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Thread: Does an oval hole have advantages?

  1. #26
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Construction quality matters. My cheap F-type doesn't project; it needs a pickup. My oval-hole A-type mandolins and mandola project nicely as well as sounding good to me, whether pricey or cheap; the cheap ones tend to be boomy, just fine for blues. Grandpa's oval-hole bowlback was sweet before it warped. Grandpa's heavy banjo-mandolin, now a century old, ranges from sweet to funky but it sure does project!

    I'll repeat advice given: Play numerous mandos until you find what sounds right for you that's affordable.

  2. #27
    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    If you drop your pick inside the mandolin, it's easier to get it out if you have an oval soundhole.
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  4. #28
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Most F-hole players really don't know how to really use an oval-hole to it's maximum capabilities. They'll just play one with the same attack and techniques they use on an F-hole, and then crow about the so-called superiority of the latter.

    F-holes tend to bring out more of the treble. Good A's will have a noticeably fatter bass end. It's not that those same notes are not present in both, but the ovals have a stronger fundamental.

    "A"s tend to have more sustain than F's. That F "bark" has an initial loud attack but the note deteriorate sooner.

    One characteristic F's have is a "uniform" tone, regardless of the volume. Play softly, it has a certain tone, play louder, it has the same tone/sound with more volume. really smack it, and it has the same tone/sound at a loud volume.

    "Ovals", one the other hand, will change the tone/sound according to how hard one plays it. If you play an oval really hard, you will get a different sound out of it than if you play softer. My explanation, though without scientific verification, is that you are overdriving the top and you are making the notes distort/fuzz some. Some people hate this - they want a clean sound all the time. But I can get an good stinging SRV-ish electric guitar sound using the right attack, especially with an aluminum bridge saddle. (Of course, finger vibrato, palm muting, bending - on 8-strings etc. also contribute to the convincingness of the instrument on that kind of material.)

    For what I prefer to get out of an acoustic, in a number of different contexts, I find that I have to work a lot harder on an F-fole to overcome its "one voice/tone", too-trebly and short sustain characteristics. But then again, I'm looking for something else: Martin Carthy, RT, Santana, Hendrix, Swarbrick...……. than the usual BG or contest mandolin sound.

    Niles H

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  6. #29
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    What others have said. And especially, give some different mandolins a try (if you can) and see what you like. I'm not an expert, and have a bias towards oval hole. For me, it's easier to get a sound I want to hear out of them.

    And as others have said, there are some great deals right now in F hole mandolins. And don't forget flat top mandolins. They have a sound of their own. But I like them and enjoy playing my Big Muddy.
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  7. #30
    This Kid Needs Practice Bill Clements's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Hi Emma,
    Some other variables to consider that impact tone quality include strings, plectrums, and your technique.
    Lots of information on the Cafe about all of the above.
    Jim Garber’s advice to try as many mandolins as you can is excellent. Big Muddy mandolins made by Mike Dulak are affordable and I feel project better than some other oval holes, as Eric just posted. Mike is a terrific guy to boot. I sold mine a while ago and must admit I miss it.
    "Music is the only noise for which one is obliged to pay." ~ Alexander Dumas

  8. #31

    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    [QUOTE=colorado_al;1667499]Welcome Emma!
    Is your current one like this:

    Or is it more like this?

    Mine is more like the first one, but slightly more decorated. There's a brown bit on the top (a pick guard? I have no idea!). I'll have to post a pic when I get home
    Just learning - 3 weeks, 4 chords, 4 note sequence

  9. #32

    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Well, colorado_al, I am in the UK, but we travel to the US twice a year, so US buying is always an option for me! In fact, we're travelling to Kentucky in about 5 weeks time, so I'm guessing that there'll be plenty to look at there. I'm in no great rush to 'upgrade' - I like my little mandolin, and I'd rather learn to play her at least semi-decently before putting her aside, not least so that I can test play in a music store without embarrassing myself. I figure as well that until I've got some playing nailed, it will be difficult to figure out exactly what I'm looking for in an instrument. I'm definitely leaning towards playing rock rather than Irish or Bluegrass. Not that I don't admire the artistry and skill involved, it's just not for me. The group I'm learning to play with tends to lean towards rock also, so it makes more sense to learn what they're playing.
    Just learning - 3 weeks, 4 chords, 4 note sequence

  10. #33
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    PS: my comments were in regards to Gibson style oval hole instruments, not to other vintage roundholes such as Martin, SS Stewart etc.

  11. #34
    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    If I'm a note in a mandolin it looks a lot easier to get out the nice smooth round hole than the funny shaped f hole, or is it a slot.

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  13. #35
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Its all what you really want, an F-5 style with F-holes will project more than any short neck oval hole Gibson "that I've had anyway!" I have an old beat up 35 A-50 with elevated board and F-holes that has the F-5 sound on the low end but way down the neck looses the F-5 appeal, it is a tone/volume projector , I've heard people say the short neck F-7's are no better than the F-2's and F-4's and I disagree as I've had many and the 7's project more. They are an F-5 body anyway and some have the same graduations as real F-5's from the period. My 34 F-7 conversion has. And when it was original with the shorter neck I could've fooled some people if they didn't see it and they'd think it was a 5.
    I've never played any of the new Collings longer scale oval/round holes or a like build though so they may be a different beast that I know nothing about?
    But there is nothing wrong with the countless old oval Gibson's from the teens through the early 40's, some can be had for great deals and yes like any instrument some are better than others in sound, but then again sound is ones own perspective IMHO. While I've heard and I know many of you have also "mine is the best sounding vintage F-5 or Loar that's around or my 24 F-4 is the best F-4 I've ever heard etc... Its all in the ear of the beholder! And while I'm mostly a bluegrass/fiddle tune player with whatever kind of music you play there is always pickups available to help you get more out of and heard if your mando is on the weak side?
    Quality construction, solid woods on any instrument be it newish or old also help beyond measure, I'm personally not a fan of any laminated mandolin, I've played a bunch of acoustic guitars that have laminated back and sides and some are great.
    I'd try if possible to try and demo as many mandolins that you can, if that's not feasible if you live in a mando deprived area such as I many places including here on the café will let you have a few days "approval period" so you can decide because it don't matter if you spend 500 bucks or quite a few thousand you want to be happy with your buy as $ isn't free well for most of us anyway.

  14. #36
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    I'll just echo that an f-hole, carved top mandolin is the more versatile instrument. Chris Thile plays all sorts of traditional and weird stuff on his f-hole mandolin.

    The conventional contrast (my opinion) between oval and f-hole instruments is rooted in the contrast of sound between an oval hole Gibson and an f-hole Gibson. These two instruments had different bracing, different neck joints (i.e., 12th fret v. 15th fret) and of course different sound holes. Today, folks are making all sorts of hybrid oval holes that dilute the conventional distinctions between these original two icons.

    So, you can find an x-braced, elevated fretboard, 15-fret neck joint, oval hole mandolin that is far removed from the oval-hole sound of an oval hole Gibson.

    I love my oval hole Gibson. I also love my f-hole mandolins. Would hate to pick just one!

    f-d
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  15. #37
    Mediocre but OK with that Paul Busman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Emmadragon-- almost EVERY question has been asked and hashed over already
    Anyway,welcome to the wonderful world of mandolins.
    I haven't read the whole thread so someone may have given you this advice already. If at all possible, you should try to play both kinds of instrument in person and see what youlike best. If you're spending some good money, it would be worth your while to drive several hours to a place that has many mandolins to compare. Let us know where you live, and someone may be able to suggest a good place.
    I suspect that the difference has more to do with the maker and construction than merely sound holes.
    Here's a video that may help-- A Collings with an oval hole, and one with F holes:

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  17. #38
    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Hi Emma. I believe that happiness comes from choosing the right instrument for the music you are playing and the other instruments you are playing with, i.e. the right tool for the job. Many of us are looking for that one instrument that will do it all or at least most of it. We wind up buying more mandolins to accomplish the different purposes. My question is: when you say you want to play "rock" music and the folks you play with tend to play "rock", are you talking about electric instruments now or in the future? If so, some kind of pickup will be required (if not an electric mandolin) to get sufficient volume. A microphone won't do it. Feedback will become an issue, and that will in a general sense be different for an F hole and an oval hole. The type of wood in the body can also play into this in a big way, generally speaking. Electric or not, my advice for getting the best all-around tool is, if possible, to get your friends to meet you at a music store with their instruments and play y'all's music while you play along on different mandolins.
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

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  20. #40
    Registered User THart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Quote Originally Posted by mrmando View Post
    If you drop your pick inside the mandolin, it's easier to get it out if you have an oval soundhole.
    True that but on the other hand it's harder to drop one into an F. There's never an easy choice

  21. #41
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Which one burns brighter, I wonder?

  22. #42
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Busman View Post
    <Big Snip>
    Here's a video that may help-- A Collings with an oval hole, and one with F holes:
    <Video Snip too>
    Not to dismiss the video, but. . . the oval hole is a hybrid. Further distinct would be a traditional arch-top, transverse-braced, 12-fret oval hole. I think Old Wave still makes them that way? Not many builders to; however. Peter Coombs also comes to mind and the many small-shop folks, of course.

    Are there any manufacturers that make them in the manner of the old Gibsons; maybe Eastman?

    f-d
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  23. #43
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Not to dismiss the video, but. . . the oval hole is a hybrid.

    Correct. Although he says the neck is a 12 fret neck, it is not. Also looks like the fingerboard is elevated, although it is difficult to tell from the pictures.


    The Eastmans I have seen are not made the same as the old Gibsons. It is quite a while since I saw one, but it was braced differently and sounded weird to me, not at all like the vintage Gibson sound.


    For an oval hole mandolin that projects well, try a Gilchrist Model 1 or one of my Custom models. Both have a smaller body than the Gibsons, but still have the 12th fret neck and fingerboard glued to the top so have the true oval hole sound. I do still make the Gibson like oval hole mandolins.
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  24. #44
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    I find that I really love playing oval holes solo, but that in a band setting the focussed sound of f holes often works better, particularly in a busy band. It's that way with some guitars too, some guitars I really value because of what they do in a band setting, rather than a practice or solo setting. Again, it's the issue of focus, the video of the MT/MTO comparison above shows it. It would be cool to see a similar video of the MT and MTO playing a tune or two with a guitar and fiddle.

    Thinking about this much does lead to some severe MAS issues...
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  25. #45
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    (sort of forgot of the Model 1! There's an oval hole! That said, I'd love to play a Coombs on day. Not many in Virginia - ha!)

    f-d
    ˇpapá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!

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  26. #46
    Mediocre but OK with that Paul Busman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Quote Originally Posted by emmadragon View Post
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    My Amada, and the case I made myself because I wasn't happy with the one she came with.
    Whatever you get, get one without that slotted head. It'll save you tons of aggravation when it comes to changing strings.

    For rock you might consider an electric mando.

    By all means wait until you visit Kentucky to buy! I haven't been there but from all I hear there are tons of great music shops.

    Important-- make sure you know exactly what wood is used in anything you want to buy. There are regulations called CITES which prohibit exporting or importing ANY product which contains some endangered species. This includes the whole Rosewood family.
    There are ways a luthier can document that he/she bought the wood before the ban and if they provide that documentation you might be OK taking an instrument back to the UK. I'm sure others here can enlighten you further.
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  27. #47
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Well, does a bowl back have advantages? Yes, according to many folks, if you want to play Neopolitan music, or classical. Fact is, there are many structural variants when it comes to mandolins, and you just have to listen and play to find out which ones appeal to your musical personality. Furthermore, There are several different types of oval-holed instruments, including old Gibsons A's with short necks (12 frets to the body) and newer A5-styles (modeled after the Mrs. Griffiths Loar) with longer neck (14 frets) and raised fingerboards. These sound very different. So it's not just about the shape of the hole.

    Finally, if it's really rock music you want to play, and in a band situation, then I would recommend an emando (electric mando), so you can get as loud as you want. Rock and roll is not typically acoustic music, after all! Or at a minimum, you'd need to get an a mandolin with a built-in pickup (or add one). If you are electrifying and playing loud, an oval hole is not your friend, because it is more prone to feedback. You can always cover the hole up to suppress feedback while electrified, but why buy one with such a hole in the first place?

  28. #48
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Busman View Post
    Important-- make sure you know exactly what wood is used in anything you want to buy. There are regulations called CITES which prohibit exporting or importing ANY product which contains some endangered species. This includes the whole Rosewood family.
    There are ways a luthier can document that he/she bought the wood before the ban and if they provide that documentation you might be OK taking an instrument back to the UK. I'm sure others here can enlighten you further.
    FYI, the CITES Appendix II restrictions apply only to retail sale of new or used instruments across the borders of participating countries. It's a big paperwork hassle now for music stores and luthiers that sell direct, and use restricted woods like the entire rosewood family (including Grenadilla/African Blackwood).

    However, the owners of instruments that fall under CITES II are allowed to hand-carry items as personal belongings across borders, with no paperwork or hassles (in theory).

    The restriction only applies to sales and shipments across borders. CITES Appendix I materials like Brazilian Rosewood, Hawksbill Turtle Shell, Elephant Ivory, etc. are still banned for personal carry across borders.

    So it's important to know what materials your instrument has. Most new or recently made mandolins will not include CITES I materials, and anything that's CITES II can be personally transported across borders. It's mostly a danger for vintage instruments.

    Of course another risk is that an over-enthusiastic customs agent might mis-identify the material in an instrument you're carrying for personal use, and cause problems. You can get documentation to help with that situation, if you feel it's a genuine risk. USA citizens can get a 3-year "passport" for $75, and there may be similar schemes in other countries.

    More information here:

    CITES Protected Species Travel Tips (League of American Orchestras)

  29. #49

    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    I do agree if you lean toward F holes, you will vote for F and if you play an oval, that's the one you will remote. I have an F hole, but I am also curious about adding an oval to the music collection. In my very limited opinion, I would go F hole first if you are playing country or bluegrass. I think it can also work in a Celtic jam in a pinch. For other styles, perhaps look into oval. I would love to know what you decide on in the end. :-)

    The Loar - 520 VS

  30. #50
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    Default Re: Does an oval hole have advantages?

    Quote Originally Posted by peter.coombe View Post
    Correct. Although he says the neck is a 12 fret neck, it is not. Also looks like the fingerboard is elevated, although it is difficult to tell from the pictures.


    The Eastmans I have seen are not made the same as the old Gibsons. It is quite a while since I saw one, but it was braced differently and sounded weird to me, not at all like the vintage Gibson sound.


    For an oval hole mandolin that projects well, try a Gilchrist Model 1 or one of my Custom models. Both have a smaller body than the Gibsons, but still have the 12th fret neck and fingerboard glued to the top so have the true oval hole sound. I do still make the Gibson like oval hole mandolins.
    Peter knows his stuff. I got to play a Peter Coombe oval mandolin today and it had great Gibson-esque sound. It is a 1998 model (#36 maybe?). I played it at Olde Town Pickin' Parlor in Arvada, CO. If I didn't already own 2 oval hole mandolins, I might have left with it!

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