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Thread: Wintergrass and an unexpected Clark A5

  1. #1
    Registered User Denman John's Avatar
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    Aug 2009
    Denman Island, BC Canada

    Default Wintergrass and an unexpected Clark A5

    Before this gets rolling, let me say that when I left for Wintergrass last Tuesday evening, I had no idea what was going to unfold over the weekend. As usual, NFI, try before you buy, and keep your stick on the ice.

    We arrived in Seattle Wednesday morning and checked into the Hyatt Regency, the home of Wintergrass. Last year we waited too long and had to get a room at a nearby hotel. It's so much easier having a room there and looked forward to the festival ahead. It's our 4th time there and we had never been to Dusty Strings, so we went over and got there just as they opened. We had the place to ourselves for a while and the acoustics are very nice in there. If you have never been, it's well worth visiting and amongst the best music stores I have visited. They had a nice wall of mandolins on offer and we tried everything. The standout was a Northfield Big Mon that we all agreed sounded the nicest. They had a Flatiron round hole mandola that really surprised me. They had some nice vintage Gibsons including a snakehead. There were also a few Collings and Webers that sounded and felt like what you would expect. I can see why Northfields are popular here on the cafe. The rest of the day we explored Bellevue and took it easy. My oldest son had a meeting/workshop in the evening.

    Thursday Wintergrass kicked off and the people started coming. We got the kids to the room where the Youth Academy hosts their yearly program. If you have kids, or know of people who have kids in the area and play music, get them involved! It's such a great, well run program that is so inspiring to watch. The teaching staff are excellent and it's amazing what they accomplish in just 2 days. At the end of the 2nd day (Friday), they put on a show that was truly wonderful.

    Once we got the kids organized my wife and I had the rest of the day to ourselves to explore. After picking up the kids, we went into the Luthiers Room to and found ourselves catching up with Austin Clark and trying out what he brought this year. I've been fortunate in that I've had opportunity and pleasure to play quite a few of Austin's mandolins over the past 4 year and this year's batch that he brought were phenomenal! Every single one of them! My wife, (Norie) played one of the A5's that caught here eye, while my son and I played the others. We all walked away very impressed. Jayson Bowerman also had a couple of mandolins that were really good. The rest of the evening was spent watching the Jacob Joliff Band, Dawg and Del, and jamming. My wife mentioned the Clark A5 a couple of times, and vaguely I started to pick up on the hints.

    The next morning I found myself back in the Luthier's Room and bumped into fellow cafe member Mandobart at Austin Clark's table. It was a lot of fun catching up and passing mandolins back and forth. I played the A5 that my wife played the night before and was blown away. It felt so lively/resonant/woody and you could feel it vibrate in your hands and against your chest when you played it. Being a brand new instrument, it had the tone and volume to spare already there! I realized now why my wife had dropped a couple of remarks about it the night before. Maybe Mandobart will post his thoughts on it ...

    My wife said that she'd like to try it again so we arranged with Austin to take it up to our room and try it out Saturday morning. Keep in mind that my wife is usually the voice of reason in our house when it comes to instruments, so it was kind of surprising to see MAS coming from her for the 1st time. After an hour or so we took it back to Austin and told him we would think about it. Basically we tried to figure out how to move some money around to pay for it as this was totally unexpected. I've never been in a position/situation where I would regret not buying an instrument, and I knew that would be the case if we let this one go. I was just too good of a mandolin to pass up.

    With that said, Saturday evening we went and saw Austin and bought the mandolin. This will be my wife's first mandolin that was specifically bought for her ~ and the first NEW mandolin that we've bought. She has been playing a great Old Wave oval hole that I got in a trade, but I know that she prefers the f hole tone compared to an oval (expect it to hit the classifieds soon). I also think that she likes that it's brand new and that it was also built by Austin, who has become a friend of ours over the years. Needless to say, she is a very happy picker.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I know that you're going to ask for a video ... After leaving Austin, we bumped into our son jamming in the hallway and let him try it out. Keep in mind that there's a lot of background noise, but it will give you an idea. He's playing with the talented Ella Korth from Nelson BC, and Zander Huston from Ashland, Oregon. They were all in the Wintergrass Teacher Training program this year.

    Early Sunday morning we went to Greg Boyd's room to get a pick for my youngest son and ended up getting to play a Nugget, Gilchrist, and an Ellis side by side. It was a nice feeling leaving there knowing that we made the right choice.

    Thank you so much Austin!
    ... not all those who wander are lost ...

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  3. #2
    Registered User Eric Hanson's Avatar
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    Feb 2008
    Bloomington, IN / USA

    Default Re: Wintergrass and an unexpected Clark A5

    Thanks so much for posting this!
    It sounds great! And, your son is really getting it together with his picking. Very cool.
    I am working on listening more closely to my wife and what she say, or more properly, doesn’t say. She is just great.
    Enjoy that wonderful mandolin!
    Eric Hanson
    Click #016/ Born on 2/29/08 - Sold to the next Conservator of this great mandolin!
    The search has ceased! (At least for now)
    Collings A-Style

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  5. #3

    Default Re: Wintergrass and an unexpected Clark A5

    Hey! I played that mandolin as well. It was lovely. Probably the one I spent the most time with at the festival (aside from a 1930's Martin 2-30 that I was very intrigued by). Congrats to you and your wife on the purchase! What a fun surprise. Enjoy it and happy picking.

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  7. #4
    Registered User Denman John's Avatar
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    Aug 2009
    Denman Island, BC Canada

    Default Re: Wintergrass and an unexpected Clark A5

    Thanks for the kind words and thoughts.

    I'd like to give a thank you/shout out to Dusty Strings in Seattle. It's a really nice shop set in the basement of an old building that oozes character and charm. The staff are friendly and available to answer any questions, but otherwise leave you alone to play what you want and wander around. They have a main room that is fairly large and the walls are covered with guitars, banjos and mandolins. They even had a mando-bass there! It looks like they have a stage at one end and probably hold small concerts/workshops in that room as well. There are other rooms that are instrument specific (harps, ukes, music books, etc). They have classrooms in there as well that could probably used to audition instruments when not in use. All in all it was a great place to spend a couple of hours and try out a lot of different instruments.

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    Another big thank you goes out to Greg Boyd's House of Fine Instruments. They've had a room every year at Wintergrass I've been there and I always look forward to seeing what they bring. The staff were great, knowledgeable and very welcoming. Sunday morning before leaving we stopped in for a guitar pick fo my youngest son and they told us we could play anything in the shop. They showed us the Gilchrist, Nugget and Ellis they had taken in on consignment over the weekend along with a Givens, Lawrence Smart and a Prucha. It was a real treat to have all these great renown mandolins in the same room and to be able to compare them side by side. This kind of thing doesn't happen to us and I still have to pinch myself to remind me it's real. It was a wonderful experience and a great reference point that I am truly thankful for. I was a bit overwhelmed and this is the only picture I took ...

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    With that said, nothing grabbed us, and pulled us in like the Clark A5 did. I just can't believe how good this mandolin is. The tone, playability, neck, fit and finish, volume, hardware ~ it's the real deal. My wife has been walking around smiling like Cheshire cat since she got it and is tickled pink. It might not be the ultimate mandolin for everyone, but it is for her.

    It's alway a good day when you get a new mandolin, but it also feels really good to buy one for a loved one.

    Here is a picture of the batch that Austin brought to Wintergrass this year.

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    ... not all those who wander are lost ...

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