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Thread: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

  1. #1

    Default New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    Hi folks,

    I'm a guitar player who has been playing a bit more mandolin at church. I decided to upgrade my cheap hand-me-down to an Eastman MD515 recently. It was used (well cared for) and I got a great deal on it. It sounds great and is easy to play.

    The action was set quite low when I got it. The tech at the shop checked the intonation and said it was right on. It was obvious to me that it had been setup by or for the last owner to his preference for low action. I generally like low action, as electric guitar is my primary instrument.

    So after playing it for a couple of weeks and getting used to it, I've noticed that it can buzz a little when I play it hard. I am starting to think the action is a little too low. I am thinking of using the wheels on the bridge it raise it ever so slightly (start with 180 degrees on each wheel).

    First questions:
    - Any trick to this process? I'm thinking loosen the strings a tad, mark the wheels with pencil marks, and screw them down (clockwise, when viewed from top - is that right??) until their 180 degrees around, tune it back up and test it out for a while.
    - Do you think I'll need to check/reset intonation when I adjust action a little at the bridge?

    Another thing - I took a quick look at the intonation using a tuner on the iPad. As I saw it, the G strings were a little flat at the 12th fret compared to open (was surprised it could have changed since I bought it 2 weeks ago). When I looked at the D strings they seemed a little sharp. As I'm used to individual intonation adjustments on the electric guitar, this confuses me, creating a need for...

    More questions:
    - How can I make intonation adjustments with such a limited ability to adjust the bridge, either push or pull the left and or right sides? Do I need to just focus on the strings at the end?
    - Are there any preferred tuners for this process, short of buying a Peterson strobe? do you guys just use your headstock tuners, mobile app tuners, something else?

    Last one:
    - If I'm going to adjust action and/or check/adjust intonation, should I do this with old, broken in strings, or should I change out to a new set, stretch for a day or so, then try it? I'm leaning toward old set for the stability.


    I'll add that I've gotten and read the great guide by Rob Meldrum. It was very helpful with understanding this sort of stuff, but I am still unclear on a few items, noted here.

    Thanks in advance!

    -Andrew

  2. #2
    I may be old but I'm ugly billhay4's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    Rob Meldrun's setup book is for you.
    Bill
    IM(NS)HO

  3. #3
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    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    I'm certainly no expert, but I am a guitar player, and have an Eastman MD815 mandolin, so maybe I can offer some of my personal experience. I got my Eastman used, but in excellent condition. As yours, it had really low action, which I initially thought was great. It also had heavy strings, which I wasn't so crazy about. But I figured the heavy strings were needed to "drive the top". Anyway, as I played it more (and my technique got better), I started to notice that the E and A strings didn't ring as clearly as I wanted. It seemed like I was pressing down plenty hard enough to get precise notes, but they still sounded "muffled". I decided to try lighter strings and higher action, which has been a huge improvement. I am now using 10s (round-wound), and I raised the bridge (more on the treble side than on the bass side). I found that the tone and volume of the lower strings has not suffered, and the high strings now ring much clearer and louder. And I don't need to push down as hard with my left hand fingers to play clean chords. It's really made my Eastman much easier and more enjoyable to play. I wish I would have done it sooner.

  4. #4

    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    Yep, read that book, but still had a few questions that I didn't think were addressed there. Great book, though!

    Thanks for sharing the experience with your Eastman. My issues are more with buzzing on the G and D strings, but I think the same principles apply. I might start with a higher action, per my initial idea, and see if lighter strings make sense or if I can keep the 11s going.

    -Andrew

  5. #5
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    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    Rob's "book" is great and might do the trick but if you have any trouble or aren't confident about what you're doing, go ahead and bite the bullet and take it to a professional.

  6. #6

    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    Andrew,

    You will want to turn the thumbwheels counterclockwise to raise the action. This will effect your intonation f you raise it much. It will sharpen as you raise. It might bring your G strings back in. one whole rotation may be too much. It depends on how much higher you need to go.

    For intonation, I start with the G and E, get them intonated, then check the D and A and decide if I want to compromise. It needs to be done with all of the strings under full tension.

    Intonation is difficult to do with anything other than a strobe tuner or something real close. Most clip on tuners are not accurate enough. If it is all you have, go for it. Use your ear as well.

    Do you have something to measure the string height?
    Robert Fear
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  7. #7

    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    it shouldn't be the string types which cause your problem. It is likely seasonal weather changes (humidity) which causes this and it is normal for a very sensitively set up mando as yours seems to be. With the strings loosened turn the adjusting wheel on the bass side of your bridge raising it maybe a quarter turn and then tighten the strings and try it again until the buzzing stops. There is nothing to gain by changing the bridge position if it is OK now. The bridge should stay in position if you don't loosen the strings too far.

    For intonation adjustments the whole bridge is moved and the bridge height can remain the same once adjusted. See frets.com for info on bridge position and adjustment. Your old strings are fine for this.

    Sounds like you have a nice instrument there.

  8. #8
    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    Robert's right on. There's gonna be some type of compromise with a mando bridge. There's a good balance with most decent instruments - you should be able to get that with yours.

    What gauge strings are you using?
    Are they the same gauge as when you bought them?
    Also, silly question maybe, but you have changed them correct?

    With a floating bridge, every time you change the strings you should check intonation. Minor adjustments may be needed - especially if you change your normal strings (i.e. go from 0.010 to 0.011).

    Check the bridge too - is it 100% flush with the body? That's a common issue I see in eastmans.

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    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    The compensation of the bridge can be changed but that requires reworking the saddle, no 5minute job. Most of the time we compromise, as has been stated different strings ( gauges and to a lesser degree material) will change the compromise.

  10. #10

    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    thanks for the help folks - great, helpful forum!

    So I took the plunge and raised it a quarter turn. It sounds great - much less (maybe no?) buzz. The intonation is about where it was.

    To answer a few questions, I have no idea what strings are really on there, but I was told it was the D'Addario J74s. I have no replaced them since purchased.

    I will live with compensation compromises without trying to fix them. Nature of the beast.

    Bridge is flush at the ends, but a slight gap across the middle. Not sure if this is by design or not.

    I don't have anything to accurately measure heights. I went to Harbor Freight to buy a set of feeler gages but I couldn't find them, so I'll order them online.

    So here's what I did discover - one of the G strings is actually tiny bit higher (at least to my feeling) than the other. I think that one is well intonated and other is a little off. It seems that the bridge has a radius to it causing the outside G to be lower. OTOH, it seems (without being able to measure) that it's the inside G that's a little high compared to the other strings.

    The question is then this - do I attempt to lower the G that's a touch too high, do I live with it, or do I bring it to a pro? I suppose I could try to file down the nut and/or the bridge a tiny bit. I might be asking for trouble, of course. Truth be told, to my ears everything sounds fine. Maybe I should leave well enough alone.

    Any opinions, tips or thoughts?

    -Andrew

  11. #11
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    I would not hesitate to bring it to a professional. That is my style. All I do is play 'em and change the strings.

    The advantage of a pro (that you trust and listens to you) is that when its done its done, and you can let go of the desire to tweak this or that.

    There is a satisfying ending to the process, which I think many self setter uppers sometimes never find.
    Indulge responsibly!

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    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    Before you bring it anywhere - change the strings. Many "setup issues" are just old strings that have bad intonation. J74's are pretty standard - I'd suggest using them again here to check the intonation against the current setup. Experiment with strings another time.

    Slight gaps in the bridge (i.e. not obvious design) will contribute mostly to lower volume but can have something to do with other off tones. It's not a hard fix, but does take time. After you get the strings changed, you may want a pro to look at that or look up the DIY techniques for it (i.e. tape sandpaper to the face of the mandolin and sand down the bridge on the mando so you incorporate those curves etc).

    The G strings being SLIGHTLY higher is somewhat normal from what I've seen - mostly because they are thicker strings. If you can deal with it without being an issue, it's probably okay. You may want to compare this to another mandolin if you can to see if they are about the same - if they are (and the mandolin you're comparing to is setup how you like), then it's probably fine. If not or you just want to check, again after you change the strings, bring it to a pro.

    I clearly disagree with JeffD on most setup / repair work. Learning to do your own setups helps you understand the instrument better which can make your playing better. You may not be able to fix everything but knowing the basics of how your instrument functions can help you understand how you like it setup and help you figure out other issues as they develop. Nothing wrong with bringing it to a pro - I do for most wood work - but basic setup stuff (i.e. adjusting the bridge, setting the intonation, filing the nut / bridge slots, etc) can and should be done by the owner when possible IMO.

    And, for what it's worth, the process always ends for me when I fix the issue or decide I cannot fix the issue and bring it to a pro - but it does end.

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    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    I think OP said one G string appeared higher than other, if so that would make "twining" them impossible, he will have to fix it or get it fixed. I agree with mbruno that he should learn minor set-ups himself, it's not rocket science.

  14. #14

    Default Re: New Mandolin - Couple of Setup Questions

    Thanks guys. I think I am going to:

    1) change the strings
    2) do my best to adjust to the intonation once they settle
    3) decide if I want to bring that G string down, leave it along, or have a pro do it. I'll probably lean toward trying it myself.

    -Andrew

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