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Thread: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

  1. #1
    Registered User CWRoyds's Avatar
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    Default Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Hey All,

    I went down to Gryphon in Palo Alto yesterday to test out the Ellis F5 Fern they have in currently.
    I have never played an Ellis, so I had to go.
    I brought my Northfield Artist 5Bar to test against it, so I could get a really idea of how they differ.
    I find that unless an instrument you know well is present, it is really hard to know how an instrument rates.

    I have to say this Ellis is a stunning thing in person.
    It is used (2015), but is basically mint.
    There are no scratches, and the finish is perfect.
    The construction is flawless..
    The sunburst on the back is a little more orange than I like, but it was perfection in execution, and the front is an amazing piece of wood, with an amazing sunburst finish. .
    Just a stunning finish job.

    The tone is very traditional bluegrass, sharp and clear.
    It is pretty dry sounding, in a good way.
    It has a nice clunk and woody thump when played.
    It is very even in tone and power going up the neck, and the high frets are bright and clear.
    Simply an awesome mandolin, by any standard.

    I sat in a room there with my Northfield on one side and the Ellis on the other, and I switched between playing similar things on each in succession.
    My Northfield was a bit louder generally, but it is a particularly loud mandolin.
    The Northfield has a more resonant full tone, but the Ellis had that amazing bluegrass sparkle to the tone. It is sharper in tone than the Northfield, which would help cut through a bluegrass band.
    The Ellis chop was awesome, but not quite as round and woofy as my Northfield.

    The Ellis is very fun to play, and double stops are especially clear and bright.
    Notes up the neck ring out.
    I think all the courses are nicely balanced with each other.
    When I first sat down with the Ellis I was a tiny bit disappointed, but after about five minutes of playing it really started to liven up and sparkle. It relaxed and started sounding great.

    If someone wants a stunning bluegrass axe, this could be the one for you.
    Just amazing to look at, and a beautiful thing to play.

    For my personal taste, I actually like my Northfield's tone a little better, as it has a warm resonance and fuller rounded tone, and it was noticeably louder than the Ellis.
    BUT if you desire a dry and brilliant Bluegrass tone, go check the Ellis out.
    You will love it.

    I really enjoyed visiting the shop and had nice conversations with the guys there about the instruments. They were happy to let my play anything that struck my fancy. I like stores that don't mind you playing the good stuff.

    I thought the Northfield Octave Archtop they had in there was a monster. Beautiful HUGE tone. It is surprising how much tone shoots out of those. It is smaller than I had imagine, and super easy to play. I would love to have that instrument.
    The Northfield NF-F2S Oval hole was pretty impressive too. It is a bit different in tone to something like an old Gibson F4. It seemed somewhere inbetween an F5 and an F4 in tone. You could easily use it for bluegrass.
    I also liked the Calhoun, although I don't really gravitate to that type of mandolin sound. It is more like a pancake style in tone. Then again, for that kind of tone, it was surprisingly loud and resonant. A very cool instrument if you like the Big Muddy kind of thing.

    Anyhoo, just relating the trip to Gryphon to those who care to hear.
    Cool store, nice people, and very cool instruments.
    I have some pics below, but you can get a better look at the Ellis at the Gryphon link below.

    https://shop.gryphonstrings.com/prod...ial-fern-56549


    Click image for larger version. 

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    Mandolins: Northfield 5-Bar Artist Model "Old Dog", J Bovier F5 Special, Gibson A-00 (1940)
    Fiddles: 1920s Strad copy, 1930s Strad copy, Liu Xi T20, Liu Xi T19+ Dark.
    Guitars: Taylor 514c (1995), Gibson Southern Jumbo (1940s), Gibson L-48 (1940s), Les Paul Custom (1978), Fender Strat (Black/RWFB) (1984), Fender Strat (Candy Apple Red/MFB) (1985).
    Sitars: Hiren Roy KP (1980s), Naskar (1970s), Naskar (1960s).
    Misc: 8 Course Lute (L.K.Brown)

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  3. #2
    Registered User lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Thanks for the info and pics!
    2017 Collings MT (Gloss Top, Wide Nut)
    1999 Ratliff R-5
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  5. #3

    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Getting low on strings, so time for a Gryphon run. I figure buying strings and accessories there is rent for the hours of fun trying out instruments. I never ask to play stuff behind glass. I still remember when Collings broke the 3k barrier for new guitars. That's how long I've been a customer. Guess I've bought six or seven instruments over the years.
    Silverangel A
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  6. #4
    Registered User CWRoyds's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    Getting low on strings, so time for a Gryphon run. I figure buying strings and accessories there is rent for the hours of fun trying out instruments. I never ask to play stuff behind glass. I still remember when Collings broke the 3k barrier for new guitars. That's how long I've been a customer. Guess I've bought six or seven instruments over the years.
    You should play whatever you wish.
    They are happy to let you.
    Just ask. It is worth it.
    I just walked up and said, “I am here to try out the Ellis”.
    They said, “great. Here you go”.
    Mandolins: Northfield 5-Bar Artist Model "Old Dog", J Bovier F5 Special, Gibson A-00 (1940)
    Fiddles: 1920s Strad copy, 1930s Strad copy, Liu Xi T20, Liu Xi T19+ Dark.
    Guitars: Taylor 514c (1995), Gibson Southern Jumbo (1940s), Gibson L-48 (1940s), Les Paul Custom (1978), Fender Strat (Black/RWFB) (1984), Fender Strat (Candy Apple Red/MFB) (1985).
    Sitars: Hiren Roy KP (1980s), Naskar (1970s), Naskar (1960s).
    Misc: 8 Course Lute (L.K.Brown)

  7. #5
    Registered User Glassweb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Hey CW, by any chance to you get to play the Northfield A5 Special that they have (had?) on their listings? Thanks!

  8. #6
    Registered User CWRoyds's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Quote Originally Posted by Glassweb View Post
    Hey CW, by any chance to you get to play the Northfield A5 Special that they have (had?) on their listings? Thanks!
    I will be very sad if it was there and I missed it.
    I had planned to go down just to check that one out, but forgot.
    If it is still there, then I missed it...
    Mandolins: Northfield 5-Bar Artist Model "Old Dog", J Bovier F5 Special, Gibson A-00 (1940)
    Fiddles: 1920s Strad copy, 1930s Strad copy, Liu Xi T20, Liu Xi T19+ Dark.
    Guitars: Taylor 514c (1995), Gibson Southern Jumbo (1940s), Gibson L-48 (1940s), Les Paul Custom (1978), Fender Strat (Black/RWFB) (1984), Fender Strat (Candy Apple Red/MFB) (1985).
    Sitars: Hiren Roy KP (1980s), Naskar (1970s), Naskar (1960s).
    Misc: 8 Course Lute (L.K.Brown)

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  10. #7

    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Quote Originally Posted by CWRoyds View Post
    You should play whatever you wish.
    They are happy to let you.
    Just ask. It is worth it.
    I just walked up and said, “I am here to try out the Ellis”.
    They said, “great. Here you go”.
    Sure you can play anything at Gryphon, especially since I'm known there, but knowing what that prewar D 18 sounds like would do me more damage than good. Right now I can play all the Collings, go home and be relatively happy with what I've got. I fear trying the Ellis would be pushing my luck.

    I know plenty would disagree with my view of things, but it keeps me out of trouble. I generally do not play instruments I have no hope of owning. I will play a Collings MF5 when a Deluxe would be a stretch. Beyond that, I don't want to know.

    Last time I screwed up and picked up what I thought was a beat up old J45 at Sylvan. Well it was a beat up J 35 circa 1939. Sent me on a quest for that tone that I could afford. A fool's errand, but I did end up with my 65 Epiphone Texan. Close enough, but that J 35 still haunts me.
    Silverangel A
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    I just looked and that Northfield A5 Special appears sold. At least it's not on line, which it had been while in stock.

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  13. #9

    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    This is just pure speculation on my part, but I think Gryphon targets price segments with certain brands. I've never seen Northfield F style artists there. I think they order Northfield to bridge the mid price point between Eastman and Collings. They stock Eastman mandolins and some archtops and electrics, but few Eastman flat tops. Maybe they want to keep their Taylor volume up, or maybe they think Taylor makes a better $1000 guitar. Same thing might be going on with Collings mandolins. Maybe they don't want to carry Northridge's 6k mandolins due to inventory costs and choose to have a great Collings variety instead.

    Anyway, they usually have an F5s and a Big Mon, and perhaps an oval. Of course it could be their customers have dictated what makes business sense to carry.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

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    Registered User tbown's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    CW, Your assesment is right in line with what I experience between my own Ellis and Northfield. My Ellis is a "Tradition" with a torrified top. The Traditions are modeled after David Grisman's Loar "Crusher" and it definately has that "sparkle" (some refer to it as "sizzle"). Whatever it is, the Ellis is made for bluegrass for sure. My Northfield Artist (also a 5 bar englemann) is more resonant and rounded in tone. I find myself A/B'ing them all the time.
    ========================
    2012 Gibson F5 Master Model
    2019 Northfield F5 Artist 5 Bar
    2019 4.0 Northfield F5 (being built)
    2019 Northfield Arched Octave Maple

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  17. #11

    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Stores will get stuff and give their regular customers a heads up. I’ve bought plenty of instruments that never made it to the store’s websites. So, the Artist models may just come in and go out.
    Good Advice: Play before you pay, and know your product and your market.

  18. #12

    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Quote Originally Posted by Glassweb View Post
    Hey CW, by any chance to you get to play the Northfield A5 Special that they have (had?) on their listings? Thanks!
    I played that A5 with every intention of buying it. I have a Northfield M but I fell in love with all the figure and polish of the A5. I brought my M with me for the audition. I spent quite a while with the A5 that day. I found the neck significantly less comfortable than my M, and the tone wasn’t nearly as complex and resonant as my M. I left the store simultaneously sad and happy that day. Sad because I was ready to spend the $ for that sparkling beauty (and it was/is gorgeous) but happy that I realized I already owned the mandolin that satisfies me in all the most important ways.
    "Well, I don't know much about bands but I do know you can't make a living selling big trombones, no sir. Mandolin picks, perhaps..."

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  20. #13
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    I never ask to play stuff behind glass.
    I don't either.

    When I was there with a buddy a couple of weeks ago, the Ellis was on the wall behind the repair counter. Instead of glass, there was a human and a counter between the mandodrooler and the mandolin. Somehow, that didn't bother me as much. I asked if I could play it, and maybe because we go there every few months, I was handed it, but with a warning to be careful with it. I was surprised by that, but they basically were handing me a $10K bill, so ...

    I LOVED it!!! My wallet didn't, though, which is the only reason why the Ellis is still at Gryphon.
    still trying to turn dreams into memories

  21. #14

    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Slightly off topic, but the salesman's warning to be careful made me think of two things...

    Not that anyone would intentionally damage a fine instrument, but accidents happen. I can hear my dear ol' daddy saying, "son, that's why they carry insurance...."

    Which brings me to my other pet peeve -- stores that post signs to the effect of "you break it, you bought it" -- is that even legal? Or, just a bully tactic? Again, the question of a business being insured comes to mind..........

  22. #15
    F5G & MD305 Astro's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Yeah those signs rub me the wrong way but might help caution kids/teens that come in and pick up everything.

    On the other hand, for a small proprietor to have to file an insurance claim for some type of damage to a two thousand dollar instrument is probably just not worth the hassle or the money. He probably just eats it. All the forms and rigamarole to file the claim and then watch your rates go up because of it. Insurance companies are not going to loose money because of your accident. They make it up on you next time. They dont reimburse you, they loan the loss to you and you pay them back later with interest and forever.
    No matter where I go, there I am...Unless I'm running a little late.

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  24. #16

    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Try getting insurance or being able to get another policy after filing a few claims. Those signs put everyone on notice, and if they are not enforceable, criminal damage is still a crime. Depending on what state the store is in, the penalties are real. It would be less hassle to just pay for the instrument than to have to hire an attorney, go to court, etc.

    Stores have insurance to reduce their risk from theft and other catastrophic events, not to insure against customer damage. That’s a real misconception.
    Good Advice: Play before you pay, and know your product and your market.

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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Not to mention many stores are in business because of their love and respect of musical instruments and their builders. Part of that friendly reminder may simple have come come from their admiration of that Ellis F5. Sure they can be repaired or replaced, but that's not always the whole point. Crafted acoustic instruments aren't a sack of oats (although many may love and respect them too. . . )

    I don't mind that type of reminder at store at all. Shows me that they care about the craft. And I'm not perfect, and sometimes when I'm in a hurry and/or a store is crowded I simply don't mind a reminder.

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  28. #18

    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    I have had to hand Richard, one of Gryphon's proprietors, a Taylor 800 series guitar with thirty fingernail divots in the top. He told me he knew exactly who had done it. It was a busy Saturday and he got distracted before he could tell the guy not to play his percussive style on it. I asked him what would happen to the guitar. He said they would fill and polish the divots so as to be unnoticeable, then hang it on the used wall at used prices. So people having no regard for the property of others is part of the deal.

    Assuming people will be carefull is not realistic. The fact that anyone can ask to play anything in Gryphon and most other good stores and not be denied is a privilege not to be taken lightly.

    But I believe maybe I'll break my rule and play that Ellis, knowing full well I'll regret it.
    Silverangel A
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Br1ck, re the Ellis:

    I suspect you will, but you won't. . .

  30. #20

    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Brick, that's a heavy hit, regarding the Taylor. Like others have said, you can't file an insurance claim on every little thing, so the store eats the cost. I had an employer years ago use the expression, "that's the cost of doing business" or something close.....

    The implication being that hopefully you make out on the other aspects of the business and overall it is still worth being in business for. Like the time someone sells a $5000 instrument for $800, because they need $800 bucks to pay a bill..... I once told a former employer "you got lucky on that sale!" his reply was surprising, he said, "if I don't get lucky a couple times a month, I'd be out of business!"

    It's no picnic, but I guess it evens out.....

  31. #21
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    The top damage thing happened to me when I was selling guitars, I got distracted and a sales rep took an Alvarez Yairi D-18 down and simply beat the crap out of the thing, the store owner came back from the bank just as I was finishing with my other customer.
    He gave it about 20 seconds and told the rep to pack his “Stuff” and go! The guy gave him a strange look which was answered with “ take a look at the top of that guitar.” Followed by a return to the office. Five minutes later the guy came back and wrote out a check! I think it was something like $1500.00 back then.
    That was the most uncomfortable I have ever been in a sales situation. Terrible way to sell a guitar but, the guy did simply thrash the stuffing out of it!
    I will never forget that whole incident.
    We did not buy the guys line!
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

  32. #22

    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Never overestimate the cluelessness of a small portion of the population when it comes to consideration. If you have to ask permission, it puts you in a mindset of carefulness regardless of the necessity.

    A lot of Gryphon's inventory is either behind a counter, behind a rope, or up high with a please ask for assistance sign. At another store, Sylvan in Santa Cruz, they need to get a ladder to reach the mandolins. At either store they have cheerfully handed me whatever I wanted to play. They do after all, want to sell you some. But I think it is never bad to be made cognizent you have something of value trusted to your care.
    Silverangel A
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  33. #23

    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    Several years ago I was sampling mandolins at The Podium in Minneapolis, (now closed), and the owner asked me to be extra careful as the previous weekend they had been very busy, and later found damage done to multiple instruments totaling $15,000!!
    They always had a large assortment of high end instruments, so I imagine repairing even minor dings and scratches was costly.

    Just think of the impact on the shop owners overhead/profit for a day like that.

    Don't forget to be conscious of your belt buckle, shirt buttons and such too.

  34. #24
    Registered User CWRoyds's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    I have no problem with a store asking me to be careful with a $10,000 instrument.
    When they gave me the Ellis, and led me to a room I could play it in, The guy just said, "We only ask that you place it face down on the strings if you place it down to test against your mandolin, and just please be careful with it".
    I assured them that I have a lot of nice instruments and always treat them with respect.

    I say the same thing to people who want to try out my instruments.
    I just ask they wash their hands, and that they be careful.
    I also don't let them play in a chair with arms, as chair arms are the nemesis of the backs of instruments.

    It is the same if I let someone drive my Ferrari, if I had one.
    "Have fun, but just be careful"
    Mandolins: Northfield 5-Bar Artist Model "Old Dog", J Bovier F5 Special, Gibson A-00 (1940)
    Fiddles: 1920s Strad copy, 1930s Strad copy, Liu Xi T20, Liu Xi T19+ Dark.
    Guitars: Taylor 514c (1995), Gibson Southern Jumbo (1940s), Gibson L-48 (1940s), Les Paul Custom (1978), Fender Strat (Black/RWFB) (1984), Fender Strat (Candy Apple Red/MFB) (1985).
    Sitars: Hiren Roy KP (1980s), Naskar (1970s), Naskar (1960s).
    Misc: 8 Course Lute (L.K.Brown)

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  36. #25
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    Default Re: Ellis F5 Fern at Gryphon

    At (Seattle/Bellevue) Wintergrass, Pava K was mostly answering questions in their booth, they also had Andrew Mowry and Austin Clark showing mandolins in the makers' room. That was a roomful of great instruments. I made a mental note to get back to Gryphon, Sylvan Santa Cruz, Gelb, Shoenberg, Bananas, amazing grace, some of the other great shops in the area.
    The Keepers: Kentucky km900, looking for next one
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