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Thread: Red Valley Mandolins

  1. #1

    Default Red Valley Mandolins

    Anyone have experience with Red Valley mandolins? They look gorgeous, and the maker used to work with Dusty Strings and they do beautiful work. I am wondering about the tone; you can never really tell from recordings. What do you think?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    I have only heard recordings, but they sure sound nice. Especially the larger bodied variant. There's one for sale near me, but it's two hours away so I haven't the trip.

  3. #3
    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    I've played a bunch at Dusty Strings. AM, EM (maple and mahogany back and sides), an Octave, and a Mandola. I love them so much that I contacted James Wilson and he is currently building one for me! I like the simple design and the tone sounds wonderful to me. I'm really excited for sure!

  4. #4
    Registered User bruce.b's Avatar
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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    Hi Zach,
    What model and woods are you having him build? I love the sound that Billy Brown is getting on the first video on the Red Valley website. I see they have one of his wide model mandolins at Gryphon Music, with a bubinga back.

  5. #5
    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    My build is an EM (unbound AM) with a spruce top, mahogany back and sides and an upgraded tale piece and tuners. The price was right... Hes been a joy to work with... Boise seems close (buying local... PNW) and we share a last name (Wilson)! I decided on all of this after playing one at Dusty Strings. It has the sound I'm after for modern church music/folk rock/hymns/and the like we're the Weber seems too bright and powerful (which works in other settings).

    I'm not sure what woods are being used in the video. I like it a lot too!

    I'll post a video of mine in a bit when it arrives 🤓

  6. #6
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    Under the Billy Brown video he says:
    This is a sound demo of my new custom Red Valley Mandolin MM#68. It has stunning African mahogany neck/ back and sides/a beautiful tight grained sitka spruce top and curly maple binding. The fretboard and headstock overlay are ebony. James Wilson builds all his tailpieces and bridges.
    I think bubinga is closer to rosewood in tone. Is that so?
    Jim

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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    I've got a fat bodied mandolin and a zouk built by Jim. Both are well built, simple instruments. Both sound pretty good with a nice balanced tone across the courses and up to the dusty end. I won't bother with terms like "woody", "punchy", etc. Everyone's ear is different and all that. I think they sound just like you would expect an instrument of that particular design would sound.

    Two things I will mention though: The truss rod needs a loong allen wrench to turn. I have a set of 9" t-handles that work when I need to tweek things. A 6" ain't gonna cut it though. The other thing is I really really hate the tailpiece. They look good and all, I really like the ebony on brass, but it's a real PITA to change strings with it. If you're not super careful the string end will scar the top of the instrument when feeding through the tailpiece. Plus keeping the loop over the pin while you tension the string is like trying to put a collar on a wet cat in a flour sack with one hand. String changes ain't fast and they involve more blood than normal. I've replaced the tailpiece on my zouk with a cast piece; much more betterer now. I have another tailpiece waiting around for when I do the first string change on the mandolin. I'm not even going to try to string another RV tailpiece.

    If I was in the market for another flat top I'd look at Jim's stuff first. There's a whole lotta bang for the buck with RV stuff. Put me down for a thumbs up.

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  9. #8

    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by Bad Monkey View Post
    Two things I will mention though: The truss rod needs a loong allen wrench to turn. I have a set of 9" t-handles that work when I need to tweek things. A 6" ain't gonna cut it though. The other thing is I really really hate the tailpiece. They look good and all, I really like the ebony on brass, but it's a real PITA to change strings with it. If you're not super careful the string end will scar the top of the instrument when feeding through the tailpiece. Plus keeping the loop over the pin while you tension the string is like trying to put a collar on a wet cat in a flour sack with one hand. String changes ain't fast and they involve more blood than normal. I've replaced the tailpiece on my zouk with a cast piece; much more betterer now. I have another tailpiece waiting around for when I do the first string change on the mandolin. I'm not even going to try to string another RV tailpiece.

    If I was in the market for another flat top I'd look at Jim's stuff first. There's a whole lotta bang for the buck with RV stuff. Put me down for a thumbs up.
    How do you find the volume on the AMW? Did it come with tool for adjusting the truss rod?

    I also have a similar tailpiece design on my Kentucky 272. Stringing them up is definitely more work than stringing up a two piece. There's a bit of a trick to it that you have to get used to. It's hard to explain rather than show, but you hook the loop on the post of the tailpiece and then loop the other end on the tuning machine post, then (this is where it gets complicated) use your middle finger and thumb to hold the tailpiece side of the string high and the tuning machine post side low while applying gentle tension as you tighten the string. I know it's more work, but I still like the one pieces more than the two piece tailpiece--no tops to get jammed or rattle.

  10. #9

    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Under the Billy Brown video he says:


    I think bubinga is closer to rosewood in tone. Is that so?
    I haven't tried it, but that's what I read.

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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by Cliff Seruntine View Post
    How do you find the volume on the AMW? Did it come with tool for adjusting the truss rod?

    I also have a similar tailpiece design on my Kentucky 272. Stringing them up is definitely more work than stringing up a two piece. There's a bit of a trick to it that you have to get used to. It's hard to explain rather than show, but you hook the loop on the post of the tailpiece and then loop the other end on the tuning machine post, then (this is where it gets complicated) use your middle finger and thumb to hold the tailpiece side of the string high and the tuning machine post side low while applying gentle tension as you tighten the string. I know it's more work, but I still like the one pieces more than the two piece tailpiece--no tops to get jammed or rattle.
    no tools or case or other ephemera. Volume is decent; no problems there.
    The tailpiece isn't like a normal one piece design. The strings go through the tailpiece block at a steep downward angle. You have to reach in with a pair of forceps or very long narrow pair of needle nose pliers and grab the end of the string before it strikes the top and scars the hell out of it. On the upper and lowermost courses it can be quite a trick getting the string through without marking the top up. You are not going to be able to use the old trick of taking up the slack in the string with your right hand while turning the machine head with the left; the loop is popping up through the tailpiece far too close and at too steep of an angle to get the loop to stay on the nub without downward pressure directly on the loop. That's why I replace the RV tailpiece with a cast brass one I had laying around. While being attractive, it's one of the worst designed tailpieces I've ever seen, and that includes all the old Teisco, Miyuki, and Tokai monstrosities that the hipsters drag over to my shop in hopes that they found some "magic" in those old unloved funky pickups. Still, even with having to deal with a serious PITA of a string change or swapping the tailpiece for something like an Allen cast jobby, I'm a fan of Jim's work. You're not going to go wrong with his stuff.

  12. #11
    Registered User bruce.b's Avatar
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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    . It would be interesting to hear what Red Valley has to say about the tailpiece and changing strings. Maybe he has a clever method?

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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    I grabbed a few pics to show what I'm talking about:

    you can see here how the string drops through the tailpiece from top to bottom; the string doesn't exit the tailpiece body through the front like every other single piece tailpiece I've ever had.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    top view showing the distance from the pins to the holes through the tailpiece body as well as distribution of the strings through the tailpiece
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Note the angle the photo is taken at and take a peak at the holes through the tailpiece. See all the way through? That steep angle means that there is a lot of side pressure on the string that prevents it from sliding through the tailpiece body. Take another look at pic #2 and notice that the loops are still pretty loopy; this instrument has had these strings on it since I got my paws on it last Nov. and it stays in tune. Mind you I don't play it much but when I pick it up (a couple times per week or so) it's still in tune.
    Click image for larger version. 

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  15. #13

    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by Bad Monkey View Post
    I grabbed a few pics to show what I'm talking about:

    you can see here how the string drops through the tailpiece from top to bottom; the string doesn't exit the tailpiece body through the front like every other single piece tailpiece I've ever had.
    I've just emailed Jim to commission an AMW. I played Celtic harp and Dusty Strings does great work. It gives me great confidence knowing he made instruments with them for many years.

    Where did you find your truss rod tool? Do you have a hard case for it, and if so, what case did you use?

    I'll ask him about the tailpiece and see if he has a clever method we're all overlooking, or perhaps just have him put an Allen AR2 on there from the start. Though, looking at it, I get the immediate impression the issue could be resolved just by sticking a card or piece of scrap paper under to catch the string before it dives into the surface of the instrument.
    Last edited by Cliff Seruntine; Feb-10-2018 at 7:44pm.

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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    that would save the scratches, but ain't gonna help the rest of the process.

    It's not an Herculean task to restring the stock tailpiece, just a PITA. They are attractive, and I like that they are made by the luthier that did the entire rest of the instrument. My biggest concerns are actually that the loop ends don't like to pull through smoothly enough to take all the slack out of the loop and getting the first bit of tension on the string to drag the wraps on the loop into the holes so the loops stays on the pin. I've tried the capo trick, gently bending the loop, and a couple other things including a small right angle vascular clamp that didn't do squat. There just isn't a good way to get enough tension on the loop end to get it to seat without winding up on the peg end. Meh, like I said, it's not impossible, just more struggle than it needs to be.

    FWIW Jim's bridges are gorgeous and are as good if not better than anything you'll find out there on a flat top bar none. Both my zouk and fat girl intonate as well as any other fretted instrument I've ever set up. And the fretwork is a thing of beauty. Out of the 5 RV instruments I've set up not one needed a darn thing done to the frets. No leveling, polishing, or touching up of fret ends. He really nails the finish on the fingerboard as well. I wish the ebony board on my old LP was half as nice. Pretty much all I've ever had to do is tweek the truss rod a squidge and give the bridge a turn or two. Nothing that wouldn't be expected when an instrument is born in Idaho and ends up in Seattle. If you're looking for a flat top with a flat fingerboard you really aren't going to go wrong with RV.

  17. #15
    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by Bad Monkey View Post
    FWIW Jim's bridges are gorgeous and are as good if not better than anything you'll find out there on a flat top bar none.
    Couldn't agree more! I noticed that when testing a couple out at Dusty Strings. This is why I wanted one. And I'm getting one!

    Hey Bad Monkey- I still need to see your band sometime. We can talk Mandolins and such! Anything coming up?

  18. #16

    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    Monkey, what case did you get for your AMW? I know they are too big for standard mandolin cases.

  19. #17
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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    I actually don't have a case for it at this point. It'll stuff in a gig bag I had stashed in the back of a closet but it's a tight fit. I believe that it's made by road runner. Tight fit, but it does zip up.


    Locally we'll be all over Seattle, the East side, as well as up towards Everette St Paddy's weekend. IIRC There's a show or two over in Wallingford between now and then. We'll be in Portland, Eugene, and across the Sound as well. As soon as the website is updated with all the current stuff I'll post a link.

  20. #18
    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    Cool! Tons of stuff!

  21. #19
    Registered User bruce.b's Avatar
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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    Bad Monkey, what band, and when are you in Portland with them?

  22. #20
    Registered User bruce.b's Avatar
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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    BTW, I’m getting one too. An AM just like Billy Brown’s mando, except the mahogany will be less fancy since he can’t get that exact wood. I had a mandolin with a tailpiece a lot like this one and it was a pain to change the strings. I love the look of this one and since I mostly play at home and my hands are dry my strings last a long time on all my instruments. I can sometimes play for about a year before I see a little discoloration on strings. I can’t see me putting a different tailpiece on.

  23. #21

    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    I have an AXL one piece tailpiece on my Kentucky 272 and it follows a similar design, with similar problem (strings wanting to come off the post when restringing). I learned the trick to it a while back: Just run the string through the tailpiece, loop the back end to the post, measure and hand wrap three loops to the tuning machine post, then maintain mild tension while tuning up til the loop is ready to catch on the tailpiece post. Once there's even mild tension, problem is resolved.

    I still like these kinds of tailpieces better than two pieces, though I am bound and determined to think of a better way of doing it. One idea is to use a small, rubberized alligator clip to hold the loop in place. That would be especially useful when doing an entire restringing.

  24. #22
    Registered User PH-Mando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    I have a mahogany backed AM model. I posted one of the other videos on the RV website. First time I changed strings I slightly scratched the top of the instrument. I sure was mad at myself. Then I placed a thin piece of cardboard on the top which solved that issue. I have also learned that you can hold the strings in place during a string change by using a mandolin sized capo to hold them in place while you tighten the string. The sound of my mandolin is getting better all the time.

  25. #23

    Default Re: Red Valley Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by PH-Mando View Post
    I have a mahogany backed AM model. I posted one of the other videos on the RV website. First time I changed strings I slightly scratched the top of the instrument. I sure was mad at myself. Then I placed a thin piece of cardboard on the top which solved that issue. I have also learned that you can hold the strings in place during a string change by using a mandolin sized capo to hold them in place while you tighten the string. The sound of my mandolin is getting better all the time.
    Finally, a use for my mandolin cap!

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