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Thread: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

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    Default Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    I have been wondering.... I understand that people tend to favor something along the lines of a vintage Gibson A for playing old time music. Is this mostly just for looks?

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    Mediocre but OK with that Paul Busman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    An old time mandolin for old time music?
    I've seen all types of mandolin used for old time or Irish music and liked them all.
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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    Yeah, no certain type is necessary. I know players who use F-5 style, or F-4, and others thar use flat tops. If it works for you, then it will work for old time.

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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    I was going to add in a "correct me if I'm wrong" disclaimer - should have left that in.

    Maybe I just see a lot of ads for those old mandos that say "great for Celtic or old-time" in the descriptions....

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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    I view the phrase good for Celtic and old time as a sub for not good for bluegrass. I think a good bluegrass mandolin can play Celtic better than a good Celtic can play bluegrass. I also think the phrase is used because sellers genuinely want buyers to be happy with their perchase.
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    I have used an old Gibson, Martin bent top, and an ff holed instrument. All work well and for the last 10 years I have been using the ff hole. Have also used a banjo mandolin and a banjo uke.
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    The F4 would really get you the Looks compliments..
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    I view the phrase good for Celtic and old time as a sub for not good for bluegrass.
    That makes a lot of sense.

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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
    The F4 would really get you the Looks compliments..
    +1 We have a guy that comes to our jam with an F2. It's got the look, but the sound knocks me over. Vintage gibby oval tone rocks

    Saying you should only play a certain type of mandolin in old time music, to me is like saying 'you should only eat pizza in NYC.'

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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    I prefer an oval hole long neck mandolin based on what MY ears tell me !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    I've made something of a study of this. In my experience "serious" old time players use oval hole paddle-head Gibsons, usually A style (rarely F, rarely snakeheads). This isn't exactly historically accurate as Gibsons were more expensive. Almost never do you see anyone playing a bowlback, although they were common way back when. As were less expensive flat tops. There are certainly also fine players nowadays who use F hole instruments and many jammers do. Strangely, at the old time camps I've been to, jams, and Clifftop I've never seen anyone play a long-necked (12th fret joint) oval hole such as Weber, Collings, Northfield, Pava etc make. The only people who care are...mandolin players. And you can play what you have/like. I use both an oval (most of the time) and an f-hole, the latter being somewhat better for large jams.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    I have used, at different times:

    1. c1906 Gibson three-point F-2 (carved top, oval hole)
    2. 1950's Strad-O-Lin (pressed top, f-hole)
    3. 1919 Martin Style A (bent top, oval hole)
    4. 1986 Gibson A/N Custom "pancake" (flat top, oval hole)
    5. Recent Eastman DGM-2 Bacon clone (carved top, oval hole)
    6. 1890's Howe-Orme mandolinetto (pressed top, oval hole)

    7. And, just for fun, 1930's Regal Octofone (flat top, oval hole, octave mandolin stringing w/"octaved" 3rd & 4th courses.

    I kinda like the oval hole sound, but the instruments are so diverse that it's hard to typecast any particular one. Never used one of my bowl-backs, and seldom a resonator instrument, though perhaps I snuck my Dobro in once or twice, just to sound "different."

    I think any instrument can be made to work; it's the playing style -- open chording instead of "chopping," a more "continuous" style rather than emphasizing off-beats -- that makes the mandolin work in an old-time group or jam, IMHO.
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    While its true that most mandolins will work, if you happen to have some choices, some mandolins IMO fit a little better into different genres.

    My personal opinion is that an arc top f hole instrument does not work as well as an oval hole or even better a flat top - in old time music. The reason is the arc top, especially f hole arch top, has such an iconic bluegrass sound that IMO it stick out a little in old time. And especially if the player has a tendency toward chop chords - it is not the best match.

    In bluegrass and all the related Americana I think the arch top is great, even preferred, but in the narrow area of old-time, not as much.

    I know that Bluegrass has its roots on old time, and maybe that helps explain why there is a slippery slope between old time and bluegrass. But to me bluegrass sounding mandolins, and bluegrass type improvisation pulls an old time jam away into bluegrass..
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    It's been a while since I've attended an OldTime jam in my area, but back when I was doing it more often, oval-hole paddle head vintage Gibsons were far more common than anything else. I remember one flat-top, I think it was a Mid Missouri/Big Muddy?

    I'm in an area where you can't swing a cat without hitting a fiddler, so they tend to dominate OldTime jams. Between the fiddlers and a banjo or two, those old Gibson A's pretty much disappeared in the mix when the group was large enough. I could see them working in smaller gatherings. With fewer fiddlers.

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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    I don't want to give the impression I am anti arch top or anti gibson or anti anything. I love my A2 snake head and love its creamy sound. If its high lonesome you want I don't think there is a better mandolin. And by Stiver two point, it barks like a dog.

    But the question really was about specific mandolins for old time, and the more old-timey orthodox the jam, the less either of those two mandolins seem the optimum choice.

    I am very fortunate to have choices, and the best mandolin to play is the one in your hands, but to answer the OP specifically ...
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cary Fagan View Post
    I've made something of a study of this. In my experience "serious" old time players use oval hole paddle-head Gibsons, usually A style (rarely F, rarely snakeheads). This isn't exactly historically accurate as Gibsons were more expensive. Almost never do you see anyone playing a bowlback, although they were common way back when. As were less expensive flat tops. There are certainly also fine players nowadays who use F hole instruments and many jammers do. Strangely, at the old time camps I've been to, jams, and Clifftop I've never seen anyone play a long-necked (12th fret joint) oval hole such as Weber, Collings, Northfield, Pava etc make. The only people who care are...mandolin players. And you can play what you have/like. I use both an oval (most of the time) and an f-hole, the latter being somewhat better for large jams.
    This was how I understood things to begin with. Except I sort of assumed that more people would want to play the snakeheads, as I understand they are supposed to be the better sounding old Gibson A models?

    Which brings me to another question: in general, one of the old oval-hole Gibsons seems to me like a lot of money for an instrument that might not be the best player? They don't all have truss rods, right? Etc.? That's why I asked about looks originally. I wondered if there was a historical re-enactment angle with the old Gibsons....

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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    Quote Originally Posted by ryspeer View Post
    Which brings me to another question: in general, one of the old oval-hole Gibsons seems to me like a lot of money for an instrument that might not be the best player? They don't all have truss rods, right? Etc.? That's why I asked about looks originally. I wondered if there was a historical re-enactment angle with the old Gibsons....
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    Check out Girouard Mandolins !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    Quote Originally Posted by ryspeer View Post
    This was how I understood things to begin with. Except I sort of assumed that more people would want to play the snakeheads, as I understand they are supposed to be the better sounding old Gibson A models?
    Snakeheads in good, playable condition are expensive mandolins, so that may be part of it. Paddle-head Gibson A's were made in much higher volume, and can usually be found in decent playable condition for much less.

    Which brings me to another question: in general, one of the old oval-hole Gibsons seems to me like a lot of money for an instrument that might not be the best player? They don't all have truss rods, right? Etc.? That's why I asked about looks originally. I wondered if there was a historical re-enactment angle with the old Gibsons....
    There may be a historical re-enactment element to this for some OldTime players. Also maybe an element of "One Downmanship" (opposite of One-Upmanship), not wanting to appear too fancy for playing a style of music associated with some of the more poor, backwater areas of the USA. Maybe that's one reason for the relative scarcity of things like Collings mandolins at OldTime jams, and not just the tone.

    The one-downmanship only extends to instruments though. I know one OldTime player who plays that old Mid Missouri I mentioned, along with a beat-up fiddle, and arrives at the jam in a shiny Tesla model S.


    I have to say, that I was never given the stink-eye for bringing my Lebeda F-style mandolin to a local OldTime jam. Most of the OldTime players I've met have been warm and welcoming to anyone interested in playing the music. It's similar to Irish traditional sessions, where there may be individual preferences in instruments, but one's personal choice doesn't matter that much.

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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    ... old-timey orthodox ...
    Where ethics concerned with adherence to orthodoxy exist, "old-timey" would not be a prevalent practice. Imo, the "slippery slope" Jeff cites, rather, involves practices of stereotype, conformity, and ultimately consumerism - all aspects historically anathema to an "old-time" ethic.

    But pressures for conformity to ideology appear everywhere - even in the traditional non-conformities of old-time music.

    Quote Originally Posted by ryspeer View Post
    I wondered if there was a historical re-enactment angle with the old Gibsons....
    I think optics figure more dominantly than folks like to concede.

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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    Quote Originally Posted by ryspeer View Post
    Which brings me to another question: in general, one of the old oval-hole Gibsons seems to me like a lot of money for an instrument that might not be the best player?
    What kind of music? My A2 is an oval hole, and while it is not perhaps my first choice for strict old time, that is not saying it is not the best player, or not preferred in other types of music. Its darn good where ever it is used.

    The original question was specific to old-time. But most mandolin players don't play old time.
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    When I think of playing old time music I only think of playing melody, not chopping chords, so I really can't think of anything that wouldn't work playing melody.
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    Quote Originally Posted by ryspeer View Post
    This was how I understood things to begin with. Except I sort of assumed that more people would want to play the snakeheads, as I understand they are supposed to be the better sounding old Gibson A models?

    Which brings me to another question: in general, one of the old oval-hole Gibsons seems to me like a lot of money for an instrument that might not be the best player? They don't all have truss rods, right? Etc.? That's why I asked about looks originally. I wondered if there was a historical re-enactment angle with the old Gibsons....
    Conventional wisdom can be a wonderful thing. It keeps the price of paddlehead oval hole Gibsons nice and modest.

    Truss rods? I've worked on dozens of these mandolins and I rarely see one with a warped neck. And only one or two that was severely warped.

    Snake heads? Definitely an interesting look. Better sound? Not necessarily. As a matter of fact, many of the '20's mandolins are carved heavier than the 'teens models and have a bit slower response. But there's a legend that "if it was made during Loar's tenure, it must be better."

    Not the best players? Try setting one up with frets that have a crown that is .080" wide and .040" high. You might be pleasantly surprised.

    Meanwhile, those who like the sound of these fine old oval hole mandolins can continue to enjoy the modest prices.

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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    Has much more to do with the music than the instrument. I play a modern A4 and an F5 interchangeably in old-time situations and if I get the stink eye it’s always coming from someone who’s looking to stink eye somebody. They have their own reasons and nobody else gives a damn. If you can play the tunes and use some common sense you’re good. I have to admit that the Black A4 is nearly perfect when the acoustic environment is optimal. Volume of the players is not the issue. Party atmosphere in the room can be.
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    Default Re: Specific mandolins for old-time music?

    At our local old time jam, one regular uses a Clark F5. A few occasional visitors have a Collings, and a couple of different LaPlant F models.

    A few of us have Gibson oval hole A's. Only one plays his regularly at the jam. Others that make regular appearances are a Big Muddy, a Flatiron pancake and a Kentucky KM-272. We have a lot more mandolins than most other jams. Not sure why. Of course, in many of those situations, I'll switch back to guitar.

    After playing in this jam for 20 years, it's mostly the same instruments. I'm the one that switches the most. Everyone else gets one and stays with it.
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