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Thread: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

  1. #1

    Default Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Hi all

    Being a guitar builder, I' been reading this forum for a while but only decided to register today. Why ? because I'm slowly falling in love with mandolins. I have one that I bought years ago thinking "hey, I'm a guitar player, this should be pretty easy"and that, off course, wasn't played that hard : too much effort, not so much time to play, new chords shapes, why is this thing so small, etc...

    I'm sure you've heard that many times, my mandolin ended in a corner of the room, only getting dusty. About a year ago I re-opened the mandolin case and decided to give it a go, for real this time. At first learning the chords and only playing stuff I play on guitars, songs I know by heart, but gradualy entering the mandolin world, trying some bluegrass stuff and others... I'm currently learning some Cello suites from Bach too... I slowly realised that the mandolin suits every style of music, and is a lot of fun to play.

    I've said I'm a guitar maker, mostly flat tops but I've built a few archtops and even a violin in the past, so I've decided that the next step for me is to give it a go on building a F5 mandolin. I intend to keep it for a while, then sell it. And see if it sells easier than guitars...(hopefully)

    After this long intro, here's my question to the builders on this forum : I feel that the mandolin world is a bit "traditionalist" in terms of shape, colors and design. I don't know much, I've only been diging into the internet for a few weeks, but it seems to me that most builders settle on the A4-5 or F4-5 designs, probably because that's what their customers are expecting from them. But I've also seen builders (Holst, Monteleone, Sorensen to name a few) who came up with very clever and gracefull designs, or at least very eye catching for my taste...

    But I realise I'm talking about some of the best mandolin builders, well and long known by the mandolinist family.... which I'm not.

    So what is easier to sell ? Am I looking at it right, thinking that most players looking for a handmade mandolin will be after an F5 copy ? Should I work on a more modern design or should I follow Loars plan? Do you feel that the market is looking backward, or forward ?
    I don't mind the answer, I like both ! I'm just curious to hear your impressions...

    Cheers

  2. #2
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    I would say the best path is generally the one that you are passionate about, unless *all* you care about is something that is marketable. IMHO I care much more about the tonal quality and playability of the mandolin than the style. However, since this is your first build for a mandolin you might want to stay close to the standards in order to have a baseline to compare. But since you have luthiery chops you could just dive into your own design. Outside of bluegrass players I believe that most of us here are pretty open to new styles of mandolins.

    For others who have veered away from the standard styles, check out: Marty Jacobson; Paul Lestock/Arrow mandolins; Phoenix (just closed down unfortunately); Rigel Mandolins; Wilkie; Beardsell; James Condino.
    Last edited by Jim Garber; Apr-30-2019 at 1:06pm.
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    If you want to learn to make F-style mandolins, following a good set of Loar plans is a good start. That way you have a background rooted in the foundation of modern carved, arched, f-hole mandolins. After all, that is the biggest part of the mandolin market. From there you can experiment and refine to any level you desire. You can add subtle individuality to the basic F-5 design or you can go off in any design direction that is sound and pleasing to you.
    If you want to sell mandolins it is best not to diverge much from the Loar model. Staying very close to the Loar model seems to be the best strategy for selling mandolins these days, and perhaps that is one of the reasons builders like me, who tinker around the edges of the design, often don't seem to be as well accepted in the market as those who "copy" more closely.
    Do I think the market is looking backward of forward? Mostly backward these days. You mentioned Monteleone and others who have been successful with designs other than a strict Loar interpretation, but for the moat part, that was done nearly a generation ago when the marker was a little more relaxed, it seems to me. Fortunately, the Loar model is a good (if not perfect) one, so...

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  5. #4

    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    What I've been seeing in the marketplace is a general softening of the market. The well known, highly regarded makers, the likes of Ellis and Collings, are holding their own at least for asking prices. The uber well regarded like Gilchrist, are doing ok too. But then we come to a whole host of makers who have great reputations and many fans, but you've never seen or played one. These could easily be the quality level of a Collings, but where Collings is at the level of maybe taking a chance, others are not. In my small experience, I'd put my Silverangel up as an example. I've had it in a shop to direct compare with Collings and while different, are comparable. My A style will never be worth what an MT2 fetches.

    So you start out a complete unknown. I'm not saying you can't build a great sounding mandolin, you can. I built a quality kit. I learned just how much work goes into an F style, and gained a whole bunch of respect for those who can do it well. I now don't think charging $6k is too much to ask. There are one or two what I'd call retirement builders in the area. They advertise in Craig's list their f styles for around $2500. They languish. Now if I figure if they are on par with my build, it would be a bargain. They might be making $10/hr.

    There are nice f styles out there used for south of 3k. So I say, like being an artist or musician, do it because you just have to. The guitar market is probably 1000 times larger. Now there are always exceptions, where makers seem to come out of the chute with excellence, so it is not unknown. How's that for a mixed message?
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  6. #5

    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Designing an F-style mandolin which is modern and unique, but which will not be perceived as "ugly" by the vast majority of people, is very difficult. I'd say stick to forms which are close, as close as possible, to traditional forms, and then vary one major element. It'll be perceived as original, but not weird.

    Look at Corrado Giacomel's mandolins. The "f-style" model is often perceived as ugly by a lot of people, I think mostly because it's not what people are accustomed to. Not round enough, etc.

    A well-executed F-5 copy with some subtle variations is probably the easiest to sell for a good price. Check out Robb Brophy of Elkhorn Mandolins - great modern interpretation, still very much an F-5. Also look at Lawrence Smart's instruments.

    Look at Stefan Passernig to see some wild alternate-reality work. Gorgeous, probably a lot harder to sell than a more traditional design. But he's established as an excellent builder, so he can push the envelope a bit more than someone making their first F-5.

    If you make it too traditional, then you're up against some really stiff competition. I don't want to arm wrestle with Andrew Mowry, John Hamlett, Gary Vessel, Jamie Wiens, Dave Harvey...

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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Thanks guys that's a whole lot of thinking material to process. I'm not planning on making a futuristic space rocket like Giacomel's, nor trying to invent boiled water. It's just that is seems to me that since original F5 are getting close to a century old, there should be some room for modifications and personal touch. I'm not talking technical improvement, sound or building quality, just aesthetic considerations. And slight modifications in shape, I'm the first one to consider that a design that is too far from the F5 is not as pleasing as the original. That's why I find Monteleone's very pleasing to look at : both modern and traditional.

    I guess I'll follow Sunburst's advice and stay close to the Loar plan... maybe just copy it for the first one. After all, I'd like to explore a new market, it's proabably best to stich to what people are expecting.

    Marty Jacobson :chances are I'll never be up against the fine luthiers you're mentionning, since I live in France. But if I could, I'd much prefer to be up against you : absolutely looove your work !
    I may not have the eye for subtle mandolin details but I didn't see how Elkorn or Smart's mandolins were really different from the original F5?

    Jim Garber said "I would say the best path is generally the one that you are passionate about, unless all you care about is something that is marketable". As, I reckon, every single luthier on this planet, I'm definitely passionate about my work, still I wouldn't mind getting marketable . By the way, the Beardsell design is exactly the kind of instrument I find inspiring. Thanks

  9. #7

    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    I’d work out the sonic characteristics first in a simple build, like an A style, then rewrap the sound in whatever design you choose. If it doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t matter how stylish it is.

    And the workmanship has to be top drawer, of course.
    Play it like you mean it.

  10. #8

    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    If it doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t matter how stylish it is.
    Then again, some might argue that if it doesn't look good, people won't think it sounds good. I've had people say my carbon fiber mandolin sounds good "for a plastic mandolin", but then were unable to pick it out from a mix including traditional instruments.
    Hearing is one of our most processed senses, and our expectations go a long way towards what we experience as "tone".

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  12. #9

    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Go to the Sorensen website. He has variations from quite traditional to, for the mandolin world, pretty futuristic. I love that blue mandolin he has for sale. Having some pros playing his instruments doesn't hurt things either. To me he hits a perfect balance of melding the new and the old, while pushing the design envelope.
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  13. #10

    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Totally agree with you, he’s one of the few that I’ve seen so far who’s work looks timeless, because both modern and traditional. Perfect hit, as you were saying.

    Also agree with Marty. I’ve been in the guitar business for a while, I know that people come to one’s work because of what they see first. Then they want to hear your instrument, for sure. Sound quality is what customers are really after most of the time. But the object must be appealing to be sold.

  14. #11
    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Guitars and banjos, violins, cellos, pianos, flutes, trumpets, trombones, etc........ All seem to follow traditional design.

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    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    I don't know how close you might be to Jean LaCote, who lives in France and used to post here often. He's done some variations in design. You might find a talk with him somewhat interesting. He's a nice guy.

    Here's his website.
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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Philphool View Post
    I don't know how close you might be to Jean LaCote, who lives in France and used to post here often. He's done some variations in design. You might find a talk with him somewhat interesting. He's a nice guy.

    Here's his website.
    #18 looks a little like John Duffy's "Duck"....

    I'm in your same boat, Sebo: I've built two, both I sold to friends and I am totally hooked on building Mandos (in addition to small bodied acoustics and ukes) .. My goal for now is to continue with the Loar formula, then as i really dial in the sound and aesthetics, then I might try and branch out to a different design. I have a client who is obsessed with 'the Duck' .... so I might try and fool with that design.. maybe not so severe... it's a fun journey no matter what direction we go in.

    Karl

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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    i guess you build what you want , but i told a friend that i seen a beautiful F mando that was a blue sunburst. and he said to me, you have to decide if your building one to sell. and that one will end up in my will
    Mike Marrs

  18. #15

    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Quote Originally Posted by fscotte View Post
    Guitars and banjos, violins, cellos, pianos, flutes, trumpets, trombones, etc........ All seem to follow traditional design.
    Paging Mr. Matsuda.... Paging Mr. Matsuda....

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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

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    I love Matsuda's instruments. Pure eye candy... Here's another example from the luthier Philippe Berne...
    Thanks Philpool for the link, I 'll follow that path and will contact Jean Lacote.
    And thanks Karl for your kind words.

  21. #17
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Wow, I have never seen Matsuda's work. Pretty far out.

    It is always helpful to provide links:


    It is fun to see how far out and artistic a luthier can get and still make an instrument that will play and sound well. But even with master luthiers like Monteleone and Jimmy D'Aquisto there is a level of aesthetics tat might not appeal to all.
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  22. #18

    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Wow, I have never seen Matsuda's work. Pretty far out.
    The funny thing is, his influence has become quite mainstream. So many boutique guitar builders do stuff with string inlay, and though he wasn't the first to do string inlay in guitars, you'll see what I mean. There's a certain rhythm and proportion of the broken elements which is definitely copied from him, and which is very prevalent among the Luthiers of Instagram.
    Original Matsuda work:
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Another luthier who I don't think was mentioned here is Steve Andersen. I love this subtle design element: "A 14k gold wire line runs from the peghead to the tailpiece, dividing black ebony and macassar ebony." He has the same element in his mandolin.

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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Welcome to the Cafe.

    If it were me, I might learn the fundamentals of an instrument design that worked first (even the A5) and master making plates that move well and sound chambers that make good tone. Especially if you're moving from flat top guitars to arched top mandolins.

    Then I would focus on my finish process (you're probably much further along having built guitars). Then I might venture into new aesthetic designs.

    Personally, I love more non-traditional instruments. Unfortunately, I'm not interested in acquiring any more.

    Jamie
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  26. #21

    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    [QUOTE= He's a nice guy[/QUOTE]

    Hi Philphool , nice to see you have a think for me , I miss all the good persons in your area ,
    I'm always in the building , but I've not updated my website since a very long time , to much to do .
    my last build is an octave mandolin , and by the way the 2 next will be octave .
    it's a fascinating instrument , I love the rich tone it gives
    here a link of what I have done ( sorry but in French )
    http://www.france-bluegrass.org/phpB...=5375&start=15

    Sebo , you are very welcome for having discussion about design , or simply ..... mandolins

  27. #22

    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Hi French guy. Thanks for the offer, will do ! And thanks all for the kind advice, I'll have to think about it and decide what to do with all this new (to me) material. Heading straight to the drawing board .... cheers !

  28. #23
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    I know when I buy I am drawn to a design. Generally, it is because I saw one I liked same is true with mando or guitar, etc. I like Strats and Gretsch so I look for those styles. I like A and F and bowlback so I look for those designs. That is what draws me in. I loved the looks of a well-executed F that doesn't mean I won't give a new design a shot and look at it but it's a tuff hurdle to overcome. When I go look for an F it will be an F I buy. Now if I decide I want a new mandolin and start looking but have no style in mind I would check them all out. I think a builder with newer styles really need to get pics and sound clips out that way the images and tones can grow in someone's mind before they pursue a purchase, to me that the only way to beat a preconceived desire.


    This is all from the outside looking in. But those of us on the outside looking in are the ones buying what the pro's build.
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  29. #24
    Registered User Marc Berman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    Here's a design that I always liked. Brian Dean's 10 string Labraid Grand Concert. Marty I hope you don't mind. I got this from your site.
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  30. #25
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    Default Re: Traditional or modern design, what's your strategy ?

    I am not a luthier, or a builder of anything artistic actually. But if I can extrapolate from other fields of endeavor in which I do have experience - I think you need to trust your gut.

    If you find a design attractive, for what ever reason, and you have been around awhile, then trust that what you like is likable, what you are attracted to is attractive, and what you love is lovable. Then you are free to let your internal compass be the arbiter of design decisions through out the build.

    If you cannot trust your gut, I would think you need to get enough build and repair and playing experience to develop a gut you can trust.

    I think without a trustable gut, any endeavor, from art to engineering, becomes a job of fulfilling someone's specifications. Which, indeed, is a job, in every sense of the word.
    Indulge responsibly!

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