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Thread: First classical mandolin...

  1. #1
    Registered User Elliot Luber's Avatar
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    Default First classical mandolin...

    I've been playing an A-style Eastman mandolin for a decade now and am considering getting a more "classical" instrument as well. I studied classical violin as a child and I have a considerable library memorized that I can now play (only) on mandolin. I see "playable" old bowl-back instruments selling for $500-$600 US, but some of them I have tried are not very playable. What do classical players recommend for a non-professional player who wants to return to his classical roots? I don't have thousands to spend on a professional instrument, I just want tone and playability more akin to the classics with an eye toward small public performances. Thank you in advance!
    Eastman 605 and Kentucky 300e mandolins.
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    Default Re: First classical mandolin...

    Quote Originally Posted by Santiago View Post
    I've been playing an A-style Eastman mandolin for a decade now and am considering getting a more "classical" instrument as well. I studied classical violin as a child and I have a considerable library memorized that I can now play (only) on mandolin. I see "playable" old bowl-back instruments selling for $500-$600 US, but some of them I have tried are not very playable. What do classical players recommend for a non-professional player who wants to return to his classical roots? I don't have thousands to spend on a professional instrument, I just want tone and playability more akin to the classics with an eye toward small public performances. Thank you in advance!
    Don't mess with success.
    Your Eastman should be fine.

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    Default Re: First classical mandolin...

    Santiago, you should also look into longislandmandolinandguitarorchestra.com if you want to play serious fun orchestral music. I'm sure they would be happy to have your Eastman.
    Dick, if you play classical, please contact me <<jfimhoff@msn.com>>. I live near you (Independence, just over the river) and play classical mandocello in the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra. We got to get together, I have duets at home and would try to talk you into joining OMO! We have a concert coming up soon, hope you might give us a listen and think about it.
    I also have a Stiver F5 and an nice old bowlback if you want to fool around with them; my wife (bass & banjo) and I play bluegrass, folk, and stuff.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: First classical mandolin...

    I agree with the folks above. Your Eastman should be fine. You can play classical on almost any mandolin. There is no such thing as a single "classical" mandolin.

    OTOH if you really want something different to play classical then possibly a flattop like older Flatiron or current Big Muddy/Mid-Mo or some of the newer ones. A Martin A might be a good choice. Also, a Lyon & Healy C but those might be above your budget. I like simple Vega or Washburn or American Conservatory bowlbacks but you have to find one in good playing shape. They are out there but you have to keep looking. Old Gibsons As are perfectly fine, too and the A-Juniors are great mandolins and often priced lower.
    Jim

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    Registered User Bruce Clausen's Avatar
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    Default Re: First classical mandolin...

    I agree with Jim's suggestions. For me, if I move from archtop with f-holes to archtop with centre hole to flattop the sound gets brighter, clearer, more diffuse— less punchy and focused in the midrange, and somehow more suitable for classical playing. A good flattop is a good alternative to a bowlback, given the problem of finding a good working bowlback mandolin, and then learning how to handle the body shape and shorter neck and scale. I love my bowlback, but can't say I play it all that much.

    But unless you feel the need for that kind of sound change, there's no real need to get another instrument. Good luck working out your own solution.

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    This Kid Needs Practice Bill Clements's Avatar
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    Default Re: First classical mandolin...

    And just FYI, Mike Dulak of Big Muddy will make a 13" scale mandolin, which many classical players prefer.
    He made one for me years ago; it was a fine mandolin for the price. On top of that, Mike is a great guy with a terrific wit.
    "Music is the only noise for which one is obliged to pay." ~ Alexander Dumas

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    Registered User Elliot Luber's Avatar
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    Default Re: First classical mandolin...

    Yes. I like the M11, and was considering one when I bought my Eastman. At the time, I wanted something more bluegrassy. Now it's time to diversify.
    Eastman 605 and Kentucky 300e mandolins.
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    Default Re: First classical mandolin...

    I've just spotted a seller from Japan on ebay selling some nice second hand mid-70's Calaces in the $500-700 range. Could be just the cup of tea you want. N.B. NFI

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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: First classical mandolin...

    I too played all styles of music on F- and A-style instruments for years. At some point I realized I needed to get an Italian bowlback, to understand the Italian romantic style better. I never went back, once I discovered my bowlback was a versatile instrument for other styles, too. And I discovered some points about the bowlback that are advantageous for classical playing. But of course, every choice is a tradeoff!

    Especially since you have violin experience, you might find that the shorter, violin-like scale of most bowlbacks is more comfortable. If you get into the more soloistic, classical mandolin repertoire, you'll also probably find that music more playable on a shorter-scale instrument. I find some of the music of the early American mandolin composers (such as Pettine) to be virtually unplayable on the longer-scale instrument. Also, the shorter scale makes the big stretches easier, and reduces the string tension, making tremolo and fretting easier. YMMV.

    If you're looking for a bowlback, eBay is a risky way to go. There are a few dealers around who can be relied upon for good instruments: Elderly, Stutzman's, Bernunzio. (NFI of course.)

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    Registered User Martin Jonas's Avatar
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    Default Re: First classical mandolin...

    Quote Originally Posted by Santiago View Post
    Yes. I like the M11, and was considering one when I bought my Eastman. At the time, I wanted something more bluegrassy. Now it's time to diversify.
    I like playing classical on my Mid-Mo, but would be wary of using the M-11 for that purpose. The mahogany sounds very nice and warm, but it is quite dark. That is not really the tone I would want for classical playing where the traditional tone characteristics is bright and brilliant. My own Mid-Mo mandolin is an M-0, with spruce top and mahogany back. It's much brighter than the M-11 and very versatile. I use it mainly for folk, pop or latin repertoire, and in a classical context for Early and some Baroque Music and for the second/third mandolin parts of orchestral/ensemble arrangements. However, for my taste it's too mellow for solo or lead mandolin on classical or romantic era pieces, where I tend to use a vintage bowlback instead.

    However, the mahogany top is very nice for the lower-range instruments: I have a one-off custom all-mahogany Mid-Mo octave mandolin (Mike Dulak has given it the model number M-111, but it's the only one in existence) which I use extensively for classical playing. For a mandola voice, dark is good.

    Martin

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  17. #11

    Default Re: First classical mandolin...

    What do classical players recommend for a non-professional player who wants to return to his classical roots? I don't have thousands to spend on a professional instrument, I just want tone and playability more akin to the classics with an eye toward small public performances. Thank you in advance!
    There seem to be several ideas of what a good classical tone is:
    Most classical players prefer a rather brilliant sound, like that of the Embergher Alison Stephens played:

    But some German mandolin players prefer a rather mellow tone, like the Albert & Müller bowlback played by Jeanette Mozos del Campo. It has Thomastik flatwound strings, which are partly responsible for the mellow sound. But the mellowness also comes from the kind of mandolin construction:

    So. before you buy a bowlback, make sure that you know, which kind of sound you prefer.

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  19. #12
    Registered User Elliot Luber's Avatar
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    Default Re: First classical mandolin...

    Thanks Doc James, I just joined the Long Island Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra last night. Nice talented group of people there.
    Eastman 605 and Kentucky 300e mandolins.
    Member, Long Island Guitar and Mandolin Orchestra
    Visit my YouTube page
    (Formerly known on the Cafe as Santiago)

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