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Thread: Sawchyn for a newb?

  1. #1

    Question Sawchyn for a newb?

    Hey all!

    A bit of context first.
    Iíve been playing a rental Epiphone for the past couple weeks with the intention to see if I like the mandolin or not. Suffice to say Iím completely enamoured and obsessed with the instrument that I can barely put it down and I look forward everyday to come back home and play after work. This doesnít happen that often so I started looking for my very own instrument.

    I happened to come across a listing for a used Sawchyn beaver tail for 500 CAD. Now I realize that might be a steal, for a handmade instrument well loved by the community. Iíd have to drive 3 hours to check it out but I have the time to spare.

    My other option was to look around for a used Eastman 505.

    I havenít really played anything besides that Epiphone and would like to try out some instruments at the store myself. The main thing is that Iím not sure if I like the aesthetic of the Beaver Tail ( I really like dark woods and those sweet f holes).

    Should I put aesthetics aside with the hope that it might just grow on me and go for the better crafted instrument?

    Cheers!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    The Sawchyn Beavertail is a very nice, well made instrument. But it is a flat top oval hole. More specifically, it is a copy, more or less, of the Gibson ďArmy NavyĒ design, also known as the ďPancakeĒ. Now let me say upfront, you can play anything you want on any instrument you want. There are no genre police to stop you. However, there are a set of norms and expectations in our community. One big one is, for Bluegrass you need f holes and a carved arch top instrument. Those elements are considered necessary for the percussive attack that Bluegrass music demands. So, if you are interested in Bluegrass, the Beavertail would not be your cup of tea. If, on the other hand, you are interested primarily in folk, old-time, or even Celtic styles, you couldnít do better. The pancakes, generally, tend to be surprisingly loud and mid range focused. But they donít really have that woody ďthunkĒ bluegrassers look for. Hope this helps.

    Many of us who like an assortment of styles own more than one instrument for different purposes. Itís nice to have a flat top oval hole for when you want that sound. I own a Martin Style A flat top for that purpose. If you did buy the Beavertail, odds are you would find uses for it even if you eventually moved to a carved top f hole instrument.
    Don

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  4. #3
    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    Are you a bluegrasser? F holes are not an aesthetic difference, but if you're a beginner it shouldn't make too much difference for starting.
    Mandolin: Kentucky KM150
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  6. #4

    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gunnar View Post
    Are you a bluegrasser? F holes are not an aesthetic difference, but if you're a beginner it shouldn't make too much difference for starting.
    That makes total sense, and silly of me to just dismiss the different holes as purely aesthetic. I’m not interested in bluegrass but anything Irish and Nordic is what really entices me.

  7. #5

    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    The Sawchyn Beavertail is a very nice, well made instrument. But it is a flat top oval hole. More specifically, it is a copy, more or less, of the Gibson “Army Navy” design, also known as the “Pancake”. Now let me say upfront, you can play anything you want on any instrument you want. There are no genre police to stop you. However, there are a set of norms and expectations in our community. One big one is, for Bluegrass you need f holes and a carved arch top instrument. Those elements are considered necessary for the percussive attack that Bluegrass music demands. So, if you are interested in Bluegrass, the Beavertail would not be your cup of tea. If, on the other hand, you are interested primarily in folk, old-time, or even Celtic styles, you couldn’t do better. The pancakes, generally, tend to be surprisingly loud and mid range focused. But they don’t really have that woody “thunk” bluegrassers look for. Hope this helps.

    Many of us who like an assortment of styles own more than one instrument for different purposes. It’s nice to have a flat top oval hole for when you want that sound. I own a Martin Style A flat top for that purpose. If you did buy the Beavertail, odds are you would find uses for it even if you eventually moved to a carved top f hole instrument.
    Thank you so much for the exhaustive response! I am definitely more interested in Irish and Nordic folk so that has me reconsidering the Sawchyn.

    Since this is a used instrument are there any things you think I keep an eye out for before purchasing it?
    The instrument looks pretty new from the pictures I’ve seen but besides that I don’t really know any of the technicalities.
    Granted I will take it to a luthier to have it set up.

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    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    Quote Originally Posted by guavajam View Post
    Since this is a used instrument are there any things you think I keep an eye out for before purchasing it?
    The instrument looks pretty new from the pictures I’ve seen but besides that I don’t really know any of the technicalities.
    Granted I will take it to a luthier to have it set up.
    I started on a similar flattop in a Mid-Missouri M0 because for comparable money to a factory import I could afford a mandolin built in a small shop domestically. And even after sampling a number of others — a Gypsy Vagabond, a Flatiron 1N, and two Redline Travelers — I still have a Poe Scout pancake much like the Sawchyn Beavertail. They sound great and are fun to play, especially on the types of folk music that interest you.

    When examining a used instrument, I wouldn’t assume that it would need a setup if the current owner has sensibly maintained it since it left Peter’s bench. I’d look at the neck to make sure that it is straight without any twists, playing clean up the fretboard without any buzzes. I’d inspect the body for evidence of any damage or repairs, such as cracks from inadequate humidification or lacquer crazing. And I’d play it for a bit to determine if it was comfortable to my left hand and pleasing to my ear. But mainly, I’d go in expecting it to look good, play well, and sound great, and if it did, it would be making the three hour return journey home with me!
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  10. #7

    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    I started on a similar flattop in a Mid-Missouri M0 because for comparable money to a factory import I could afford a mandolin built in a small shop domestically. And even after sampling a number of others ó a Gypsy Vagabond, a Flatiron 1N, and two Redline Travelers ó I still have a Poe Scout pancake much like the Sawchyn Beavertail. They sound great and are fun to play, especially on the types of folk music that interest you.

    When examining a used instrument, I wouldnít assume that it would need a setup if the current owner has sensibly maintained it since it left Peterís bench. Iíd look at the neck to make sure that it is straight without any twists, playing clean up the fretboard without any buzzes. Iíd inspect the body for evidence of any damage or repairs, such as cracks from inadequate humidification or lacquer crazing. And Iíd play it for a bit to determine if it was comfortable to my left hand and pleasing to my ear. But mainly, Iíd go in expecting it to look good, play well, and sound great, and if it did, it would be making the three hour return journey home with me!
    Thank you so much for the info! Much appreciated.
    Here are some pictures for reference.

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    Last edited by guavajam; Aug-05-2019 at 1:43pm.

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  12. #8
    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    Yep, for those styles of music, the Sawchyn should be perfect, pheffernan pretty much nailed what to look for in a used instrument.
    Mandolin: Kentucky KM150
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    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    The pictures look mighty good, but of course nothing beats a hand on inspection.

    The main things to watch out for would be neck joint issues and a sinking top. The pictures of the neck joint look good to me though. If the top has an induced arch (I believe these do) and is properly braced, sinking should not be an issue. Just make sure the top looks slightly convex, not perfectly flat or concave. Some people try to string flattops too heavily. They should not have anything heavier than lights on them. Hopefully the present owner adhered to that.

    These retail now for 999 CAD. So the price to me is not exactly a steal, but on the low side of market value. Converted to US dollars, they go for about 750 new and your used price is about 390 US. About 60 percent of new so priced to move. They are sold with a padded gig bag. I would make sure that’s included. They are a little bit difficult to find an after market case for.
    Don

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    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    Quote Originally Posted by guavajam View Post
    Here are some pictures for reference.
    It looks really good. If you can buy it for the equivalent of $390 USD as Don suggests, then you will have secured a starter instrument that is truly a lifetime keeper even if you should decide to add an archtop down the road.
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    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    Another voice chipping in - yes, for Irish and Nordic music that would be an excellent instrument. I see a lot of Nordic players using flat tops.

    But, yes, play it first. And have the seller play it for you. That way you can hear the sound. If you like it, would recommend buying. But if it's just doesn't grab you, don't be afraid to walk away. There will always be others.
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  17. #12

    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    The pictures look mighty good, but of course nothing beats a hand on inspection.

    The main things to watch out for would be neck joint issues and a sinking top. The pictures of the neck joint look good to me though. If the top has an induced arch (I believe these do) and is properly braced, sinking should not be an issue. Just make sure the top looks slightly convex, not perfectly flat or concave. Some people try to string flattops too heavily. They should not have anything heavier than lights on them. Hopefully the present owner adhered to that.

    These retail now for 999 CAD. So the price to me is not exactly a steal, but on the low side of market value. Converted to US dollars, they go for about 750 new and your used price is about 390 US. About 60 percent of new so priced to move. They are sold with a padded gig bag. I would make sure that’s included. They are a little bit difficult to find an after market case for.
    I hear you. I'll definitely try to haggle and see what comes of it since apparently the instrument is about 8-10 years old although the guy doesn't play at all. Top seems okay to me but I'll take a look at other flat tops being sold at my local music shop to see how they are.

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    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    That is already selling for an excellent price. If it was me and you tried to haggle down an already great deal I’d just say I’ll sell it to someone else and move on.

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  20. #14

    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Platt View Post
    Another voice chipping in - yes, for Irish and Nordic music that would be an excellent instrument. I see a lot of Nordic players using flat tops.

    But, yes, play it first. And have the seller play it for you. That way you can hear the sound. If you like it, would recommend buying. But if it's just doesn't grab you, don't be afraid to walk away. There will always be others.
    Yeah, not giving in the pressure is definitely the hardest part.
    Thanks for the input by the way! I'm wondering if flat tops would be suitable for genres like Southern Gothic as well.

    I realize that there wouldn't be much difference to my untrained ears between a mandolin with f holes or an oval one but I thought I'd ask.

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    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    Quote Originally Posted by guavajam View Post
    I realize that there wouldn't be much difference to my untrained ears between a mandolin with f holes or an oval one but I thought I'd ask.
    I think your ears will hear quite a difference, not only between the holes (oval versus f) but the construction (flattop versus carved) as well. I suspect that it will sound louder and more open from behind the instrument and marked by increased sustain regardless of position.
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  23. #16

    Default Re: Sawchyn for a newb?

    The thing about the f-hole vs round-hole, carved vs flattop suitability argument is that is that it doesn’t go both ways. There is definitely a bluegrass sound achieved easiest with a carved-top with f-holes. (But you wouldn’t be shamed out of a BG circle if you were playing an F-4, the classic Gibson oval-hole variant of the F-5.)

    But speaking as a primarily Celtic style player, f-holes do not stop you from producing great Celtic sounds and are sometimes preferable. I’ve gone back and forth but I generally go to sessions with my 505. It depends what you mean by Celtic (or Irish or trad or whatever you care to call it) music: if you like the ethereal sound of the slower airs and songs, or want a certain lilt (sustain) when you play a jig, the oval-hole is your best bet. (Flat or carved top, I actually have no overwhelming preference. Carved tops don’t necessarily sound objectively better, they are objectively pricier though. I go instrument-by-instrument to find what I like.)

    BUT if like me you run with a hard crowd of apparently over-caffeinated fiddlers, a bluegrass-style instrument is designed for the aggressive playing style you need to keep up. It can be just the ticket for those marathon reel sets.

    To illustrate the point, I had always wanted a nice carved oval-hole mando so I got one, and played it for a few years. It was a disappointing experience. When I tried to bear down on the fast and furious reels, it wouldn’t sound a note until I was onto the next one; the initial response (attack) wasn’t there. Neither was the volume. It had a sound best described as “pretty”. Would have been fine if I was playing Ren-faire “O’Carolan’s Concerto” stuff all the time, but I wasn’t. And I went through strings like, um, a hi-hoe drivng over a bunch of Gibson Firebird X’s.

    Ten years ago I got a carefully-chosen Eastman 505 and (one partial fret job later) it’s still what I play 90% of the time. In Celtic sessions and my pub band.

    I’m looking for a Sawchyn Beavertail too though, or equivalent. (Like a Northfield Calhoun.)

    They’re all good. Different kinds of good.

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