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Thread: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

  1. #1
    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Hey all,

    I've been thinking about buying a mandocello for a bit and found a few Eastman's for about $2k. The price is okay but I've read a lot of reviews about the spacing of the strings being off and the lower courses sounding too "boomy".

    To me, those both seem like things that can be fixed at home with a good setup and some elbow grease. I'm not a luthier, but I can do my own setups and minor repairs. My question is, has anyone played one of these that they liked or bought one they didn't but fixed it up so it plays nice now?

    Like I said, the $2k price is okay and I can handle some home setup / repair, but I don't want to spend the money to find I need to sink another $1k into it.

    Thoughts?

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    Registered User NotMelloCello's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Why don't you buy it first before deciding? After all, it's just opinions of how THEY want it. You might find out it's to your liking. And a new nut and setup won't cost a grand. If it's more than $100 you got ripped off.
    The difference between death and taxes is that death does not grow worse every time Congress convenes. - Will Rogers

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    Butcherer of Songs Rob Zamites's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    NFI:

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/82935
    http://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/82865

    Why spend $2k, both of these look absolutely beautiful, and Bernie's sounds delightful:





    Again, NFI, but you could save $500 buy going with a Cafe Classifieds 'cello.
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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    I use the string gage recommendation by Martin at emando. The original strings on the Eastman 'cello are too light. I've not had the problems that many here post about on mine. I still have the original nut and bridge, but just use slightly heavier C and G's. Are they really up to $ 2k now? Guess I bought mine at the right time a few years back. Mine was good to go when I picked it up in Boise, although later I added the heavier strings, then later still I went with octave pairs. No complaints.

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    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    NotMandoCello: I know the setup won't be pricey and I can probably even do most of that myself. I've heard the neck is pretty fat and the tone for the low strings isn't good. Those fixes start adding up quick. If I'm buying an instrument for $2k, I'd like only to have to do minor setup work - not major structural work.

    As for buying and trying, I'm not opposed to that but I don't want to plan for a return. I'd rather do some basic research and get opinions of others first so I can make an educated guess on what to get. Sorta like reading about a car before you test drive it and ultimately buy it. Our styles may be different, but a bad instrument is a bad instrument.

    Rob: I saw those and have been thinking about picking one of them up too but I've never played a converted instrument. Have you played a converted before? If so, anything you want to share good or bad?

    I've been looking in the classifies but only found the converted ones or over $2k. I'm not entirely sure that I want to spend that much more than $2k on this instrument as I've never played a Mandocello before. I own a Mandola because the price was right and I wanted to try one out but I honestly rarely play it because it's range is so close to the mandolin's. I'm not sure I want to chance paying more than $2k before I've really had a chance to get a feel for the overall tone / register of the instrument. Does that make sense?

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    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Mandobart: So you found with heavy strings the muddy-ness goes away on the lower strings? Sounds like maybe you use lighter strings on the higher strings and heavier on the lower... is that right?

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    Butcherer of Songs Rob Zamites's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Quote Originally Posted by mbruno View Post

    Rob: I saw those and have been thinking about picking one of them up too but I've never played a converted instrument. Have you played a converted before? If so, anything you want to share good or bad?
    Never played a mandocello at all, but I'm building one

    Sorry I've got no input for you at all.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Quote Originally Posted by mbruno View Post
    I've read a lot of reviews about the spacing of the strings being off and the lower courses sounding too "boomy".
    Quote Originally Posted by mbruno View Post
    I've heard the neck is pretty fat and the tone for the low strings isn't good. Those fixes start adding up quick. If I'm buying an instrument for $2k, I'd like only to have to do minor setup work - not major structural work.
    I am one of those who has an Eastman in possession (lent to me to see if I want to play as a prospective mandocellist). I have no complaints for the tone at all. I never thought it sounded too boomy. Aren't mandocelli supposed to sound boomy, anyway? I would experiment with different string gauges and brands to see what sounded the best.

    My main beef was the spacing of the lower strings pairs. I have average (not super beefy) fingers but the spacing was too wide. Even just partway up the fretboard I woul find the strings would spread apart -- very difficult to fret them both together. I have heard quite a few other owners have to change the nuts and bridge spacing. The neck is not over fat depth wise but is a pretty standard guitar width. This is, after all, an archtop guitar factory-converted to a mandocello.

    BTW I do own a nice 1937 Gibson K-1 that needs to some neck work, so I am somewhat familiar with what a mandocello should feel like and and how it is optimally set up. The string spacing is about right on the Gibson.

    I think the Eastman is a nice instrument with those above caveats. OTOH given the two choices in the classifieds, I would probably go for Bernie's Vega conversion. Then again, I always lean toward the vintage instruments.
    Last edited by Jim Garber; Jan-26-2015 at 10:27pm.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    I have three mandocelli, an Eastman 805, a Gibson K-1, and a Waldo bowl-back.

    The Eastman's neck is more "guitar-y," not "fat," but wider and shallower than the Gibson's. I usually play in first position, so I haven't had problems with being unable to fret both C strings on higher frets.

    The Eastman (to me) doesn't sound as "boomy" as the Gibson; seems to have a bit more mid-range. It's loud as hell; couple of good first-position chords will annoy your band-mates no end.

    In today's market, and if you're after a factory-built instrument, not much competition for Eastman. The factory rep told me that Eastman only ships about a half-dozen 'cellos to the US annually, so if that's your choice, better hop on one.

    I concur with Jim G that the guitar conversions are a lot of bang for the buck. Maybe if I start looking for a fourth mandocello...
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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Mbruno - The neat thing about a tailpiece that takes ball ends is I can go to any music store and buy a custom set out of single guitar strings. Here is what I'm currently using for strings:

    C .060, c .030, G .045, g .023, D .034, d .017, both A's .020

    Ready made sets by D'addario (J78 - .074, .048, .034, .022) will work if you put balls in the loops, but I found the larger size (.074) C doesn't fit in the tailpiece slot very well.

  13. #11

    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    only a few weeks ago i was just about ready to buy an eastman- ive owned their guitars, and know how great their products are.

    i posted a thread asking for other options- its probably still relatively near the top of the forum.

    its a pretty unanimus oppinion that the eastmans can be nice, but really aren't properly setup. they also tend to sound very guitar-ish.

    next best bet is converting a guitar- which is a lot of work, or will obviously yield very different results depending on the workmanship, and materials.

    next choice and what i went with is walt kuhlman at gypsys music. you'll have to wait for it to be buit, but it would be built to your specs, and i'm very confident that walt is the real deal. my mandocello from him is priced at $1250. i can't immagine it not blowing away an eastman when its done, either. waiting stinks but it was a good choice i think!

  14. #12

    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    I bought a used Eastman Mandocello several months ago and found it almost unplayable. Michael Lewis just cut a new bone nut to correct the string spacing and allow for the beefier C strings from Martin at E Mando, and set it up. It now plays really easily. I don't consider it overly boomy. The new nut, setup & strings were under $100.00, which seems very reasonable to me. I would just consider that as part of the purchase price. $2000.00 seems a little steep if the instrument is used, though.

  15. #13
    This Kid Needs Practice Bill Clements's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    I acquired a new Eastman MDC805 mandocello recently. Based on information here, I took the mandocello to Elderly Instrument for initial setup to include addressing the string spacing. I provided a set of Thomastik strings to Arnold Hennig, one of Elderly's resident geniuses, along with the string spacing measurements Jim Garber provided (thanks, Jim) in another thread for reference. Due to the thickness of these Thomastik C strings the corresponding tuner posts holes had to be enlarged. A new nut was made and bridge saddle string slots re-cut. This was the result:
    Click image for larger version. 

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    What a difference! I recommend this alteration which has resulted in a much more player-friendly mandocello. Thank you, Arnold!
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Bill is that the mcello after the setup? I ask because that second photo looks to me like the original spacing on the Eastman mandocellos? Generally folks have the courses all moved closer together and then canted or biased to the bass side of the fret board?
    Bernie
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    This Kid Needs Practice Bill Clements's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Bernie:
    Yes, my photos in post number 13 reflected my Eastman MDC805 with a new nut.
    Here's a before photo of an Eastman mandocello's typical nut (courtesy Jim Garber):
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    Here's an after photo of mine:
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    You can really see Arnold's new spacing in the first photo of post #13 of the bridge where the strings pass over the saddle. The alteration was a good investment that significantly improved the setup.
    Last edited by Bill Clements; Jun-28-2015 at 2:19am.
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Clements View Post
    Bernie:
    Yes, my photos in post number 13 reflected my Eastman MDC805 with a new nut.
    Here's a before photo of an Eastman mandocello's typical nut (courtesy Jim Garber):
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Here's an after photo of mine:
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    You can really see Arnold's new spacing in the first photo of post #13 of the bridge where the strings pass over the saddle. The alteration was a good investment that significantly improved the setup.
    OK I see what was done now. The inter-course distances were increased and intra-string distances decreased. This would re-arrangement would certainly help and make it easier to fret.

    But what a number of others have done with the Eastman mandocello is to move all four courses over toward the treble side or the nut/fret board thus utilizing only ~1.5" of the 1.69" nut -- in this case then both the spacings would then feature a decrease --i.e., a decrease in both the inter-course separations as well as intra-string separations.

    Here is what the string spacings look like on my '36 Gibson K-1 and '42 Gibson K-50 mandocellos -- the former as a 1.5" nut and the latter a 1.6" nut.

    As long as the arrangement works for you that is all that counts!
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    Last edited by Bernie Daniel; Jun-28-2015 at 8:07pm.
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    This Kid Needs Practice Bill Clements's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    But what a number of others have done with the Eastman mandocello is to move all four courses over toward the treble side or the nut/fret board thus utilizing only ~1.5" of the 1.69" nut -- in this case then both the spacings would then feature a decrease --i.e., a decrease in both the inter-course separations as well as intra-string separations.
    That seems like a great solution, too, Bernie.
    I haven't even begun playing this big fellow yet, as a recent injury has me sidelined for several more weeks, if not months-and I only picked up the Eastman Saturday past.
    I suppose it's a bit like going from an Embergher bowlback which only has about a 1" neck to a wide-nut Gibson at 1-1/4" nut; it's all in what you get accustomed to. Add in different neck shapes/fret sizes/string gauges and you've got even more variables when sorting out what's most comfortable. I'll let you know how this all pans out down the road. I'm sure Elderly's solution will still be a big improvemnt. As I have large hands, I'm keeping my fingers crossed...until I begin playing!

    Just watched above video, Bernie, and I assume that's you playing? I was most interested in the piece you made that fits behind the bridge which dampens the strings and serves as a hand rest. Would you consider making one for sale? Let me know. I enjoyed your playing and you seem like a nice guy.

    Thanks for your replies here and for clarifying your string spacing.
    I'd also be interested in more photos of your two mandocellos. I bet they're gorgeous.
    Last edited by Bill Clements; Jun-28-2015 at 11:06pm.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    My problem was more with the spacing between the individual pairs rather than the spacing overall tho I would imagine it would improve things to duplicate the overall span of the Gibson mcellos. The Eastman mcellos from the factory are stupidly unplayable but they don't seem to want to fix the problem. I guess they don't want to bother.
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    My problem was more with the spacing between the individual pairs rather than the spacing overall tho I would imagine it would improve things to duplicate the overall span of the Gibson mcellos. The Eastman mcellos from the factory are stupidly unplayable but they don't seem to want to fix the problem. I guess they don't want to bother.
    Yes it is curious that they have totally ignored this issue for so long. I suppose the sale of mandocellos is too slow -- someone told me that maybe they sell less than 10 a year? (no idea of the veracity of that statement) That volume probably just does not justify having a luthier make a new neck/ fret boad and nut? I suppose what they do now is just pull an arch top guitar off the line when a mandocello order comes in?

    I do agree Gibson has come up with about the ideal nut and fret board arrangement for a mandocello -- so many compromises are necessary and I think they worked it out nicely.

    But in fact the Eastman approach is exactly what David Harvey did when he build that one and only 2012 Gibson K-5C a few years ago. That mcello was a new L-5C with 8 strings!
    Bernie
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    I certainly understand that they would not want to re-tool for a few instruments. All I was asking was that if they kept the neck width to rework the spacing so it makes sense. It is just sloppy IMHO. Granted I do not have thick fingers but the C and G strings are spaced way to far apart. At least listen to your customers.
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    Registered User NotMelloCello's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    It is my understanding from an Eastman rep that they only make 8 per year. And unless you are contacting them directly, how would they "listen to their customers"? They ARE selling all they make, so why should they assume different?

    There are individual preferences on nut setups - yes, but I get so tired of people saying Eastman is making them wrong. You should be glad you get an affordable mandocello at all! No one else even comes close to their price.
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    This Kid Needs Practice Bill Clements's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Quote Originally Posted by NotMelloCello View Post
    It is my understanding from an Eastman rep that they only make 8 per year. And unless you are contacting them directly, how would they "listen to their customers"? They ARE selling all they make, so why should they assume different?

    There are individual preferences on nut setups - yes, but I get so tired of people saying Eastman is making them wrong. You should be glad you get an affordable mandocello at all! No one else even comes close to their price.
    Actually, I believe Jim did speak with a rep from Eastman, my friend. Perhaps we shouldn't assume that no else has either, or with their local dealer.
    You are correct to point out that any fretted instrument will be tailored to the individual player upon setup. The good side of Eastman's mcello is that the bridge was such that it only took some sanding of the saddle to remove existing string slots and re-cut them to my preference. There was plenty of material to fiddle with there. And some have posted that they can play the instrument as is. You make a good argument about the price point as well. I know a luthier who sells his mcello for (3) times the Eastman price. Still, Eastman might do some additional market research to improve this already fine instrument.
    In Eastman's defense, they were more than fair with me recently regarding a warranty matter that resulted in my acquiring my mandocello. I do believe they make terrific instruments at a price that allows consumers to enjoy new instruments they might not otherwise be able to afford. This is all good, as eventually some folks end up moving into an American made mandolin…and then another, and another...
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Quote Originally Posted by NotMelloCello View Post
    There are individual preferences on nut setups - yes, but I get so tired of people saying Eastman is making them wrong. You should be glad you get an affordable mandocello at all! No one else even comes close to their price.
    You are correct about price point. My point is tho that I have heard of quite a few owners who had to change the configuration of the nut and bridge on their Eastmans. I have corresponded with the rep and he basically shrugged his shoulders. I am not sure why. Figure it out: they have to cut a new nut and bridge top anyway. Why not do it right in the first place? Esp after a number of players who had to do that. It makes so little sense. It is great NotMelloCello that you did not have the touch the set up but there are a large percentage of others who have had to do that.
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  26. #24
    Registered User NotMelloCello's Avatar
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    It is great NotMelloCello that you did not have the touch the set up but there are a large percentage of others who have had to do that.
    I don't have a factory Eastman mandocello. I converted an Eastman oval hole archtop - an AR804CE - into a mandocello. But I do like the wider spacing.
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    Default Re: Eastman Mandocello MDC805 - setup questions

    Quote Originally Posted by NotMelloCello View Post
    I..... I converted an Eastman oval hole archtop - an AR804CE - into a mandocello...
    Did you ever get around to posting pictures of it?
    Bernie
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