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Thread: Mandolin Neck Advice

  1. #1
    Registered User
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    Jan 2006
    New Mexico

    Default Mandolin Neck Advice

    Is it best to look for a mandolin that has less radius than others so that you have a more rounded fret board instead of a flat fret board? Are they just easier to play with more rounding of the board? This inexpensive unit I have has a pretty flat board and it is somewhat difficult to get clear sounds when playing. Do not get me wrong you can get clear sounds out of it but it is somewhat difficult and ones speed is sacrificed. Thanks for any info.

  2. #2
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Richmond, Virginia

    Default Re: Mandolin Neck Advice

    there are benefits to both. You likely won't feel the differences until you can get the notes clear; however.

    I have both and like both. I do think some aspects of picking on a plane are good. I think some aspects of noting on a radius are good. I have mandolins with compound radius too! There are a lot of choices in mandolins!

    In general; however, I'm not good enough to really have that much of a refined nuance in playing. I adjust and move on!

    ˇpapá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!

    '20 A3, '30 L-1, '97 914, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5, '14 OM28A

  3. #3

    Default Re: Mandolin Neck Advice

    This is long and I'm sorry for that. The short version is that as a lifelong guitarist I've learned I prefer a wider neck and smaller radius. With that said, I've already typed all this out.

    I've been playing guitar for 40 years and messing with a mandolin for over 20 years. The first decade with the mandolin wasn't very productive. A lack of exposure to truly mandolin specific opportunities and being basically competent enough to be a utility on pop music recordings meant that "an upside-down guitar" mentality was enough. In 2011/12 or so I started fronting a band that already had 2 guitars. I felt weird just standing there singing so I started playing mandolin. I had an epiphone MM50 that's a very generic version of the classic 1920s LL F style.

    Between 2011/12 and 2018 I got generally more able on the mandolin but I still had a devil of a time getting anywhere close to my level on the guitar in both expression and vocabulary. I hadn't played many mandolins in my life and didn't really know what was a good or bad instrument. Back around 2013 I played a Gibson Goldrush that I found equally challenging to play and just ruled that it's a uniquely hard instrument and that was that. I continued on with my Epiphone.

    In late 2018 I was traveling and got to spend a week with a mid 50's Gibson F and my first evening jamming with it felt like the best playing I'd ever accomplished. My initial thought was that I was having a "good day" on the mandolin because of my mood, and environment. I expected the next day would bring my mortal mediocrity crashing back to earth. The next night I got to play with some other people and once again I was exceeding myself. Again, vacation mentality had me thinking that it was just another "good day". By day three I stopped blaming my vacation and started asking questions about this gibson. It was SO EASY to play. I noticed it bigger frets than mine and the neck was a little wider. Those were the obvious differences. My vacation ended and I went back to my epiphone hoping that my experience would come back with me. 10 minutes into my own instrument had my hand aching.

    The first few months of 2019 I struggled to feel as enlivened on my instrument. I practiced more but really never could get enough lift to take off. I decided to get my instrument refretted, and it needed it, but that didn't get me very far for my $300. The setup was probably as good as that instrument could get. The neck was still rather small and the flat fretboard seemed to accentuate the lack of room. It became clear that it might actually be the instrument that was an obstacle. I started the hunt for a new instrument.

    I first tried to buy the old Gibson that had truly delivered me from the challenges of my current instrument. It wasn't for sale and I certainly understood why. It was worth a shot. Then I went out, still without a ton of understanding just what set of factors added up to a more liberating experience on the instrument. I played a lot of mandolins. Some played well but sounded bad, other sounded great but were still kind of difficult to play. Eventually I had narrowed it down (ironically) to wider fretboards and smaller radius.

    It was my experience that a good sounding instrument that also had a wider board and a small radius wasn't particularly affordable. It was during that difficult time that I came to realize that the cost of an instrument was going to be much higher than just a bit of a splurge. At that point I decided to cull my guitar collection down and sell off everything that was valuable but not particularly useful to me as a professional. I hit ebay and sent them down the road. I bought a used Sam Bush and after only a few months I am playing better than I ever have. It has an enormous fretboard (1.24"), smallish radius (10") and after I had the setup modified to a more traditional string spacing it has opened a whole new world to me. Of all the money I've spent on instruments I have never experienced a more drastic change in what I got from a new instrument.

    Your own experience might differ. I am uniquely positioned in that I am a full-time professional musician. I have been teaching for a quarter century and I am good at practicing effectively. I am not a virtuoso guitarist but I am competent and lucky that a lot of difficult things came to me during that period of youth where playing guitar for 6+ hours a day was totally okay. I still have a lot of mandolin material to digest but I basically feel like I am the governing factor and not the instrument. I am confident that I will never have to buy another mandolin. Ever.

  4. #4
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Connecticut, USA

    Default Re: Mandolin Neck Advice

    fwiw, i own both flat and radius fretboards and don't notice much difference, even when I switch between the two, but both of my usual instruments have relatively narrow necks. how it fits my hand seems to be more important than whether the fretboard is flat or radius. I don't play any cleaner or faster on one than the other, they're both pretty equal. ymmv.
    1920 Lyon & Healy bowlback
    1923 Gibson A-1 snakehead
    1952 Strad-o-lin
    1983 Giannini ABSM1 bandolim
    2009 Giannini GBSM3 bandolim
    2011 Eastman MD305

  5. #5
    Confused... or?
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Over the Hudson & thru the woods from NYC

    Default Re: Mandolin Neck Advice

    We all have different hands, not just size but flexibility, sensitivity, and, maybe most important, past experience - musical or otherwise. What works for you might not work for 90% of us, and vice versa. As with gloves, ya just gotta try 'em on and see what works.

    Also: Be happy if a wide array works for you, and don't be suckered into finding what seems "best" (for now) among several, and then converting that into a requirement. As you gain experience, your needs & preferences may well change, which is normal; and hey, if they simply "expand", that's a good thing!
    - Ed

    "What our group lacks in musicianship is offset by our willingness to humiliate ourselves." - David Hochman

  6. #6

    Default Re: Mandolin Neck Advice

    You mention your mandolin as being inexpensive. It has been my experience that inexpensive and poor setup go hand in hand. There is no reason your mandolin can't play well, but do you want to spend what you might have paid for it on a fret level and crown? Being new, you might want low action, but your fretboard likely has a hump where it joins the body, and strings can be touching there. Of course it could be your technique.

    I bought an inexpensive mandolin to practice fret leveling on, and I remember thinking how bad it would have been for a beginner to start on. After a bunch of work, it plays great. Do you have Cafe member Rob Meldrum's free E book? Get it and use it, and your instrument should play better, but I'm a believer in fretwork being the key to a great playing experience.

    I've played both flat and radiused boards and can get used to either. Are you anywhere you can play mandolins that are well setup? We can help you spend all the money you have. My benchmark budget for where things get truly wonderful is around $1200 used. If that's not going to happen, I'm a fan of the 300 series Eastmans.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

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