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Thread: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

  1. #1
    Eternal Beginner Seamus B's Avatar
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    Default Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    Hello all - I am giving some thought to acquiring another mandolin in the next 12-months or so, and moving on slightly from my wonderfully dependable Eastman 305.

    I have become quite interested in the history of the mandolin in Irish folk music, ITM, and Celtic folk music, and the extent to which it seems to have been introduced at a very similar time to the guitar and banjo, but is not utilised quite as much. In any case, that is a different subject, but as I play ITM almost exclusively I have found myself becoming interested in the types of mandolins played by musicians in this genre.

    It occurs to me that just about any mandolin can be used or ITM, but that certain models, designs, and even strings and picks, are more suited to the sound. Perhaps more sympathetic to that style of playing and for use in sessions.

    It has been really interesting going back through this particular part of the forum and noting discussions - I have learned a great deal over the last year or so. I have also spent time researching the mandolins some of you have and that you discuss. It does appear that the A- style with oval hole is the preferred option, and I believe that this is partially related to volume in sessions.

    I have never particularly seen the aesthetic appeal of F style, scroll-work and heavily inlaid mandolins, although I do sometimes see an old Gibson and marvel at its beauty! I prefer the simplicity of the A-style, and I am drawn to the oval hole. I have also seen what I would crudely term the Onion shape as opposed to the Shallot shape. This is perhaps best seen in the Taran mandolins:

    http://www.taranguitars.co.uk/news/t...gwell-mandolin

    I wonder if these blond, Onion A-style, oval hole mandolins are somehow better suited to ITM? I think they are beautiful mandolins, and have a strangely ancient style that really separates them from the modern F-style bluegrass mandolins.

    What are people's experiences - and are certain mandolins 'better' for ITM and Celtic folk? I would be interested in your thoughts as I consider a new mandolin.
    Eastman MD305 - set-up by Simon Mayor.

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    Unfamous String Buster Beanzy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    If I were going for one to add to my little troupe I’d brobably look at one of the ‘onion’ shaped ones, but I’d go for a bandolim made for choro. It’d do anything I’d want but come in at a good price/quality balance, as well as being ‘the real deal’ for playing the choro numbers.
    That being said, I absolutely love playing the fast reels and jigs on my Calace bowl-back, the sound & responsiveness is brilliant for these, but it might be a bit costly as an option for Irish trad. For Slides and airs I love the sustain and sound of my Davidson.

    But yep in my next after two other instrument purchases (liuto-cantabile & hardingfele) I’d be doing the Bandolim thingy.
    Eoin



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  4. #3

    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    I like a-style flat-tops. They seem to have a longer sustain than carved tops which is particularly useful when adding ornamentation when playing. I really like my Big Muddy flat top. It's loud enough for sessions, is very playable, and has a simple, tasteful look.

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    Registered User Mike Snyder's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    I like my Mike Black A4 for small sessions. Lovely big diffuse sound, elegantly understated look. But sessions tend to get loud. Fiddles and Irish drums and whistles and maybe a banjo (!). An oval hole mandolin with excellent volume will get lost due to the nature of its performance parameters. That’s why you see so many f hole mandolins played in ITM sessions and bands. David Munnally had an excellent left hand player a few years back. David is a full volume player and the mandolin was well into the mix. Left hand F5s look really odd to me but he played the tar out of it. I love the A oval aesthetic. The Celtic “onion” style is beautiful. Whatever your choice, have fun. I’m troubled by the concept of a “wrong” mandolin.
    Also, the F5 was a classical instrument long before bluegrass was born.
    Mike Snyder

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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    Here's a clip of the Taran Springwell - lovely instruments - several Cafe members own them:



    Also love Nigel Forster's mandolins:

    NK Forster Celtic A.

    Here's a clip of that mandolin, but the f-hole model:



    Hearing the great sound Tergal gets with his engelmann spruce topped Collings MT2-O (he custom ordered it with the engelmann top) was one of the things that led me to get my MTO:



    And as an example of how if it's a mandolin, you can play ITM on it, here is Shane Farrell, great tenor banjo player, playing Julia Delaney's on an F shaped mandolin with f-holes:

    2012 Collings MT-O gloss top
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    I don’t know if it’s the mandolin, the player, or the recording, but I love the sound of the NK Forster mandolin from the examples Jill posted. I much prefer the tone of it to the others posted. The tone is exactly what I want.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    For me, the choice of what kind of mandolin to play for Irish/Scottish and related music is as much about functionality as the aesthetics.

    If I only played music alone at home, I might choose an oval hole archtop with a woody and "sweet" tone. I wouldn't be very concerned about volume and projection. However, I play in a mix of situations -- solo practice at home, duo with my fiddler S.O. at home, private kitchen sessions, public restaurant sessions, and the occasional workshop. Some of these are loud, especially the restaurant session where I'm usually sitting a few feet away from a piper.

    In my experience (which may vary from anyone else's), mandolins that sound "sweet" often aren't very loud, and don't project as well. So I play an F-style Lebeda, which has a focus on the fundamental note and isn't swamped with harmonics. It has good volume and projection, with tone that almost sounds "pipey" in a mix of instruments, so it can be heard clearly.

    As far as aesthetics and tradition goes... I suppose the look of a "Celtic" mandolin was defined for a while by what they used in folk revival bands like Planxty. But that's 50 years ago. Nowadays, you can hear anything from Simon Mayor playing an F-hole A-style archtop, to Luke Plumb playing an F-hole, F-style archtop, to Marla Fibish playing an oval hole archtop. Some players even like resonator mandolins for the volume, although personally I'm not a fan of the tone. A little too close to banjo for me, but I may try one at some point.

    So play what you like, because there's a wide range of "what works" depending on what your needs are. I just wanted to stress the point that what you enjoy for playing at home, may not be what's ideal when playing with others. If that's a consideration, and it isn't for everyone.

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    Registered User Mike Snyder's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    Fibish is to the oval A what Reischman is to the F 5. Mandolin heros, both.
    Mike Snyder

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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    I'll also put in a vote for a bandolim for a possibility. I picked up a 1980s version that was loud, had great sustain and its tone somehow made it stand out even in a crowded session. OTOH, the bandolim featured in my avatar is a gentle, delicate and amazingly quiet instrument that records well but just gets lost in a session. so they vary. I will say that my snakehead, whether i hear it or not, apparently carries very well, according to people who aren't sitting in the circle. I just prefer playing the snake, because I love the instrument, and really don't care if it's an official ITM mandolin or not, if there even is such a thing.
    --------------------------------
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    NK Forster wrote quite an interesting article on this not so long ago.

    http://www.nkforsterguitars.com/tag/celtic-mandolin/
    David A. Gordon

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  20. #11
    Eternal Beginner Seamus B's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    Thanks for your answers folks! Useful and thought-provoking as usual.

    Beanzy, the Bandolims look wonderful and have a beautiful sound. There are many videos of it but this is an interesting comparison video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K89Z5ezpWKY
    I feel I need to master the mandolin first before moving on to other instruments, but they are lovely.

    mrmando, the Big Muddys look great - I had heard of them but did not realise they were such a small operation. I would really like my next mandolin to be from a small, independent company or a sole Luthier. Those are Lovely mandolins, but I don't know how often they find their way over to the UK.

    Mike, thank you. I have actually found playing in a session that my f-hole is much more easily drowned out by the oval-hole mandolin, but maybe it is the models (an Eastman and an Ozark).
    "I’m troubled by the concept of a “wrong” mandolin." So am I, and I have seen and heard wonderful ITM played on f-style f-hole mandolins. As my OP said "It occurs to me that just about any mandolin can be used or ITM, but that certain models, designs, and even strings and picks, are more suited to the sound. Perhaps more sympathetic to that style of playing and for use in sessions."
    And yes, Fibish is wonderful. I would consider an old Gibson if I could find the money, but I am put off by the wide neck (Randi - that's the only thing stopping me from pursuing a snake). I bought some GHS 11, 16, 26, 40 strings yesterday based on advice from a Fibish video I watched!

    Thanks as usual Jill, your posts are always so helpful. I agree about both the Taran and the NK Forster (yes bruce it is lovely) - and I am giving some serious thought to paying more than I wanted to for a mandolin by either.

    foldedpath -thank you for your sage advice. I agree, and I think I have settled on the idea that my Eastman might be a home mandolin, and a louder and more resonant mandolin would be useful for sessions.

    Daggar Gordon - that was the article that prompted me to post here about this! I liked the comparison to an onion and a shallot, and there is some great and in-depth information there.
    Eastman MD305 - set-up by Simon Mayor.

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  22. #12

    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    At one time both Mick Moloney and Andy Irvine played Gibson ' A 'models in Irish music. Mick might still do, Andy's A model was stolen and I don't think he plays one now. Both great players BTW

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    Registered User liestman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    I strongly prefer the tone of ovals for ITM over f hole models. You can certainly play on either, just my preference. My favorite sound is my Taran - a very clear sound that projects really well for a moderate sized session. I have an amazing 22 Gibson A2 that is also really good, just a different sound, less clear, more warm I guess. But my Collings MTO is again really good, just different, much more of an f hole sound than the Gibson. Of mandolins I no longer own, Davy Stuart makes a nice, a bit less projecting flat top that has awesome tone and is reasonably priced for sure. But for being heard in a session with yet another different sound, my National RM1 absolutely rocks. Not for everyone but . . .Choices, choices, choices!

    By the way, I think the reason Mick Moloney and Andy Irvine played Gibson As was that that was available where they were when they developing their style. Nice sound but not the only sound.
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    Registered User Kalasinar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    +1 for a flat top. I only got to try one recently by chance. And I was so blown away by the volume, sustain and tone that I bought it. That was a Weber Aspen, which is quite unique in looks with its pear shaped body and triangular sound hole. Overall I’m not keen on the flat top pancake mandolin look, but you have makers like Paul Shippey who make stunning A style flat tops. Personally, my dream mandolin would be a Shippey ‘Axe’ or ‘Tone’ mandolin.

    Like you I do not see the aesthetic appeal of F-styles either (no disrespect to those who do ofc!) and prefer A oval holes. My Eastman is an oval hole and isn’t particularly loud, especially compared to the Weber. I do love the aesthetics of the onion shaped ‘celtic’ style mandolins, but I think you could achieve what you want with any style. It all just depends on trying them out to discover the best mandolin for you. I would definitely travel around to try as many different mandolins as possible. Message some luthiers you like and arrange a visit to try their work. I bought my Eastman unseen from Eagle Music back in 2016, and while I’m happy with it, nothing beats trying them out firsthand (like I did quite accidentally with the Weber). You never know what you could find. You might find something perfect for ITM that completely surprises you. Just give them all a try I say :D

    I do agree with Mike though - whatever you pick, have fun. That’s the most important thing.
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    Also, it is easy to misjudge mandolins by videos shot by different people in different rooms on different equipment. My Taran sounds way richer in tone than the video Jill shared, for example. Mine sounds much more like the video of the Forster mandolin that Jill also shared.
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    well, for what it's worth, my snake has a 1 inch nut. I've been told by some very positive people who play other brands of mandolin that something with a neck that narrow is virtually unplayable! Before I got the snake, I also used my strad-o-lin, which is a pressed-arch f-hole instrument that also carried well in a session. I had to give it up because I developed carpal tunnel problems in my fretting hand so had to move to a narrower neck. But strads are also perfectly good session instruments and you can get one for a reasonable price.
    --------------------------------
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    Eternal Beginner Seamus B's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    I didn't really want to start a new thread for this, so I am putting it here. I am casting around for a new mandolin and trying to do research, and naturally I encounter the limits of my knowledge and experience.

    Just out of interest, which of these would you go for, and why? You will get a sense of what I am looking for here, and at the moment it is just speculative, I probably won't get around to it for a few months:

    Weber Yellowstone A4 A Style https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/120628#120628
    Collings MT-O Mandolin https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/120231#120231
    Pomeroy A Oval https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/119915#119915
    Gibson Style A-3 Carved Top Mandolin (1920) https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/120830#120830
    Gibson A3 Mandolin 1913 https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/120640#120640

    Also, I am interested to see some of these fairly well priced Gibsons, especially the Snakeheads. What are the factors that lead to these prices compared to other Gibsons that go for well over $5k?

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/120113#120113
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/118815#118815
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/118766#118766
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/117982#117982
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/117388#117388
    Eastman MD305 - set-up by Simon Mayor.

  29. #18
    Registered User Denman John's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by Seamus B View Post
    I didn't really want to start a new thread for this, so I am putting it here. I am casting around for a new mandolin and trying to do research, and naturally I encounter the limits of my knowledge and experience.

    Just out of interest, which of these would you go for, and why? You will get a sense of what I am looking for here, and at the moment it is just speculative, I probably won't get around to it for a few months:

    Weber Yellowstone A4 A Style https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/120628#120628
    Collings MT-O Mandolin https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/120231#120231
    Pomeroy A Oval https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/119915#119915
    Gibson Style A-3 Carved Top Mandolin (1920) https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/120830#120830
    Gibson A3 Mandolin 1913 https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/120640#120640

    Also, I am interested to see some of these fairly well priced Gibsons, especially the Snakeheads. What are the factors that lead to these prices compared to other Gibsons that go for well over $5k?

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/120113#120113
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/118815#118815
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/118766#118766
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/117982#117982
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/117388#117388
    Out of list provided, I would choose the Pomeroy. It's always easy to spend other people's money We had a Pomeroy F5 that was a great mandolin and I'm sure his oval holes are just as good, if not better. Out of the list that one is the only one from an independent builder ~ something that may or may not be of interest to you.

    One thing to take into consideration also is where the neck joins the body ~ I prefer at the 12th fret, while other like it a little longer.

    My wife and I have a Kimble A-0 and an Old Wave oval hole. Both are wonderful and it's fun to switch back and forth. The Kimble has flat wound strings on it and the Old wave has a set of Thomastik Starks on it. Both sound great for Irish, fiddle tunes and the classical pieces that I play. Not really a grasser.

    For picks we have a few different BC pics of different thicknesses. For classical pieces I prefer a thinner pick to give it more definition, while on Irish tunes a thicker pick brings out a fatter tone that seems to blend more.

    Strings and picks are fairly inexpensive ways to change the tone and feel of your mandolin. Try a bunch of different sets and see what your ear and mandolin like. That's part of the fun ...
    ... not all those who wander are lost ...

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  31. #19
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    I'm biased towards the MT-O obviously, but I'd also consider the Weber Yellowstone. The MT-O has a slightly wider nut than the Weber if that makes a difference to you.

    On the vintage front I had a lovely 1927 snakehead Gibson A-Jr for about a year but the flat fretboard got to me in the end - I was experiencing pain in my fretting hand, which I don't have an issue with when playing on a radius fretboard neck. It killed me to sell that A-jr though because it sounded great!
    2012 Collings MT-O gloss top
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  33. #20
    Registered User seankeegan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    I predominantly play Irish trad and have ordered a long neck oval Girouard mandolin; should be finished around April. I grew up playing on a 1918 Gibson A1, which I still love, but the top is sinking and I want an instrument with a long neck.

    As many people have already stated, there's so many options available these days, it seems we are in a really healthy period - lots of excellent builders and many of them building oval hole mandolins.

    Girouard's would be worth a look. Here's a page from the Music Emporium with some details, photos and video of an A oval: http://themusicemporium.com/mandolin...-studio-deluxe

    Lots of other options similar, including Pava. There was a nice one listed on here the other day:
    https://www.elderly.com/pava-oval-pr...dolin-case.htm

    I tried Weber and Collings, neither were to my taste, but I only tried a handful of instruments. One of the best modern mandolins I've tried for trad was the Northfield F2S Brendan O'Regan had. An amazing instrument. I've not tried Old Wave, Pomeray or Black mandolins, but judging by photos and their reputation, I imagine they're excellent instruments.

    Anything by Phil Davidson that I've played I thought was brilliant. I played an carved oval in Hobgoblin in London years ago and remember it being one of the best mandolins I'd ever played. I've two colleagues who have flat top Davidson's and they are both beautiful instruments.

    A vintage Gibson is always an option, but you should check to see if the top has sunken any (like mine has ). Mike Snyder mentioned the mandolin player from Dave Munnelly's Band (Paul Kelly). I engineered a couple of albums that Paul played on and to my knowledge, it's a teen oval Gibson that Paul had a new f-hole top put on; probably when he was converting it to left hand. Lovely sounding instrument, and Paul's a lovely player. Well able of holding his own against the rest of a loud band.

    As you can probably tell, I prefer carved mandolins to flat tops - I find there's more complexity in the sound, and a wider timbral range of sounds available compared to the flat tops. But that's just my personal preference. Lots of great flat tops (and flat top players) out there!

    Best of luck with finding your ideal mandolin.

    Sean

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  35. #21
    Unfamous String Buster Beanzy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by seankeegan View Post
    Anything by Phil Davidson that I've played I thought was brilliant. I played an carved oval in Hobgoblin in London years ago and remember it being one of the best mandolins I'd ever played. I've two colleagues who have flat top Davidson's and they are both beautiful instruments.

    A vintage Gibson is always an option, but you should check to see if the top has sunken any (like mine has ). Mike Snyder mentioned the mandolin player from Dave Munnelly's Band (Paul Kelly). I engineered a couple of albums that Paul played on and to my knowledge, it's a teen oval Gibson that Paul had a new f-hole top put on; probably when he was converting it to left hand. Lovely sounding instrument, and Paul's a lovely player. Well able of holding his own against the rest of a loud band.

    Sean you should have a word with Phil and trawl back through his facebook page to see the amazing restoration he did on one of those Gibsons about two years back. Then maybe give him a shout to see what he reckons it would cost.
    Eoin



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  36. #22
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by seankeegan View Post
    I predominantly play Irish trad and have ordered a long neck oval Girouard mandolin; should be finished around April. I grew up playing on a 1918 Gibson A1, which I still love, but the top is sinking and I want an instrument with a long neck.

    As many people have already stated, there's so many options available these days, it seems we are in a really healthy period - lots of excellent builders and many of them building oval hole mandolins.

    Girouard's would be worth a look. Here's a page from the Music Emporium with some details, photos and video of an A oval: http://themusicemporium.com/mandolin...-studio-deluxe

    Lots of other options similar, including Pava. There was a nice one listed on here the other day:
    https://www.elderly.com/pava-oval-pr...dolin-case.htm

    I tried Weber and Collings, neither were to my taste, but I only tried a handful of instruments. One of the best modern mandolins I've tried for trad was the Northfield F2S Brendan O'Regan had. An amazing instrument. I've not tried Old Wave, Pomeray or Black mandolins, but judging by photos and their reputation, I imagine they're excellent instruments.

    Anything by Phil Davidson that I've played I thought was brilliant. I played an carved oval in Hobgoblin in London years ago and remember it being one of the best mandolins I'd ever played. I've two colleagues who have flat top Davidson's and they are both beautiful instruments.

    A vintage Gibson is always an option, but you should check to see if the top has sunken any (like mine has ). Mike Snyder mentioned the mandolin player from Dave Munnelly's Band (Paul Kelly). I engineered a couple of albums that Paul played on and to my knowledge, it's a teen oval Gibson that Paul had a new f-hole top put on; probably when he was converting it to left hand. Lovely sounding instrument, and Paul's a lovely player. Well able of holding his own against the rest of a loud band.

    As you can probably tell, I prefer carved mandolins to flat tops - I find there's more complexity in the sound, and a wider timbral range of sounds available compared to the flat tops. But that's just my personal preference. Lots of great flat tops (and flat top players) out there!

    Best of luck with finding your ideal mandolin.

    Sean
    I second the opinion on a Girouard oval ! To my ears this is the sound I want !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain

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  38. #23
    Eternal Beginner Seamus B's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    Thanks for your thoughts and advice folks.

    Jill - I have small hands (partly why I play the mandolin) so a wider nut on a Collings might be an issue. I have picked up and played mandolins in shops and find the wider nut difficult. It could be that I am just used to my Eastman. I have never played a non-radiused mandolin and really cannot imagine what it would be like, but your experience I imagine would be close to mine! I have ruled out a vintage Gibson for so many reasons, but that is one.

    The Girouard instruments do indeed look and sound lovely, and I would seriously consider one. I am really looking to get my chosen mandolin second-hand (I simply cannot afford to spend 3k on a mandolin!), and I would actually prefer to use a small business or lone Luthier.

    Which brings me onto Phil Davidson - his natural finish, oval-hole A mandolins are wonderful, and have a ton of volume and sustain, based on what I have read so far. I tried one in Hobgoblin a few years ago and loved it but it was outside of my range. But living in the UK, it is going to be much easier to find a second-hand model. I got in touch with Phil and he told me that he is refurbishing a couple of flat-top mandolins to sell. One is in birdseye maple and the other quilted maple. I will certainly consider one of those seriously.

    I have no idea how much of a difference it makes to have a carved or flat top Davidson, but I suspect the flat is more likely to be in my price range.
    Eastman MD305 - set-up by Simon Mayor.

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  40. #24

    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    Seamus, if you are in North America, take a took at the Red Valley AMW. It was built with ITM in mind. I fell in love with the sound of them and have recently commissioned one. The maker, James, was formerly a luthier for Dusty Strings--the folk harp and hammered dulcimer maker. I used to sell Dusty Strings instruments at my shop and have owned a couple of their harps; every one was exquisite. At $1100 USD, with custom one piece tailpiece and Rubner tuners standard, and your choice of nut width at no extra cost, all handmade by a master luthier, you cannot go wrong.

    http://www.redvalleymandolins.com/mandolin-amw/

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  42. #25
    Eternal Beginner Seamus B's Avatar
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    Default Re: Celtic/Irish Mandolins

    Cliff, thanks for that recommendation. I am in the UK, but US models do often find their way over here.

    They are lovely mandolins by the way, right up my street with natural finish, oval holes and nice tails!
    Eastman MD305 - set-up by Simon Mayor.

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