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Thread: comercial mandos

  1. #1

    Default comercial mandos

    which brands do you prefer like
    tdk, eastman, collins, northfield , northfield , weber,

    and how to they match up with sound quality and price to equal hand made instruments.

    can a hand made one compete with the big makers? thanks

  2. #2
    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Wait! My Weber Yellowstone wasn't "hand made"?

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    Registered User Cobalt's Avatar
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    I heard that Eastman were largely hand made. Certainly that's the impression given by the factory tour videos.

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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    My impression is that all of the mentioned names are hand made. The ones I associate with not handmade are those found in chain retail outlets for $100 to $400.
    I am not a builder and have never worked for one of the questioned builders so my very humble opinion is subject to debate. The difference between smaller one or two person builders and larger builders comes down to how many people had a hand in the build process. This factor can be interpreted as good or bad depending upon your perspective. Good interpretation for larger builders is that individual personnel become very skilled at specific stages of the build process.
    Good interpretation of smaller one or two person builders with a stellar reputation is that every step of the process "may" come under more quality control scrutiny that derives from having their name on the instrument.
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  5. #5
    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Define "hand made", please.
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    Registered User testore's Avatar
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    They’re all using CNC routing systems. Not hand made by my definition.
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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Quote Originally Posted by HonketyHank View Post
    Define "hand made", please.
    "Hand made?!?" Ha! Well, practically every luthier I know uses modern power tools, like a sander, planer, bandsaw, drill press, etc. And the top luthiers, including folks like Lynn Dudenbostel and Steve Gilchrist, tend to employ pattern carvers (pantographic devices) to automate the process of roughing out the complex, graduated shapes of F5 tops and backs. Heck, even Gibson did that, back in the 1920's! And still others today use CNC (computer numerically controlled) technology to achieve the same types of rough-outs, but more accurately. Hand-planes are still used to get the final graduations and dimensions (tuning the top is especially critical!), but not for the bulk of the work. CNC devices are also routinely used to locate the fret slots in the fingerboard very accurately (in the old days, Gibson used a special-purpose gang saw to automate this operation). You can read many threads here on the MC about all this stuff. Folks also use lasers to cut pearl, and CNC devices to cut the corresponding inlay slots. As for the mainly metal parts, like frets, tailpieces, and tuners -- these are almost all produced with sophisticated power equipment (including CNC lathes & mills, high pressure dies and stamping devices, extrusion devices, etc.), and out-sourced to dedicated manufacturers. As for the finishing, many luthiers choose to apply the finish using specialized, compressed-air driven spray nozzles.

    All this is a far, far cry from all the "hand work" as practiced by, say, Antonio Stradivari back in 1700 when he made great violins.

    Practically all great mandolins today are being made using power tools, including computer-driven devices. A number of steps are automated. Some are not. But in no way does their quality suffer on account of this! In fact, we're living today in the Golden Age of luthiery, with some of the best instruments ever being made, and a lot if that is due to the accuracy and reproducibility afforded by modern, automated equipment.

    Anyway, it's true that small factories typically spend less time completing an instrument than most individual luthiers.

    Small factories like Northfield, Weber, Collings, Eastman -- and I would include Gibson, today, given the volumes -- all use some automated equipment in combination with a whole lot of careful "hand work" to produce quality instruments. Their processes are by no means like a traditional 'assembly line,' say, for automobiles. Individual luthiers, like Gilchrist, Dudenbostel, Mowry, Ellis, etc., also use some automated equipment. And Gilchrist, for example, produces instruments in small batches to parallelize some of the work. In no way does this compromise the quality of his output. Anyway, the important thing is the sound of the resulting instrument, and not the path taken to get there.

    Can a "hand made" instrument one compete with the big makers, you ask? Absolutely! It takes more time to do things without relying on specialized tools, but comparable results can be achieved with care and dedication, and a simpler set of tools. But please realize that both the "big makers" and individual luthiers alike use some combination of hand-work and machine-work.


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    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Quote Originally Posted by testore View Post
    They’re all using CNC routing systems. Not hand made by my definition.
    CNC cuts and mills the wood, but somebody has to fit and glue the pieces together. By hand.
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Having a computer make parts to near completion nullifies my interpretation of hand made. Simply glueing parts together doesn’t qualify. It’s not much different than buying a kit and assembling the premade parts. Operating a band saw requires hand work. It certainly isn’t near to finished off of a band saw. Using scrapers, thumb planes rasps and files is hand work. That’s what a luthier should be doing to be considered a hand made instrument.
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Since no two pieces of wood are exactly the same, I would expect a lot of scrapers and thumb planes and files and rasps to take advantages of what the particular piece of wood can do and to minimize or eliminate the effect of where the wood might be less than optimal.

    To answer the OPs question directly, the distinction is too blurred to use in distinguishing mandolins. My 1923 Gibson A2 snakehead and my recently built Stiver two point Charlie Rappaport Signature model, both sound stand back amazing, with to my ear a similarity bordering on kinship. So there is a comparison over "factory made" and "luthier made" and over a significant expanse of time, and f hole versus oval hole, A style versus two point. The only thing they have in common besides amazing-ness is that both mandolins have motivated total strangers at festivals to compliment them. My head swells up when thinking about it, and it start way too large for my neck and shoulders. I have bruises trying to get my ego through the doorway.

    The diversity of the types of mandolins available is gigantic and one is tempted to think about it systematically. (Well I was). But really, getting a feeling for the terrain requires entering the terrain, and probably it is not extremely important where one enters.
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    I would submit that there is more handwork in those instruments than just a bit of sanding and glueing up bits. There are small shop builders that use CNC very extensively (Rigel for example). I don't see anything wrong with it. I was using the commercial do define larger shop vs single builder or a few folks building.

    I think your mileage may vary. Collings delivers an incredibly consistent powerful mandolin that has it's own voice. Meaning they sound a bit different than a Gibson. There are small shop builders that build sounds that are close to the Gibson sound or they have their own voice. I reckon it depends on what they are going for sound wise.

    That said, I have had a mandolin that was much more hand built (a Brian Dean Labraid) and larger scale production mandolins (Eastman, Morgan Monroe, Kentucky (lower end ones). I've always been happy with my Eastman. It fit me better than a similar sounding Breedlove KF mandolin (US made at the time). I didn't like the chunkier neck on the Breedlove or on a Weber Beartooth I had but both were very nice sounding instruments.

    I think small shop builders can offer much more than a production shop can (in most cases). You can have more freedom of which woods you want, inlays, soundholes shapes, tonal characteristics you're shooting for (assuming you can articulate it and the builder can translate that into performance). There are a whole range of small builders from folks just getting started to Steven Gilchrist a Lynn Dudenbostel, Corrado Giacomel, Hans Brentrup, or any of many other top shelf builders who commanded big prices.

    Even given how niche our instrument is, there is a wide swath of ground covered by small shop and commercial builders. So, in answer to your query, yes but with caveats.

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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    I found this interesting. Eastman:

    and this too:

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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Quote Originally Posted by testore View Post
    Having a computer make parts to near completion nullifies my interpretation of hand made. Simply glueing parts together doesn’t qualify. It’s not much different than buying a kit and assembling the premade parts. Operating a band saw requires hand work. It certainly isn’t near to finished off of a band saw. Using scrapers, thumb planes rasps and files is hand work. That’s what a luthier should be doing to be considered a hand made instrument.
    I think you may be somewhat mistaken in your simplified understanding of mandolin construction. No one I know "simply glues parts together" to make a mandolin -- not even those mandolins made from kits are generally done that way. There's a whole lot of hand work that gets done. With the exception of some cheap (~$500 and less), mainly Asian-import instruments, practically all mandolins are produced today by using things like hand scrapers, finger planes, rasps, files, and hand sanding. Neither a pattern carver (what Gibson used in the 1920's, and what Steve Gilchrist and Lynn Dudenbostel use to this day) nor a CNC machine makes parts that just get "glued together." The top and back graduations are all brought to their final dimensions by hand. And we are getting to the point where most fingerboards are slotted using CNC devices, because they do a better job.

    I would also argue that using a bandsaw in combination with a special-purpose jig makes it a semi-automated process, and not exactly what I'd tend to call "hand work." Not if all you do is clamp the work in the special jig, turn on the saw, and feed it through! This automates the process. Of course, that's not the only way that bandsaws can be used in mandolin construction! Bandsaws can also be used freehand ("by hand"), too. So, it depends.

    It strikes me as flat-out ridiculous to claim that any instrument manufactured, even in part, using computer-controlled systems is somehow not "done by hand." Surely, all the things you tend to outsource, like the fretwire, tuners, and possibly the tailpiece as well, were made using computer-controlled devices. Most likely, the fretboard was slotted that way, too. The binding might have been manufactured that way. The inlays may have been shaped by a computer. A computer probably controlled the mixing of the raw ingredients that make up the finish. And high-end luthiers like Andrew Mowry routinely harness computer software to compute things like neck dimensions (see https://mowrystrings.com/neck%20geom...alculator.html). None of this widespread computer use means that the mandolin is somehow not "hand made." It is typically hand assembled, painstakingly, from many parts that are carefully fitted. This is not mere "glueing together." The parts must be properly sized, tuned (!), joined, and finished "by hand." Countless hours of hand labor go into this! Robots are not currently used to put a mandolin together. Humans do that. This contributes to the high cost of mandolins, which take comparatively longer to make than guitars or banjos -- by humans.

    But to claim that "Having a computer make parts to near completion nullifies my interpretation of hand made" is to not understand how intimately computers are involved in the construction of musical instruments in this era. By your overly simplistic interpretation, none of the great mandolins we talk about here on the MC, from companies like Collings, Weber, Northfield, and Gibson, nor from single luthiers like Nugget, Dudenbostel, Gilchrist, Ellis, Mowry, Pava, etc., could qualify as being "hand made."

    Even Lloyd Loar-signed Gibsons were made using pantographic carvers (to rough out tops, backs) and dedicated gangsaws (to slot fretboards), and these were sophisticated machines for their day.

    Also, most lathes and mills these days are run by computers. Some planers and even tablesaws are too. Microcontrollers are everywhere and in nearly everything. Welcome to the 21st century.

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    Registered User testore's Avatar
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    “My simplified understanding of how a mandolin is constructed”? Ummmm I’ve been building professionally for 35 years, I think I know a little about it. I watched machines almost 30 years ago make Violins in Germany that were about 95% complete. Is that a handmade violin? Of course not. I’ve seen plates come off a CNC that were more complete than that. I prefer to actually use hand tools as I was trained to do. I don’t use jigs, as you suggest. I’ve been trained to use hand tools, planes, chisels, gouges, scrapers and eyes. I’ve spent countless hours studying historic instruments to understand their construction processes. That’s what a luthier does. In the violin business it’s also how one learns how to identify who, when and where they were made, an incredibly important skill. I’m not putting down automation, it’s just not a hand skill. Instruments that come from a CNC machine are not handmade. This is the reason factory Violins are not terribly valuable. The violin trade recognizes it as a less valuable item. When I see a nicely machine carved scroll am I supposed to be impressed? Of course not. Computer perfection is not beautiful artistic or impressive. If you want to bring Loar signed instruments into to The conversation that’s perfectly fine. The level of individuality between each of them is wonderful. There is a lot more hand work done on those than any of the mass produced instruments of today. They are much more beautiful, and interesting to look at then any of the factories that have already been mentioned.
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Hand v machine? Quality? Skill? Maybe a perusal of “the nature and art of workmanship” by David Pye would be useful. I especially like his discussion of handmade versus machine made beer cans.

    Manufacture involves the creation of parts. If there’s a lot of fitting involved, your parts don’t match your drawing, hand or machine made.
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    I think you may be somewhat mistaken in your simplified understanding of mandolin construction.


    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...y-Tribute-quot

    To the OP.....handmade vs. CNC....if it sounds great TO YOU who cares IMO.....I prefer hand made, thus the reason I own a Duff and would love to own a Vessel F one day.

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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    This issue comes up from time to time and as I recall, usually ends up with someone's feathers ruffled. Too bad. If some like it built one way and others don't really care; that's fine. The world is a big enough place for these contrasting tastes.

    My concern is more for the well-being of the Luthiers making these great instruments for us. Carving these tops and backs can be tough on the hands and this ongoing injurious activity can shorten careers and diminish quality of life. If a Luthier chooses to use a particular tool (i.e. CNC) to reduce the time spent manually carving tops and backs, and is protecting her/his hands in the process, good for them. I would prefer they do so. This may enable them to have a longer career, which is good for all of us. And I really don't want anyone doing harm to themselves just so I can have an instrument built in a particular way (YMMV and that's valid, too).

    In addition, has there ever been a point in time when players had more great instruments from a wider range of builders so readily available to them? We really are in a golden age of mandolins with something good for every taste. How can that be a bad thing?
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  23. #18
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    I consider CNC slotting for fretboards to be a good thing.

    A lot of the old Gibson "gang-sawed" fretboards were out of tolerance. I've had a couple go across the bench that had the slots so poorly located that the mandolin would not play anywhere near in tune. I replaced the boards on those with CNC cut boards. Those instruments are now usable, and the CNC slotted boards did not hurt their tone one bit. I've also moved 2 or 3 frets on a few. I have to do that by hand, and it is hard to do accurately without disassembling the instrument.

    As far as the body of an instrument is concerned, there is a difference between parts that are cut to finished dimensions by machine, and those that are simply roughed out by machine and brought to final dimensions by hand.

    A skilled builder still has control over the quality of an instrument's sound if the parts are roughed out by machine. The art comes in when he brings it to its final dimensions using a combination of his ear, his sight, and his touch. I don't consider it a sin to rough out a plate with power tools. The instrument will be much better if it is finished by hand and ear, though.

    Going from a raw piece of wood to final dimensions using only hand tools is admirable, but it is hard on the worker's body.

    Question: Would Strad have used a belt sander, drill press, and bandsaw if they had been available to him? If so, would the quality of his instruments have suffered?

    I like hand cut scrolls, plates that are finish-graduated by hand, and CNC cut fingerboards. I do not condemn any builder for bandsawing the perimeter of his tops and backs, and I do not ask him to cut his neck from a raw piece of wood with a hand saw.

    The Eastman videos were interesting. I did not see any effort to fine tune the plate graduations or braces by touch or sound, though. It looked like the workers were only using their sight. It would seem to me that those instruments could be improved if more time was taken to "tune" them. That would also increase the labor time and the cost.

    To answer the original question, I have played some good mandolins by Collings, Northfield, and Eastman. But the best [to my ear] modern mandolins I have played were made by builders such as Gilchrist, Newson, and Wienman.
    Last edited by rcc56; Mar-23-2019 at 12:25am.

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  25. #19
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    I have no idea why I would wade into this thread but I can't help myself I guess? Member HonkeyHank made an important point in post #5 -- i.e., he said "define hand made".

    That is were all the confusion and disagreement is coming from i.e., many have a different idea about what is "hand made".

    Some of the best builders in the business like Testore apparently do not use tools like CNC or maybe even dupli-carvers to work up their mandolin tops and backs.

    if not using advanced power wood carving tools that is what the OP meant by "hand made" there are probably relatively few luthiers who are well known or famous builders who would qualify. But some do. Maybe the OP meant built by one person not a team? Different definition.

    But many "basement luthiers" like me for example (if I can be so bold as to call myself such having built only 6 mandolins--- LOL!!) do build "hand made" mandolins. I do it "by hand" of necessity not by choice because I have not found it reasonable to invest in a CNC for my on and off again hobby! What is more I do it by myself so my mandolins qualify by both definitions! My mandolins are hand made but who really cares! LOL.

    More to the point, I wager that relative few people would pay much for one of my "hand made" mandolins.

    So "hand made" is essentially a meaningless term as a measure of mandolin quality?

    What counts is the skill and level of personal attention to detail of the luthier or team of luthiers building the mandolin regardless of how he/she or a team builds it?
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  26. #20

    Default Re: comercial mandos

    I'd say that most of what makes a mandolin great is what happens after wood comes off of the CNC machine. That 2% needs to be done right for magic to happen.
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  27. #21

    Default Re: comercial mandos

    WRT to manually tuning mandos during and after assembly, weber's website explicitly mentions it, calling it voicing.

    I agree that this kind of stuff is what separates the great from the merely good. I don't care if it began life as a CNC-carved part, it's how it ends up that matters.

    Interestingly, Mandovoodoo offers a service to 'voice' cheaper mandos, and has some pretty good reviews for their work. I don't know if after the fact cleanup like that can accomplish as much as work that is included during assembly. Anybody have a voodooed Eastman for example that would compare favorably to a more expensive instrument?
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    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    I'd say that most of what makes a mandolin great is what happens after wood comes off of the CNC machine. That 2% needs to be done right for magic to happen.
    Yes but I think it is a lot more than 2%?
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  29. #23

    Default Re: comercial mandos

    For me, the difference between Kentucky/Eastman and Collings/Weber/Northfield is the nature of the design specifications and process. The former are more mass produced rather than small scale manufacture. All use a wide variety of power equipment and sophisticated tooling. Even many single man shops use sophisticated power equipment. So the notion of 'handmade' is quite vague and subject to many beers worth of discussion.

    But following the reasoning of David Pye (in my post #15), one defining characteristic is that in the latter group of shops, the quality of the instrument is 'at risk' until completion, as only hand skills are utilized to properly complete and calibrate the instrument. This is a distinction from simply assembling machine made parts. Its part of what Pye call the 'workmanship of risk".

    ‘ … simply any kind of technique or apparatus, in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on judgment, dexterity and care which the maker exercises as he works. The essential idea is that the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making; and so I shall call this kind of workmanship “The workmanship of risk”: an uncouth phrase, but at least descriptive.’

    Most of admire the skill of makers who put their work on the line in making the fine cuts to produce the best sound where a slip could ruin a piece. You pay for that last x% of sound made by handwork, but you could get a great instrument that was more simply assembled. Just not as likely.

    People use fences on their saws and guides on hand binding cutters. That removes a degree of freedom. How many degrees of freedom a shops or maker uses is a key to 'handmade'. And I'll bet everyone uses the best measuring equipment they can afford.

    As an aside or analog to some mandolins builders, spindle woodturning is a completely unregulated craft, all the skill is in the hands of the mechanic. But you machine make the blocks to turn into balusters or newel posts. So are they still handmade?
    Play it like you mean it.

  30. #24

    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Some of the discussion of precut parts being slathered with glue and "hand assembled"......somehow made me think of the paint-by-numbers craze of the 50's.......there were no "Rembrandt's" but some people had better results than others........

  31. #25

    Default Re: comercial mandos

    Roth, a factory made brand of violin family instruments located in Germany, has been making instruments for decades, some of which resell for over $15k. It all depends on the instrument. “Factory made” instruments achieve a result that we enjoy: they make it possible for the average person to own a very well-made, playable instrument.
    Good Advice: Play before you pay, and know your product and your market.

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