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Thread: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

  1. #1
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    Default What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    Just curious, that's all.
    I see references to both and I've never seen any detail on what the "N" means.
    Are they two distinct models?
    Or is the "N" simply a newer version of the same model?
    How are they different, if at all?

  2. #2
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    The full model number is NF-F5S and that's for their "base model" F mandolin; what they call their S Series. Most references I've seen call it the 'F5S.' There is also an oval-hole model, the NF-2S.

    The F5 is the top end and is roughly 2.5x the price of the S. It uses choice(er) woods, has more bling (binding, inlays, etc) and more expensive tailpiece, tuners, bridge and fingerboard wood. Also has a French polished shellac finish, where the S has a lacquer finish.

    In between these two is the Artist series, which is a design based on Mike Marshall's input and comparisons with his Loar mandolin.

    I've had my F5S for a few months now and have played the previous version of the F5 and could not tell that much difference in the sound characteristics. Certainly a big difference in appointments, but those were not important to me, personally. I love my F5S and consider it a lifetime instrument!

    You can find out all the details on their web site, which has some absolutely gorgeous photos of all these models, plus a lot of videos of MM, Adam Steffey, Emory Lester and others taking the instruments through their paces.

  3. #3
    Registered User CWRoyds's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    The northfield's are put in four categories these days.

    NF5S is the basic model, and has binding only on the top, with a laquer finish.
    They are great mandolins, and just have a bit less bling than the top models.
    They go for around $3,200.

    The Northfield "Big Mon" F style has binding on the top, back, and neck, plus more fancy woods, tailpiece, etc.
    They are built about 0.5" wider in the body, and slightly deeper from top to back.
    This delivers a deeper tone with more bass response.
    Great mandolins with incredible bluegrass tone.
    These go for around $4,500

    The Artist series are standard mandolin size, but have premium tone woods, and top level construction.
    They come with either two tone bar, or 5 tone bar construction.
    Two tone bars delivers cutting bluegrass power, and the 5 Bar delivers incredible bass response and sustain.
    The are hand varnish finished, and are incredible mandolins.
    They are top of the line.
    These go for around $6,000

    The brand new Artist 4.0 model is their tippy top model mandolin just released.
    They feature torrefied tops, and only super premium tone woods.
    Those who have played them say they are incredible.
    I believe these go for $7,500.

    All the Northfields I have played are really great mandolins.
    I own an Artist 5 bar, and love it.
    I would love to have one of each, because they all have their own character and use.
    Northfield is doing things right, and delivering excellent mandolins that can compete with just about any mandolin.
    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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  5. #4

    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    It's funny, even as I dream and lust about upgrading and think about Gibson and Collings or perhaps a used boutique build, I always seem to drift back to Northfield. The 2 bar red spruce Artist model, to me, is exactly how a mandolin should sound.

    https://www.northfieldinstruments.com/artist-series

    Scroll (pun?) down and click on the video of Mike Marshall playing the 2 bar red spruce version. Then fast forward to 1:50 and listen to pure mandolin awesomeness. Lol

  6. #5

    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    I know there's a bunch of threads comparing mandos...

    But regarding JUST tone/volume/response and material wise (premium woods, varnish)..... but NOT caring about bling bling/trim, how does the Artist series (or even the Big Mon) compare to the $8-12k mandos?

    Are they in the same league but a better bang for the buck? Thanks.

  7. #6

    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    Every time I've gone to a store with both Northfield and Collings, I flip flop on which I like better. One visit it's the Northfield, the other time it's the Collings. One constant is the value of an F5S. Overlook the not very flamy wood of most of them and just play them.

    I have only played the Artist in an A style.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

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    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    Every time I've gone to a store with both Northfield and Collings, I flip flop on which I like better. One visit it's the Northfield, the other time it's the Collings. One constant is the value of an F5S. Overlook the not very flamy wood of most of them and just play them.

    I have only played the Artist in an A style.
    Even my "modestly appointed" NF5-S is pretty darned fetching, especially since this particular one has a back made from a single piece of wood:

    Click image for larger version. 

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  9. #8
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    Quote Originally Posted by callmegina View Post
    Even my "modestly appointed" NF5-S is pretty darned fetching, especially since this particular one has a back made from a single piece of wood:
    Agree 100%. I think my F5S is a beaut. I'm not that interested in bling, personally.

    I spent a half day in Fiddlers Green playing everything from Eastman 305 thru Ellis F5 and the F5S was the one I kept coming back to. Should have bought that one right there, but I thought I was in the hunt for an A model. Ended up getting a good deal on one a few weeks later, as I couldn't stop thinking about it. So glad I did!

  10. #9

    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    My point was that figuring in the wood has little to do with tone. When I bought my Arches kit, I just figured that the plainer backs and the more irregular tops went into the kit pile. After all, a one man shop needs to have highly figured wood to sell the instruments. But my goal was to have a good sounding instrument and I succeeded with mineral deposits in the back and red streaks on the front.

    Of all the mandolins I've played, the F5S has the goods from a price to performance ratio. Nothing about it seems cheap in the least.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

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  12. #10
    Registered User CWRoyds's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    Quote Originally Posted by lespaul_79 View Post
    I know there's a bunch of threads comparing mandos...

    But regarding JUST tone/volume/response and material wise (premium woods, varnish)..... but NOT caring about bling bling/trim, how does the Artist series (or even the Big Mon) compare to the $8-12k mandos?

    Are they in the same league but a better bang for the buck? Thanks.

    I have taken my Northfield 5Bar Artist with me to compare against a lot of high end mandolins.
    Recently I played it against a beautiful Ellis, but have also compared it to Gilchrists, Giacomel, old Gibsons, high end Collings, etc.

    What I have found is that all mandolins have their own thing, and they are all very different.
    My 5bar was never trounced, and it always held its own against all comers.
    It has always been a bit louder, with more resonance and sustain, as it was built that way.
    Although I have really liked a lot of the other mandolins, there has not been one I wanted more than my 5Bar.

    The Northfield is just a remarkable mandolin all round.
    It seems much more bold in tone than most.
    I am often surprised how quiet and delicate in tone a lot of great makers mandolins are.
    I expect them to be louder, especially after playing my Northfield, which is amazingly loud.
    Jody Stecher played mine and said it was the loudest mandolin he has ever played.

    I think the key is that not every one is looking for the same kind of tone.
    Some like a sharp jangle tone, and some like rounded fullness in tone.
    My Northfield is more of a modern rounded full tone, and that is what I like.
    If you want a more bluegrass tone, go for the Big Mon, although my 5Bar kicks butt in jams and has always been the loudest mandolin at a jam, even when very fine mandolins are present.

    To answer your question, at half the cost the Northfield artist series is definitely an amazing bang for the buck. Regardless of the price they are amazing mandolins. As for bling, they are amazing to look at too. Incredible finish, beautiful violin style neck finish, etc.
    You would not be disappointed.

    Here is a thread I made comparing the Northfield to an amazing Ellis recently, just FYI.
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...ern-at-Gryphon
    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)

  13. #11

    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    Thanks CWRoyds. And sorry to ask that question in this thread. That's why I started a fresh thread but I couldnt figure out how to delete the post in this thread. Whoops...

    Anyways, def good info.

  14. #12

    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    Northfileds are all pretty great from my experience of having owned 4 different ones, over a number of years, including two Artist Series. One two bar, one 5 bar. The thing that surprised me some was the dynamic of going above that price point. It seems to me that(this is a very large generalization) for another 5-10 percent of that special something, i.e more quality or a different tonal nuance etc it cost multiple thousands of dollars for smaller and smaller percentages of "improvement". i hope that makes sense. I guess on some naive level I expected big jumps in "special-ness"/higher quality as i spent more and more money. In general, i haven't found that to be the case. I would agree with the sentiment that at the highest levels of craftsmanship it isn't that one instrument is better than another but simply different. By degrees, not leaps and bounds. .02

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  16. #13

    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    Yes, the higher you go, generally speaking, you pay more and more for smaller and smaller sound improvement. I'm sure it is much the same with fly rods and target pistols. Was the Ellis I played worth three times the price of a Big Mon? Well, it was better, and if eight grand was my take home pay for a week, I'd probably buy it.

    Some will spend and drive their car another 100,000 miles. It's a very personal decision, what do I do, go to Florence and see the David, or buy that Ellis? I personally would pay thr $1500 more for a Collings over a Big Mon if I liked the Collings more. Much more than that and finances, or lack thereof, take over.

    I do vividly remember playing a Kentucky master series back to back with an F5S and thinking I would forever regret not paying the price of the Northfield. They were quite close really. But the next step up was a Big Mon for $1500 more, then another $2000 for the Collings nect to it. All three were very much in the same ballpark of quality tone, and it just becomes which you like, and the pride of ownership thing which can't be ignored.

    I'd really like an Ellis, or any other of that ilk. Never going to happen, but a Big Mon is one hell of a mandolin in it's own right.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

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    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    Quote Originally Posted by Old Growth View Post
    Northfileds are all pretty great from my experience of having owned 4 different ones, over a number of years, including two Artist Series. One two bar, one 5 bar. The thing that surprised me some was the dynamic of going above that price point. It seems to me that(this is a very large generalization) for another 5-10 percent of that special something, i.e more quality or a different tonal nuance etc it cost multiple thousands of dollars for smaller and smaller percentages of "improvement". i hope that makes sense. I guess on some naive level I expected big jumps in "special-ness"/higher quality as i spent more and more money. In general, i haven't found that to be the case. I would agree with the sentiment that at the highest levels of craftsmanship it isn't that one instrument is better than another but simply different. By degrees, not leaps and bounds. .02
    What you're describing not only makes sense but is sometimes referred to as the 'law of diminishing returns'
    Last edited by WaxwellHaus; Aug-23-2019 at 2:54pm. Reason: upgraded the smiley face

  18. #15

    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    I have one of the older F5M (Master) models. It’s not a Big Mon, I received it in January 2015 and LOVE it! It looks great, plays great, and I get all kinds of compliments on it at camps and festivals. Heck, a well known pro wanted to buy it but he wouldn’t trade me his spendy mando for it so I said no...ha!

    It’s got an englemann top, single piece spruce back, cocobolo fretboard, and the old inlay they used to do. I’ve played all kinds of mandos from spendy to not and this ones a keeper.

    Heres some pics from the day I got it...

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

  19. #16
    Registered User tbown's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the diff between Northfield NF5S and F5 models?

    Quote Originally Posted by CWRoyds View Post
    T
    ...
    The brand new Artist 4.0 model is their tippy top model mandolin just released.
    They feature torrefied tops, and only super premium tone woods.
    ...
    I was just at the Northfield workshop where Derek said that they do not use torrefied tops in their mandolins.
    ========================
    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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