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Thread: Mandolin Design Question! Help

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    Default Mandolin Design Question! Help

    I am considering buying a mandolin for country western church music at our Cowboy Church and was wondering. The only stye mandolin I have been familiar with are the A and F style mandolins with F holes for sound. I have heard from a few people that the round hole one like some of the Washburn MSD1 models that are made have more volume. Are there any advantages to playing an F hole version compared to the round hole versions on the market today or is it just aesthetics? Can anyone explain the differences or reason a person would desire one over the other? Thanks for any help.

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    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    There is clearly a difference in sound between a round holed mandolin and one with F holes although the difference is far easier to hear than to describe. A round hole tends to have a more mellow (rounded !!) sound whereas one with F holes will tend to have a more focussed sound which can project better. Whether the difference will be easy to appreciate at the cheaper (Washburn) end of the market I wouldn’t like to say but round holes are generally preferred by folk/old time music performers wheras F holes are preferred by bluegrass musicians.

    Whilst others may disagree, I think that you’ll find that ones with F holes sound, apparently, louder; although I’m not aware that anyone has done a quantifiable study.

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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    While generalizations often come under attack in this forum, popular wisdom holds that ovals have more bass and sustain, making them good fits for applications such as a Old Time and Irish Traditional Music where the objective is to play along with everyone else, while f-holes have more cut and projection, making them good fits for bluegrass where the goal is to carve through a mix.
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    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    You really need to try these various mandolins yourself. Oval hole mandolins are often characterized as having a broader, sweeter, more mellow sound, while the f-holed mandolins are often characterized as more penetrating, with better ability to cut through other instruments.

    You'll actually find a lot of differences in volume and sound characteristics among oval hole mandolins from different manufacturers and different model lines. The wood used, the wood thickness (and how well it might have been carved, if it was carved), bracing, and the type and thickness of finish are all details that affect the final sound and volume.

    Even strings, pick used, and playing style are factors for the final sound. And some instruments handle harder playing better than others, so just playing harder won't necessarily give you the volume you need with a pleasing result.

    (Are you planning on playing amplified? You mentioned volume, so my thought was that you were planning to play without amplification. Amplification of mandolins is a whole other discussion!)
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    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    Quote Originally Posted by flatpicknut View Post
    You really need to try these various mandolins yourself. Oval hole mandolins are often characterized as having a broader, sweeter, more mellow sound, while the f-holed mandolins are often characterized as more penetrating, with better ability to cut through other instruments.

    You'll actually find a lot of differences in volume and sound characteristics among oval hole mandolins from different manufacturers and different model lines. The wood used, the wood thickness (and how well it might have been carved, if it was carved), bracing, and the type and thickness of finish are all details that affect the final sound and volume.

    Even strings, pick used, and playing style are factors for the final sound. And some instruments handle harder playing better than others, so just playing harder won't necessarily give you the volume you need with a pleasing result.

    (Are you planning on playing amplified? You mentioned volume, so my thought was that you were planning to play without amplification. Amplification of mandolins is a whole other discussion!)
    There is a possibility that I may play through a PA system at some point or do as a friend of mine had done with some type of stick on pickup and used bluetooth to send the signal to what he was playing through. I do not want to buy a mandolin with pickups installed etc. I have found in the past when I try to buy one of the inexpensive versions the wood is too thick and the real sound of the instrument is limited especially if you wanted to play it unamplified. Since playing more country western and bluegrass I am thinking the F hole design A style mandolin should work for me since I am not into folk or Celtic music these days. Thank you for your response.

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    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    Quote Originally Posted by vetus scotia View Post
    Thank you vetus. That was a very good article and very informing.

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    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    There is clearly a difference in sound between a round holed mandolin and one with F holes although the difference is far easier to hear than to describe. A round hole tends to have a more mellow (rounded !!) sound whereas one with F holes will tend to have a more focussed sound which can project better. Whether the difference will be easy to appreciate at the cheaper (Washburn) end of the market I wouldn’t like to say but round holes are generally preferred by folk/old time music performers wheras F holes are preferred by bluegrass musicians.

    Whilst others may disagree, I think that you’ll find that ones with F holes sound, apparently, louder; although I’m not aware that anyone has done a quantifiable study.
    I am thinking that may be because of the more piercing sound. Helps to cut through with bluegrass music for sure. Thank you Ray.
    Frank

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    Rule of thumb:

    F-hole: more percussive, "cutting" sound, quicker attack and decay, shorter sustain

    Oval-hole: rings longer, "smoother" sound, less "bite," similar overall volume but different sound quality.

    Varies from instrument to instrument; also a function of solid vs. laminated construction, carved vs. pressed top, finish thickness, pick and string selection, player technique.

    Try a couple similarly-priced and constructed instruments, oval-hole vs. f-hole, see (and hear) what you think.
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    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    Just to complete the above thoughts, some believe the F-hole to be a more versatile instrument, responding more dynamically in both tone & volume to the player's technique & pick attack than does the oval hole, that sounds generally the same. In other words, an F-hole CAN be finessed into sounding soft & mellow, while the opposite is not generally true.
    Of course, YMMV!
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    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    Quote Originally Posted by julyboy View Post
    I am thinking that may be because of the more piercing sound. Helps to cut through with bluegrass music for sure. Thank you Ray.
    Frank
    I wouldn’t call it “piercing” more of a rounded “pop” and, as I said, more focussed.

    If it’s any help, I have several of both styles. I’ve been in situations where an round hole hasn’t been able to cope but never where an F hole has struggled.

  13. #12

    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    Although not part of the question, I think attention should be paid to the basic quality of the mandolin. There are many inexpensive mandolin like objects out there, some which look rather fancy.

    There are three brands that have earned a good reputation in the inexpensive market, Kentucky, Eastman, and Loar. The all solid versions of any of them are great values. Kentucky
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  14. #13

    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    Although not part of the question, I think attention should be paid to the basic quality of the mandolin. There are many inexpensive mandolin like objects out there, some which look rather fancy.

    There are three brands that have earned a good reputation in the inexpensive market, Kentucky, Eastman, and Loar. The all solid versions of any of them are great values. Kentucky makes the KM 150 that gets raves. Also a lot have been made, so they are out there used. You can hear a real difference spending $400 over the plywood instruments out there. Amazon deals abound too.
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  15. #14

    Default Re: Mandolin Design Question! Help

    Hello Julyboy, I just got the Kentucky 150, and didn't regret it! A shout out and thanks to all the Cafe members, who contribute their advice, as well. I saved up the extra $$ and got the Kentucky with the accessory starter kit, what's not to like? solid wood, adjustable truss rod, etc. After a brief, negative experience with a cheapo Craigslist mando that fretted out when tuned to standard pitch, I learned my lesson! The Kentucky plays well (after setup), there is less ambient ringing with the F holes, and you can play it through a PA mike if you need to. I also have an antique Boehmann lute shaped mandolin with oval sound hole, which requires more string dampening to eliminate open strings ringing.Hope this helps you decide. I agree about the electric mando, it had tinny sound, not the full, richer acoustic sound. Had one, sold it, thought it was cool with effects pedals, but there are plenty of guitars for that!

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