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Thread: A vs F style

  1. #1
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    Default A vs F style

    To make it clear I have only been playing a month now, and getting along ok with it I think. I purchased a Loar LM500VS to start out on, not high end but seems well made and plays pretty easy, so for the price I am happy.
    Like most as I play more I think about down the road purchasing a better instrument so I peruse the classifieds etc. One question that continues to come up is the difference in the A style vs F style.
    IS there a difference in tone between the two body styles or is it just a matter of looks? I know from looking there is a pretty substantial price difference. I was drawn to the scroll F because of watching my Bluegrass heroes knocking out those tunes on that type as well as Chris Thile and Mike Marshal, but I noticed that Tim Obrien plays a A style in Hot Size which is one of my favorite bands.
    Have seen a couple of A's that are just awesome as far as looks are concerned but wonder about the tone and is there any difference in playability or how the instrument is held, strapped etc?
    Guess if I was rich one of each would be perfect..

  2. #2
    Gummy Bears and Scotch BrianWilliam's Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style


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    Default Re: A vs F style

    +1 with Brian . . .

    As Dan Fogelberg once said: "I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid".

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    As you might guess from the first two responses, this had been discussed "ad infinitum" around here.
    To get right to the bottom line, no, there is no difference in sound that can be directly attributed to the A vs F body style. There is a profound difference between the sound of oval hole and f-hole mandolins. There may be differences in feel as far as balance in the hand and on the strap, but playability is mostly dependent on set up, including fret condition, as well as neck size and shape and that sort of thing.

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    Default Re: A vs F style

    The answer depends on who you ask. The general consensus is that an F5 from a given builder is unlikely to sound better than an A5 from the same builder. That statement makes some assumptions about mandolins, and it is disputed by many people. I tend to think that the difference, if it exists, is small. I think that the variance between any two instruments is the sum of multiplie factors, all of which are hard to quantify and of which body shape is just one.

    Here is what I know. I play a pretty nice A, but the sound of that instrument is the sum of dozens of variables, including, but not limited to, the skill of the builder, the materials used, the thickness and graduations of the carved pieces, the size and shape of the sound holes and the size and shape of the overall instrument.
    Mandolins: Dudenbostel A1 #74 (2014)
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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    The A5 and F5-type mandolins made from the same woods with the same bracing by the same maker should not be widely different. The sound chamber between the two is about (exactly) the same. The ornamentation is obviously different.

    I think an A5 mandolin is the most versatile of the bunch and can be effectively used for any genre of music.

    f-d
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    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    This is a perennially appearing discussion, if you do a bit of browsing or searching the site, you will find a number of discussions of the issue. Some people claim differences in the sounds, others feel the differences between any two mandolins are just as substantial. The f-body has an iconic look that some folks really like, but it is an expensive style to build.

    If you can at all manage it, go to a really good shop with a lot of mandolins and a good attitude, and play everything they will let you play. It is really worth the effort to do this, it will let you make the decision about what is right for you. If you have friends that play, ask them to let you try their mandos, and sort out what you really want.

    For me, I've alway purchased A bodies, because I think I get better sound for what I can afford to spend, but then, I'm not a bluegrass player either where the look and feel of the F body is important to many folks. I am a bit concerned about looks I'd have to admit, I like natural or blackface instruments, so there is something to be said for aesthetics. I'd pay a few bucks extra based on looks in some cases. But honest play-wear doesn't bother me at all, some folks are bothered by that. You really have to sort this all out for yourself, kinda decide what matters most to you.

    Then, buy used if you can. Don't buy an instrument that you find uncomfortable to play.

    You probably won't regret buying a really good instrument, particularly a good used one.
    -Dave
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  10. #8
    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Quote Originally Posted by dwc View Post
    I play a pretty nice A
    You also have a gift for understatement.

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    Registered User mee's Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Ignore the peanut gallery. You have opened an ongoing debate. Go for the F if you will be playing bluegrass. You can get more for the money if you go with an A style but I have tried same models in A and F and I can tell the difference in tone. Besides, if you go straight for the F you will save money not buying the A first because you will want that F for sure when you see majority of bluegrassers with an F and see how perty they are.

  13. #10
    Registered User mee's Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Well I see others have submitted replies before mine posted, and as I said it is a debate but I have been there done that

  14. #11
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Yeah, the OP should probably do a little research on this website before posing this old chestnut again. It's been discussed to death.

    As for me, I am quite well satisfied that there is no intrinsic tonal difference between an A5 (like the Mrs. Griffith Loar) and an F5 style mandolin. These models have the same bracing, same hardware, same neck and fretboard, same general carving thicknesses, same body layout (except for two body points and scroll), the same ... everything. The body air cavity is just a teensy bit different in volume, due to the inside of the scroll on the F5 being partly filled with air (but mostly filled with wood; and both points are filled with wood), which gives it a slightly larger cavity.

    There is too much natural variation in the mandolin sound from one maker to the next, and even from one mandolin from a given maker to the next, to determine conclusively if the tiny differences in the A5 or F5 styles exert any intrinsic differences in the sound. There are so many other variables that matter a whole lot more to the sound (e.g. tonewood variation, top carving variation) that it's pretty darned silly to get hung up on A5 vs. F5. These are mainly aesthetic differences -- plus the convenient strap attachment afforded by the F5 scroll, of course. And a different balance point, due to the difference in mass distribution. The F5 is the more beautiful instrument to a great many of us, but we do not delude ourselves into thinking that this beauty somehow produces more beautiful sound.

    But please do NOT confuse the A5 style being discussed here with other types of "A" model (and there are many), including those with oval holes, those older Gibsons (A0-A4) with paddleheads and snakeheads from the first half of the 1900's, those models with different bracing (like X bracing), and so on.
    Last edited by sblock; Apr-18-2018 at 1:30pm.

  15. #12

    Default Re: A vs F style

    I can only give you my thoughts on the subject. I am now just two years into playing the mandolin. I started on an Eastman MD 505. It was plenty good to get me hooked, but then I started playing some better mandolins and finding a big difference in the quality of tone from the G string in particular.

    Bought a used Silverangel A, which has nice binding all around and a lovely unique tone you will either love or hate.

    Took a chance on a cheap import on blowout special, spent a whole lot of time working on it to get what turned out to be a very decent tone I'd equate roughly to the Kentucky KM 150, Eastman 315 and 515. I play this mandolin way more than I should want to because:

    1. I have grown attached to it by the fact I've done so much work to it and am amazed and pleased with the tone.

    2. Because of its relative low value, I leave it out on my desk and it is always there within arm's reach.

    3. It is kind of over the top bright which I kind of like though it lacks the basic lush tone of my Silverangel.

    4. This has taken a while to get me to admit to myself. I like it's scroll. Now the only practical reason is I like that I can sling it over my shoulder instead of around the neck. Otherwise it is just liking the scroll, no more, no less. Now, was a scroll enough for me to buy an upgrade mandolin with one? No. I wanted a better instrument first and foremost for what I could pay, which was an A.

    Now I'm building an F style Arches kit to scratch that itch.

    My advise if you have $1500. Go buy a nice A, but not before you play a 900 or better Kentucky. The F might be more important to you, an entirely subjective choice.

    I wasn't here for the first hundred times this subject has come up.
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  16. #13
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Well ... As no two mandolins sound exactly alike an A and an F won't either. The differences are likely to be miniscule. For my reference I have had a Gibson 88 F5L and a 90 A5L. Played side by side they were both lovely mandolins but different instruments tonally. Indeed.... R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Play as many as you can of all kinds of mandolins, and select those that please your ear.

    Setup (playability factors) can be changed.

    Keep in mind, human hearing is extremely subjective and is also limited in recognizing differences. With that in mind, bring your dog along to help choose.
    -- Don

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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Sorry didn't mean to open an old worn out subject, will look back further....my apologies. Jerry

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    To get right to the bottom line, no, there is no difference in sound that can be directly attributed to the A vs F body style.
    Yea. No two mandolins sound the same. The difference between two F mandolins can be much more than the difference between either F and an A.
    Having something to say is highly over rated.

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  21. #17
    Registered User Bunnyf's Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Just a beginner on mandolin but play other stringed instruments. I got a nice used '09 Breedlove A-style f-holes. I didn't have a lot to spend and felt I could get a better used A. I do primarily play BG and really like the look of an F but after reading older info here about the tonal difference being negligible, I felt the A was a wiser purchase and am happy with it. BUT, I do now think that the balance (for me) would be better on an F. My A can flop forward on the strap and I'm not crazy about that. Not gonna make a change. I'm gonna spend my time practicing, not shopping, but some point down the road, I see switching to an F. Others may not be bothered by balance, or secure their instrument or play in a way that they are not effected. This is may be just me and few others.

  22. #18
    plectrist Ryk Loske's Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Yes to what everybody else has said .... play as many as you can get your hands on. But you hardly ever hear anybody say: Have what you like ... played for you as well. They all sound different "out front." A's, F's, ovals ffs. Find out what sounds best to you and if it's important to you ... is that how you want to sound for folks you're playing for or with?
    Ryk
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Here are a few past threads to look at.

    Personally I like them both.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry LM View Post
    Sorry didn't mean to open an old worn out subject, will look back further....my apologies. Jerry
    If no one on a forum ever asked a question that had been asked previously, there wouldn't be forums, just wikis.

    I just want to go on record saying that aesthetics are an entirely valid reason for choosing an instrument. If the look of the instrument makes you happy, then that is all that really matters. Most of us aren't professionals, and even among those that are, I would venture to say we play music to make us happy. If aesthetics are part of that, it shouldn't be denigrated.
    Mandolins: Dudenbostel A1 #74 (2014)
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  26. #21
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Based solely on my impression of tone, I have not liked any of the F's I have played except for one. While I do love the look of the scroll, I've just played the one that I really liked the sound of and I would never afford it (Gilchrist F-jr). But that is simply MY personal opinion.
    aka: Spencer
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Look, if you buy an F style there should never be any question as to where to attach the strap. That in itself is enough for me.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: A vs F style

    Objectively, A and F style mandolins with equal quality in wood sources, craftsmanship and hardware have comparable sonic and play-ability qualities. If I have a choice, I want the F if I only own one mandolin. It is the classic artistic shapes of the scroll and headstock that appeal to me. However, I need both, and preferably I want an A, an F and an oval of a sort. Subjectively, I believe I hear a bigger resonance, more bass and louder bark coming from an F than the same model/maker's comparable A. I have no basis in fact to think that and believe those who know better than I when they say this is not true. Thus, one should buy the best mandolin you can find for the price, A or F. It is all about how it plays and how it sounds. If you love the way it looks, it is the one for you!
    Dan Brooks
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  30. #24

    Default Re: A vs F style

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry LM View Post
    Sorry didn't mean to open an old worn out subject, will look back further....my apologies. Jerry
    The reality is that almost every subject possible has been flogged to death. Without rehashiig threads, there would be few new threads at all. No fun in that, so we are waiting for you to ask if Blue Chip picks are really worth the money.
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  32. #25
    plectrist Ryk Loske's Avatar
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    Default Re: A vs F style

    What's a Blue Chip pick?

    Ryk
    Last edited by Ryk Loske; Apr-18-2018 at 6:01pm.
    mandolin ~ guitar ~ banjo

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