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Thread: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

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    Default Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    I tried a pack of J73 today because my local music store was out of J74 my usual gauge.
    You can really notice the lack of tone, however I found them quite enjoyable and refreshing to play. I love the pop and ease of play, it reminded me of playing a Fender Stratocaster with 9 gauge. Some licks that really made me sweat seem less troublesome and my finger tips feel refreshed. Most likely I will return to J74ís for tone, but for now Iím sure enjoying playing with light strings. I only play for myself with no major obstacle such as contending with a banjo so I donít have to be loud. I was thinking of trying a medium gauge made by GHS which I believe are called PF250 to get the lighter feel and a little more tone. Any fans of light or medium gauge strings? Is the sacrifice of tone worth the ease of play? May be a phase but I seem to want to play more now with discovering the joy of light gauge.

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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Tone ? Your ears are no doubt better than mine ! I can tell a difference in picks with my ears but strings I can't ! I can tell when strings need to be replaced however ! Whatever your ears tell you, go with it !
    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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    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Interesting question -

    Without getting into minute details, I would have to say 'Yes' - I would be willing to sacrifice a bit of tone for significantly better playability.

    As a guy who plays mostly in the studio, the additional playability would be greatly advantageous to smoother playing, while the loss of tone could easily be made up through studio adjustments. For those rare occasions when I do play live; the overwhelming percentage of listeners would hardly be able to tell the difference between a Gibson and a cigar box - so again, smoother playing would be advantageous to a lack of tone.

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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeZito View Post
    Interesting question -

    Without getting into minute details, I would have to say 'Yes' - I would be willing to sacrifice a bit of tone for significantly better playability.

    As a guy who plays mostly in the studio, the additional playability would be greatly advantageous to smoother playing, while the loss of tone could easily be made up through studio adjustments. For those rare occasions when I do play live; the overwhelming percentage of listeners would hardly be able to tell the difference between a Gibson and a cigar box - so again, smoother playing would be advantageous to a lack of tone.
    I agree ! Whether we are talking about play ability of the instrument , type and brand of pick, choice of strings or the instrument we have is mainly for our ears as the audience will not have a clue if we are playing a Gilchrist or an Eastman !
    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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    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Right on! Ease of play is everything for me at least, I have everything I play set so the action is low as it can go without any buzzing, that's where I think the best tone is-sure you may sacrifice a bit of power or loudness but all is well if your using a microphone /PA etc...Than you get the same great tone with volume adjustments. For a Jam circle etc..you can raise your bridge up if its adjustable to the Bill Monroe "manly" chop but I heard that his action at times on his 23 Loar was so high some couldn't play it and get anything out of it? Try the strings you like best and lower your action?

    Its all on personal preference like most of our thoughts on here are, I remember my Uncle who was playing banjo in the early 80's with the Country Gentlemen he told me that Charlie Waller's guitar was misplaced or something broke and was unplayable for a festival and Tony Rice let Charlie use his historic Clarence White 34 D-28 and Charlie couldn't play it at all as the action was so low like a great set-up telecaster, Charlie's style as a Great rhythm player with his little runs/licks needed something with higher action. No idea what strings those guys used for their varying guitars?

    That's true on the audience and most can't tell if your playing say a Gil a 24 Loar, Eastman etc...Unless your playing with or for people that know about fine instruments, I played a gig a few weeks ago and a few people told me that my F-5 was the best one they ever heard? One was old man that was in his 90's and didn't know what I was playing the other a guy maybe 50 and he knew what I was playing?

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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Quote Originally Posted by yankees1 View Post
    I agree ! Whether we are talking about play ability of the instrument , type and brand of pick, choice of strings or the instrument we have is mainly for our ears as the audience will not have a clue if we are playing a Gilchrist or an Eastman !
    Exactly,
    except the first thing I look at when in the audience is the headstock

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    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    I use lighter gauge strings for everyday playing, and heavier strings for recording and performance, specifically for tone.

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    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Quote Originally Posted by Elb2000 View Post
    Exactly,
    except the first thing I look at when in the audience is the headstock
    Me too
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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Depends on the instrument and use. For jams or purely acoustic performances then volume takes over. Will use medium strings and a Blue Chip pick for volume, volume, volume. It will also help me decide which instrument to use. Sitting at home, will often use slightly lighter strings and a pick that pulls out a fuller tone to my ears, at the expensive of volume.

    All that said, am going to buy some of the LaBella strings in a couple of weeks and try them on my Collings to see if I can find a sweet spot between volume and tone on that instrument. So far, it's been the only one that has been picky about strings.
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    yes.
    No matter where I go, there I am...Unless I'm running a little late.

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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    When the setup is perfect and I have the right pick for me I will go with .11's to assist my aging hands …… I do prefer the volume of the .115's but tonally they are very close in the Curt Mangan strings I use. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    If the answer is framed generally about instruments, I’d say yes. Playability features such as neck profile, nut width, and fretboard radius are difficult/expensive to modify and a challenge for me to accommodate. I miss the strident Collings MT that played like a dream more than the toneful Pava which didn’t suit my left hand. But with strings, I’d say no. First, I’ve run everything from EJ62’s to EJ75’s, including flatwounds, and never really experienced a change in playability provided that the instrument was otherwise set up properly. Second, if I did find a difference, it’s one that I would think that I could overcome through repetition and practice. I’d be tempted to install EJ75’s for a while, like training with ankle weights, to see if I’d have a similar experience when dropping back down to EJ74’s.
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Playability for me is the prime factor. In my opinion the easiest strings to play with are the Thomastiks. I use them on my Phoenix Jazz.
    On my classical I use Dogals which are have a softer feel.
    My first exposure to Thomastiks was through a player Solly Burton at a workshop. This younger guy sitting next to me could really pick ďeffortlesslyĒ. At the time he played a Weber with Thomastiks which I later discovered he won at Winfield for coming in first place! He is now a three time winner! At my first encounter next to him I had no clue who this unassuming welcoming friendly player was.
    These strings are more laid back in volume compared to J74 but are really much easier to play. (I would strongly recommend the Thomastiks for aging arthritic hands often discussed in other threads) One advantage also is their longer lasting playability easily 8 months to a year. Sometimes I just replace the e strings with new plain steels and leave the a d and g strings which are all flat wound.
    I discovered the Dogals through the one and only Carlo Aonzo when I played in an orchestra lead by Avital in Germany a few years ago.
    I thought that if these strings were good enough for them they may be at least good enough for me to try! Well Iím keeping on trying them!
    These strings are more expensive but last significantly longer than most other strings.

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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Tone, Tone, Tone. I find playability can be adjusted, tone is most important for me. I find when changing string gauges the intonation has to be reset or you are not doing a fair comparison, especially if you changed the gauge of the strings. Lighter strings need a higher action than do heavier strings. I play with a 11-41 and need my mandolin to play easy for my hands and can tell when it's a few thousands high, my hands will hurt. Low, low action can be achieved and enjoyed with heavier strings and have the best tone (for me). Some mandolin respond to lighter strings, others, like Martin's, need them. I use 10.5-39 on a different mandolin and it sounds fine with those. I don't think you have to sacrifice anything playability or tone. The lower you keep your action tho the more you have to work at it, but it is worth it.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Yes.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    There is one aspect of "playability" that can actually be improved by using medium or heavy gauge instead of light gauge, and that's action height.

    If you have a very good neck setup with frets leveled and proper relief, it's usually possible to sneak the action down slightly lower with medium gauge than it is with light gauge strings, due to the difference in tension and propensity to buzz against the frets. You might get the action even lower with heavy gauge, although that tends to get offset with harder picking from players that favor heavy gauge. Lower action with medium gauge can feel more comfortable under the fingers than higher action with light gauge. You do need a very good neck and fret setup to achieve this.

    Aside from that setup consideration, I stick to medium gauge because I need the volume to play without amplification in Irish/Scottish sessions, and at home with my fiddler S.O. I need to pull a decent amount of volume from the mandolin without picking so hard that it ruins speed and expression. Medium gauge and a good setup is the sweet spot for me.

  20. #17
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    I don't think it's actually a trade off, when an instrument is set up right, you get good tone and good playability out of it. String height at the nut seems to be critical.
    -Dave
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    I have to believe that it is somewhat of a trade off. I can't imagine rubber bands on my mandolin, but I believe they would be easier to play....

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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Let's say I have $500 - $1.5k to spend on a mandolin. I would not buy one that sounds crummy. I would not buy one that has structural problems or design defects that render it impossible to play relatively well. My strategy would be to weed out all choices that don't sound good enough for me to enjoy playing. Then I would choose the one that I think could be rendered "playable enough" through routine set-up work. I would not expect it to play like a dream or sound like a dream. But I would expect it to be something I would be happy playing, at least until I have the financial means and playing skill to move up.

    Let's say I have $1.5k - $3k. I would expect "pretty darn good" tone and "pretty darn good" playability ("pretty darn good", of course, would be by my own standards depending on a combination of just about everything that is mentioned in previous posts). Not necessarily "excellent", but at least "real good". I don't want to be playing an instrument and thinking "gosh, this G-string always just sounds twangy" or "I really wish this had a little wider neck" or some such. An exceptional tone might make me favor that over playability to a small degree. A mandolin that just seems to "play itself" might make me give that a little more weight than tone. But they both gotta be "pretty darn good".

    Above $3K, I wouldn't compromise between the two. I would keep looking until I found what I wanted in both.
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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Question Re: What?

    My 94 year old A4 which had nice tone , became more playable after a re-fret & fingerboard leveling ,
    which did not change the tone a bit, as far as I can tell..


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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    What good is play ability if the tone isn't there ?
    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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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Quote Originally Posted by yankees1 View Post
    What good is play ability if the tone isn't there ?
    True - but if you cannot easily play the instrument, it's hard to get any tone at all.

    Plus, the music itself is more important than a specific tone - really timbre, since a tone is also a pitch - so if you cannot play music, why bother with tone anyway?

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  29. #23

    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Luthiers balance tone and playability constantly.
    Body size, neck length, string selections, and other major geometry considerations are all balances between ergonomics and the physics of the tone.
    So believe it or not, you're already making a bunch of concessions to playability. If you play any mandocello ever made, you are making serious, order-of-magnitude concessions!

    To the points above, our brains are really good at "normalizing" whatever tone you have. There are very good musicians (Tom Wright, Hamilton de Holanda) playing 14" scale length mandolas, and others who think no mandola should be built with a scale length below 17" for it to be worth playing. If it works for you, rock it. What matters is what you can produce with it, and the physical "optimal" is rarely what really works for people who make real music with these tools.

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  31. #24
    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sloppy Joe View Post
    I tried a pack of J73 today because my local music store was out of J74 my usual gauge.
    You can really notice the lack of tone, however I found them quite enjoyable and refreshing to play. I love the pop and ease of play, it reminded me of playing a Fender Stratocaster with 9 gauge. Some licks that really made me sweat seem less troublesome and my finger tips feel refreshed. Most likely I will return to J74’s for tone, but for now I’m sure enjoying playing with light strings. I only play for myself with no major obstacle such as contending with a banjo so I don’t have to be loud. I was thinking of trying a medium gauge made by GHS which I believe are called PF250 to get the lighter feel and a little more tone. Any fans of light or medium gauge strings? Is the sacrifice of tone worth the ease of play? May be a phase but I seem to want to play more now with discovering the joy of light gauge.
    J74s (or any standard medium) are too heavy for me to play comfortably; and lights, while they feel great, don't have the tone.

    I solved this issue with these strings by La Bella: https://www.stringsbymail.com/la-bel...-38-16934.html

    Best of both worlds for me - the tone of mediums is still there, but they feel more like lights! YMMV.
    ...

  32. #25

    Default Re: Would you sacrifice tone for playability?

    Thank you for the link to the La Bella strings. I think I will order and give them a try. Hopefully they sound as good as the packaging art which I really like.

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