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Thread: Building Oval Holes

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    Default Building Oval Holes

    Hi, I'm planing on building some oval holes in my next set of mandolins.
    Im looking for input on what style to go with. Traditionally Gibson's Oval hole mandolins had the top integrated to go right up under the fingerboard eliminating the fingerboard extension. with a lower neck angle. A single brace under the bridge. And the fingerboard connecting at the 12th fret.
    The other option is what Collings is doing with there MTO and others have emulated. With keeping the neck angle and fingerboard extension just like the ff hole models. And a X brace instead of the single brace under the bridge.
    The Old Gibson Oval holes do have a unique sweet sound. But I believe the Collings design has worked in a lot of the same tonal quality's yet making the Oval hole mandolin have similar power and volume to that of a traditional ff hole. IMHO
    What are you thoughts?

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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    I only see built one oval by request and went with the hybrid design. I moved the neck forward but to 14 instead of 15, moved the oval forward and x braced. It had a hybrid sound as I recall but it wasn't here long so I can't really even remember it that well.

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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Ok, I am not a builder, but I would just employ some logic. Collings could build mandolins with a transverse brace and non elevated fret boards if they wanted to. But they choose not to. Why? I would make the assumption they feel the X brace and fretboard elevation are both superior. My guess (just a guess, mind you) is that the X brace allows the top to be a bit thinner because it adds structural strength, and the elevation allows freer movement of the top. Both would combine to make a more responsive instrument.

    Or maybe the real builders will come in and say I'm just a bag of hot air. But if I were in the market for an oval hole, I would pick the modern design.

    Another thought: there is no apparent shortage of the old design Gibsons for those who desire that sound. And if that's the sound they want, they usually purchase a vintage instrument, not a new one.
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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    I love the sound of old Gibson oval holes but really wanted a modern version with the same tone but more clarity and volume. Very few makers these days are making traditional oval hole copies with transverse bracing and shorter necks. I was lucky to get my Brentrup A4C which was exactly what I was looking for.

    I have played a few Collings ovals and I am not fond of the tone. They are very nice but not my style. I think the x-bracing brings up more of a bluegrass tone and the hybrid design IMHO is a compromise on the tone. I have an excellent bluegrass mandolin in my Flatiron A5-2 (1983) but want a different tone in my oval hole mandolins.
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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Quote Originally Posted by Jr Brown View Post
    The Old Gibson Oval holes do have a unique sweet sound. But I believe the Collings design has worked in a lot of the same tonal quality's yet making the Oval hole mandolin have similar power and volume to that of a traditional ff hole. IMHO What are you thoughts?
    I am reminded of the scene from The Quiet Man in which Michaleen Flynn says, "Madame, when I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey; and when I drink water, I drink water." There are times when two wonderful things are blended to produce a hybrid that is somehow less wonderful, masking the virtues of one while diluting the strengths of the other. That is kind of how I feel about the long necked modern hybrid which overpowers the sweetness of a traditional oval to produce a watered down version of f-holes. When I want f-holes, I want f-holes; and when I want an oval hole, I want an oval hole. Two great tastes that don't taste great together.
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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    What "pheff" said. . . (although I used to put a splash of water into my Scotch).

    f-d
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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    This is a good question. How do these two approaches shake out in the hands of players trying to be heard without losing the oval hole sound. In the Johns & Nowark video in the Women with mandolins thread page 109, a new twelve fret neck attachment oval hole from Čapek mandolins seems to project well while retaining the oval hole sound but likely needs the microphone and amplification used in the video to be heard in a herd of players. This model or it's bracing isn't mentioned at Mr. Capek's site. Chris Baird of Arches Mandolin might be a good source of information on the leading particulars involved in hybridization of the two approaches. Since for standard scale length extending the neck junction away from the body also moves the bridge towards the aperture. Because of this getting the neck off the plate near the head-block is helpful but may also be the main contributor to the tone color changing from flowing sustain to pop. If the scale length could be shifted/extended to allow a longer neck without changing the attachment methods or bridge location the tone color might not be lost. I'm thinking driving the plate from the center with the apertures on each side gives a different tone than driving the plate from the back with the aperture centered on the front edge of the moving plate.
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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    My guess would be that Collings went hybrid because they could use more of their established construction methods that way.
    I went that way because there were already so many traditional options including dozens of original Gibsons at any given time.

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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    I have a couple of ff hole mandolins, and an old Gibson oval. I have also had a wonderful mandolin that was in-between. It had the longer neck, which these days I favor for the leads I am doing, and tone bar bracing. The hole was moved to the bass side of the top and it was very oval in the G & D strings, but a little more ff in the E & B strings. Something that was very cool and had a great sound. I had the longer neck I desired and the oval sound. Unfortunately I ended up needing the ff hole sound for what I was playing and after a few years of sitting I regrettably sold it. At least I sold it to a friend so I get to see, hear and play it occasionally.
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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Thanks for all the contribution. I do love and appreciate the tone in the old Gibson oval holes. I just love the potential of putting some more volume behind it though a more modern hybrid construction. And I am afraid that most if not all advanced mandolin players(including myself) feel quite limited with the 12th fret connection. Apart from completely changing your style of playing.

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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Jr, I didn't realize you played mandolin. I thought you played Guit-Steel.

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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Quote Originally Posted by Jr Brown View Post
    I just love the potential of putting some more volume behind it though a more modern hybrid construction.
    Have you considered experimenting with a Virzi tone producer? While we hear stories of Loars that have had theirs removed, there are a number of builders who believe that a Virzi is beneficial to ovals.
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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    I think it's a bit exaggerated the actual difference in, "Volume." While the a/f-5 mandolins are very percussive in contrast to the a/f-2/4 mandolins are they really that much louder? In an amplified setting (or in playing duets/trios) it's moot. In a large-jam setting, yeah I'd go with an a/f-5, but likely be happy with my pancake or A3 - it's not a jam-breaker to me.

    I don't play bluegrass though.

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  18. #14

    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    I don't think it makes a substantial difference to the tone whether you cantilever the fretboard or build it in. There is not much going on in that area of the top, and you want it to be strong. The first transverse-braced oval hole mandolin I built split there because I left it too thin. Your top should be at least .200" under the fretboard using spruce, or .300" for less dense wood like redwood or cedar.
    Here's a look at the graduations for one of my parallel-braced instruments:
    Click image for larger version. 

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    and a similar top for an oval hole instrument:
    Click image for larger version. 

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    If you use the first graduation pattern for a oval hole instrument, my opinion is that it will not sound more like a ff-hole instrument. The first one I made like that sounded fine but failed, the top collapsed. The second one sounded horrible. I scrapped it and built another instrument for the customer. Your mileage may vary. Once I switched to the second graduation pattern for oval hole instruments, they have all sounded great, in different ways.

    I try to build oval hole instruments which are very loud and powerful, but still retain a general oval-hole tone with the additional sustain and different range of response that we generally associate with oval-hole instruments. So my instruments probably sound more like a Sobell than like a Gibson. Personally I like the tone of Gibson oval hole instruments, but they are readily available at pretty much any price point, and they also feel a little lackluster. If I play softly, I can get a more Gibson-like response, if I lean into it, I can get a more crisp and aggressive tone without it falling apart (something that some people actually like to take advantage of in old Gibson oval-hole instruments). I think the trebles I get in my instrument are much clearer than those from an old Gibson, and think a lot of other people also like that glassy and almost bowlback-like clarity of tone on the E course. So that's my general approach to building an oval hole instrument.
    Changing the size of the body makes a big difference, too. I play with body depth a lot. Also, the relative stiffness of the top plate to the back plate is important. Sometime I build with a floppier back which sounds one way, and a stiffer back which sounds another way.

    I don't know if any of that helps...

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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Mmm, a lot of speculation there and not a lot of practical experience.

    Firstly, X bracing does not make the hybrid sound. X bracing does change the sound of an oval hole, but it is more of a subtle change, not a big change. My ears prefer the X.

    Moving the neck foreward changes a whole heap of things, and what exactly contributes the most to make the hybrid sound I don't really know. I have made a number of long neck oval hole mandolins and it is possible to get them sounding like an oval hole, not a hybrid, but it is not easy. The first one I made sounded like a hybrid, so I failed at the first attempt. Mine have a smaller body than my standard oval hole mandolins, the cross piece is at the 14th fret, and the fingerboard remains attached to the soundboard. The sound is a bit different, a shift towards the Lyon and Healy sound, but there is none of the "throaty" sound that is so characteristic of F hole mandolins (and hybrid oval hole mandolins). Ring and sustain remains just like a standard oval hole mandolin. I think if you raise the fingerboard and move the neck foreward to the 15th fret you will always end up with a hybrid sound.

    For those interested there are pictures on my web site and sound clips so you can do a direct comparison. I really like them, but they are difficult to sell so I have not made one for a while.
    http://www.petercoombe.com/standard.html

    As to the question on why anyone would buy a new oval hole mandolin rather than a vintage Gibson there are a number of reasons. The Gibsons are somewhat variable. A few a great, many are ok, some are not so inspiring. At close to 100 years old many also have issues. In the intervening years a lot has happened. We now have carbon fibre, improved tuners, improved bridges, improved tailpieces, X bracing etc etc, and we also have people like me who have studied the oval hole mandolin and can make a great sounding oval hole mandolin each and every time. Personally I don't really see the point in making a mandolin that looks and sounds exactly like a Gibson, I prefer to make a mandolin that sounds better! Anyway that is the aim, and there are plenty of customers that want one that does sound better, or at least as good as the very best of the Gibsons that are few in number.
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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    The original Gibson oval had a lot of limitations due to the design (bridge height and location) that were addressed with the F5. It wasn't the physics of the fingerboard attachment, it was the geometry.

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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Quote Originally Posted by peter.coombe View Post
    Mmm, a lot of speculation there and not a lot of practical experience.

    Firstly, X bracing does not make the hybrid sound. X bracing does change the sound of an oval hole, but it is more of a subtle change, not a big change. My ears prefer the X.

    Moving the neck foreward changes a whole heap of things, and what exactly contributes the most to make the hybrid sound I don't really know. I have made a number of long neck oval hole mandolins and it is possible to get them sounding like an oval hole, not a hybrid, but it is not easy. The first one I made sounded like a hybrid, so I failed at the first attempt. Mine have a smaller body than my standard oval hole mandolins, the cross piece is at the 14th fret, and the fingerboard remains attached to the soundboard. The sound is a bit different, a shift towards the Lyon and Healy sound, but there is none of the "throaty" sound that is so characteristic of F hole mandolins (and hybrid oval hole mandolins). Ring and sustain remains just like a standard oval hole mandolin. I think if you raise the fingerboard and move the neck foreward to the 15th fret you will always end up with a hybrid sound.

    For those interested there are pictures on my web site and sound clips so you can do a direct comparison. I really like them, but they are difficult to sell so I have not made one for a while.
    http://www.petercoombe.com/standard.html

    As to the question on why anyone would buy a new oval hole mandolin rather than a vintage Gibson there are a number of reasons. The Gibsons are somewhat variable. A few a great, many are ok, some are not so inspiring. At close to 100 years old many also have issues. In the intervening years a lot has happened. We now have carbon fibre, improved tuners, improved bridges, improved tailpieces, X bracing etc etc, and we also have people like me who have studied the oval hole mandolin and can make a great sounding oval hole mandolin each and every time. Personally I don't really see the point in making a mandolin that looks and sounds exactly like a Gibson, I prefer to make a mandolin that sounds better! Anyway that is the aim, and there are plenty of customers that want one that does sound better, or at least as good as the very best of the Gibsons that are few in number.
    Really informative reply Peter. I enjoyed reading your post. I am planning to put X-bracing on an F-4 kit I am building at the moment for the same reasons you have outlined.
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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Thanks Peter for chiming in here, I appreciate the prospective based with heaps of experience. I do think you clearly outline the goal.To make oval holes that "Sound better than Gibson,or at least as good as their very best ones". I think the 14th fret connection is a happy medium of playability and tone. I to also prefer X brace myself even for ff holes.
    I got the opportunity to play one of your mandolins for the first time in Elderly instruments. It was lovely, actually amazing. I nearly walked out with it but it just couldent get over the limited playability of the 12th fret connection(on this particular one i think it was #97 or around there. I can clearly understand why you and all of us should put much time and thought into developing Oval holes which sound better than the standard Gibson set, but are actually playable for the skilled modern mandolinist.

  25. #19

    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Quote Originally Posted by Jr Brown View Post
    Hi, I'm planing on building some oval holes in my next set of mandolins.
    Im looking for input on what style to go with. Traditionally Gibson's Oval hole mandolins had the top integrated to go right up under the fingerboard eliminating the fingerboard extension. with a lower neck angle. A single brace under the bridge. And the fingerboard connecting at the 12th fret.
    The other option is what Collings is doing with there MTO and others have emulated. With keeping the neck angle and fingerboard extension just like the ff hole models. And a X brace instead of the single brace under the bridge.
    The Old Gibson Oval holes do have a unique sweet sound. But I believe the Collings design has worked in a lot of the same tonal quality's yet making the Oval hole mandolin have similar power and volume to that of a traditional ff hole. IMHO
    What are you thoughts?
    The oval hole mandolin I have built, I used the F style finger board extension also went with the parallel tone bars in addition to the small brace Gibson originally applied to the oval hole design, and your right it did have more volume and power but had a sweet oval tone sound, go to my website to see some colesonmandolins.com

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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Has anyone experimented with choking down the oval aperture slightly like Gibson's Goldrush and Lawson F-5 models? If so am I correct in assuming it added bass and projection while reducing openness and ring?
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  28. #21

    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    I have been taking my time building an oval hole F4 hybrid. Still a work in progress but progressing. I was inspired by the Mandolins made by Prucha in Eastern Europe (http://en.pruchabanjos.cz/mandolin.php?mandolin=f4 ) I really like the sound files and the look of the mandolin. When I wrote to Jarda Prucha and asked him about how he braced and carved his tops, his response was "I make the same thicknes of top as the top with F-holes. That is why I use one single transverse brace." I find this interesting as it seems to indicate that the area where the transverse brace is might be thinner than this forum recommends. I REALLY do like the sound of his F4 though.

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  30. #22

    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    All of that talk abut oval hole mandolins and not one mention of the stubby mahogany neck with no truss rod vs the longer maple neck with a truss rod and its affect on the voice......

    The number one reason that I have built modern, long maple necked, x braced, elevated fingerboard oval hole mandolins is that the people writing the checks asked for that configuration. Not one time did they ask for the same old same old with a voice and label that I can buy from 1915 for $1200! No matter how much redesign and money you spend, a fancy mandolin played by someone with poor chops will sound the same as a $300 import.

    Beautiful visuals Marty! Are those, for the lack of a better description, single point displays, or can you vary the frequency spectrum and cycle through the whole response visually like Nugget does?

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  31. #23

    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Quote Originally Posted by grandcanyonminstrel View Post
    Beautiful visuals Marty! Are those, for the lack of a better description, single point displays, or can you vary the frequency spectrum and cycle through the whole response visually like Nugget does?
    www.condino.com
    Hi James, those graphs show thickness, with red being thickest and green being thinner. I can also generate plots of the theoretical mode shapes for a given frequency, but it assumes the material is isotropic, so it's kind of a SWAG.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    The number one reason that I have built modern, long maple necked, x braced, elevated fingerboard oval hole mandolins is that the people writing the checks asked for that configuration.
    That has not been my experience. The last long necked oval hole I made sat in the case unsold for 3 years. I actually liked it more than my short necked ovals, but the short neck (never has been mahogany) is what the people write the cheques for. It is quite different here though, with a big celtic scene, not many old Gibsons around, and also not many bluegrass players. I also get a few enquiries about my Lyon and Healy reproduction from classical music players when you guys in the USA would probably be asking why not get an original? To get an original it would need to be imported from the USA because there are very few of them here and people who have imported don't want to sell. To import means running the gauntlet of exchange rates and Australian Customs charges, plus the transport costs. Ends up costing at least $5000 AUD in total (for a Lyon and Healy style A) for a mandolin you don't get to see until it arrives on the doorstep. I know because I have done it myself. The same applies to vintage Gibsons, although there are more of them here and very occasionally one might come up for sale, but it is rare.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building Oval Holes

    Quote Originally Posted by grandcanyonminstrel View Post
    All of that talk abut oval hole mandolins and not one mention of the stubby mahogany neck with no truss rod vs the longer maple neck with a truss rod and its affect on the voice......
    Well... I guess you missed my comment.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    I love the sound of old Gibson oval holes but really wanted a modern version with the same tone but more clarity and volume. Very few makers these days are making traditional oval hole copies with transverse bracing and shorter necks. I was lucky to get my Brentrup A4C which was exactly what I was looking for.

    I have played a few Collings ovals and I am not fond of the tone. They are very nice but not my style. I think the x-bracing brings up more of a bluegrass tone and the hybrid design IMHO is a compromise on the tone. I have an excellent bluegrass mandolin in my Flatiron A5-2 (1983) but want a different tone in my oval hole mandolins.
    I certainly understand commissions paying for the longer scale As, but there is something IMHO to a modernized tone on a traditionally built oval hole A. That is what Hans built in my A4C and I am glad he did.
    Jim

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