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Thread: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

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    Celtic Bard michaelpthompson's Avatar
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    Question Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    New opportunity for me, caused by some idiot stealing my mandolin out of the back seat. I do get amusement out of imagining the reaction when the thief tries to sell my a Rogue RM-100 in a pawn shop, but have a question.

    I played this for several years in Irish sessions and loved the brash, big sound that could be heard even in a crowded session with lots of fiddles, banjos, etc. Now I'm looking for a replacement and wondering about that volume. Are there major differences between f-hole and oval hole for tone and/or volume? Wondering, as I ponder the possibilities.

    TIA

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    Struggle Monkey B381's Avatar
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Different projection but my Eastman oval is loud, in a different way.
    "It doesn't matter how much you invest in your instrument until you invest in you and your ability..."

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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Sorry to hear of your misfortune.

    Yes there is a difference in sound. Some will say oval hole mandolins are quieter, but that has not been my experience. I think they generally have accentuated bass response compared to F hole mandolins, but my oval hole mandolins are just as loud when I want them to be. But it is also dependent on the particular instrument.
    Time for a trip to Olde Town Pickin Parlor and Denver Folklore Center and play some mandolins.
    I'd suggest you take the opportunity to upgrade. My pick for a lower priced yet great sounding and easy playing mandolin for Irish sessions would be the Kentucky 200 level oval hole. KM-270, KM-272 & KM-276. All the same instrument but with different color finish.
    https://www.elderly.com/acoustics/ma...0-mandolin.htm
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    Might checkout the Eastman MD-304 as well
    https://www.denverfolklore.com/shop/...-x29835574.htm
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    If you have the means, this Pete Coombe oval is awesome!
    http://www.picknparlor.com/mandolins...oombe-mandolin
    Click image for larger version. 

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    I'm happy to meet up and you can try out my Kentucky KM-272, and Collings MT2-O, to get an idea of how oval hole mandolins sound. I also have several F hole mandolins to try side-by-side. Send me a PM if you're interested.
    Al

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    Celtic Bard michaelpthompson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Thanks for the quick replies! I'm planning a trip to the Olde Town Pickin' Parlor after work. The Denver Folklore Center is quite a drive for me, but I may look at popping in there next week.

    I probably should mention that I mostly strum, I don't pick like a Bluegrass player would do. My favorite pick is a Jim Dunlop .73mm, though I have a lot of other options as well. Any guidance along that line is welcome.

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    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    A good oval hole can be as loud as an f hole instrument, but their tonality is very different. One of the things an f-hole mandolin typically does is "cut" meaning that it's tonality is such that it is easily heard over other instruments. The more "rounded" or "fatter" tonality of an oval hole mandolin often doesn't cut as well. If you play them side by side, the two may be equally loud, but in a jam the instrument that cuts better is easier to hear in the mix.

    I love the sound of an oval hole playing solo, but in a larger group, the f holes have some advantages.

    So think about what matters to you in the instrument, maybe take a guitar picker with you to the store to see what the different mandolins do playing with a guitar
    -Dave
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    Celtic Bard michaelpthompson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Quote Originally Posted by sheets View Post
    I love the sound of an oval hole playing solo, but in a larger group, the f holes have some advantages.
    Thanks, that helps a lot.

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    Celtic Bard michaelpthompson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_al View Post
    My pick for a lower priced yet great sounding and easy playing mandolin for Irish sessions would be the Kentucky 200 level oval hole
    Just curious. Dave Sheets says the f-hole will cut through the noise in a session better, but you recommend the oval hole. Can you elucidate? Thanks.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Quote Originally Posted by michaelpthompson View Post
    I probably should mention that I mostly strum, I don't pick like a Bluegrass player would do. My favorite pick is a Jim Dunlop .73mm, though I have a lot of other options as well. Any guidance along that line is welcome.
    If you're playing strummed accompaniment with chords and not picking the melody line, then I think the requirements are a bit different than how we usually discuss mandolins for Irish sessions.

    I like the way my F-hole mandolin has a clear and not too "warm" tone for starting and leading sets with melody, but it might be a bit too brash and distracting if used for chord accompaniment. I do sometimes play chord backing along with a player of Scottish smallpipes, but that's a unique situation where a mandolin is lucky to be heard at all!

    If I only played strummed chords in Irish sessions, I think I'd want a tone that would blend in with guitars and bouzoukis, something with a "warmer" tone and more harmonics than the one I'm using now. Probably an oval hole, maybe even a flat-top, although I haven't personally heard any flat-tops with enough volume to hang in with a typical fiddle-heavy sessions.

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    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    How much "blend" vs. "cut" you want from a mandolin in playing with guitars and bouzoukis is an interesting question. It does come down to taste, style and how subtle the session or band is. If it is a really noisy group, than if you want to be heard, you want an instrument that will cut a bit more. A quieter or more subtle group may value a good blend, and leave enough room so everyone is heard. It is one of those things you have to decide on as a player, what works for you and doesn't annoy your friends (much at least ).

    It's not always obvious how well a mandolin is going to cut when you play it alone (though the bark you get from a strong f-hole mandolin is unmistakable), it helps to hear somebody else play it, or to play with someone else and listen to how it fits with the other instrument. Some oval holes cut better than others too, so don't rule them out, try a couple.
    -Dave
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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Quote Originally Posted by michaelpthompson View Post
    Thanks for the quick replies! I'm planning a trip to the Olde Town Pickin' Parlor after work. The Denver Folklore Center is quite a drive for me, but I may look at popping in there next week.

    I probably should mention that I mostly strum, I don't pick like a Bluegrass player would do. My favorite pick is a Jim Dunlop .73mm, though I have a lot of other options as well. Any guidance along that line is welcome.
    If you're looking for more volume in a session setting you might want to try to a heavier pick.
    2018 Girouard Concert oval A
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    PS- flattop oval is a good consideration

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    I played a snakehead Gibson oval for many years in string bands but when I switched to my Flatiron A5 style, aside from the tone change, the main difference was that I could hear my playing better, in other words the sound projected back to me as well as forward to the mic and audience.
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    My experience in sessions , playing tunes rather than chords, is that the F-hole projects further forward but the oval-hole blends better, and you can hear yourself better.

    A Tone-Gard also helps with both types - both in overall sound, and hearing yourself.
    Bren

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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    I like the sustain of the oval and sitting around the house playing songs with no double stops I prefer the oval. But playing in our group where I do play a lot of double stops I prefer the F holes. As far as volume I don't think there is that much difference between the two.
    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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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    I second the vote for the Coombe oval in Arvada. I loved it, great condition, plays wonderfully, and sounds great. BTW, Peter informed me that the top is Englemann and back and sides are Tasmanian Blackwood.

    If you have the means, this Pete Coombe oval is awesome!
    http://www.picknparlor.com/mandolins...oombe-mandolin
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    Rich

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    Registered User Bad Monkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Cue the outraged replies.
    The shape of the hole is insignificant compared to wether the fretboard is 'floating' like an F5 or fixed to the top like an F4.
    Comes down to what you like and the individual instrument.

    In any case, there aren't many mandolins that can be heard over the 5 fiddles all scratching away with different ornaments and bowings or the banjos slapping away with sloppy trips all over the place. Not to mention the guitar players with 6 month old strings that won't intonate any more all strumming away. I'm only half joking, but at least I'm smiling about it...

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Quote Originally Posted by Bad Monkey View Post
    In any case, there aren't many mandolins that can be heard over the 5 fiddles all scratching away with different ornaments and bowings or the banjos slapping away with sloppy trips all over the place. Not to mention the guitar players with 6 month old strings that won't intonate any more all strumming away. I'm only half joking, but at least I'm smiling about it...
    True, but that point, it's all about learning to love the "ping."

    That initial note attack is our only contribution at that point, with all the subtleties of warmth and resonance buried under the loud sustaining instruments and strummers. It works well enough if your mandolin has "good ping," and that may be a mandolin that doesn't sound warm and sweet for playing solo at home, or in a smaller and quieter session.

    My Lebeda F style isn't especially warm-sounding when played solo, but it has a fairly strong pitch fundamental in the timbre, which helps when a session escalates to the point that it's only the "ping" that's heard.

    Playing technique matters too. I was at a house session this week where I loaned my mandolin to a fiddler for a few tunes, just to try it out. He has a vintage Gibson oval hole mandolin at home, but his main strength is fiddle and guitar. I was surprised at how hard he hammered the strings. More forceful and louder than I play the same mandolin (Lebeda F style). I can't hit the strings that hard or I lose speed and the ability to throw in a treble ornament here and there.

    It left me wondering if maybe that technique was to compensate for the relatively quiet tone of his old Gibson oval hole? Or if it was just his natural approach to mandolin. At any rate, I have no doubt that with that technique, his old Gibson would be heard as well as my F-style in a session.

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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Quote Originally Posted by rdodger99 View Post
    I second the vote for the Coombe oval in Arvada. I loved it, great condition, plays wonderfully, and sounds great. BTW, Peter informed me that the top is Englemann and back and sides are Tasmanian Blackwood.

    If you have the means, this Pete Coombe oval is awesome!
    http://www.picknparlor.com/mandolins...oombe-mandolin
    Click image for larger version. 

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    +1 on the Pete Coombe oval mentioned here.
    A great instrument! If I didn't already have 2 ovals, I'd be laying money down for it.

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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    I would check out a Girouard oval if an oval is what you are interested in ! A lot of sustained volume from my Girouard oval A.
    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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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Technique makes a huge difference in both volume and being heard. Marla Fibish plays an oval hole A model Gibson and can be heard well in most sessions. She plays a rounded 1mm Clayton pick - it was worn away, but the Wegen 1mm seems to mimic it well.

    She is very particular about grip, arm placement and posture. I suggest you consider either Skype lessons, catching her at a camp/festival or using her youtube lessons. I have found them very helpful.

    I use my F5V for all sorts of music with no problems. I have found that I use different picks for different styles of music. For OT I use a triangular BC 60 and for bluegrass, a rounded one. I found that the BC chip did not suit my style of Irish playing.

    Mike

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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Backing in an Irish session isn’t done on a mandolin. Backing is on bouzouki, guitar or piano. If you want to play in sessions either learn melody on mandolin or get a guitar or bouzouki and learn backing.

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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    I prefer oval hole for ITM and OT tunes, I like the warmer sound. I don't think it is necessary to have to "cut" through the session in order to play melodies, your session should allow you to kick off a song, or play an entire part before the fiddles and such step all over the mandolin. And if the backing is being mainly handled with a guitar or bouzouki, then there is even less need to cut through. What you do with the mandolin, strumming wise, should mix and compliment the rhythm, not step over it. This is assuming you aren't the only person playing chords.
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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    Thanks for all the fascinating information!

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    Default Re: Volume of oval vs f-hole for Irish session music

    12-fret transverse oval
    15-fret x-braced oval
    15-fret x-braced f
    15-fret parallel f.

    So easy to make this binary, but it's not!

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