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Thread: Mandolin sound changing over time

  1. #1
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    Smile Mandolin sound changing over time

    Good day,

    I am having a friendly argument with the guitarist of my band about the prospect of the possible changing of sound of my mandolin over time.

    I just bought a Gibson F-9, (David Harvey, 2016). I named her Firedoll! She is absolutely amazing! ... And I was thinking that her sound would get even better and better with the time.

    So, I've decided to ask my luthier if aging would give my Firedoll a better sound. He answered that it was a myth. That if I take good care of Firedoll, her wood might dry and give a upgrade of sound opening about 2% of current sound. He says that there is no simple reason to expect that age-related changes in general would necessarily improve an instrument.

    So I went with that argument to my last practice and got into a fun fight with my guitarist. He believes firmly that time gives better sound to good instrument, that the sound of a good instrument with good wood would improve with time.

    Any facts or proofs to back me further with my luthier's position?

    Thank you for your help!

    Nick

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    In these discussions, facts are hard to come by and harder to agree on. While we can agree that things change over time (dust to dust and all that), not much past that is settled in terms of instruments sound changing over time. As I have mentioned, the plural of anecdote is not data.

    But nothing will stop people arguing about it though.
    Play it like you mean it.

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    Registered User Steve Sorensen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Instruments are like people and grape juice -- The best see their basic traits get better and better over time, eventually exceeding their youthful vigor like a fine wine . . . while the neglected and poorly crafted only turn more sour, bitter, and unpleasant with each added day in a most distasteful and vinegary way.

    Steve

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  7. #4

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Why would "dry" wood sound better than properly humidified wood?

    Agreeing with Steven - don't treat your mandolin friends our your friend friends poorly!

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  9. #5

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    When I finished my mandolin build, I was fairly happy with the tone of the instrument. There is a sound I've heard in most imports related to the body of the G string, a sound that is just not as resonant fat and warm as is found in most premium brands. It is the main difference that is worth, to me, paying many times the price for.

    My build had maybe 70% of the tone I was hoping for on the G string. Six months later we are at 90%. All the thinness is going away. I've never had an adirondak top, but the instrument is getting better. To me it is real. This instrument gets two to three hours a day play time. Weather it is time passing or hours played or both, but the change is there.

    Now had this mandolin been hanging in the store new, it might have been passed by, which is another reason I like to buy used. I would not go so far as saying you can count on change though.
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  11. #6
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    My mandolin has definitely changed over the years, and more folks than me have heard it.
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    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    I tend to think mine has opened up over the years as well, just my perception, no data. I do believe that if I don't play mine for a while it goes to sleep, but once I play it for a bit it opens right back up.
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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    I've played mandolin for over two decades and built a few as well so I know what "fresh" mandolin sounds like and how it evolves (they visit me from time to time for setups or refrets).
    It would not be honest from me as builder to promise possible maturing of tone to the better.
    Here is my take on this:
    I agree that there is a phase of settling down when new instrument is first strung (or one that has been without string tension for a long period of time or after big structural repair) but that decays pretty fast. In new mandolins few months at best IMO. On instruments that were just unstrung for weeks or even months this is no more than few days.
    There are way too many factors that contribute to the tone that time alone cannot be separated as one that affects tone.
    Usually when instruments come back to me it sounds/plays worse than it did when it left my shop previously. Apparently the frets got worn a bit, there is dirt in the nut slots, setup is slightly messed from environment changes and string changes. On fresher mandolins (year or so after build) the bridge contact may not be optimal anymore (due to the initial settling) etc... so after few hurs of my time it will play its best again when it leaves my door and this change can be quite dramatic (especially if owner neglects the instrument care)
    Whenever I get my handson instruments where owner claims the tone changed dramatically (to better or worse) I look for structural issues... For example, failing top arch (sagging in the center and bulging under tailpiece) will add some woofiness to the chop that bluegrass players will love, but the tone slowly becomes tubby/ muddy (especially with older strings) and thin/harsh on higher notes, but less experienced players who seldom play those notes and need to produce them clean, strong and articulate will not notice until it becomes really bad (death crack, impossible setup problems keeping tuning etc.).
    Whenever I sell instrument I tell the owner if he doesn't love how it sounds now he shouldn't expect much change in the instrument, the instrument won't change, his musical tastes may change though (as my did over years as well)

    There is so much BS on the internet and spread by some makers or players - there are few local banjo makers who explain to customers that have issues with tone of their instruments that the bronze alloy in tone ring etc will continue to crystallize and mature into fuller sound over time but they need to be played a lot as the vibration energy helps...
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    My distrust of the concept of "opening up" comes down to the fact that it only ever seems to operate in one direction - you never hear of instruments sounding worse over time, only better. As Adrian noted, worsening of sound is typically seen as a function of environmental factors and upkeep (strings, frets, etc). Improvements are attributed to "opening up". For me personally, I can't claim to have a fine enough ear or memory to say whether an instrument has changed significantly, or whether I've just learned how to pull a tone with it that I enjoy even more.
    Mitch Russell

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by onassis View Post
    My distrust of the concept of "opening up" comes down to the fact that it only ever seems to operate in one direction - you never hear of instruments sounding worse over time, only better. As Adrian noted, worsening of sound is typically seen as a function of environmental factors and upkeep (strings, frets, etc). Improvements are attributed to "opening up". For me personally, I can't claim to have a fine enough ear or memory to say whether an instrument has changed significantly, or whether I've just learned how to pull a tone with it that I enjoy even more.
    I agree with that. The evolution of playing skills is very significant factor as well.
    I think I have quite well trained ear (back when I played actively with few bands I took every chance to play every mandolin at event - we made rounds around dealers and tested everything) but the human sound memory is really not good enough to discern changes in time reliably. That's why I kept my old Krishot as a point of reference for all my builds (and mandolins that came for repairs). That mandolin had quite specific sound (but a great one) and I know it didn't change much (if at all) from my recordings. I always compared new mandolins with that one.
    Adrian

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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    We all want our mandolins to sound better as they age. Heck, we want ourselves to sound better as we age! If only wishing made it so. Ah, but when it comes to subjective matters like perception -- it does!

    Based on the testimony of the folks who post on the Mandolin Cafe, all their mandolins are above average, and getting better by the day. Garrison Keillor would be proud.

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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    My Stanley and another are proof that sound can mature. John Hamlett also noted the last 4 notes on the G strings lost a lot of volume and the D strings were out of balance and louder than all the other strings. Some 2-3 years later the volume came into balance. The G strings' low notes caught up and the D strings evened out with the others. It's in balance across the strings and up the neck also.

    Another A that Don Julin had for awhile had D strings that were louder than the others. A few years later it had also evened out by the time Don Grieser had it. It also oozes that Monroe-like tone.

    Chris builds under dry conditions so they don't need to be humidified, so it's not a matter of the wood drying out.

    Some mandolins definitely mature with age to a degree. Several really good mandolins have come and gone and the Stanley stays. I've not heard of others that had gone this route.

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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    How much of this is also our ears becoming attuned to the instrument and our technique adjusting to draw the tone we want from that instrument.
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  27. #14

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    So is the notion that Adirondack spruce takes a year or two to break in just a myth?
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  29. #15

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    So is the notion that Adirondack spruce takes a year or two to break in just a myth?
    Some pieces of Adirondack are identical to pieces of Sitka spruce. Some pieces of Adirondack are worse as tonewood than an average piece of Sitka (too brittle, too dense, too light, poor grain orientation, etc.).

    ANY claim which is generalized to an entire species of wood is too vague to be useful. If you're talking about balsa vs. rosewood, yes, the rosewood will definitely have characteristics different than the balsa sample. But spruce needs to be assessed on a piece by piece basis.

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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    My mandolin sounds better and better, the worse and worse my hearing gets.

    I can only say that I have a 35 year old lower end Yamaha classical guitar and it is sooooooo mellow now. FWIW.
    belbein

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  33. #17

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    So is the notion that Adirondack spruce takes a year or two to break in just a myth?
    Yes, unless you can explain some physical changes and show that through measurements.
    Play it like you mean it.

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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    While it may or may not be the case (and we have argued it here often enough - just search on "opening up") I certainly would not buy an instrument that didn't already sound great hoping that it would sound better in time.
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  37. #19
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    While it may or may not be the case (and we have argued it here often enough - just search on "opening up") I certainly would not buy an instrument that didn't already sound great hoping that it would sound better in time.
    People do though. I mean, I never have- the instrument has to 'speak' to me (in some undefinable way) - I have to hear the possibility of great playing or great sound (either 'this will be great after a setup', or 'the action's a little wrong', etc.), otherwise I'm not interested. And plenty of nice properly set-up instruments haven't spoken to me.

    My point is that you might have an instrument change, or you mightn't. Play what you like and let it be.
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  39. #20
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    +1 for a good instrument getting better, at least for a time. I don't think a 10 year old mandolin will be better in 50 years or even a 2year old better in 5 years, but you will never convince me that a new instrument doesn't sound " new". I've told the story here before of being able to tell if my dad had taken his banjo apart for any reason since I had last played with him ( we played almost every week, him playing the same banjo he had owned and I had listen to for years. I knew it's sound better than I knew my wife's body) I don't know how but his knowing how to get the sound from it should not have changed, my musical hearing must have been accurate or I couldn't have told. There have been other instrument that someone else owned that I played when new that I thought were good sounding then maybe a year or so later played again and they were great. In those cases it was my opinion memory that changed, not necessarily my music memory. As far as always getting better, why would it get worse? If all the pieces are "learning" to work together as intended, to become one instrument, instead of multiple pieces. A poorly made of poor materials by a poor builder won't get better, but neither will it get worse. I know there is no way to prove any of this and I can't say I understand it completely, but after being around good instrument all my life (65 years) you can't disprove it to me.

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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    It's generally reckoned among guitar makers (and players too probably) that guitars with spruce tops do mature noticeably in the first couple of years, though ones with western red cedar tops don't mature very much. My experience does bear this out. Of course, the OP asked about mandolins, which may be different.
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    I think this topic can be summed up by 'Believers gonna believe!’. Belief is based in emotion and as such, can sometimes be irrational. Belief does not require facts, objective evidence or proof and can even exist despite evidence to the contrary. A typical attitude is "Prove me wrong". All that is required is a premise that ‘makes sense’ to the believer. It’s common in all areas of human activity like sports, politics and religion for example. While debates of this type can be fun, ultimately nothing gets resolved.

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  45. #23
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Relying on memory as far as sound goes is an exercise in self delusion. Research has shown that human auditory memory is very short, so remembering what your mandolin sounded like one hours ago is unreliable. Even more unreliable is remembering sound for days or weeks or months. The only reliable way is to do one on one comparisons with another instrument. If you notice differences the question then becomes what instrument has changed? If the reference instrument is much older and has been played a fair bit and continues to be played then it is likely the new one has changed. Using this technique, I am convinced that new mandolins do change over time. Some change quite a bit, others not much.
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    While it doesn't reach the level of scientific evidence, go watch Jill's tune a week thread. First video is the mandolin at brand new. We will eventually have 52 consecutive videos one week apart to see if we can hear any difference. I could hear a difference after 6 or 8 weeks. What do you hear?
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Grieser View Post
    While it doesn't reach the level of scientific evidence, go watch Jill's tune a week thread. First video is the mandolin at brand new. We will eventually have 52 consecutive videos one week apart to see if we can hear any difference. I could hear a difference after 6 or 8 weeks. What do you hear?
    A player adapting to a new instrument and improving her technique???? Just saying......
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