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Thread: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

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    Default Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    I was in Seattle this week and I stopped in to Dusty Strings to play for a few hours.
    One of the instruments that I was looking to check out there was the Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin. I've been hearing good things about them.
    Anyhow, when I played it, I was distinctly underwhelmed. The sound was pretty thin compared to most other archtop, guitar-bodied OMs I've played, and even sounded thinner to me than my flat-top guitar-bodied Blueridge BR-40TCE tenor/OM. I don't know if this was a dud, or if maybe more robust string gauges might bring it to life? It seemed the strings were not as high tension as I'd expect and they gave an almost floppy sound, as though it was tuned down a few notes. I checked the tuning with a digital tuner and it was right where it was supposed to be. It didn't seem like the strings were old either. Plenty of shine on them and no pitting/wear at the frets.

    I'd like to play another to see if this is an anomaly or not. They're pretty impossible to find nearby me though.
    Has anyone else had this experience?

    PS- I don't want it to sound like it was all bad. The instrument was beautiful. Maple had great depth and the neck was very comfortable too.
    Last edited by colorado_al; Mar-20-2019 at 10:56pm. Reason: PS

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    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    I've only played one, with maple back, and felt the same as you. I have little om experience, but expected more from the experience. It was way quieter than my parlor guitar.
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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    IMHO, sound is the thing. Quality of wood, craftsmanship, looks, playability are all secondary to sound. If it looks great, but it doesn’t have the sound, it’s just a waste of perfectly good wood. Sounds like the Northfield folk have some rethinking to do. Or not. Someone will probably buy them just for the name.
    Don

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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_al View Post
    I don't know if this was a dud, or if maybe more robust string gauges might bring it to life? It seemed the strings were not as high tension as I'd expect and they gave an almost floppy sound, as though it was tuned down a few notes. I checked the tuning with a digital tuner and it was right where it was supposed to be.
    I've had a Northfield archtop octave in maple for about a month now, although I can't speak to how it compares to other octaves/archtops since this is my first experience with this sort of instrument. But you may be on to something with the string gauges. Northfield notes that the recommended gauge is .052 / .034 / .022 / .014 on their website (and sells such a set) which is beefier than many stock sets (e.g. , D'Addario's = .046 / .032 / .022 / .012). I wonder if the instrument you played had similar lighter gauge strings?

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    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Haven't played or seen the Northfield but I'd agree on the "string theory"; I just got a new guitar and put a new set of strings (which were designed for a longer scale instrument) tuning them to the same tension as the recommended set and I got back the sound I thought that I'd bought.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    I own both a Mowry and a Girouard GBOM. I’ve played a variety of Northfield GBOMs, and I’ve not found them lacking in terms of tone or playability. The problem with a lot of shops is they don’t go through their instruments on a regular basis and change strings, even though they are getting demoed daily by any number of individuals.

    There’s no resale market on these models so lots of folks think they are just fine. What I will say is that you need to approach octave mandolin playing a bit differently than mandolin or even mandola. I tend to use a thinner pick when playing them. It brightens up the tone and allows you to dig in a bit more. However YMMV.
    Good Advice: Play before you pay, and know your product and your market.

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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    May be onto something with the string gauges, may just not have “awakened” yet, or may just not be up to their typical standards. While I typically agree that more money buys you a better instrument, I’ve played some 5-6 thousand dollar mandolins I wouldn’t trade my Silverangel Econo for. Some needed set up, some just didn’t have the tone I thought they should (which is kind of a ridiculous way to judge one), and some sounded dead when playing but blew my doors off when listening out front.

    I think Northfield has found a nice niche with professional level instruments at a nice price point comparatively, but it’s good to hear about experiences like yours. When dealing with wood and wire, they can’t all be stellar. I hadn’t really considered buying one of the GBOMs, though, until I saw Sarah Jarosz touring with one. So much talent in that young lady, but her Northfield is a great sounding instrument as well. Thanks for posting!
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Ive had my maple Northfield OM for several years now and I think it sounds great. At first the strings were a bit floppy which I attributed to my inexperience with an OM but when I mentioned it to Derek at NF he said they were stringing with a heavier G string now and I got a set. Its much better with the heavier gauges, for me playing an OM is just so different than a regular mando as far as string feel goes..I really should play it more and maybe I would get past that. I know they sound great in the hands of the pros.
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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by bigskygirl View Post
    I’ve had my maple Northfield OM for several years now and I think it sounds great. At first the strings were a bit floppy which I attributed to my inexperience with an OM but when I mentioned it to Derek at NF he said they were stringing with a heavier G string now and I got a set. It’s much better with the heavier gauges, for me playing an OM is just so different than a regular mando as far as string feel goes..I really should play it more and maybe I would get past that. I know they sound great in the hands of the pros.
    Thanks!
    Very possible that it just needs a larger gauge string set. I've been playing OM, Mandocello & Tenor Guitar for a while, so I think I know what they should sound and feel like.

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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_al View Post
    Thanks!
    Very possible that it just needs a larger gauge string set. I've been playing OM, Mandocello & Tenor Guitar for a while, so I think I know what they should sound and feel like.
    Nice, it’s still a bit of a loose feel for me cause I just don’t play it that much. Does that just get better with more experience? Sometimes when I’m playing and say run my finger along the G string the strings will split but if I’m careful not to fret too hard it’s better but still not like a regular mando.

    I did just get a mandola so I’ve been looking at things for tenor guitar, it’s a cool sound.
    Last edited by bigskygirl; Mar-21-2019 at 4:41pm. Reason: Add thoughts...
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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Al - maple is a brighter sounding wood than mahogany. Was the one you played a maple or hog back and sides?

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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny60 View Post
    Al - maple is a brighter sounding wood than mahogany. Was the one you played a maple or hog back and sides?
    The one I played was maple.
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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by CES View Post
    ....until I saw Sarah Jarosz touring with one. So much talent in that young lady, but her Northfield is a great sounding instrument as well.
    Must be some kinda special for her to play it in preference to her Fletcher Brock....or maybe the FB stays home now while the Northfield hits the road?

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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    Must be some kinda special for her to play it in preference to her Fletcher Brock....or maybe the FB stays home now while the Northfield hits the road?
    I remember reading that her Brock GBOM was heavily damaged by the airlines:

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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    As a Northfield dealer we've been fortunate enough to have had six or seven archtop octaves come through the shop. We've never had a problem selling them, never had a return on one we shipped out, and have heard nothing but praise from the people who've sampled them here in the store.

    I know as a seller we're not exactly an unbiased party, but we still feel they're amazing instruments in terms of looks, tone, and playability. We also have a lot of direct contact with the guys at Northfield and can tell you firsthand that they're some of the most passionate people in the industry.

    Of course, everybody's entitled their opinion, but we'd recommend people try to get their hands on one before coming to any hard and fast conclusions
    Last edited by Avenue Guitars; Mar-27-2019 at 5:49pm. Reason: Forgot some words :)

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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    I spent some time with one of the new flattops today. While I think I’d change some of the string gauges, it was quite impressive. It was very hard to put down.
    Last edited by Mandobar; Mar-30-2019 at 9:14pm.

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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    You mention that you compared it to your Flat top oval hole OM conversion.

    While everything is debatable, there is some consensus that in the mandolin world that Archtop>Flattop.
    Not so in the CBOM (and Guitar) world, where plenty of great players use flat tops by choice. You may just like that sound better!
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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Someone is just after posting over in the General Topics section about how they put heavier strings on their Northfield OM and it's made a world of difference - they had D'Addario EJ80's on it but switched to the Northfield branded OM strings, which are heavier.
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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Hi, I'm one the posters on the thread you (previous reply) are referring to.

    I like heavier strings on mine as well. I like a heavier gauge than the ones suggested by Northfield. Though I liked the original gauges as well.

    I'm totally on love with the instrument and think it sounds great. I did have to invest some time and practice into it within the first 2 weeks the sound I got out of it seemed to improve. At first it seemed to be pressed it the perfect spot right before the fret. Now, either my body automatically does this or the instrument has broken in. I don't know.

    I had only been playing acoustic guitar and a regular f style mando in the past. So it took me some time to get used to the feel of the OM. However this doesn't explain why the other OM's you (original poster) have played behaved differently.

    I own a maple back/sides version.

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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Bart, yes, Sarah’s Brock was damaged by an airline. I suspect she has the Brock back now, but I’m not sure what she’s touring with at the moment.
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Underwhelmed by Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

    Unfortunately we have to watch videos online in order to make some sort of impression about instruments nowadays. Hence the discussion here about new instruments. I can only hope that more videos appear, played by talented people, so one can get some notion of how they sound and are appreciated (or not) by the musician. We certainly don't need more videos without talent or without quality visual and audio. These actually do a disservice to the instrument makers.

    I understand the motivation to share something (or to sell something). But the 'hey, this is cool, bang, bang twang" is a bit tiresome.

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