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Thread: Mandolin sound changing over time

  1. #51
    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    My vested interest is my enjoyment of my mandolins. I don't build or sell. My mandolins get to be family heirlooms that my kids get to sell if they deem it necessary.
    My experience is limited to two mandolins. Both owned from day one(likely several weeks into their "lives")
    I also rely on info passes on to me by one of my music mentors, who had a PhD in musicology, was a lifelong player of arched instruments (viol family), a well respected performer and university professor.
    His opinion was that internal surface cell structure changed with seasonal fluctuations, causing the release of organelles from the exposed cells on the unfinished surfaces, thus changing the cellular structure and resonance properties. That process takes a long time, if it actually happens
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  3. #52
    man about town Markus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    I find it interesting that no one disputes when someone says `I can hear that the strings I put on two months ago are dead' but if they say `my mandolin sounds better a month after I got it' no one wants to believe them.

    Both would seem to impressions from the player about the sound over the course of a month [or many months] ... one is never disputed, one pretty much always is.

    Given that, I'm not sure how useful these conversations ever are - though I always end up reading them.
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  5. #53

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Markus View Post
    I find it interesting that no one disputes when someone says `I can hear that the strings I put on two months ago are dead' but if they say `my mandolin sounds better a month after I got it' no one wants to believe them...........
    People certainly can hear changes in sound on any mandolin as the sound changes with the pitch, pick, pick location of pick attack (near or away from the bridge), and weather changes among other items including new strings or different strings. The question is whether instruments change over time due to some physical change of the mandolin itself, typically explained as the 'top breaking in'.

    On new instruments, especially varnished ones, I could see that the slow hardening of the varnish may cause some some change to an instrument, but I don't know of anyone who has measured the tone of an instrument when completed and then measured the tone (whatever that may mean) 1,2 or 3 years later to verify any change.

    See the study I mentioned above for an interesting study of identical instruments over time.
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  7. #54
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    I consider the guitar research to be relevant to guitars, I think you should too
    Sorry, but you are wrong. Cohen and Rossing have shown that mandolins vibrate similar to guitars, so the guitar research is highly relevant to mandolins. There are differences of course (higher frequencies in mandolins), but they do vibrate very similar.
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  9. #55
    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    There has been at least one rigorous study showing that guitars played frequently (for a long period with a mechanical device, versus by real players, versus by not played at all) and substantially equivalent guitars not played were identical ("scientifically irrelevant").

    Here you go: https://www.savartjournal.org/index....rticle/view/22
    Interesting read. Thanks!
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  11. #56

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Thanks Bill and Marty. I believe in science.
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  13. #57
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Markus brings up an interesting point, if our auditory memory is so short, how do we know the strings have gone dead. If we can't remember how the strings sounded new, how do we know that a month or a week later they don't sound the same. Or for that matter with out memory how do those of us that play entirely by ear remember how a whole step, verses a half step or two steps sound that enables us to pretty much play melody on the fly. My Dad could pick up an instrument he had never played and tune it very close to standard pitch. Or for that matter how can we tune an instrument if we don't remember how it supposed to sound. We could not play anything by ear or have any idea if correct or not by written music without auditory memory. I KNOW I can remember my wife's voice and how my mandolin sounds. Ramble complete

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  15. #58
    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by MontanaMatt View Post
    ...His opinion was that internal surface cell structure changed with seasonal fluctuations, causing the release of organelles from the exposed cells on the unfinished surfaces, thus changing the cellular structure and resonance properties. That process takes a long time, if it actually happens
    Your friend may have a PHD in musicology — I have a masters in plant biochemistry, and while I never studied cell death specifically, the current understanding of the natural senescence of plant tissue that would occur over time in cut wood doesn’t currently support the concept that the organelles remain intact to be released later.
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

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  17. #59
    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by dang View Post
    Your friend may have a PHD in musicology — I have a masters in plant biochemistry, and while I never studied cell death specifically, the current understanding of the natural senescence of plant tissue that would occur over time in cut wood doesn’t currently support the concept that the organelles remain intact to be released later.
    His info led me to understanding that exposed external cells would rupture and release their contents.
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  18. #60

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Well, there are myths and beliefs. And they change over time. Torres, the famous guitar luthier, believed that wood type for the guitar back has nothing to do with the sound. He built a papier-mache back for one of his guitars to prove it and it still sounded great. Now nearly everyone believes that maple or rosewood or mahogany or cypress backs and sides do make the guitar sound differently. Leave alone laminated backs and sides vs solid ones discussion.

    I, personally, believe in top opening up. I've experienced it many times on new instruments and instruments that haven't been played for a long time. I guess the new wood and wood that didn't vibrate for a while just gets stiffer and vibrations help the wood to vibrate more freely over time. I do not see any contradiction with simple physics there.
    Last edited by vic-victor; Jun-02-2019 at 12:04am.

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  20. #61

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    The wood used to be a tree. Now it has to learn "how" to be a mandolin or guitar or (?) whose sole purpose is to produce beautiful music. That takes a bit of time and playing to learn. Don't ask me why...

    Len B.
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  22. #62

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    The auditory memory studies pertain to subtle nuance, that which might be the differences in two finely built f style, f hole mandolins. If you are trying to pick between two Collings MF mandolins at two different stores, you are likely out of luck. Play them side by side and you might hear a difference. No one disputes you'll hear a difference between an old Gibson A and an MF.

    I was playing my Arches kit yesterday, a mandolin that I believe is getting warmer sounding with time. I had been scraping paint off of a large double gate and my picking hand thumb was sore, so holding the pick was a tad painful, so I lightened up on my grip, and the tone changed dramatically, well, perceptibly at least. Certainly as much as the six month aging has. So the variability of many factors come into play.
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  23. #63
    Registered User O. Apitius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Personally, I hold the scientific method in high regard in its ability to determine objective reality. The issue, as I see it, is that "good" tone cannot, to my knowledge be objectively defined. The term good, or its equivalences, is by nature subjective. If a person perceives an instrument to have good tone, he/she is not wrong. Others may disagree and they are also not wrong. Beauty truly is in the eye (ear) of the beholder. Our brains do a lot of processing of these fluctuations of air pressure we call sound. Therefor, as much as the scientific method is an extremely powerful tool, and has contributed a great deal to our understanding of the mechanical functioning of musical instruments it does have its limitations when dealing with human perceptions in the artistic realm.
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  25. #64
    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by O. Apitius View Post
    ...The issue, as I see it, is that "good" tone cannot, to my knowledge be objectively defined.
    Of course you won’t define quality, you must have read the book The quote in your signature line is from...

    Robert Pirsig also said “the real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t missed lead you into thinking you know something you know actually don’t know.”

    To someone who has read Pirsig it is obvious why I am saving up to commission a mando and Oliver is my front runner, quality!!
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

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  27. #65
    Registered User O. Apitius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Pirsig, a tragically misunderstood intellectual giant.
    God rest his soul.
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  29. #66

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by O. Apitius View Post
    Personally, I hold the scientific method in high regard in its ability to determine objective reality. The issue, as I see it, is that "good" tone cannot, to my knowledge be objectively defined. The term good, or its equivalences, is by nature subjective. If a person perceives an instrument to have good tone, he/she is not wrong. Others may disagree and they are also not wrong. Beauty truly is in the eye (ear) of the beholder. Our brains do a lot of processing of these fluctuations of air pressure we call sound. Therefor, as much as the scientific method is an extremely powerful tool, and has contributed a great deal to our understanding of the mechanical functioning of musical instruments it does have its limitations when dealing with human perceptions in the artistic realm.
    There are scientific disciplines devoted to exactly this - the interaction between humans and things or the built environment, perception, etc. The stimuli (i.e. sound of the mandolin) can be quantified, but you are right that the perception or experience of that stimulus cannot be directly quantified.

    I agree 100% with what you said here.. what I have been arguing against in this thread is the statement many folks make, which is essentially, "I like this instrument more than I did when it was new, therefore, the mandolin must have structurally changed".

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  31. #67
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    When I bought my Mandolin new, I bought it for what it sounded like then, and I advise anyone to do the same. I did expect some changes from a new mandolin in the store. In the store new it was in a somewhat dryer environment than where I live. The lacquer was still outgassing quite a bit.
    I thought it had a "cooo" sound to it I liked when I played double stops. I don't hear the "cooo" sound anymore. But I've changed my setup over the years, changed picks, strings, changed other minor things about how I physically play. The mandolin sounds different some but not much. Back then the manufacturer fellows said it would change over the first 2 years.
    I think I've changed how I play it, and how I approach my mandolin to get what I want from it. People say it is loud but I think its just me. This mandolin is not loud by comparison to many others.
    Lately I've had the opportunity to play a custom mandolin that has a much different sound. More powerful trebles. I've had a skilled friend play it, he sounded great. I believe it is a fine mandolin. But playing it is a different approach for me. Is the new custom mando changing because I'm playing (breaking it in) it or because I'm learning to play THAT mandolin? I think mostly the player changes.

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  33. #68

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by O. Apitius View Post
    ....... Therefor, as much as the scientific method is an extremely powerful tool, and has contributed a great deal to our understanding of the mechanical functioning of musical instruments it does have its limitations when dealing with human perceptions in the artistic realm.
    But a lot of work has gone into dealing with this, and a very good read is 'Music, Physics and Engineering' by Harry Olsen. The book is about the development of hifi stereo audio reproduction which required: an understanding/measurement of the source output and the physics/engineering design of the reproduction equipment. Lots of a acoustic research there, such as 'why do clarinets sound different from violins. Its all about the overtones and decay cycles. And for recording, its the ability to understand and accurately reproduce the native sound series of the individual instruments. This knowledge of that helps us understand why you can recognize your mother's voice, which is yet another instrument, and people are very good at discerning differences in sound sources (instruments) from different people, although the recording of a sibling may fool you at times. The recognition of pitch is a separate component independent of the source, ie, a middle C on a clarinet will be recognized as middle C on a violin although we can tell they are two different instruments.

    it dawned on me that while we all hear differences in strings and picks, I haven't seen any recordings of an instrument played with different picks and recorded so that we could see the sound profile differences. I may try this later using Audacity to determine if I can see in the output chart what I can hear, or indeed if there is a measurable difference. Play only 1 note on a wound string and repeat on an unwound string. Seems simple enough. I suspect we partly underestimate the subtlety of our hearing in processing complex tones and that that ability varies widely with age and life experience. You could also use the same pick and vary the attack angle on there string to verify if what you hear (if anything) is tracked in the recording.

    I certainly wouldn't mind if instruments got better over time, I have a few 40+ year old ones, but without a physical explanation its only anecdotes.
    Play it like you mean it.

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  35. #69
    Registered User O. Apitius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    I certainly wouldn't mind if instruments got better over time, I have a few 40+ year old ones, but without a physical explanation its only anecdotes.
    I agree that without a physical explanation, time or playing or time+playing having a perceived affect on the tone of an instrument is only anecdotal. That doesn't prove that it does not exist, only that our currant understanding cannot detect any mechanism for this effect. When I was in high school (just after the earth cooled) I was taught that the atom was the smallest possible indivisible particle of matter.
    I also agree that a player warming up or getting to know an instrument will cause him or her to perceive that the instrument has "opened up". But in my 40+ years in the instrument making business I have, anecdotally, experienced an improvement in an instruments voice countless times. For example, occasionally, I will have an instrument come back to me from 20 years back for a set-up or fret job and at the very first notes I play (no warm up) I am pleasantly surprised at how the instrument sounds compared to my recollection and notes. Likewise, nearly all of my customers (including well known professionals) report an "opening up" of the sound of their instruments over time. Personally, I expect that most of this is due to the continuing curing of the finish, which apparently can be demonstrated to happen on a molecular level. Further to that, I also highly suspect a change in the structure of the wood over time. Why are people torrifying their tonewoods? Why do so many musicians hold that vintage instruments sound better than modern instruments especially given the higher levels of craftsmanship that many top makers are producing today?

    Yes, these things are all anecdotal and it is certainly healthy to be skeptical. I myself try to keep an open mind that is prepared to change with emerging evidence. (I don't believe there are any facts privy to humans, only closer, more accurate descriptions of physical reality) At this point in time, I see no convincing evidence that the vast majority of musicians are delusional, although that is a distinct possibility.

    I guess for now, I will just disagree and you can call me a romantic. I am only interested in making instruments that musicians like to play and so far, I have seen no one who uses a purely high level of scientific knowledge to guide their building, create an instrument that musicians find superior. It's great to see people who do delve deeply into this approach. I do learn things from their expended energy and I do respect there point of view.
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  37. #70
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Coming in late here, but I'm surprised that no one has brought up torrefication. Isn't that supposed to be a hastened 'aging' of the wood? My understanding is that is structurally changing the wood itself. Can you hear the difference of a mandolin that's made from torrefied wood?

    Another thought is that what might be heard is in a sense an aural illusion. Similar to the Moon Illusion, where the full moon appears larger when it's near the horizon, but can be fairly easily shown to be the same size as when it's high. There are theories about why this illusion occurs, but no definitive answer.

    In other words, it may not change the mandolin's sound, but you still hear it as such...

  38. #71
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    I certainly wouldn't mind if instruments got better over time, I have a few 40+ year old ones, but without a physical explanation its only anecdotes.
    Explanations are the icing on the cake, but lack of explanation doesn't make a phenomenon a mere anecdote.

    Eclipses of the Sun and of the Moon still took place, were just as genuine when the cause was unknown. In any case many of our explanations may be wrong, people in different time periods may have explained various phenomena such as earthquakes or tornadoes as being caused by the gods. But nevertheless the phenomena still took place, even with what we now regard as an incorrect explanation.

    Continental drift (plate tectonics) was something for which there was at one time no explanation, it was incorrectly dismissed - it still happened.

    One thing we can always do is to make observations, take measurements. That is the start.
    Last edited by Cobalt; Jun-04-2019 at 10:18am.

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  40. #72

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Yes, data.

    People thought the sun revolved around the earth until they had actual data.
    Play it like you mean it.

  41. #73
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Grieser View Post
    Can you point me to the scientific evidence that shows instruments don't change over time? I'm not aware of it.
    Nice try. There are no scientific studies showing that mandolins can't fly either.
    Indulge responsibly!

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  42. #74

    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    As evidence that the vast majority of musicians are delusional, I offer these links as evidence:
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/cgi-bin...lassifieds.cgi
    https://reverb.com/
    https://ebay.com/
    :-)

  43. #75
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    Default Re: Mandolin sound changing over time

    It's sounding as tho' some folks are a touch skeptical and thinking tone improvement can be totally subjective and otherwise in the heads of those who have heard the differences. Well, let's talk about volume. i posted earlier than when my Stanley was new the last 4 notes of the G strings dropped off significantly in volume and was noticed by John Hamlett and others. Some 2 1/2 - 3 years later all the strings came into balance and every time someone else plays it i'll ask and they give me a strange look and say something like "of course the volume is balanced across the strings; it's plain to hear and i'm surprised you're asking."

    Then there is the other Stanley that also had hot D strings (like mine) as noted by Don Julin. A few years later Don Grieser had it and testified the string volume was in balance.

    i remember reading an article about John Schofield talking about discounting a new mandolin because it sounded so bad and sometime later the owner brought it back and sounded like the world's best mandolin, so he never discounted another new mandolin.

    Well, maybe, just maybe some folks haven't experienced this and choose not to believe it until they do. i understand that and hope it will happen to them soon. But i've gotta tell all y'all that it happens with some mandolins and there are lots of credible pickers and builders who are here to tell ya. It would be nice if some folke like Gilchrist, Monteleone, Gruhn and Carter would add their experience, but i won't be holding my breath for the nay sayers to get the revelation. Just sayin'.

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