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Thread: Classical Mandolin Dealers

  1. #1

    Default Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Hello All,

    I am new here. I have been a musician most of my life. I have a degree from Ithaca College and I have been an orchestra director and violin/viola teacher for 34 years. I play and collect violins and violas and their bows by modern makers.

    I am interested in learning classical mandolin and perhaps playing some Bach and Vivaldi. I am having a hard time finding a "classical" mandolin. I can find a million harpsichord/lute/recorder/violin/etc. dealers but most of the mandolin dealers are bluegrass type instruments.

    It could be that I just don't understand what makes a classical mandolin. I have in my head that it should have a bowl back like a lute, but I am probably off base.

    Thanks,

    Dwight

  2. #2
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Here is a recent thread on the topic.

    The gist of it is that you can play classical music on any mandolin, even a "bluegrass" one, but some are more suitable depending on what specific tone or scale length you prefer. It is funny that you are a violinist but you don't realize that you can play bluegrass on any violin. In any case, read that thread... you may get a little dizzy doing so, but then you can post there and ask whatever questions.
    Jim

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  3. #3

    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Thanks,

    I did read the thread but it left me a bit more confused than I was. I know with violins set-up, choice of strings, etc. can be quite different between classical and bluegrass. I was guessing it was somewhat the same with mandolin. I just hope strings are not as much! A set of viola strings has hit $125.00 a set at discount these days. Are there any dealers that have instruments meant for classical playing or is it such a small part of the market there would not be any.

    I guess the sort of instrument Caterina Lichtenberg is playing in the Bach video you posted is what I had in mind.

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    Mandolin tragic Graham McDonald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    A brief history:
    In Europe classical mandolin music is always played on bowlback instruments. 13" scale, same as a violin. There is a choice between Neapolitan (Calace, Vinaccia) Roman (Embergher) or German (Seifert) style instruments, all subtlely different in tonality and feel.

    In America it used to be Neapolitan style bowlback instruments up till around 1914 when a proliferation of various flatback styles were developed culminating in the Gibson F-5 which was introduced in 1922 as a mandolin for classical music. At the time it was an expensive commercial failure and only saved from being an extravagant musical footnote by Bill Monroe and bluegrass music. The one-fret longer scale (13.875") of the Gibson instruments became the standard in the US.

    At the same time time if you want to play Vivaldi mandolin music, that was written for 5 or 6 course gut strung instruments (effectively very small lutes) tuned more in fourths and the later Beethoven and Hummel mandolin music for gut strung single course Cremonese mandolins tuned in fifths.

    All that really means is that you can play classical mandolin music on which ever mandolin takes your fancy!

    Cheers,

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    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Hi Dwight,

    I guess I'm as close to a "bowlback dealer" as you're likely to find, but even so I tend to trade a relatively small number of vintage instruments - just as and when I can find them (nothing at present). Otherwise there are a small number of makers around - not sure what the Calace waiting time is, but Woll is reported to be 7 years! After that there are some cheap mass produced new ones that most folks around here tend to stay away from, and a distinctly absent middle ground.

    Best, John.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    There are actually only a handful of dealers that buy and sell top tier classical (bowlback) mandolins on a regular basis. One is www.williampetit.com and the other is http://www.sinier-de-ridder.com Many luthiers in Italy would have one or two restored mandolins now and then.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Thanks to everyone for the help!

    DLB

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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Quote Originally Posted by K38 View Post
    Hello All,

    I am new here. I have been a musician most of my life. I have a degree from Ithaca College and I have been an orchestra director and violin/viola teacher for 34 years. I play and collect violins and violas and their bows by modern makers.

    I am interested in learning classical mandolin and perhaps playing some Bach and Vivaldi. I am having a hard time finding a "classical" mandolin. I can find a million harpsichord/lute/recorder/violin/etc. dealers but most of the mandolin dealers are bluegrass type instruments.

    It could be that I just don't understand what makes a classical mandolin. I have in my head that it should have a bowl back like a lute, but I am probably off base.

    Thanks,

    Dwight
    There is a dealer of Italian mandolins in the U.S. right now, Southern Strings, the first we're aware of. Discussed here recently. Not much inventory but I'd call to see what's really in stock. We were told they be stocking a fair amount of choices. Web sites don't always get updated as much as we think so may be more coming soon. Some solid resources, the classical community at large here for sure. I could list a lot of resources but you appear to be far beyond most people starting out. Don't be afraid to ask!

    Also, a visual list of bowlback builders available on this site.

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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    "I guess the sort of instrument Caterina Lichtenberg is playing in the Bach video you posted is what I had in mind. "

    Caterina plays a "Seiffert" model by Alfred Woll. Most professional level classical mandolinists in Germany (and those who aspire to this), along with players elsewhere in Europe trained in Germany, play instruments by Woll or Klaus Knorr. The waiting lists for either are extremely long (Woll currently has a 7 year waiting list). There are other German builders whose websites can be accessed through the Cafe portal, but these build on commission.

    An alternative is one of the Dieter Hopf production models, such as the Model 28, or similar by Guierma (their models 63, 64, or 65). One or more of these are usually in stock at www.trekel.de, which is one of the major European dealers for sheet music, instruments, and accessories. You would have to pay shipping and import duty from Germany, but this is not that expensive. The Hopf model 28, is currently priced at a little less than $1,100 USD, not including shipping or duty (I don't know if Trekel includes a case, but they have these as well at reasonable prices); the Guierma models would be a bit less. Trekel is extremely reliable; simply send an email in English to info@trekel.de.

    Southern Strings in the US carries high-end Italian bowlbacks, already mentioned, but these will be quite different from a German instrument. SS carries instruments by Lorenzo Lippi (very high end) and also Carlo Mazzacarra (slightly less high end), who also often advertises on Ebay, both his own instruments, as well as restorations (usually, Calace).

    Joe Todaro at worldfrets.com in the Philadelphia area is another option. Joe is very knowledgeable and has been in business for a long time. As of a few weeks ago he had a Suzuki M-100 in stock, which is their top of the line bowlback (my recollection is that the price was ca. $1K USD). I played this particular mandolin; it played and sounded like it was supposed to, and would be perfectly fine for a serious amateur. Joe also has a few instruments from China, all hand-made, quite good for the money IMHO (my personal preferences, to be clear, run strongly to German).
    Robert A. Margo

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Also, in the US especially, many classical players like vintage Lyon & Healy/Washburn styles A, B, and C mandolins. These are carved top instruments and the classical players often prefer the shorter 13" violin scale and string them with Thomastik flat wound strings.
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    And then there is custom builder Brian Dean:

    http://www.labraid.ca/
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Registered User Martin Jonas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    As others in this thread have said, classical music can be played many different types of mandolin, some of which are bowlbacks and others are not. However, the type of instrument you choose does have considerable implications on tone and technique for your future playing. Classical mandolin tone and style is much less codified and standardised than for other instruments, at least in the US and UK, so to a very large extent you are able to pick your own chosen niche.

    That's less true in other countries, specifically Germany, Italy, Japan, Israel and Ukraine, each of which has their own distinct national style which is fairly rigidly defined and comes with an default type of mandolin attached (domra in the case of Ukraine, effectively a four-string bowlback mandolin). You can check each of these styles out on Youtube, and if you think those are what you're after, makers and dealers on those countries will be the best bet.

    For an experienced classical player, but beginner with mandolins, it may be quite difficult for you to form a preference and pick the right instrument for your own playing and tonal preferences especially if you don't have the opportunity to try out multiple instruments in person. Plus, of course, your budget for a new instrument is a major consideration, especially if you're not yet sure which type of instrument you would prefer.

    Others may differ, but in my view your basic choices are:

    1. The cheapest option to dip your toes into the water is to buy a new flattop mandolin, e.g. a Big Muddy or Redline both of which are by US-based luthiers with a great reputation for customer service. They normally come with a 13-7/8" scale length, but they may be willing to make a violin-scale (13") instrument for you, which many classical players prefer. You can influence the tone quite a bit by your choice of strings. These are proper luthier-made instruments from a single builder, but much cheaper than luthier-made bluegrass mandolins because the construction of a flattop is much easier. Note that the cheaper price doesn't mean flattops are necessarily inferior for classical playing than more expensive instruments -- this is a perfectly accepted type of mandolin for the genre and great value if that's the tone you're after.

    2. Another US-based option is a carved mandolin from a maker who voices instruments specifically with a view to classical playing rather than typical bluegrass tone. These can be f-hole or oval holes, in an F-style or A-style body shape. Examples are Rolfe Gerhardt's Phoenix Neoclassical model, Dave Cohen or Brian Dean. You can engage with the luthier directly as to what your own preferences are. Downside is that these are just as expensive as good bluegrass instruments, and you may not want to commission a custom instrument at this early stage of your mandolin exploration.

    3. Vintage bowlback instruments: There are a very large number of vintage bowlbacks, some from US builders and some from overseas (mainly Italy and Germany), which come in all quality grades and various stages of disrepair or restoration. Unlike vintage violins, almost all of these are very cheap (barring a small number of collectible makers such as Embergher, Calace or Vinaccia) and many represent exceptional value -- you can get a mandolin for a couple of hundred dollars when a trade violin by the same maker and same inherent musical quality may go for several thousand. The downside is that you need considerable knowledge to pick the good ones out of the sea of dross and even then are liable to get your fair share of duds. Even the above-mentioned "big name" makers are ridiculously cheap compared to old violins or guitars of comparable pedigree -- a few thousand will get you some of the best and biggest-name vintage bowlbacks in the world, such as high-end Embergher or Calace bowlback. However, again, you need to know what you want: an Embergher 5bis is a wonderful instrument with a huge reputation, but its tone and setup is highly idiosyncratic and unacceptable to many top classical mandolinists.

    4. Modern Italian or Japanese bowlbacks: These tend to be built after the vintage Calace patterns (with some followers of the alternative Embergher patterns). You pay about the same as for a modern bluegrass mandolin from a good maker and you're getting an instrument with a traditional bowlback tone and setup but without the risk and uncertainty of a vintage instrument. These use the same strings as vintage bowlbacks: German or Italian roundwound classical mandolin strings.

    5. Modern German bowlbacks: Completely different from Italian bowlbacks -- where the Italians are influenced by violin tone and technique, the modern German school of mandolin playing has adopted a preference for techniques and tone derived from classical guitar playing, aimed at a rounder less percussive tone with the minimum possible pick noise and an emphasis on chordal playing. A specific style of instrument has been developed to go with this style of playing. There are many makers in Germany, at various price points, but very limited availability outside Germany. This style of mandolin always uses flatwound strings, of which there are a number of makers, most prominently (and most expensively) Thomastik-Infeld.

    6. Vintage Lyon & Healy-style carved mandolins, or modern reconstructions: These were a different approach to carved mandolins to the dominant Gibson models which became the bluegrass default. L&H mandolins have a small but dedicated following in classical playing, especially the later models which had a 13" violin scale, and as they're desirable they tend to go for a lot of money. Structural issues can be problematic, especially because of the peculiar neck construction, and there have been a (very) few modern reconstructions to combine the L&H tone with the reliability and sturdiness of a new luthier-built instrument.

    7. Any other mandolin: as others have said above, you can play classical music on any mandolin, including the ubiquitous Gibson-style carved mandolins.

    As far as classical strings are concerned, flatwounds are fairly widely-available as a proportion of bluegrass players like them as well. However, many classical players do not play flatwounds -- they don't really go with vintage or modern Italian-style bowlbacks. For these, try any of several competing German and Italian string makers such as Dogal, Lenzner, Fisoma or Optima. The good news is that while these are a bit more expensive than the standard d'Addario or GHS sets you see in music shops, they are nothing like as expensive as good classical violin strings. Generally between 15 and 20 Euro, but you may need to pay shipping and customs fees on top of that unless you find a US importer.

    Martin

    (my post crossed over with Robert's and Jim's who cover some of the same ground in fewer words...)

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Dwight: Also, let us know where you are located geographically. This might help in directing you to some dealers or sellers of mandolins suitable for playing classical music. Also, let us know what you are willing to spend. You probably will not have to spend as much as you would for a good contemporary violin.
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Everyone here is giving you great advice. Depending on how "advanced" you'd like to get, I'd make a few more recommendations. First, try to find one with at least 24 frets. A lot of Calace go up that high and it will save you issues later to get one now. Also, I've heard beautiful classical music played on every type of mandolin from bowlback to carved to flattop. Don't let a mandolin that doesn't look classical keep you from playing classical on one.

    As for personal preference, I like oval holes. But I have a Glenn that I love to play classical on also. The Glenn is a 7/8's loar style with f-holes. It just sounds warm to me and well balanced... which leads me to my next. Thomastiks are great, but find a mandolin where the low end and the high end don't have a huge tonal change. Some people call that balanced. I have a soprano that really barks when I play the g-string. I'm still trying to find a string that I love on it.

    Anyway, classical mandolin is a lot of fun. If you've played violin that long, you should pick it up quickly. Good luck.
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    - not sure what the Calace waiting time is, but Woll is reported to be 7 years!
    Last I heard (last summer), the Calace waiting time is two to three years. The modern Calace instrument is extremely popular among classical players in both Italy and Japan. Fortunately there are other top Italian builders who don't have a long waiting list. Those two Mazzaccara mandolins on the Southern Strings website just recently arrived, and there should be two more arriving soon (NFI). There were two recent Lippi mandolins there but both sold before arriving.

    Without going into these price ranges, I second the idea of a vintage American bowlback. The problem is separating the wheat from the chaff, but there are restorers (like Antebellum Instruments in Vermont or Bernunzio in Rochester) who sometimes have these available. The good ones are perhaps on the level of a modern orchestral instrument, but not as sensitive as a modern soloist model. One of my regular instruments in rotation is currently a 1908 Vega bowlback. Beautiful characteristic sound, and good for a contrasting texture now and then.

    At the end of this conversation I'll agree that classical music can be played on any mandolin of your choice, but I don't recommend this view as a starting point. There's value in understanding what kind of tools are usually used by the people who are doing what you want to do. Sometimes the reasons for those choices are not evident until you're a ways down the road.

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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Also, looks like there are a couple at Stutzman's in Rochester. This one looks promising:
    http://www.stutzmansguitarcenter.com...ack%20sISI2957

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    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    We should also mention the Eastman bowlback, which seems to be well regarded if tricky to track down...

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Quote Originally Posted by August Watters View Post
    Also, looks like there are a couple at Stutzman's in Rochester. This one looks promising:
    http://www.stutzmansguitarcenter.com...ack%20sISI2957
    Well, if Dwight is looking at the one at Stutzman's, he might as well drive over to Bernunzio's and see these three bowlbacks that John has. The Martin is pretty fancy, tho.

    Actually he should also look at this Ditson Victory at Stutzman's. I have played a few of those and I believe those may have been made by Vega.
    Jim

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    +1 on Jim's recommendation on the Vega. If it is playable that is a decent price and it will prove brighter and more responsive than the L+H / Washburns. I like the looks of the neck profile, too. The Washburn 225s are nice mandos, but I'd go with the Vega, too. Put some Calace strings on it and it will sound good and play well. Lot of mando for the $$. Bon marche.

    If the do-re-mi is there for the Martin, well....

    Mick
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    I wonder if Dwight will return to this thread he started?
    Jim

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  22. #21

    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Indeed, might've scared another one off, Jim—rats! On the other hand, keeps the prices of (some) vintage bowl backs down.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    If you play bluegrass, you know what the ideal mandolin is—something that looks like what Bill Monroe plays. But, for classical, there are many possibilities, multiple schools of players who have different concepts of the ideal instrument for tone and playability. It can be very overwhelming for someone coming into this arena for the first time. I would hope that Dwight will take our multiple advices and do a bunch of his own homework and figures out at least a first step. Of course, it is really a journey.

    I know of classical players who start out on simple A models and then move to whatever appeals to their sensibilities as they explore this genre (or any genre, for that matter). I know of one excellent player who had an excellent German instrument which he sold for an equally excellent Italian one and another who did the exact opposite.

    In terms of classical, I have played an Gibson A, a Flatiron A-5, a Pandini bowlback, a Vega bowlback, an Embergher and a Lyon & Healy/Washburn A at various times and for various reasons. As many of us know, it is a journey.
    Jim

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    This Kid Needs Practice Bill Clements's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    I recently attended a workshop sponsored by the Kalamazoo Mandolin Guitar Orchestra and taught by Chris Acquavella.
    One of the orchestra members had a bowlback mandolin that was made by Daniel Larson. It was quite beautiful. Another lady in the KMGO is having a bowlback being made by a German Luthier (her second) that will only take 18 months to complete. I'll find out who the luthier is and post again here.
    I second Martin's mention of Dr. Dave Cohen in Virginia.
    Hey Jim, that Ditson Victory looks a little fancier than mine. Good price, too.
    "Music is the only noise for which one is obliged to pay." ~ Alexander Dumas

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    Richard Walz, an American musician living in Brittany, had Daniel Larson build him a few instruments. They were quite nice. I think, tho, that he may no longer be building. Peter Sawchyn in Canada has built a few German-style bowlbacks. I have never played one but he has been building instruments for many years.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Jim

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  27. #25

    Default Re: Classical Mandolin Dealers

    It was quite beautiful. Another lady in the KMGO is having a bowlback being made by a German Luthier (her second) that will only take 18 months to complete. I'll find out who the luthier is and post again here.
    If you want to order a mandolin in Germany, there are a few builders besides Woll and Knorr that have a shorter waiting time.
    Here's a list: http://www.mandoisland.de/(You'll have to click "Mandolinenbauer" on the left).
    They do not all build classical mandolins, but the list is a good starting point.

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