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Thread: Ellis A5?

  1. #1
    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Ellis A5?

    I'm hoping to be able to buy a step-up mandolin this summer and am looking at about a $5k limit. My short list (at the moment) is a Northfield F5S or Big Mon, a Sorensen AX (but I'm not sure I can wait a year or more for a build), or a Kimble A5 or 2-point. (Of these, I've only played a Kimble A5. I'm mostly relying on specs, reviews, and advice from this forum.)

    I keep running across strong recommendations for the Ellis A5. How does it compare to the above mandolins? If I have to push up to the $6k range, how would the Ellis compare to other $6k mandolins like the Northfield Artist (I do love the f-body mandolins)?
    Doug Brock
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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    I have Ellis A5 #351 and its one of the best mandolins I've ever played.

    You'll have to decide for yourself how much you need a scroll but for my money there's no better mandolin for the price than a nicely built A5.

    You basically get all the sound of an F5 for half the price if you're willing to sacrifice a scroll.

    To my ear there's a big difference between the Northfields I've played (haven't played their new one though) and an Ellis.

    I think Tom is among the best builders working today. I've had mine for 3 years or so and still get excited every time I open the case.

    - Mike

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  5. #3
    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    Quote Originally Posted by hedding View Post
    To my ear there's a big difference between the Northfields I've played (haven't played their new one though) and an Ellis.
    - Mike
    Can you elaborate on the big difference between the Northfields and an Ellis?
    Doug Brock
    Eastman MD315, Silverangel Econo A #446
    Pisgah Wonder, Martin HD28, Martin D18GE, CA Guitars Bluegrass Performer

  6. #4

    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    I own an Ellis A5. Here are a couple of sound samples that sound a lot like mine.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=np019ssSAT0

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-0I-T0iUXE

    The are great mandolins and truly a piece of art. Sound is hard to describe but it is more modern (?) sounding to me. I has a Nashville Flatiron that I really liked and it had the traditional Gibson sound. It is full, rich, lots of sustain and rings like a bell. The big thing is playability. It has a very slight compound radius and a V neck. I was not a fan of the V neck but after playing it for a while it just feels great in my hand. Easiest mandolin I have played. I saw an interview with Tom and he said he really works on playability and it shows. You should be able to find a nice used one for around $4500 (there were two recently).
    There are so many great mandolins it really comes down what sound you like and what feels comfortable to you. I has an opportunity to hear and play a Duff last fall. It was a great traditional sounding mandolin that really appealed to me. But the playability was no were near my Ellis. I think a lot of Duff's and Kimble's have flat fretboards and narrower nuts? This Duff sounds great.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzhmSzl5Zgo
    Good luck in the search.

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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    Quote Originally Posted by flatpicknut View Post
    Can you elaborate on the big difference between the Northfields and an Ellis?
    It's hard to describe tonal characteristics through typing but to me the Ellis has a more complex tone, better A and E strings, more sustain and more bass response. Plus with my Ellis, there seems to be no limit to the amount of tone you can pull out of the thing.

    But admittedly I'm biased towards Ellis!
    Last edited by hedding; May-31-2019 at 1:40pm.

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  10. #6
    Registered User doc holiday's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    "how would the Ellis compare to other $6k mandolins".....I can't answer in comparison with Northfield. But my Ellis A compares favourably with a Heiden A ($9k ?), an Altman F ($10k approx) and several Heiden F ($17k?). As it happens, I'm a guitar player first and sold a Heiden F (the only lefty F i know of) to help acquire an old D18. The Ellis is my only mandolin & I haven't had any compulsion to "trade up."

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  12. #7

    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    I think your choice is going to depend on what voicing you prefer. Modern? Or traditional?
    Good Advice: Play before you pay, and know your product and your market.

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    man about town Markus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    The two Kimbles I've gotten to get my hands on were `all that'.
    Collings MT2
    Breedlove OF
    Ellie eMando
    Schmergl Devastator

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  15. #9
    Registered User doc holiday's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    ......but how do they compare with the Schmergl D ??

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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    The best advice is always to try one out in person .
    I bit the bullet and bought a Ellis A-5 Special ,got it the end of Dec.
    Here is a few pictures of my new baby

    https://www.ruttlist.com/builders/el...V#&gid=1&pid=1

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  19. #11
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    Here's my step-up story:

    I went into Fiddler's Green thinking I would walk out with one mandolin (based on YouTube listenings), played everything they had (including the Ellis A and F) and kept coming back to the Northfield F5S, which was not the one I went in there to buy. Should have bought it on the spot, but didn't. Ended up getting a good deal on one about a month later and am super-pleased. I'm eventually going to also get either an Ellis or Kimble A style, but I couldn't be happier with my Northfield.

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  21. #12
    Registered User Mark Seale's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    Quote Originally Posted by flatpicknut View Post
    I'm hoping to be able to buy a step-up mandolin this summer and am looking at about a $5k limit. My short list (at the moment) is a Northfield F5S or Big Mon, a Sorensen AX (but I'm not sure I can wait a year or more for a build), or a Kimble A5 or 2-point. (Of these, I've only played a Kimble A5. I'm mostly relying on specs, reviews, and advice from this forum.)

    I keep running across strong recommendations for the Ellis A5. How does it compare to the above mandolins? If I have to push up to the $6k range, how would the Ellis compare to other $6k mandolins like the Northfield Artist (I do love the f-body mandolins)?
    If you truly love F style bodies, then it's possible you will never be completely happy with an A. That being said, you can readily find a used Ellis A in your budget. They are phenomenal instruments and there is no sound loss between his A and F style mandolins. Until I played Tom's personal F, my favorite Ellis had been an A style I played several years ago. I haven't played a Northfield that knocked my socks off yet, but they have been very good. If you need the scroll and pointy bits, the Northfield is probably a good way to go.

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  23. #13
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    I have owned both a Northfield Big Mon and an Ellis A5. I have played two more Ellis mandolins and played two Kimble A5s and a Kimble F5. Hands down the best pure bluegrass mandolin I have ever played was a Kimble A5. It just had "that" sound, super punchy, grassy, great bark, a chop that could go from woof all the way to shotgun crack, and the tremolo could go from sounding like a hive of bees to sounding like a dentist drill (I mean all of that as a compliment). The other Kimbles I have played were very good bluegrass mandolins, but that first one, the first Kimble I ever played, that thing was special.

    The Ellis A5 I owned was also a special mandolin. First, build quality. Otherworldly. There is no other word that describes it. Just absolutely flawless. The tone was rich and refined, not as dry as a Kimble, which is either good or bad, depending on what you want.

    I bought the Northfield Big Mon because I was going through a bluegrass phase and wanted an F5. It was a good bluegrass mandolin, dry, thumpy, good chop. But I have since gone back and listened to recordings of myself playing the Ellis and playing the Northfield in a band context, and the Ellis is just a better sounding instrument. At the time I really thought that the Northfield was a better mandolin for performing in a bluegrass band, but over time I have changed my mind. The Ellis is just better; its louder and it has more dynamic range; the tone is richer and more refined. At the time, I was chasing the tone that I had heard from that first Kimble, and the Northfield was a little dryer, but it didn't have that screaming banshee tone that the Kimble did, and selling the Ellis and buying the Northfield was sort of a backwards step, at least from my perspective today. An Ellis is absolutely a top tier mandolin in every way.

    I played another Ellis when I was at Carter's, the day I bought my Dudenbostel. I played a Kimble, an Ellis, I think 2 Duffs, plus two Dudes. The Dude was by far my favorite, but the Ellis wasn't far behind, and I remember it sounding a little richer than the Kimble I played that day. I took home the Dudenbostel, but the Ellis was a great mandolin, everything I remembered from my own Ellis.

    So, the TL/DR is that an Ellis is a top tier mandolin in every way, IMO a step up from a Northfield (now admittedly my Northfield sample size is small, only 1 Big Mon). The Kimbles are also very good mandolins, also top tier, especially if you like a grassier tone.
    Mandolins: Dudenbostel A1 #74 (2014)
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  25. #14
    Registered User GreenMTBoy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    Great review dwc,
    I just reluctantly sold a Kimble A-5 much like the one you describe in your first paragraph ....after the purchase of my Ellis A-5

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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    I get weekly emails from elderly, and this showed up last week................just wow!

    https://www.elderly.com/products/ell...dolin-case-471

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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    Daryl that is a beauty....Flatpicknut...during my recent Nashville visit I played two fine Ellis mandolins at Carter's. One F5 very nice and an exceptionally fine A5. Likewise, there is a great Kimble two point over at Kim's place Cotton Music. Happy Hunting.

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  30. #17
    Registered User lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    I dream of the Ellis A5. The tone, the fit and finish, and the great appearance are to die for. In the meantime, I am really pleased with my Collings MT Gloss Top with the wide nut for a well built A5. The tone is rich, full and projects with a deep woody tone. I got mine used in "like new" condition for in the low $2,000's but a new one street is $3150. This is the "poor man's" Ellis A5.

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  32. #18
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    There's (within some hours driving) Morgan Music, Bradford and Franzke; Mass St doesn't have a lot. Anybody know others?

    Also Pava K and maybe Tom E exhibit around the major festivals, they were at Wintergrass in Seattle area.
    The Keepers: Kentucky km900, looking for next one
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  33. #19
    Registered User John Soper's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    I have been fortunate enough to have chased down & caught a few great mandolins. I let a very good Collings MT2 go to pick up an X-braced F5 Duff. An Ellis A5 wormed it's way into the herd and supplanted the Duff. Great head-room for volume and a very complex timbre/tone with more overtones and undertones than typical for a traditional "Gibson"voiced bluegrass machine, but perfect for swing and could chop when required. I thought I had it made until a Nugget A5 and Sorenson fell into my lap. I almost regret letting the Ellis go, but all of the mandolins I have caught and released have been appreciated by their current owners.

    For the cost/hour of playing, factoring the ease & pleasure of playing, the Ellis A-5 ranked very high on my list. When I retire and have more time to play mandolin, I'd love to corral another Ellis, and having played the first Ellis 2-point - am considering taking the plunge into a custom Ellis build.

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  35. #20

    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    John...how would you compare/describe the tonal qualities of the Ellis A5 w/the Nugget and Sorenson sound, from your experience?
    Thanks John.

  36. #21
    Registered User John Soper's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    Old Growth: they are all very close. The 1990s Nugget has a better low end and excels at swing chord voicings. Very even across the strings & up the neck. Don Stierbeg's nugget and mine sound very similar, per his assessment. A dream to play after set up by Mike K.

    The Sorenson is still breaking in its Adits top. It's a Sprite, with a very open & responsive voice. Very articulate and a high end that is dominating at present, but as I've played it in, or I have adjusted to the mandolin, it has developed much more bass response. Also a dream set up. If you are not bound to have a traditional appearing axe and are looking for a custom build, I'd highly recommend Sorenson. I always like to have a close #2 mandolin and the Sorenson nudged out the Ellis... sometimes I wish I could have a #3...

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  38. #22
    Registered User Tomando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    Quote Originally Posted by darylcrisp View Post
    I get weekly emails from elderly, and this showed up last week................just wow!

    https://www.elderly.com/products/ell...dolin-case-471

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    that blonde A5 is suhweeet…!! and then there’s the Pava amber satin A: Ellis dna, not as loud, but gorgeous voice. great value. (IMHO).

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  40. #23
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    There’s a Heiden A5 in the classifieds from a well known seller for $5,900. I’d grab that in a heartbeat if I was in the market. Kimble and Ellis are both excellent mandolins. I have a Kimble F5. Definitely a little more focused, traditional tone.

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  42. #24
    Registered User doc holiday's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    That's a steal for a mandolin by a brilliant maker

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  44. #25
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    Default Re: Ellis A5?

    Only way to know is to play these mandolins yourself ! Everyone's ears are different ! I have played many top notch mandolins at Gruhns and other places and the two makers I think that make the best mandolins ( to my ears) are Tom Ellis and Max Girouard !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

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