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Thread: Making an Eastman Sing

  1. #1
    Registered User Cobalt's Avatar
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    Default Making an Eastman Sing

    I've played a lot of flat-top and the odd bowl-back mandolins over the years. Recently I dipped a toe into the murky waters of the arch-top variety, with a modest MD305.

    First impressions were good, but there was something not quite working for me. I should add that I'm not a bluegrass player, I play melodies fast and slow, plenty of tremolo and a few double-stops and some cross-picking thrown in on a fairly ad-hoc basis.

    My usual plectrums for years have been the Jim Dunlop Nylon in the range 0.60, 0.73 and 0.88 varieties. None of them seemed quite right with the Eastman, it has a percussive character, virtually no resonance, and to take advantage of that requires something suited to the task.

    Enter the pile of plectra:
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    Included there are three Dunlop Nylon (right of picture), a Dunlop Flow, the bright yellow and pale green found in a street or car-park, and a Primetone, red Jazz III (nylon) and Jazz III XL Ultex.

    The two found plectrums were reasonably good, cheap and cheerful I guess, a bit like the nylon 0.88. The red Jazz III, a bit of a mistake, I haven't given it a fair chance because it was too finicky and tiny to hold. The Primetone 1.5 and Jazz III XL Ultex 1.38, much heavier than anything I normally go near, the first had a nice smooth feel, slips off the strings well. The XL Ultex, a bit chunkier, still fairly slippery (which is good) but somehow too much like holding a block of wood. Those last two also gave a dull, soft sound. Maybe it's my ageing ears, it seemed like they failed to make the string or instrument resonate, a bit lifeless.

    Then on to the Dunlop Flow 0.73, selected to be thinner than the previous. It has bite, nominally the same thickness as the nylon 0.73, this is a different animal, less flexible, sharper point, it still slips nicely off the strings - something I want when doing a tremolo, but brings out the tone of the mandolin, wakes it up again.
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    In the photo, three I'll likely continue to use, 1.38, 0.73, 0.60 - each different and all likeable precisely because they differ.

    I'm sure this won't be the end of the story, but it has at least settled the restlessness for a time.


    EDIT: No picture, a Dunlop Gator 0.96. This was ok but felt unpleasant during tremolo, as though it was gripping the strings like the rubber tyres of a car gripping the road, no matter what sound it produced, it just wasn't fun to use.
    Last edited by Cobalt; Apr-14-2019 at 3:06pm.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    Try a Clayton Ultem in .72. I have been using one in place of my BC and Wegen lately.
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  5. #3
    Registered User Elliot Luber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    My favorite sounding pick for my Eastman is an old Red Bear Trading pick.
    Eastman 605 and Kentucky 300e mandolins.
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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    When I first started guitar 43 years ago I used those Dunlop .73's or .88's because that's what you could get in my small town. As soon as I started mandolin about 10 years back I felt like those thin picks sounded like a baseball card flapping through bicycle spokes. I kept going to thicker picks, ultimately settling on 2.0 to 2.5 mm Wegen's in the typical rounded triangle mandolin shape vs the standard guitar teardrop. Like many I've tried a lot of picks (tortex, ultex, bone, horn, cassein, acrylic, golden gate, Dawg, primetone, blue chip). If you haven't tried a Dunlop gator in the 1.5 to 2.0 mm range I highly recommend them as great picks for the price. Tone and control are much better on the high tension dual strings of the mando with a stiff thick pick.

  7. #5
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    I would strongly recommend going with a thicker pick for an Eastman MD305, something in the range of 0.035" to 0.060," which corresponds to 0.9 mm to 1.7 mm thickness. I would also recommend getting away from a softer plastic material, like nylon, and instead using a much harder, slippery plastic like polyetherimide (Ultex, used in Primetone and similar picks) or polyimide (Melden, Vespel, used in Bluechip picks). You may need to learn a new technique, but with practice, you will eventually achieve a faster and cleaner tremolo this way, along with increased volume and a rounder, "thicker" tone.

  8. #6
    Registered User Cobalt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    Thanks for the comments. I guess there's a wide variation on what each of us is looking for (or listening for) in a mandolin. Certainly the heavier types of plectrum are just too dull-sounding for my ears, the harmonic content of string and instrument is muted and muffled. But that's me. Others will seek other ideals. As I mentioned it may be my ageing ears which don't hear what others are hearing, that could play a role too.

    At any rate, I see the Eastman as just a small experiment, it isn't really the end destination, more of a temporary stopover.

  9. #7
    Registered User flatpicknut's Avatar
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    Quote Originally Posted by Cobalt View Post
    Thanks for the comments. I guess there's a wide variation on what each of us is looking for (or listening for) in a mandolin. Certainly the heavier types of plectrum are just too dull-sounding for my ears, the harmonic content of string and instrument is muted and muffled. But that's me. Others will seek other ideals. As I mentioned it may be my ageing ears which don't hear what others are hearing, that could play a role too.
    It's always interesting to me how each player can have such different responses to picks. I have two Eastman mandolins - an MD505 and MD315. I do the occasional pick test, but I've been loving the Primetone 1.5mm picks for a couple of months, both for the feel and action as well as for the resulting sound. The "dullness" you note with heavier pics still seems overly bright to my ears, especially if I use something like an EJ74 string set. At the moment, the slightly darker monel string and the Primetone 1.5mm are perfect to my ears. I too have aging ears and don't hear as well as I used to, so I often wonder what a "too bright" sound to me must be like for a young set of ears!
    Doug Brock
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  10. #8
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    Just an observation here, but you mention that you'd played flat top and bowl back mandolins in the past, in other words - mandolins with oval holes rather than f-holes like the 305 has. Much of what you describe as wanting to change in the 305's sound seems typical of f-hole mandolins vs. oval hole.
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  11. #9

    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    I was sold on Dunlop nylons picks, usually the black ones, for years. I used the old-school black ovation heavies on mando, but they no longer make those. When I started playing mandocello, I went back to square one. I tried everything, even the "boutique" picks. The Dunlops still worked okay, but after about a year of "retrying" everything I had tried before, and a lot more, I settled on the Wegan 1.2mm. I also use them on my gold-top Eastman, as well as on guitar. The price has taken a serious uptick in the last couple of years, but still costs well less than the Blue Chip. A great mandolin pick.

  12. #10
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    If you don't lose your pick Wegens are great, I've been using them for over a decade and never wore one out yet.

  13. #11
    Registered User mandobassman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    Quote Originally Posted by flatpicknut View Post
    It's always interesting to me how each player can have such different responses to picks.
    This is so true. I was fortunate enough to be on the list for both of the Travelling Pick Samplers. As anyone who has been part of that will agree, it is pretty cool to sit for hours and try dozens of picks that you most-likely have never used before. Everyone comes out of it with widely varying opinions of which is best. There are so many picks that people have raved about that I absolutely hated. And, there are also ones that I have raved about that others hated. There are Blue Chip models that I really like a lot, I like the Dunlop Ultex, I like the standard Fender Extra Heavy celluloid picks, and sometimes I like the Dunlop Primetone. The one constant for me is the size and shape. I have always used the large triangle (346) shape. Anything else just does not feel right in my hand. But material and thickness does not matter, only how it sounds. The pick that I have really liked a lot lately is the D'Andrea RADEX. I stumbled upon this pick on a Facebook group and decided to try it. There is very little info about it on the internet, except a handful of places to buy it. Virtually no reviews. I decided to try it and, so far, it's my favorite pick I've tried. You just never know what's going to work for you until you try it.
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  15. #12
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    Blue Chip all the way. Nothing quite like it.

    Enjoy your MD 305. It’s a fine instrument.
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    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    I like blue chips, modified a bit thinner for mando, V-pick tremolo are also great but my favorites are the old forbidden tortoise shell! They are my favorite and one can still find them as years ago there were many products that used shell, mirror backs, picture frames, brush backs etc...if you can pick up old broken stuff off evilbay you can make and shape your own and I believe they sound great? I've been using one for years now, you just can't make them real thin or they tend to chip away.

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  18. #14
    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    I also did not look back after the Blue Chip. My favorite for guitar for many years was the green Dunlop but it is a bit bright on a mandolin. The D'Andrea has a remarkable warm sound and good feel. It's probably my choice if I lost the Blue Chip. I wish I had a Wegan to test, but what do I do with a whole box of picks? If all else fails I can trade in my black pick for a beer.

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  20. #15
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    Blue Chip TAD 40 1R on my Eastman 515. Or the grippy Primetone if I'm afraid of losing #1.

  21. #16
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    Default Re: Making an Eastman Sing

    More to it than picks. Look up my how to do mandovoodoo post, somewhere in here. Lots of warmth and sweetness in the Eastman line. Just have to bring it out.
    Stephen Perry
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