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Thread: The Science of Mandolins

  1. #1
    I may be old but I'm ugly billhay4's Avatar
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    Default The Science of Mandolins

    I've been thinking about the science of mandolins a lot since I started a thread about the function of the body of the instrument. It has drawn a lot of views, comments from real and self-appointed experts, and some controversy. Nothing surprising there. This is the internet.
    I've been told to read up on the subject and I have done some of this. I've had it suggested that I really cannot understand some of this. Be that as it may, my reaction to all the talk about nodes, impedance coupling, amplification, string dimensions, differential equations, string theory (a bit of a joke here), and other very technical issues leaves me with just one response. So What?
    Don't get me wrong here. I am not doubting the value of the science. What I am trying to say is that it seems to me that the value of the science is for the scientists, not the luthier and player of mandolins except in a very indirect way.
    For those of us who are not (as the self-proclaimed and real scientists among us delight in pointing out) scientists, the issues addressed by these scientific studies seem to me to be almost wholly irrelevant.
    I don't care what node is being excited, or whether energy is being introduced into the system, or whether a string is a one, two, or multi-dimensional object except for the curiosity and intellectual interest of these subjects.
    As a player and builder of mandolins, my thoughts are wholly on other questions, questions that seem to annoy scientists because they are not easily reduced to an equation, and are not easily the subject of experiment.
    Questions like:
    1) How do I get consistent tone from one instrument to another?
    2) What arching pattern for the top will produce the best combination of sweetness and loudness?
    3) Where is the best place to position the tone bars?
    4) What does changing the body shape do to the sound of an instrument?
    5) How will placing soundholes on the perimeter of the top affect the sound of the instrument?
    6) I like walnut; will using it in an instrument negatively affect the sound?
    7) What is the best way to hold the pick?
    8) How do I get the best sustain without getting an echoey instrument?
    9) If I make the body a half inch deeper, what will happen?
    And so many other, similar questions.
    Many of these and other such questions are quite vague in both their formation and in the answer sought. Still such matters are what are important to me. The address the real-world issues of producing and playing the mandolin. They don't require that I go back to university.
    Let the scientists do their thing and when their efforts produce results that are truly useful to luthiers and players, we'll surely hear. Right now, though, I would much prefer a simple list of the 20 most important things to do in building your instrument, and the 20 most effective ways to play the instrument to 1) avoid injury, and 2) get the most and best sound from it.
    I'll read your scientific comments and articles. I'll gather what I can from them. But, for now, I won't really understand or care much about their relevance or import.
    IM(NS)HO

  2. #2
    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    So you want to ask questions that have a scientific answer (as all questions about the physical world do), but you want the non-scientific "easy" answer because the scientific answers are just too much work? Or was there some other point to this that I missed?

    *edited to add: I don't mean that to sound rude or condescending. But if it were worded in whatever way causes the least offense, is that pretty much the summary?

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    I may be old but I'm ugly billhay4's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    I never said I wanted to ask questions that have a scientific answer. I don't even know what that it. That is your language, not mine.
    Bill
    IM(NS)HO

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    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    Yes, those were my words because you're asking questions about things which are governed by physics, and the physical world. Our knowledge comes from the study of the physical world and how it works, via what we call science. I don't even know how your questions could be answered without at least a passing reference to science. People can dumb down the answers so that they are easily understood in layman's terms, but the answers still rely on science.

    So my question, albeit poorly worded, is this: you're asking technical questions, but you want answers in easy-to-understand layman's terms that don't go too far into actual scientific explanation?

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    I may be old but I'm ugly billhay4's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    I get what you are asking and think the question doesn't understand what I was saying above. I'll try to clarify.
    My post wasn't asking for anything. I was merely musing on how irrelevant so many of the scientific explanations we see here seem to me, how irrelevant the questions they seem designed to answer seem to be to me.
    This is not because the science is wrong, misdirected, or even too complicated for me. It is because I have different questions and different priorities. Or I think I do.
    Well, let me qualify that, I was asking for something as I suggested in the final part of my post. However, the main thrust of that was meant to suggest the irrelevancy to me of many of the scientific answers we see.
    Now, irrelevancy means not relevant. It does not mean not important or bad or something of that sort. What I am trying to say is that I find much of this kind of talk does not address the questions I have.
    Hope that helps.
    Bill
    IM(NS)HO

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    I may be old but I'm ugly billhay4's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    you're asking questions about things which are governed by physics, and the physical world.
    I'm going to take some exception to this statement. Physics does not govern the world. It attempts to explain how it works; it is our best human explanation of that ON A CERTAIN LEVEL. There are other explanations that are just as powerful and, I might opine, just as true. Poetry, music, drawing, literature, religion. All of these are attempts to understand and explain the world, both physical and spiritual.
    Physics is no more real than music.
    Bill
    IM(NS)HO

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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    billhay4,

    I'll be frank. Those of us on the MC with science backgrounds are growing tired of answering your endless questions and responding to your posts, because you repeatedly ask about the science (the word "science" is even in the title of your thread, so stop denying that!), but then you either reject the guidelines suggested by the science (such as it is), dismiss or disparage these, or fail to understand them altogether. And that much is abundantly clear to the rest of us, even if you don't happen to agree. And honestly, this kind of behavior gets annoying after a while: it comes across as trolling, and not constructive. We have tried, and with considerable patience I might add, to treat your inquiries seriously. We can only hope that you show equivalent respect for our answers, but there has been little evidence of that so far.

    You are, of course, entitled to believe whatever you choose. But the fact is that you're not going to find scientific answers outside the realm of science. Any more than you will find religious answers outside religion!

    As for the questions you posed in your post this time, the answers exist for essentially NONE of these! Because if they did, we wouldn't be worrying about how to get a better sound from our mandolins, because all mandolins would be built to sound optimal! Luthiers and scientists alike don't know do that. Instrument building is both an art and a science -- and not one or the other! And it has not reached an endpoint -- not by a country mile. Builders still experiment with sound hole shape and placement, top, back, and side thicknesses and graduations, wood properties, tone bars, and 1,000 other things. Like nearly every other stringed instrument, the modern mandolin is a work in progress. And we wouldn't be worrying how to play better, hold our picks and instruments, and all that, either, if there were definitive answers. You have only to look in detail at the body and hand positions/motions of a dozen of the greatest players to realize that there is no one single answer about how best to play.

    It's extremely foolish -- and thoroughly naive -- to request "a simple list of the 20 most important things to do in building your instrument, and the 20 most effective ways to play the instrument." That's totally ludicrous, in fact. You're not going to get such a list from any responsible and knowledgeable luthier. Nor from any scientist, for that matter. Only a charlatan or mountebank would be bold enough to suggest that one could somehow distill all of luthiery, and all of musical performance, into two short lists of 20 items each. And they would be conning you if they did.

    You just want a bunch of easy answers. But there are none! And you come across as being lazy.

    This forum contains thousands of posts that discuss various approaches to building, and to playing the mandolin. You would be better advised to please go back and read these, to seek some partial answers to your questions. You will find plenty of opinions and guidelines, but definitive answers will not (and do not!) exist. But please, before posting naive questions like you did: Go do your homework, I say! There's a whole lot to learn, and many of us on the MC enjoy doing that learning.

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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    Here are some science free answers, which, now I've written them, seem about as much use as most answers not underpinned by evidence or referenced to any base criteria.

    Quote Originally Posted by billhay4 View Post
    Questions like:
    1) How do I get consistent tone from one instrument to another?
    Build lots of them the same way from the same materials with as few deviations as possible.
    Quote Originally Posted by billhay4 View Post
    2) What arching pattern for the top will produce the best combination of sweetness and loudness?
    The one that did it on the sweetest loud instrument you have yet heard if that is how you've referenced " best"

    Quote Originally Posted by billhay4 View Post
    3) Where is the best place to position the tone bars?
    On the inside.

    Quote Originally Posted by billhay4 View Post
    4) What does changing the body shape do to the sound of an instrument?
    It makes it come out of a different shaped body.

    Quote Originally Posted by billhay4 View Post
    5) How will placing soundholes on the perimeter of the top affect the sound of the instrument?
    By giving you that perimeter sound hole tone.

    Quote Originally Posted by billhay4 View Post
    6) I like walnut; will using it in an instrument negatively affect the sound?
    There's a wonderful story on the internet about a grandson who built a piano from a walnut tree that his grandfather planted as a youngster specifically so his grandchild would one day build a piano from it. It took about 110 years from planting to build. Anyway apparently it had a lovely tone.

    Quote Originally Posted by billhay4 View Post
    7) What is the best way to hold the pick?
    In the way that best delivers the sound you want to hear at that time.

    Quote Originally Posted by billhay4 View Post
    8) How do I get the best sustain without getting an echoey instrument?
    Build an instrument that delivers those qualities.

    Quote Originally Posted by billhay4 View Post
    9) If I make the body a half inch deeper, what will happen?
    you will have the strings a half inch further from you.
    Eoin



    "Forget that anyone is listening to you and always listen to yourself" - Fryderyk Chopin

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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by billhay4 View Post
    I'm going to take some exception to this statement. Physics does not govern the world. It attempts to explain how it works; it is our best human explanation of that ON A CERTAIN LEVEL. There are other explanations that are just as powerful and, I might opine, just as true. Poetry, music, drawing, literature, religion. All of these are attempts to understand and explain the world, both physical and spiritual.
    Physics is no more real than music.
    Bill

    Music is real. Physics is real. Art is real, too. Your credibility is not real.

  12. #10
    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    This feels like pig wrestling

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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    It's funny. Bob Benedetto, master luthier of arch-top instruments, said that for 20 years he experimented with all sorts of different arches, braces, sound holes, etc. He said all his instruments, after 20 years, tended to sound alike no matter what he did (within reason). He didn't worry much, or at least not much of his published work alludes to his worrying much, about the physics of what was happening with his instruments, but the art and craft of his hands and eyes led his instruments to being the way they were, and to finding what he thought was a common voice. I find that very interesting. So to answer the OP, in my thoughts at least, here goes...

    1) How do I get consistent tone from one instrument to another? * Make instruments, a lot, and pay attention to how they feel to you at each stage.
    2) What arching pattern for the top will produce the best combination of sweetness and loudness? * Different arching patterns have been made by luthiers, and the instruments still sound the same, or at least of a common family (alluding to reading on Linda Manzer here). So probably different arching patterns can be used and accomodated by other factors.
    3) Where is the best place to position the tone bars? * Benedetto says he can use different braces or tone bars, of different design, and his instruments still sound about the same. So like arching patterns, other factors can mitigate changes to tone bar
    4) What does changing the body shape do to the sound of an instrument? * There are so many body shapes that it doesn't seem to matter a whole lot. I think that as long as the belly of the instrument is kind of round, and the bridge is about in the middle, it's doesn't matter much.
    5) How will placing soundholes on the perimeter of the top affect the sound of the instrument? * These can free up the top to vibrate in a different manner, so you can get a different sound from an F-hole instrument to an oval hole instrument. But so far for me it doesn't change the fundamental nature of the sound the instrument will make.
    6) I like walnut; will using it in an instrument negatively affect the sound? * Walnut works well for the back and sides of an instrument. Using it for the top would be an interesting experiment - it might react like mahogany.
    7) What is the best way to hold the pick? * so you don't drop it, and so you can get a nice sound with it. Seriously, I hold my pick in so many different ways to influence the sound I want to get. Changing how you hold your pick should be part of your repertoire of how to get your signature tone.
    8) How do I get the best sustain without getting an echoey instrument? * I don't know. I don't think a picked (plucked?) archtop instrument is conducive to sustain, though.
    9) If I make the body a half inch deeper, what will happen? * Changing the depth of the instrument appears to influence the bass and mid response. More is not always better. My mandolin is quite deep compared to others and I find it to be quite midrangy, not much bass. But it's also a 1940's solid spruce top Kay, which means it has a whole suite of issues other than being a half inch deeper than a typical mandolin.

    Freebee: I think that the fundamental tone of the mandolin is over-ridingly influenced by the size of the instrument, the scale length of the strings, the quite high (compared to other stringed instruments) tension of the strings.

    Purely subjective opinions based on me and my thoughts, today. Offered in respect of the OP and his desire to ask questions. I have thought on all of those questions, now and in the past, and probably in the future too!

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  16. #12
    I may be old but I'm ugly billhay4's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    The questions posed in the original post were a rhetorical device, posed to stimulate discussion.
    I appreciate all of your outrage and arrogance, with one exception.
    Bill
    IM(NS)HO

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    Mandolin & Mandola maker
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    I think much of the problems some people have with the science is the current lack of evidence for correlations between various measurements and the sound of the instrument we hear. One can measure until the cows come home, but it is the interpretation of what all the measurements mean that is the really difficult part. Correlations are difficult because it involves different worlds - i.e. scientific measurements and human perceptions. It is not done very often because it is hard to do with sufficient rigour so as to demonstrate that the correlation is actually real.
    Peter Coombe - mandolins, mandolas and guitars
    http://www.petercoombe.com

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    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    I think you are attempting to get a rise out of certain scientific folks. If you build instruments as you say, then you already know the answer, just build them and you'll come to your OWN conclusion on your 20 point questionnaire.

    Mr. Monteleone had an interview where he described how tone bars help spread out the vibrations across the top plate. Well he's 110% wrong about that, and it's counter to what science says, but the point is that he found a formula that works for HIM when it comes to tone bars.

    I suggest you keep building and the answers will come. Meanwhile lay off the scientists here.

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins

    Bill I think you'll never get any relevant info by asking those questions (or provoking such discussions as you call it).
    Science does not guarantee exact answers to all questions (perhaps except for large part of mathematics). More often than not science works with simplified models of reality that is too complicated to be described exactly. Musical instruments appear to be simple things to layman but there are so many variables that just cannot be traced into the resulting tone in any exact way and even teh tone is nearly impossible to judge objectively which is not helping scientists as well.
    Current research of how musical instruments work is in state that it gives very few answers for working luthiers. There are precious few scientists who can make instruments or luthiers who really can do science so progress will necessarily be slow.
    There are some scientific methods that can be used to answer at least few of your questions. There are especially suitable data-mining approaches, black box analysis, genetic algorithms, or neural networks systems, FEM models etc. that can handle some subjective variables and evaluate relations in complicated unknown systems like musical instrument bodies but they mostly require large database of behavior to be judged. (meaning lots of instruments precisely measured and evaluated) This is similar to hard working (and really requires also being smart) luthier who after building enough instruments will intuitively see what makes for required tone.
    Look up this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolved_antenna to see how a real world problem can be solved with well selected scientific method. Though the musical instrument is much more complicated to describe than simple antenna.
    I read the "body thread" but resisted answering as I was seeing it is going nowhere. My smart assed answer would be "the body is there so you have another end to hang your strings on and something to attach neck to". My more thought out answer would be the body is black box system that is helluva hard to describe.
    Good luck in your search. I for now try to build some nice instruments and at least learn few simple things how they work.
    PS: My background is in math and computers sciences
    Adrian

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    Default Re: The Science of Mandolins


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