bluegrass" mandolin, even camps about how to play "Monroe" style mandolin. Apparently, for some, just saying "Bluegrass" isn't specific enough. In general I find that many here on the Cafe speak about "Bluegrass mandolin" as an instrument distinct from other mandolins. We all know when that term is used, we are speaking about an F style in sunburst just like Bill's. but ironically, that particular instrument was invented for classical music!

    My question is, just how big is the Bluegrass segment of our community? Is it a majority? Or just a sizable minority? I wonder if the question is even answerable. I'm not talking about folks who dabble in BG or just try it out. I mean folks for whom this is their main thing, because I also get the impression that the Bluegrass players generally don't stray into other styles. If more than 50 percent of mandolin players are Bluegrassers, then the influence over instrument choices, teaching methods, camps and other things makes sense. It those players form only a large minority, it makes less sense to me.

    If I am mistaken in any of my assumptions, I am prepared to be schooled!
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    I enjoy bluegrass but don't play it. I like to play other things. This may be a skill issue but, bluegrass isn't something I'm particularly motivated to play (at the moment).

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Short form: I have absolutely no idea.

    Around here, the bluegrass die-hards are a minority - but a vocal one and active one. <Removed by Moderator. Posting Guideline violation>

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Yes, Jamie, I am in the same boat. I like listening to a good Bluegrass band but enjoy playing old time and Celtic. But often, when folks see me with my mandolin, they assume I play Bluegrass, the association is that strong. I would add that I live in an area where there is a strong Bluegrass presence, with many bands and more than a few festivals. So people in these parts think mandolin equals Bluegrass, period.

    It's just strange to me, because there are so many styles of mandolin playing out there, but this one specific genre seems to drive the market exclusively. That's why I'd like to know if Bluegrass players represent a majority or a minority in the mandolin world. If a minority, why the overwhelming influence over instrument makers, dealers, music publishing, teaching,workshops, camps, and so on? Is it just a matter of visibility? Part of the reason people around here are so Bluegrass aware is the number of festivals with free admission (hard to beat that). I can't imagine getting two dozen Irish trad bands, or two dozen old time bands, or two dozen mandolin classical quartets, and having a weekend festival. But the Bluegrass folks seem to have no problem getting that number of bands. So people go to the festivals, because it's something free to take the kids to (always advertised as "family friendly") and people see and hear this type of music all weekend. So it creates the impression that mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and guitar equals Bluegrass.

    My questions are difficult ones, I know. I'm struggling to figure out if this equivalency is perception, or reality.
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    Fingers of Concrete ccravens's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post

    Around here, the bluegrass die-hards are a minority - but a vocal one and active one. <removed by site owner. violates forum posting guidelines.>
    Ironically, it seems you are part of the "vocal minority" that chooses to bring politics into a seemingly innocuous mandolin thread!!



    I go to the Cafe to escape the political madness and just read about and discuss mandolins. Arguments over things like "Is a Blue Chip pick worth the price?" is about as controversial as I'd like to get here.

    Hope the cafe can remain a place like that..
    Last edited by Mandolin Cafe; Sep-26-2017 at 11:20am.
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    I too don't play Bluegrass, but I enjoy the music. I don't have the dexterity to play the fast tunes. I prefer play waltzes and any other, what I call pretty music. We are lucky to have builders who can create any tone or sound someone hears in their head. Bruce Weber made my Yellowstone to have the tone I was looking for. Mine is definitely not a heavy Bluegrass sound.

    An I agree, let's keep the politics out of our threads.
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Ok, here's my take I've only been playing for 2 years with background in sax & guitar now playing mando with 4-5 piece rock/country/Americana I recently came to the conclusion (maybe wrong one) that I need to learn BG to move my playing forward. It seems most teachers and books for mandolin are geared towards BG which is fine with me as long as keep improving. Will I ever be a good BG musician, no but the style and skill those guys have will no doubt transfer over.
    Lou

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    When I took up the mandolin 5 years ago, I started with bluegrass because I was familiar with the genre, it was easily accessible and there were groups to join and play it. So I jam 3 days a week. But along the way, as my skill improved, I started playing swing because the harmonies are more fun, and I jam that 3 days a week as well. And I know folks who play both styles, but none of that old time, Celtic or ITM nonsense

    So for an instrument(s) of course, I have a couple F styles, a couple A's and a two point. I manipulate the tone by string and pick choice. And I would never buy a mandolin because of the 'chop'.

    But it's all a blast, just having fun making music with old and new friends.
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Like some others here, my interest in bluegrass is peripheral at best. Yes, it gets a little tiresome when commentators here assume that bluegrass is the centre of the musical universe, but at the same time, no single genre has done more to maintain a place for mandolins in the public eye. For that we ought to be thankful.

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    My take is that Bluegrass, in a broad sense is still the most popular mandolin genre, but the lines are blurred. Over here in the Western US, the music has heavy Bluegrass influence but is not not so much "traditional" bluegrass. Even if it is the single most popular genre, I am not sure that it maintains 50% interest. This is only based on my experiences in the west.
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    One very important perspective is Bluegrass is a unique United States creation. This could be an important element in the proliferation of BG groups.

    There are Bluegrass bands all over the world made up of local folks that love the style. Whether it's the sound of BG or that it is uniquely American, I don't know-but probably both. The blues idiom, rock and roll, jazz and others started here and then spread out.

    I'd be curious also as to how many of us are exclusively BG. I love the mandolin and frequent the MC daily following various issues and I don't play BG at all. 'Not that there's anything wrong with it!.' My path started playing backup guitar for several Italian immigrants.

    I do feel the need to specify I DON'T play BG when applying for jobs. Often I get a puzzled look that says, "What else is there on the mandolin?" To which I launch into the wonderful world of the 'what else'!

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Quote Originally Posted by Ron McMillan View Post
    Like some others here, my interest in bluegrass is peripheral at best. Yes, it gets a little tiresome when commentators here assume that bluegrass is the centre of the musical universe, but at the same time, no single genre has done more to maintain a place for mandolins in the public eye. For that we ought to be thankful.
    I think it's a mixed blessing.

    The good - the mandolin is popular again, lots of makers, etc.

    The bad - people assume I'm going to play Bluegrass just because I have a mandolin.

    Quote Originally Posted by Folkmusician.com View Post
    My take is that Bluegrass, in a broad sense is still the most popular mandolin genre, but the lines are blurred. Over here in the Western US, the music has heavy Bluegrass influence but is not not so much "traditional" bluegrass. Even if it is the single most popular genre, I am not sure that it maintains 50% interest. This is only based on my experiences in the west.
    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Packard View Post

    I love the mandolin and frequent the MC daily following various issues and I don't play BG at all. 'Not that there's anything wrong with it!.' My path started playing backup guitar for several Italian immigrants.

    I do feel the need to specify I DON'T play BG when applying for jobs. Often I get a puzzled look that says, "What else is there on the mandolin?" To which I launch into the wonderful world of the 'what else'!
    What else indeed!

    As a player of primarily jazz, classical, Italian, Klezmer, choro, Greek and even Afghan music, there's a LOT more than Bluegrass!

    My sense is that the Bluegrass market does drive mandolin sales, as most of the cheaper mandolins are some sort of F model.

    Hey, there are some of us that do NOT think a Loar style F mandolin is the best instrument.

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Quote Originally Posted by Loubrava View Post
    Ok, here's my take I've only been playing for 2 years with background in sax & guitar now playing mando with 4-5 piece rock/country/Americana I recently came to the conclusion (maybe wrong one) that I need to learn BG to move my playing forward. It seems most teachers and books for mandolin are geared towards BG which is fine with me as long as keep improving. Will I ever be a good BG musician, no but the style and skill those guys have will no doubt transfer over.
    Lou
    I think this is spot on. Most of the materials available for learning the mandolin are Bluegrass based. While I rarely play bluegrass, I've played fiddle tunes for 20 years and make them part of my daily practice routine. I've been able to expand my knowledge, building off of the bluegrass vocabulary.
    I also benefit from a diverse music scene here in Colorado. Even the bluegrass jams are not all bluegrass. Lots of crossover into other genres.

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Around here, there are so many kinds of music at the local festivals that no one genre stands out; there's jazz and rockabilly and bluegrass and rock and roll and rap and even the occasional celtic-influenced music, polish and greek and big band and tribute and cover bands and the occasional classical quintet -- so I've never been assumed to be a bluegrass mandolinist. Frankly, most people who talk with me after a gig aren't exactly sure what instrument I'm playing. So maybe it's a geographic oddity. Maybe the bluegrass influence is partly because you normally don't have a bluegrass band without a mandolin -- so every band has one (sort of like every rock and roll band has a bass and a guitar and drums) and other genres aren't so specific in their instrument rollcall? At least if you're marketing to bluegrass bands, you know you'll always have customers.

    As for the other, I know a handful of mandolinists, but they're all Irish musicians -- because I don't normally hang around with bluegrass musicians. I guess I self-select -- and nobody who plays around my circle of sessions would even think that the mandolinists are bluegrassers.
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    That's why I'd like to know if Bluegrass players represent a majority or a minority in the mandolin world. If a minority, why the overwhelming influence over instrument makers, dealers, music publishing, teaching,workshops, camps, and so on? Is it just a matter of visibility? .
    Good questions! It has seem that the mandolin world is skewed towards the Bluegrass mandolinist ever since I began playing in the 1970s.

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Paradigm on display.

    All the big dogs in the mandolin business are not at IBMA.

    When you leave Collings and Weber out of the mix, when you leave Eastman and Kentucky out of the mix with their collective volume and compare that to Gibson's output you're talking apples and oranges. There are of course some fine builders represented.

    Hate to break it to anyone, but lots of Eastman and Kentucky mandolins played in bluegrass bands when you throw the entire genre that includes newgrass, thrashgrass, punkgrass, NashGrass, etc. --insert your name here--into the mix. The largest segment of the mandolin business does not attend IBMA.

    To my experience there's only once place all of those show up and it's an industry trade show: NAMM, and only the Anaheim show.

    IBMA is a very small organization, well under 2,000 members last I heard. Big in name, big in attendance at this one show, but overall, an organization that's really not representing a lot of musicians when you put all of the numbers together.

    Now we'll get out of the way so we can all define "what is bluegrass?" For the money from the guy that runs this site he says it's not a bluegrass mandolin web site, and the genre is not nearly as big as everyone thinks, but it has the easiest name that rolls off the tongue.

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Always makes me chuckle when the perspective here in the US perpetually ignores three centuries of classical tradition on the continent across the Atlantic ocean. Must be the dubious work of those Bluegrass Record Label Executives again.
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    I'm grass so looking like 1 out of 18

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Lol, Ted, agree. But, I've lived in Western and Central NC for 14 years now. To many in these parts, there's only bluegrass music! I saw Thile and Fleck a couple of months ago in Charlotte. AWESOME show, broad range of musical styles on display, phenomenal musicianship, of course. The song that got the biggest ovation was the theme to "The Beverly Hillbillies." Just saying...

    FWIW (not much, I know) I enjoy a broad range of musical styles, including, but certainly not limited to, bluegrass. If I could pick that dang fast cleanly I'd play it more (and I'm working on that), but it's tough. I've been playing a lot of Bach at home of late, though, and almost exclusively play contemporary Christian music when I play in public (with our youth praise band).
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    In my neck of the woods there are not a lot of people playing bluegrass. There do seem to be a few playing "That's not bluegrass" style though.

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Up until about 9 months ago I was pretty strictly bluegrass only. Then I started digging further into Dawg music and Jazz/swing. While I am very much a newbie with jazz, I am enjoying trying to learn some of the standards and differences in the style. Of course I still have trouble refraining from throwing a big Monroe blues lick in the middle of Lady Be Good.

    I'm fascinated with the Bach kind of stuff as well, but not as interested to learn to play it as to just observe the masters.
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    I started grass, not only grass, but on the, cough cough, banjo (still love it). Funny to say this, but his forum and the move to mandolin has moved my center towards Irish, gypsy, waltzes (non-grass in origin). As I bought oval hole instruments, GOMs, mandolas, the movement from grass has accelerated. Still when I look on my iPod, the large majority of the music on it (70% or so) is grass, but I would guess that in a given week, I listen to considerably less than 50% grass, currently. The movement has been gradual, but steady. Much as a reaction to the influences in the Cafe.
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Mandolin Player first. The wonderful thing about this instrument is how many different styles of music you can play with it. Lately really interested in swing and jazz. But like old time, celtic, and half a dozen other styles as well.

    But I play a lot of bluegrass. Mainly because that is who is jamming on acoustic instruments with a pretty high level of ability around here. I tend to like the jams that range pretty far afield. But marketing decisions are made on the basis of averages that might not take this into account.

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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Really interesting discussion so far, and thanks to all who contributed so far, and yet to come.

    Anectdotal evidence so far suggests that the Bluegrass genre exercises much more influence over the world of mandolins, at least in the US, than the actual number of participants would indicate. Which was my working hypothesis, and I've seen nothing to change my mind on that.

    Glad we didn't beat the "what is Bluegrass?" dead horse. After all, it's hard to define, but we know it when we hear it.

    Very glad that Scott pointed out the "Big Dogs" that DON'T go to IBMA.

    As for myself, I am the master of the "Ain't No Part of Nuthin'" genre.
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    Default Re: Curious about the Bluegrass mandolin market segment

    Quote Originally Posted by ccravens View Post
    Ironically, it seems you are part of the "vocal minority" that chooses to bring politics into a seemingly innocuous mandolin thread!!



    I go to the Cafe to escape the political madness and just read about and discuss mandolins. Arguments over things like "Is a Blue Chip pick worth the price?" is about as controversial as I'd like to get here.

    Hope the cafe can remain a place like that..
    I thought it was an apt comparison!

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