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Thread: General Mandolin Post

  1. #1
    2TonCommon
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    Default General Mandolin Post

    Hello everyone.
    I was really reluctant about this post but decided to take a stab at it. Hopefully it will come out alright without me offending everyone in the Cafť.
    I've been an avid reader for some time now and am extremely impressed with the knowledge and expertise found here. Everyone has been very gracious, (with one rude exception), and helpful with their advice and opinions. All in all, an exceptional forum.
    I have never offered up an opinion/advice as I feel it is better left to the people who know what they're talking about. Well, here's my first and probably only opinion piece I'll ever write.
    Recently I posted a question in the Builders/repair section and was given very excellent advice by well-schooled and polite members. However, I've been giving a lot of thought lately to what appears to me as a collective attitude concerning Mandolins. NOTE: I may be totally off-base. So take this with some level of skepticism.
    When I started paying Guitar/banjo/mandolin in 1970 I never remember ever discussing the finer points of the instrument. If it sounded good and was fairly easy to play, well, you just went with it. Of course, there were no forums or computers for that matter back then. If there was a problem, we usually did our best to fix it ourselves and kept on playing.
    Now, I'm reading more and more of the need to have a "perfect" instrument. Measurements in the thousanths, tearing down and basically rebuilding the instrument etc. Granted, the instruments of today are pricey compared to the $800.00 I would pay for a new Gibson RB-800 5 string back then. Same with Martin.
    But,do you really need to have everything 100%perfect with a mandolin/guitar/banjo to have it sound good? What if, like me, you live in a climate that makes it impossible to ever have the perfect instrument. Or, there is no luthier within a reasonable driving distance to take care of tweaking. Franckly, I can't afford to send a mandolin out for adjustment every time there's a slight bend, bow, buzz etc. As we did 50 years ago, you took care of it the best you could. Yes, time changes things, but this leaves me scratching my head sometimes. If it sounds good, plays good and doesn't fly apart in your hands - is there really a need to sweat the small stuff?
    I hope this doesn't come across as negative(it's not) but I get terrified when I read about all the procedures you need done to have a "playable" instrument.
    Hell, I played Great Highland Bagpipes for over 25 years in upstate NY and Canada and remember using duct tape to hold things together for 5 mile parades. The pipes never sounded better. Same with flute, Uillean and Northumbrian pipes.
    Anyway, I absolutely enjoy and take to heart the advice here - it's insightful and useful.
    Just wondering how far to take it.

    Thanks for your attention and time,
    as always- warmest regards,
    Joe
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    Alas, it was to none but me."


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  3. #2
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    As in everything when talking to builders and luthiers and mandolin fan boys people will always get beat case I d empty how to make it perfect advice. In the end it is up to the individual to take it as far as they want. If you get it to a point you are happy with tone and playability and no know future Seuss with they way it is then all is good. But if you don’t know all the steps how can you beat judge how far you want to take it? When I fixed medical equipment the saying was knowledge is power and bleach is my friend. At least half of that applies when working on instruments.
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    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    One other thing, sometimes comments may come off as rude but really aren’t and sometimes comments come off as not rude but really we’re. You just can’t tell intent that well on a written forum.
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    I was one who wanted the instrument to be setup well. A well setup instrument plays easier and allows one to play better. I am older and have some issues with my hands and yes I carry tools to adjust my mandolin sometimes between songs on stage if I have to. I keep my action just so and can play better when it is right. I would like for everyone to have their instrument "just right" and have the enjoyment that I derive from the ease of playing it that way. Now when I was younger and full of p__s and vinegar I didn't worry as much about the action and played hard and had enough strength to still play fast and accurate. I am well past those days and want to help any who ask to be able to have the setup I have learned to achieve. Enjoy the cafe, it is a great place with a ton of wonderful folks eager to help all who ask.
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Just from personal experience, when I ask a question, I expect a complete (and honest) answer. Now, honesty can be situational, and complete has different meanings depending on who you ask.

    If you ask someone whose livelihood and reputation are dependent on complete, specific and, well, perfect answers how to do something, you'll get one answer. If you ask someone else who merely knows in a general way how things go, you'll get another. And both will be right. It depends on who is asking the question, what they asked, what they want to know -- what they need to know -- as to which answer is better. If you want to build a specific replica of a specific mandolin, then you actually do need all the little details or it isn't what you want. If all you need to know is how to turn a truss rod, then the simplest answer will be the best. And arguing perfection vs "good enough" is what civilized people with a dedicated interest and the time to do it do for entertainment. And they can get pretty hot about it. But that doesn't mean their opinion is anything other than their opinion. It works for them. It might not work for you.

    I think, because this is a site for people who are interested in mandolins and you're asking something on the builder's forum, there's an assumption you want as much of the nitty gritty as someone can give you. People answering the question make an assumption that perfection is what you're after or striving for or whatever. And if perfection is their goal, than perfection is what they emphasize. OTOH, some of the answers in some of the other topic forums are a lot more like "if it works, good on you and enjoy." I particularly recall a string (because I know the poster) about fingering. This guy preferred to use his own fingering over the standard classic kind of thing -- you know, two frets per finger, finger A on string B to play note C etc. etc. Why, he asked, couldn't he play whatever finger suited him on whatever fret on whatever string? And the general consensus was "whatever floats your boat."

    You can check out all the strings that ask whether, why and when to upgrade. The general answer is if you can't tell the difference, what you have is fine. If you're someone who works with what you have and it works fine, then you can look at the more finicky answer and say "nice" and move on. Someone else reading the string might benefit from the discussion even if you are taking a different path. It's all good.
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  10. #6
    2TonCommon
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    One other thing, sometimes comments may come off as rude but really aren’t and sometimes comments come off as not rude but really we’re. You just can’t tell intent that well on a written forum.
    Well said. Point taken, thanks.
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  11. #7
    2TonCommon
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    I was one who wanted the instrument to be setup well. A well setup instrument plays easier and allows one to play better. I am older and have some issues with my hands and yes I carry tools to adjust my mandolin sometimes between songs on stage if I have to. I keep my action just so and can play better when it is right. I would like for everyone to have their instrument "just right" and have the enjoyment that I derive from the ease of playing it that way. Now when I was younger and full of p__s and vinegar I didn't worry as much about the action and played hard and had enough strength to still play fast and accurate. I am well past those days and want to help any who ask to be able to have the setup I have learned to achieve. Enjoy the cafe, it is a great place with a ton of wonderful folks eager to help all who ask.
    Almost sounds like we're related:-) Thanks.
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  12. #8
    2TonCommon
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Quote Originally Posted by Randi Gormley View Post
    Just from personal experience, when I ask a question, I expect a complete (and honest) answer. Now, honesty can be situational, and complete has different meanings depending on who you ask.

    If you ask someone whose livelihood and reputation are dependent on complete, specific and, well, perfect answers how to do something, you'll get one answer. If you ask someone else who merely knows in a general way how things go, you'll get another. And both will be right. It depends on who is asking the question, what they asked, what they want to know -- what they need to know -- as to which answer is better. If you want to build a specific replica of a specific mandolin, then you actually do need all the little details or it isn't what you want. If all you need to know is how to turn a truss rod, then the simplest answer will be the best. And arguing perfection vs "good enough" is what civilized people with a dedicated interest and the time to do it do for entertainment. And they can get pretty hot about it. But that doesn't mean their opinion is anything other than their opinion. It works for them. It might not work for you.

    I think, because this is a site for people who are interested in mandolins and you're asking something on the builder's forum, there's an assumption you want as much of the nitty gritty as someone can give you. People answering the question make an assumption that perfection is what you're after or striving for or whatever. And if perfection is their goal, than perfection is what they emphasize. OTOH, some of the answers in some of the other topic forums are a lot more like "if it works, good on you and enjoy." I particularly recall a string (because I know the poster) about fingering. This guy preferred to use his own fingering over the standard classic kind of thing -- you know, two frets per finger, finger A on string B to play note C etc. etc. Why, he asked, couldn't he play whatever finger suited him on whatever fret on whatever string? And the general consensus was "whatever floats your boat."

    You can check out all the strings that ask whether, why and when to upgrade. The general answer is if you can't tell the difference, what you have is fine. If you're someone who works with what you have and it works fine, then you can look at the more finicky answer and say "nice" and move on. Someone else reading the string might benefit from the discussion even if you are taking a different path. It's all good.
    Sage advice. Thank you.
    "Of all the harm that ere' I've done,
    Alas, it was to none but me."


    Goodnight and Joy be to you all!

  13. #9
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Quote Originally Posted by 2TonCommon View Post
    ...But,do you really need to have everything 100%perfect with a mandolin/guitar/banjo to have it sound good?
    IMHO, no.

    Hell, I played Great Highland Bagpipes for over 25 years in upstate NY and Canada and remember using duct tape to hold things together for 5 mile parades. The pipes never sounded better. Same with flute, Uillean and Northumbrian pipes...
    Just remember what Oscar Wilde said about the bagpipes: "Thank God there's no smell!"

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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    If you’re happy with it, then play it. There are professionals here whose livelihoods and professional pride depends on them having everything perfect. And they are very generous in showing us how they do it. I am very grateful for that. However as a professional musician sometimes I have to put up with something less than perfect. Strings break, scratches neck needs adjusting halfway though a show and no tool to do that. Very few people will ask to check therelief on your instrument. For example.

    Accept everyone for who they are here. There are members who are very pedantic re terminology and those who use words that’s theybsee fit. As far as I’ve seen there’s very little real rancour or meanness.

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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    More than other instruments I have played, mandolin seems to respond to thousandths of an inch. I think it's size has a lot to do with this. No, you don't have to have it perfect, but why wouldn't you if you could?

    There is more and more information on the net all the time, which fuels the desire to do this and that, and you can certainly get more performance from a cheaper instrument if you seat the bridge correctly, have your nut cut correctly and do some fret leveling. The more expensive mandolins need much less of this. It's already been done.

    My grandmother preferred to go fishing with a string on a branch, ten feet of line, a hook and a float. Had just as good a time as anyone.You could just buy a mandolin and play it. If it plays ok, and sounds ok, I'm not going to tell anyone not to.

    But I like to use a sharp knife better than a dull one, so have learned to sharpen knives. Learned to set up my mandolin too.

    I know what I need to about wine. I like it or I don't. Others have studied wine for years. I prefer to stydy mandolins. YMMV
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  19. #12
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    There is no need to feel driven into perfectionism just because others talk about it.

    However, if the feeling arises anyway, it might originate from something else missing or not good enough in reality, just that it's not the instrument. Therefore, the forum may still serve as an incentive to find out what causes this desire to run with the pack and assert yourself instead of contendedly be your own one-man pack.
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    For my quick 2-cents . . .

    Opinions and advice are great - but It's YOUR mandolin - so in the end YOU decide what plays, feels and sounds right to YOU.

    Play, learn and enjoy!

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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    The truth of the matter is it can't be perfect, nothing is. Also true most of the adjustments after a certain point is not an improvement really it is in the players head. My dad was one of the best banjo players I've heard though he wouldn't play in a professional band because he wanted to be home with his wife and family. We played in a local gospel BG band together the last 15 years of his life, anyway I remember a discussion once where several banjo players were talking set up and tuning the head to a certain pitch was mentioned. Dad was asked since his banjo always sounded great what note did he "tune" his head to. Dad answered I always tighten it to one quarter turn before she bust. That's my philosophy on setting up a mandolin.yes intonation can be off to the point that you can't tune it, frets can be so wrong that you can't stop them from buzzing,nut can be so high that you can't note it but this worrying constantly for perfection that doesn't exist is too much for me. I have fun playing my mandolin not working on it.JMHO

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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Back in the day, (before the internet) monado-centric information and camaraderie were very hard to find. My life line was a publication called Mandolin World News. It came out quarterly and contained what we all get from this site, info, opinion, playing tips, enthusiasm, perfectionism, support...

    I used to read each issue like six times, and excitedly await the next issue.

    For me, and for many, this site takes over the place of Mandolin World News in my life.

    My point is there were, I think, always perfectionists and finicky enthusiasts, and all that, it was just a lot harder to find each other.

    I think also there is a tendency to think all mandolinners are on this site. In reality, I doubt whether most mandolin players check in here or read the site. Most of the players I have met are not here, a few are. It is a quirky group to be sure, but I don't think it necessarily representative, or even an balanced cross section of mandolinning.

    There has always been a lunatic perfectionist detail oriented mando-enthusiast fringe. It was never all the mandolin players, and isn't today, but hanging here it just seems that way.
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  27. #16
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    The truth of the matter is it can't be perfect, nothing is. Also true most of the adjustments after a certain point is not an improvement really it is in the players head. My dad was one of the best banjo players I've heard though he wouldn't play in a professional band because he wanted to be home with his wife and family. We played in a local gospel BG band together the last 15 years of his life, anyway I remember a discussion once where several banjo players were talking set up and tuning the head to a certain pitch was mentioned. Dad was asked since his banjo always sounded great what note did he "tune" his head to. Dad answered I always tighten it to one quarter turn before she bust. That's my philosophy on setting up a mandolin.yes intonation can be off to the point that you can't tune it, frets can be so wrong that you can't stop them from buzzing,nut can be so high that you can't note it but this worrying constantly for perfection that doesn't exist is too much for me. I have fun playing my mandolin not working on it.JMHO
    Interesting story. In all those years I played a TB it never occurred to me to tune the head since it would be out of harmony with the majority of notes I played anyway. Talking about impossible perfection...
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    As in everything when talking to builders and luthiers and mandolin fan boys people will always get beat case I d empty how to make it perfect advice. In the end it is up to the individual to take it as far as they want. If you get it to a point you are happy with tone and playability and no know future Seuss with they way it is then all is good. But if you don’t know all the steps how can you beat judge how far you want to take it? When I fixed medical equipment the saying was knowledge is power and bleach is my friend. At least half of that applies when working on instruments.
    Mod please feel free to delete post #2 I should not post in the middle of the night from my phone, apparently! I promise no alcohol was involved with the writing of that travesty. Apologies!
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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    Mod please feel free to delete post #2 I should not post in the middle of the night from my phone, apparently! I promise no alcohol was involved with the writing of that travesty. Apologies!
    Just when I was wondering about cool new grammar I didn't know before
    But we don't want to be perfectionists, do we?
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Perfection can only be aspired to, never attained.

    Now that that philosophical statement has been thrown into the breech we can get on with it.

    I have never really felt I needed a 15K instrument what I have has served me well and I’d never cast it aside. However, if I were in a situation where I could obtain the mandolin of my highest regard without suffering any hardship, I would be very happy.
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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    It's just like photo gear. Does it make a difference to have a 42 megapixel sensor and perfect lenses that cost $3000?
    Yes, it does.
    Could you actually pick out the difference between that fancy pro setup and a $500 reasonably spec'd modern camera, from an Instagram post or from a 8x10 print? Nope, 99% of people couldn't.

    Use what you have, enjoy it, and focus on the things that have real value. Enjoyment of the music and of time together with people making music.

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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Joe, Iím the one who brought up thousands of an inch, and if that put you off Iím sorry. But the truth is that using feeler gauges to measure string action and relief has been standard operating procedure for many years now, in the factories and in repair shops. This includes all fretted instruments, not just mandolins. But the point was brought up in an earlier post about mandolins being much more finicky because of the size.

    I think you are spot on about taking care of problems for yourself, and not running to the luthier for every little thing. I believe every player should learn to adjust their own action and relief. If you get that set up e-book by our member Rob Meldrum, youíll learn a ton. And itís free, all you have to do is ask him for it.

    Naturally there was a time when very few people had feeler gauges. What did they do? Old timers used to say a dime at the first fret and a nickel at the twelfth. Truth is, though, thatís quite high. A dime is .053Ē and a nickel is .077Ē. Your first fret should be more like .020, or in that neighborhood. A business card is a good gauge for that. The twelfth fret should be around .060Ē. So a dime is too thin, a nickel too thick. Now, if the nickel just slips under the strings at fret 14, that might be good. Some use picks of different thicknesses for feeler gauges. Theyíre usually gauged in millimeters, so you have to convert. For example, a .5 mm pick (pretty thin) equals pretty close to the .020Ē youíre looking for at first fret.

    But why improvise at all, when a set of feeler gauges costs less than 10 dollars at any auto parts store, or $3.99 if you happen to have a nearby Harbor Freight? Itís an inexpensive item I believe every player should have if they want to adjust their own instrument, which they should. And itís a good idea to record the measurements of your instrument when itís the way you like it. That way, if something changes, you know where to go back to. You should record action at 1st fret, action at 12th, and relief at 7th.

    Different people like their mandolin set up different ways. I bought a Weber mandolin from a store where the luthier/owner messed with the factory set up and it was way too high for me. When I pointed it out he said he did that because ďthatís how the bluegrassers like itĒ. I asked him to return it to factory specs, which he graciously did, and I ended up buying the mandolin. I would have passed on it otherwise.

    Again, Iím sorry if I came off as overly fussy. And of course I know perfection is not possible. But why not try to make your instrument the best it can be, especially when itís not particularly expensive or difficult to do so?

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    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Pay attention to what you want, ignore the rest (or read it anyway on the off chance that you’ll learn something).

    My dad’s obsession was quarter horses. He bred, trained, and showed reining horses, and he obsessed over all the details. Confirmation, training techniques, nutrition, facilities, tack, farrier technique, everything. If he was on a horse’s back, or even just around one, he was always training. And, that included some time for the horse to just be a horse, because they can burn out, too. I loved riding, but didn’t share his passion for the small stuff (which is always magnified in the finished product). That’s why, even though I was a very good hand, I never came close to being as good as my father at training horses, and I’m OK with that. It just wasn’t my obsession.

    When I started playing mandolin it was on an eBay mess of a mandolin. I got it playable with help from this site and a good luthier’s assistance, and wailed on it for years before I ever got to try anything other than poorly set up cheapos. I didn’t know any better, and it was fun, and I learned a lot from that mandolin. And, I’ve learned a lot from this site, Frank Ford’s site, and just playing everything I’ve been able to get my hands on. There are certainly times when just good enough is fine, but when you play a well set up mandolin from a builder who’s on their game, you can hear and feel the difference. The little things all add up. My Eastman 315 is a very good instrument, and I take it camping, to the lake, to the beach, etc, and it’s great for that. But, the differences between it and my Skip Kelley are huge, and 10 years ago I can’t say whether I could have fully appreciated those differences.

    There’s a wealth of information on this site, and there’s a lot of doo doo, too. It’s the internet! If very detail oriented threads on building and set up aren’t your thing, don’t read them. That said, I’ve learned a ton about mandolins and what makes them tick, as well as an appreciation for the immense amount of work that goes into building/optimizing one from those threads. You could have a great time on here only checking out threads with photos, videos, and sound clips.

    Obsess, or not...the choice is yours!
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    Balama, Mozambique, Africa, Earth
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    393

    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    I believe the exact quote timbofood started with is:
    "Perfection is unattainable. But if we strive for perfection, we can attain excellence"
    -Vince Lombardi (I think)
    Setting up an instrument is like playing one; not everyone will play like (insert favorite player here) and not everyone wants to. Some people have as much fun picking old Joe Clark at 65 bpm as I do playing whatever it is that I play however fast, or as much fun as any pro playing whatever. Probably more fun actually. If you like your mando and it's not uncomfortable to play, then quit worrying about it and play.
    Mandolin: Kentucky KM150
    Other instruments: way too many, and yet, not nearly enough.

    "Imagine life without mandolin. Now slap yourself! Never do it again!" -Gunnar Salyer

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  42. #24
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Location
    Va
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    2,446

    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    It's just like photo gear. Does it make a difference to have a 42 megapixel sensor and perfect lenses that cost $3000? Yes, it does.Could you actually pick out the difference between that fancy pro setup and a $500 reasonably spec'd modern camera, from an Instagram post or from a 8x10 print? Nope, 99% of people couldn't. Use what you have, enjoy it, and focus on the things that have real value. Enjoyment of the music and of time together with people making music.
    If you couldn't pick out the difference in those lenses why pay the $2500 more. Bragging rights? If you constantly work on your mandolin after a point any change is so minute that you couldn't possibly really pick it out but you think you can to justify what you did. Now you have a different "bragging right" if that is your way of having fun go for it I'd rather pick it than adjust it.

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  44. #25
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    S.W. Wisconsin
    Posts
    5,075

    Default Re: General Mandolin Post

    I can feel if my action has raised because of humidity as little as 1/120". small changes make a difference in sound and feel. Adjusting it takes but a few seconds. I have what I need in each case to make the changes necessary to have it the way I want. Being where the humidity changes a lot means keeping after the setup, usually it's just a slight bridge adjustment and takes a few seconds.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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