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Thread: What is a Celtic mandolin?

  1. #51
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Beanzy View Post
    They've always turned up and been welcome, as long as the players had done their 'homework' and new the tunes well, but they've yet to find their place. I'm convinced there is a place which can be found, possibly by fiddle players who play well enough to really work one.
    At the moment it's a bit like guitars, it's sort of ok to tick along 'as long as no one notices' attitude.
    The people at CCE seem game to work on it, but they're in uncharted waters and seem to be treating it as another banjo.
    I'd like it a lot if they were found a real place in Irish Traditional Music but it's mostly Irish or general folk sessions where they seem to fit without 'bother'.
    You know, I really do think we are underestimating the role of the mandolin in Irish music.
    Planxty, the Dubliners, The Boys of the Lough, De Danann, Mick Moloney etc etc.

    Just because it's not as loud as a tenor banjo in a session doesn't mean it is not quite significant.
    Anyway, as regards volume in a session, how clearly can you always hear one person playing the fiddle or the whistle in a noisy bar?
    David A. Gordon

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Beanzy View Post
    ...it's sort of ok to tick along 'as long as no one notices' attitude.
    Yes, due to low volume it is often a silent, sad and pathetic situation to watch - the general perception seems to be "if you can't play but want to join a session, don't bring a bodhran, bring a mandolin", or even worse: "...and sit in the back so you don't occupy a real musician's place". This way, many mandolin players appear like air guitar players attending a rock concert.
    Another thing I have observed is that the mandolin often serves as a larval stage before the player gets good enough to switch to a more acoustically prominent session instrument like a banjo or a bouzouki.
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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    Anyway, as regards volume in a session, how clearly can you always hear one person playing the fiddle or the whistle in a noisy bar?
    Fiddles often come in small armies and are clearly heard then.
    When I go to the men's room in our noisiest session, I can hear a single flute above the roar of musicians and regulars from there.
    A single whistle can cut through any noise if it is the right make (many are made of aluminum in Scotland ).

    That said, a single mandolin starting a tune set can earn respect (and dead silence from the musicians when the next tune is due) if it is played really well and convincing. But that condition is mandatory; you don't have the built-in prestige of a piper. When you enter the bar with a mandolin case, it's not exactly like Clint Eastwood entering the saloon...
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Beanzy View Post
    They've always turned up and been welcome, as long as the players had done their 'homework' and new the tunes well, but they've yet to find their place. I'm convinced there is a place which can be found, possibly by fiddle players who play well enough to really work one.
    "Really work one?" What does that mean? What are us mandolin players, chopped liver?

    It's just a small statistical sample, but the accomplished trad fiddlers I've known, have been fairly hopeless when trying to play mandolin as a side instrument. It's a different skill set. Only a few people like Tim O'Brien work at developing the necessary multi-instrument chops. For a typical trad fiddler, they're too deep into the music on their own instrument to bother.

    At the moment it's a bit like guitars, it's sort of ok to tick along 'as long as no one notices' attitude.
    Every session is different, so I think that's an over-generalization. I play in a Scottish/Cape Breton/Irish session where my mandolin sure isn't the dominant sound in that group, but I have no trouble kicking off a tune set, and leading the next tunes in the set. If it's a session where everyone is always blasting away at full volume and not listening to the other players, then yes, a mandolin can get easily buried.

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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    ...and you'll have to have seen it to know what that means:

    Oh, the humanity! I nearly got coffee up my nose.

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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    They've always turned up and been welcome, as long as the players had done their 'homework' and new the tunes well, but they've yet to find their place. I'm convinced there is a place which can be found, possibly by fiddle players who play well enough to really work one.
    At the moment it's a bit like guitars, it's sort of ok to tick along 'as long as no one notices' attitude.
    The people at CCE seem game to work on it, but they're in uncharted waters and seem to be treating it as another banjo.
    I'd like it a lot if they were found a real place in Irish Traditional Music but it's mostly Irish or general folk sessions where they seem to fit without 'bother'.
    I'm afraid I respectfully disagree. Mandolin is my main and preferred instrument (although I play tenor banjo, guitar and a couple of other instruments as well) and I've been leading Irish (and Scottish) sessions with it for a good couple of decades now (the National RM-1 I've had for a few years now certainly helps with this) and I know of quite a few other sessions where the mandolin is a leading instrument rather than a "tinkerer-along". I see other above also have this experience.

  8. #57

    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    It might be time for one of you to start a fresh thread as we seemed to have veered off into another aspect of this fascinating subject.

    The intention of the article wasn't to question the role of the instrument in any particular type of music. In writing it I tried to set out some sort of "taxonomy" as to what an actual "Celtic" mandolin is as apposed to a Gibson A or F mandolin. I also raised the point that despite there being a mandolin destined for the "Celtic" market, that those instruments rarely perform well in their "natural" habitat - the pub.

    Dagger made a very valid point which I quote in the article:

    “It’s maybe worth remembering that in the early seventies the mandolin was generally quite a prominent instrument in folky bands, and was used by the Dubliners, Fairport, Boys of the Lough, Planxty, Horslips, Hedgehog Pie, Lindisfarne, the MacCalmans and plenty others.

    Indeed, when I started playing it (the mandolin) I actually thought it was a much more established ‘Celtic’ instrument than it turned out to be!


    That it hasn't turned out to be such an established instrument (I feel) may well be down to the fact the majority of instruments easily available to Irish and British musicians can't cope in the "session arms race" when it comes to volume and projection. For playing at home, for gigs and recordings it's a different matter. Hence folk turning to resonators, tenor banjos or different instruments all together in order to play, hear themselves and contribute. And that's a shame. I can't promise I'm going to crack this particular nut, but that's where my efforts are heading just now.

    But inevitably when reading an article like mine, readers pick up on the bits they feel strongly about or are close to their bugbears and hobby horses and redirect the conversation to that.

    Time for a new thread?

    For those who've not read (or forgotten) the article, here it is again.

    http://www.nkforsterguitars.com/blog/celtic-mandolin/

    Nigel
    www.nkforsterguitars.com

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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by nkforster View Post
    It might be time for one of you to start a fresh thread as we seemed to have veered off into another aspect of this fascinating subject.
    (snippage)

    But inevitably when reading an article like mine, readers pick up on the bits they feel strongly about or are close to their bugbears and hobby horses and redirect the conversation to that.

    Time for a new thread?

    For those who've not read (or forgotten) the article, here it is again.

    http://www.nkforsterguitars.com/blog/celtic-mandolin/
    Well, you know, Nigel, one of the great things about the Cafe is that people who start threads like this don't get to control the following comments. You can't ask people to start a new thread when they disagree with you. You're saying things in your blog post like this:

    In the 70s and 80s and on, Sobell instruments became the standard for many British and Irish folk musicians, the sound of those instruments became synonymous with the music. As a result people don’t associate that American “woody” bass and thick treble we find in the best American mandolins like Gibson, and their many imitators with Celtic music. Instead we associate the twinkly lighter treble along with a smoother bass.
    No, not all of us associate that twinkly sound with Celtic music, whatever that is. Some of us don't think it's "synonymous with the music," or we'd be choosing different instruments to play this music. And note that this question of timbre is not about about volume in sessions. If that was all we cared about, we'd all be playing resonator mandolins, and many of us choose not to do that.

  10. #59
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    The article brings up the question of the further developments/the future of building high-end mandolins-for-Irish-Trad. I'm very satisfied with the volume and the tone of my 30 year-old cedar-top Sobell 10-string (it's plenty loud enough for any reasonable-volume session) -- I just wish the thing felt more pub-friendly, more durable. It feels like it's made of balsa wood, and I keep waiting for it to fall apart in my hands.
    Carbon-fibre Sobells, anyone? Or maybe we just get Pete Langdell involved?

  11. #60

    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Anyone ever use a "pocket" amp at a session in order to be heard?

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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Beanzy View Post
    They've always turned up and been welcome, as long as the players had done their 'homework' and new the tunes well, but they've yet to find their place. I'm convinced there is a place which can be found, possibly by fiddle players who play well enough to really work one.
    At the moment it's a bit like guitars, it's sort of ok to tick along 'as long as no one notices' attitude.
    The people at CCE seem game to work on it, but they're in uncharted waters and seem to be treating it as another banjo.
    I'd like it a lot if they were found a real place in Irish Traditional Music but it's mostly Irish or general folk sessions where they seem to fit without 'bother'.

    Having played one since the 1970s, and played along with many others who also played variations of the mandolin i.e. mandola in local folk music groups and sessions, this is a fairly sweeping statement regarding mandolins and I’d have to say, in the nicest possible away: totally inaccurate, not to mention completely unfair to guitar players as well… so they all just ’tick along’???? Not to mention ’they have yet to find their place’????
    I’ve held off a couple of times responding to this thread, as I’m still not sure where my F-hole bouzouki actually fits in to it all… so I may not be actually qualified to comment at all!
    "Danger! Do Not Touch!" must be one of the scariest things to read in Braille....

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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Boatswain View Post
    Anyone ever use a "pocket" amp at a session in order to be heard?
    Nigel Gatherer mentioned a chap in an email from him, I intend to include it in a piece about being heard. Here it is:

    "Years ago I used to play in sessions in the Green Tree in Edinburgh and there was a Cornish mandolin player called Neil Davey. He used to have a little amplifier under his seat which lifted his volume up very slightly - perhaps a bit extreme, but it worked for him."

    I've seen folk with little amps in sessions in Newcastle too, but as ever it's down to the personality of the player. Some folk are very considerate and very "volume aware" others not.

    The same applies to playing on stage. I have to say I've often been impressed by how considerate and "volume aware" American musicians are in comparison to back home. It's great to see in recent years more young British and Irish folk musicians learning perhaps from American musicians and becoming more "mic savvy." Ahh....were onto one of my many bug bears now!

    Nigel (Forster, not Gatherer)
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by nkforster View Post
    I also raised the point that despite there being a mandolin destined for the "Celtic" market, that those instruments rarely perform well in their "natural" habitat - the pub.
    I can't promise I'm going to crack this particular nut, but that's where my efforts are heading just now.
    Nigel
    www.nkforsterguitars.com
    Nigel, in order to help you in your quest can I put in my requirements for a celtic mandolin:

    Nut width - standard thin, not the "3 cm wide nut favoured by celtic players" one so often hears in marketing blurb. What's that all about? Do all celtic players have thick stubby fingers (new thread required I fear)
    Carved top and back.
    Usual spruce maple combination.
    Natural wood - no sunburst - the sun doesn't shine much round here.
    Hint of the onion shape to set it apart from an A as long as you can achieve this without producing a hollow sound and detracting from the focused sound I'm looking for.
    F holes (gasp)

    In short something which can perform like an American bluegrass player's weapon of choice but doesn't look like it.

    I'm happy to test drive this at our local session for no charge. Perhaps you can let me know when it's ready

  15. #64

    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by James Rankine View Post
    Nigel, in order to help you in your quest can I put in my requirements for a celtic mandolin:

    Nut width - standard thin, not the "3 cm wide nut favoured by celtic players" one so often hears in marketing blurb. What's that all about? Do all celtic players have thick stubby fingers (new thread required I fear)
    Carved top and back.
    Usual spruce maple combination.
    Natural wood - no sunburst - the sun doesn't shine much round here.
    Hint of the onion shape to set it apart from an A as long as you can achieve this without producing a hollow sound and detracting from the focused sound I'm looking for.
    F holes (gasp)

    In short something which can perform like an American bluegrass player's weapon of choice but doesn't look like it.

    I'm happy to test drive this at our local session for no charge. Perhaps you can let me know when it's ready

    Think you've just described my "A" model James. Shall I put you down for one?!
    I'm not sure why they often have such a wide nut. It's helpful for ten stringers, and some customers do request them, but generally I keep them slim.

    Nigel

    http://www.nkforsterguitars.com/instruments/mandolin/

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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Ah - f holes, just missed that bit. Well, that's two sound holes rather than one so I have to charge much more. Much much more....

    Nigel

    http://www.nkforsterguitars.com/instruments/mandolin/

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  18. #66
    Registered User James Rankine's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    A session is hard going for a mandolin - to sound good AND loud is the ultimate challenge. There's this man in our sessions with a cheapo carved-top f-hole, and you hear him clearly through the din, but it's all ticketicketicketick...
    A cheap mandolin won't help but this is probably primarily a technical issue. Musicians playing at just beyond their comfortable ability to keep up in a session is common amongst players of all instruments (I know, I do it myself!). One also hopes that he's that rare breed, a mandolin player who doesn't frequent the cafe, or you'll have some apologies to make at the next session

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by James Rankine View Post
    One also hopes that he's that rare breed, a mandolin player who doesn't frequent the cafe, or you'll have some apologies to make at the next session
    He's a good-natured lad who just likes to have fun, which in his case means "loud and fast" - it is not a question of ability, it just means the make of the mandolin wouldn't make any difference.
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    Unfamous String Buster Beanzy's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    For a typical trad fiddler, they're too deep into the music on their own instrument to bother.
    I think that's why it doesn't feature as a core instrument in traditional Irish music (not the folk or celtic rock recoding bands mentioned above - some players came from the tradition but those bands were way beyond that and brilliant for it) You only have to be there in somewhere like Ceoltas in Monkstown to see what happens in Irish traditional music circles. A load of younger kids come along and play their mandolins, but pretty soon they move to the fiddle and the mandolin seems to become secondary or even lie fallow or just be abandoned. It's not because they're not encouraged to play, it's more the fiddle is so dominant. If you're to be seen to be serious in the tradition (nothing to do with whether you're good) you're expected to play fiddle, flute, banjo or box with harp and pipes for the really brainy ones . In essence I'm saying that depite it's potential the mandolin remains 'unnecessary' to Irish music, which is only because it is still hazy how it could be a core instrument. ITM isn't Irish Folk and it certainly isn't 'Celtic' music in the marketing sense. But it is core to where the players come from, where the education funding goes and to how they view their instruments. That's where identifying it's role and making the appropriate tool could be so useful. If there is a tune or a type of playing where the sound becomes necessary to the tradition then we'll get it embedded, because Johnny on his fiddle will want to occupy that space and those encouraging them will have a clear picture of what they're aiming at.

    I suspect the solution won't come from Ireland unless we get that role identified. It'll more likely be like the preservation of the tunes was where it took those outside to show why it matters. At the moment the sessions I see when I go back home are predominantly Irish Folk or BG/Americana (easier to find) and the contrast with traditional sessions is really glaring. Not least because the trad ones tend to be in a hall or a school and the folk ones in a pub. But also because of the instruments played and in that world we're a welcome addtion but not core.

    We're much luckier here in England as things seem a lot more eclectic.
    Last edited by Beanzy; Aug-17-2014 at 8:49am.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Lindsay View Post
    Having played one since the 1970s, and played along with many others who also played variations of the mandolin i.e. mandola in local folk music groups and sessions, this is a fairly sweeping statement regarding mandolins and I’d have to say, in the nicest possible away: totally inaccurate, not to mention completely unfair to guitar players as well… so they all just ’tick along’???? Not to mention ’they have yet to find their place’????
    I’ve held off a couple of times responding to this thread, as I’m still not sure where my F-hole bouzouki actually fits in to it all… so I may not be actually qualified to comment at all!
    I'm not having a go at guitars, they're core to folk music. The Bazouki and mandolas seem to be more focussed in Folk too, but those great players from the 70s-80s laid out a clear role for them there.

    Maybe once the 'Celtic' mandolin becomes more defined then it's role will become clearer in Irish Traditional music too?
    Eoin



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    Registered User Jim Bevan's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Okay, I'll be more serious.

    Here's where I'd like to see the development of mandolins-for-Irish-Trad head:
    I have a couple of Rigel 10-string "mandolas" -- one's a normal one, and one is a resophonic (a joint project between Rigel and National). Both have an almost 17" scale length. The low C enables me to play tunes down an octave -- very handy for adding a little tonal variety for those three-times-around session tunes, and definitely nice to have in a banjo-less session.

    I wasn't having much success talking Stefan Sobell into building me one with the same scale length -- he said that the E-strings would break. We sat on the project for a little, and then I found a used Sobell in the Cafe classifieds, and took my name off his waiting list.

    The normal Rigel R-200 is strung with Thomastik mandola strings, with the addition of a Thomastik light mandolin E. The resophonic uses D'addario mandola Flat Tops, along with the same E.
    The key is the Thomastik light E -- I've never had a string break.
    (The normal mando is for my "day gig", where I need to sound "Italian", and I'm amplified -- the resophonic was built specifically for sessions, and it sounds very cool, like the mandolin version of a cross between a banjo and a harp.)

    I'd like to see "Celtic" mandolins (at least the 10-string ones) head in this direction, just cuz, well, I'd like to own one without having to pay the custom-build prices I've been paying.

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Bevan View Post
    ...the mandolin version of a cross between a banjo and a harp.
    Now I'm curious. Sound samples?
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Ah, I don't have any, but I'll try to record and upload later (it's a lovely spring day, finally, here in Santiago, and we're all going to the park).

    Anyways, that sound is not the direction I want "celtic" mandolins to go -- I just wish my Sobell was as durable as my Rigels, and had the same scale-length. (Or, I wish I had a Rigel that looks and sounds like my Sobell).

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    Registered User Mike Anderson's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    I'm going to let this go because it's even more off the original topic. :P

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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson View Post
    I'm going to let this go because it's even more off the original topic. :P
    To late, I already read it and it made quite some sense to me .
    Last edited by Michael Wolf; Aug-17-2014 at 4:12pm.

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    Default Re: What is a Celtic mandolin?

    [QUOTE=nkforster;1316225]

    Dagger made a very valid point which I quote in the article:

    “It’s maybe worth remembering that in the early seventies the mandolin was generally quite a prominent instrument in folky bands, and was used by the Dubliners, Fairport, Boys of the Lough, Planxty, Horslips, Hedgehog Pie, Lindisfarne, the MacCalmans and plenty others.

    Indeed, when I started playing it (the mandolin) I actually thought it was a much more established ‘Celtic’ instrument than it turned out to be!


    That it hasn't turned out to be such an established instrument (I feel) may well be down to the fact the majority of instruments easily available to Irish and British musicians can't cope in the "session arms race" when it comes to volume and projection. For playing at home, for gigs and recordings it's a different matter. Hence folk turning to resonators, tenor banjos or different instruments all together in order to play, hear themselves and contribute. And that's a shame. I can't promise I'm going to crack this particular nut, but that's where my efforts are heading just now."


    Yes. At the time these early bands were playing, 'sessions' as we now think of them were much less common.
    I would further add that relatively few people could play the fiddle in many areas, including the North of Scotland where I live. Now there are lots of them.
    Early sessions in bars were more likely to be much more song based, and a mandolin would in fact have stood out well over a bunch of guitars. So to take quite a well known example, an early session in O'Donoghue's in Dublin would have regularly featured the grand voice of Luke Kelly (who incidentally played 5 string banjo ...) and other balladeers.
    Around the same time (before I was playing mandolin) we frequently played guitars at parties and in the pub. We were happily singing stuff like The Wild Rover as well as poppier material and jamming on 12 bar blues (usually in E). Didn't think twice about mixing it all up, but certainly folk songs like Wild Mountain Thyme were good for getting the whole pub singing.
    And as I say, the mandolin provided a nice contrast.
    David A. Gordon

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