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Thread: Solo builders

  1. #1

    Default Solo builders

    If you were going to shop for a new mandolin, new to you that is, in the five or six thousand range new or used, what luthiers would be on your radar along with the usual Collings, Gibson, Weber, Pava fare? How would you go about finding them?

    I was cruising Mandolin Mutt the other day and there were a bunch of interesting possibilities. Many of the name builders are twice that budget or close. Iím especially interested in hearing from those who have been happy jumping into the unknown. I did that with my Silverangel at a much more modest price point.

    The obvious is a trip to Nashville, but other than that?
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

  2. #2
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    I'd certainly consider something by Pomeroy (Don Paine), Andrew Mowry, or Dan Voigt.

  3. #3
    Registered User Scotter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    I posted my experiences in dealing with Pete Hart who makes The Buckeye Mandolin. It wasn't my first time "jumping into the unknown" and I tried my best to convey some of the feelings that one might go through when doing this. Pete went out of his way to make me happy in delivering the mandolin that I wanted. You really can't ask anything more from your luthier of choice. Here's a link to my lengthy ramblings: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...home-a-Buckeye!

    Since getting #87 back with a new neck there hasn't been a day that's gone by that I haven't played it. It makes me smile every time that I do and I feel like I've found a life partner in my musical journey. Whether that happened through just blind luck or tenacity, I just feel fortunate to be so happy with #87.
    Play that which you feel is groovy, get down with your bad self, and shake your money maker if it makes sense for you to do so.

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  5. #4
    Hands of Pot Metal
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    There are 814 builders in the database known to Cafe members. If a mandolin sounds good and the workmanship meets your standard, does the name matter, except for potential resale? Or are you looking to expand a list of target builders? If so, cruise Gruhn and Carter and record every name in your price range. Even with that there will be many builders whose product is wonderful, albeit those mandolins might be hard to find.

    Among other mandolins, I have a both a Clark and an Arrow, each of which sound fantastic albeit with different voices. Both gentlemen are well known builders but their instruments are not commonly found in retail stores. I chose them for the sound, not the name.

    Large festivals are often a place where a variety of instruments can be sampled. Wintergrass is about 3 weeks away and has a builders room in addition to retailers
    Play it like you mean it

    Not all the clams are at the beach

    Arrow G
    Clark 2 point
    Ratliff CountryBoy A
    00-21 (voiced by Eldon Stutzman)

  6. #5
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    If you were going to shop for a new mandolin, new to you that is, in the five or six thousand range new or used, what luthiers would be on your radar along with the usual Collings, Gibson, Weber, Pava fare? How would you go about finding them?
    What kind of new mandolin interests me? An oval? F-holes? A-style? Scroll?

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    I was cruising Mandolin Mutt the other day and there were a bunch of interesting possibilities. Many of the name builders are twice that budget or close. Iím especially interested in hearing from those who have been happy jumping into the unknown. I did that with my Silverangel at a much more modest price point.
    I have happily jumped into the unfamiliar if not the unknown. My biggest success story involved a Passernig A5 which I purchased used back in the summer of 2014 from Smoky Mountain Guitars. I had read about Stefan, so he was not unknown to me, but I was unfamiliar with his work, having never played one. The result is my all-time favorite mandolin and an incredible value. Stefan used to work for Collings before he struck out on his own, but from what I understand, he takes no custom orders, maintains no web presence, and builds only when he wants. As a result, his new instruments are far more affordable ó $3800 for a varnished A5 vs. $5350 for an MT2V, $7500 for a varnished F5 vs. $11,800 for an MF5V ó with used models trading at more reduced prices.

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    The obvious is a trip to Nashville, but other than that?
    Well, not all of us live within driving distance of Gryphon and Sylvan. For many, catch and release of distance purchases is the only way to sample a range of instruments. The key (as you are well aware) is to know the market, to buy appropriately depreciated, and to act quickly when something desirable surfaces. If you do, you might lose a little on shipping costs or make a few dollars on the rare exchange, but youíll generally break even. Plus, any sunk costs can be written off as tuition for the education received.
    1924 Gibson A Snakehead
    2005 National RM-1
    2007 Hester A5
    2009 Passernig A5
    2015 Black A2-z
    2010 Black GBOM
    2017 Poe Scout
    2011 Passernig F5
    2018 Vessel TM5

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  8. #6
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    Lots of great choices out there.

    I'd suggest a Ruhland or Kimble A5.

  9. #7
    Gummy Bears and Scotch BrianWilliam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    Not a solo builder, but the Northfield BigMon I got to test out for a while was very, very good (sound, construction, finish, playability). Appealing price point too....

  10. #8
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    Some clarity needed here. Br1ck, are you talking about commissioning an instrument from a solo luthier or just considering a mandolin made by one? The reason I ask is that if commissioning you would want to try out existing work, if possible, and have to factor in waitlist time, tying up deposits, custom features and communication experience with that luthier. If you are talking about existing mandolins then it is a different thing.

    I also am not sure if your question is hypothetical or real for you. I know, it is none of my business.

    All the mandolins I have owned or still own existed before I bought them. I have never commissioned one from a maker though I have thought about doing so. I have though, bought a few site unseen, the most recent being a Campanella A-5 which I am seriously pleased with. I had never played any of Joe's more recent instruments but I would put him on your list, if you can find one of his for sale.

    I have played one of John Hamett's F-5 and have very high respect for knowledge and generosity of sharing here so he would be one I would consider. Marty Jacobson is another luthier I respect but I have never played any of his but he is on my list. Of ones I have played I would also include Dave Cohen and Hans Brentrup (if you can find one of Hans' for sale.)
    Last edited by Jim Garber; Feb-01-2020 at 5:08pm.
    Jim

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  12. #9
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    For me it would be:

    New Girouard F
    Used Campanella
    Used Sobell
    2018 Girouard Concert oval A
    2015 JP "Whitechapel" tenor banjo
    1969 Martin 00-18




    my Youtube channel
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  14. #10
    Expert on my own opinion Bogle's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    Hello Br1ck,

    In that price range I'd be contacting Craig Wilson. Disclaimer: he's a good friend (about 50 years) however I have no financial interest......he simply builds great mandolins. Importantly, he KNOWS tone.....particularly if you're looking for a mandolin that's capable of ultimately delivering some vintage Loar (not the ones from The Music Link!) vibe.

    I've also been very impressed (in no particular order) with the work of Skip Kelley, John Hamlett (I just played a nice one today), Austin Clark, Andrew Mowry, and don't forget Mr. Ratcliff in Kentucky.....you know he builds a great sounding "A" and his "F" styles are quite nice, too!

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  16. #11
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    Will Kimble doesn't do commissions anymore, so I had to jump when he had an A available last summer. Not exactly jumping into the unknown, as I was familiar with the sound of his instruments and knew that was the sound I wanted. But it was a pretty big leap financially. I was comforted by the solid resale values that I had seen, so that helped.

    Once he put up a video of himself playing it, though, I knew that mando was not going anywhere besides my hands, til I'm dead...
    "Keep your hat on, we may end up miles from here..." - Kurt Vonnegut

  17. #12
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    In that price range I would add a Stiver F. New his go for around 6000 I think and his workmanship puts him in a class with builders who charge twice as much and more. NFI.
    Don

    2016 Weber Custom Bitterroot F
    2011 Weber Bitterroot A
    1974 Martin Style A
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  18. #13
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    Classified, classified, classified. OMG classifieds.
    Indulge responsibly!

    The entire staff
    funny....

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  20. #14
    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    I commissioned my Ratliff having only heard online clips. I got so much more than I expected. Top quality wood, custom design, super fit and finish. The sound is phenomenal, and the volume peels the finish off a banjo. It has had a realistic squashing of MAS. I only have an itch for octaves now.
    At delivery time I was very nervous about my purchase, and have been happier every month since I got it three years ago.
    2007 Weber Custom Elite "old wood"
    2017 Ratliff R5 Custom #1148
    Several nice old Fiddles
    2007 Martin 000-15S 12 fret Auditorium-slot head
    Deering Classic Open Back
    Too many microphones

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  22. #15
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    Lots of great builders with reputations that make you want a build from all of them. Many of whom are active here on the Cafe. Find a reference to a particular builder here on the Cafe and then begin your internet research.
    My recommendation is Louis Stiver. I have wanted a Stiver since picking one up the first time. Finally pulled the trigger. Sold my Collings and should have mine upon my return to Pa from Fl in late April.
    Stiver A style Custom Build
    Kentucky KM-950
    Keith Edward Coleman A style, oval hole Mandola
    Weber Gallatin A Mandola "D hole"
    Rogue 100A (current campfire tool)
    Harley Benton A style (grandchildren's learner)

  23. #16

    Default Re: Solo builders

    Hypothetical for now, and I do realize assessing Gryphon and Sylvan offers far more than most have the pleasure of experiencing. I wouldn’t want to wait for a commissioned build. I’m of an age where even a year seems to me too much of my life not to be playing something right now. But even Gryphon gets very few Gibson f styles in used, maybe one or two a year. But between those two stores, I have gotten a pretty solid education so that if some obscure brand end up in my hands, I can evaluate it properly. Living with my Silverangel has also given me a solid knowledge of that spectrum of tone, and my Arches kit has taught me how useful the brighter side of things is. Seeing a few Arches mandolins languishing in the marketplace at very nice prices got me wondering how many others are out there building really quality mandolins and how you would find them. Catch and release is not in my nature. Catch is not the problem.

    I had the discussion with a friend how I’ve noticed that people seem to fall into two basic categories, those who need minty instruments and those who gravitate to very used. I’m in the last camp. I see no value in buying new and worrying about it. Most of my instruments have been gigged extensively and look it. Most of my friends want mint condition. I understand that. And I hope to be smart enough to buy the tone and not the name. Plus I have my self imposed limits as to cost, though I did make the statement the other day that I’d rather drive my 200,000 mile car and buy a 15,000 dollar mandolin, than have a newer car. So my subliminal mind has different ideas than my conscious
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

  24. #17
    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    I would definitely look at the instruments of Oliver Apitius. The Club Jazz catches my eye and ear but it all depends on personal taste and genre.

    I also wouldn't necessarily feel the need to spend the whole bundle if something less expensive appealed to me. Case in point, I really like Mike Black's A's, in my case the A4's. For that money you could have him build just what you want and have a little left over for some really nice accessories (high-end case, for example).
    Purr more, hiss less.

  25. #18
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    If you were going to shop for a new mandolin, new to you that is, in the five or six thousand range new or used, what luthiers would be on your radar along with the usual Collings, Gibson, Weber, Pava fare? How would you go about finding them?

    I was cruising Mandolin Mutt the other day and there were a bunch of interesting possibilities. Many of the name builders are twice that budget or close. I’m especially interested in hearing from those who have been happy jumping into the unknown. I did that with my Silverangel at a much more modest price point.

    The obvious is a trip to Nashville, but other than that?
    At this price range I would look NO further than a 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 !

  26. #19

    Default Re: Solo builders

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Clark View Post
    I would definitely look at the instruments of Oliver Apitius. The Club Jazz catches my eye and ear but it all depends on personal taste and genre.

    I also wouldn't necessarily feel the need to spend the whole bundle if something less expensive appealed to me. Case in point, I really like Mike Black's A's, in my case the A4's. For that money you could have him build just what you want and have a little left over for some really nice accessories (high-end case, for example).
    I can't recall seeing a used Apitius F style for $6K, or a Ruhland, or a Sorenson, and many others. These are fairly well known builders. I'm thinking more like Buckeye, Poe, Ratliff, etc. This subject came to my mind when I looked at the Mando Mutt site and saw ,I think, four or five of these and wished I could try them all. And woe is me for the scroll addiction. I can't help it.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

  27. #20
    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    And woe is me for the scroll addiction. I can't help it.
    Nothing wrong with that...some like bowl cuts, some like a pompadour!Click image for larger version. 

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    2007 Weber Custom Elite "old wood"
    2017 Ratliff R5 Custom #1148
    Several nice old Fiddles
    2007 Martin 000-15S 12 fret Auditorium-slot head
    Deering Classic Open Back
    Too many microphones

    BridgerCreekBoys.com

  28. #21

    Default Re: Solo builders

    I'm not sure of Ruhland's current F5 prices, but I would think it would be under 6k new. I really can't recommend him enough. I have been playing my A5 he build a lot recently and it is a total monster. He has really dialed in the tone and playability and his finish and appointments just keep improving as well.

  29. #22
    Registered User Scotter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Solo builders

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    Hypothetical for now, and I do realize assessing Gryphon and Sylvan offers far more than most have the pleasure of experiencing. I wouldnít want to wait for a commissioned build. Iím of an age where even a year seems to me too much of my life not to be playing something right now. But even Gryphon gets very few Gibson f styles in used, maybe one or two a year. But between those two stores, I have gotten a pretty solid education so that if some obscure brand end up in my hands, I can evaluate it properly. Living with my Silverangel has also given me a solid knowledge of that spectrum of tone, and my Arches kit has taught me how useful the brighter side of things is. Seeing a few Arches mandolins languishing in the marketplace at very nice prices got me wondering how many others are out there building really quality mandolins and how you would find them. Catch and release is not in my nature. Catch is not the problem.

    I had the discussion with a friend how Iíve noticed that people seem to fall into two basic categories, those who need minty instruments and those who gravitate to very used. Iím in the last camp. I see no value in buying new and worrying about it. Most of my instruments have been gigged extensively and look it. Most of my friends want mint condition. I understand that. And I hope to be smart enough to buy the tone and not the name. Plus I have my self imposed limits as to cost, though I did make the statement the other day that Iíd rather drive my 200,000 mile car and buy a 15,000 dollar mandolin, than have a newer car. So my subliminal mind has different ideas than my conscious
    I agree that a good used instrument is the way to go. As mentioned in the "Brought Home A Buckeye!" thread, my 1931 National Duolian is my most played, treasured, and gigged guitar. It wasn't in exactly playable condition when I found it but the neck was straight and I knew enough about resonator guitars to know that it could be brought to life with a little work. To find it I had to drive across the state of Florida to spend an afternoon checking out around a dozen different Nationals in a store that is now no more. I got my pal, Frank Greathouse, to put in a new NR-P cone and biscuit and had him cut a new nut for me. Frank similarly brought to life a 19th century open backed banjo for me. I believe that stewardship is a responsibility that should be embraced by musicians.

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    I can't recall seeing a used Apitius F style for $6K, or a Ruhland, or a Sorenson, and many others. These are fairly well known builders. I'm thinking more like Buckeye, Poe, Ratliff, etc. This subject came to my mind when I looked at the Mando Mutt site and saw ,I think, four or five of these and wished I could try them all. And woe is me for the scroll addiction. I can't help it.
    Oh, so I just found the Mando Mutt website. I'd probably grab one of the Randy Wood mandos from there. Frank used to let me pluck around on his and it was awesome. But, I think I understand why you started this thread. There are plenty of short happy reviews by new owners but surprisingly little context in regards to player and luthier experiences. It's one of the reasons that I went out of my way to describe more about my own musical journey in relation to working with a luthier to get the kind of mandolin that I wanted. I've had my eye on an Apitius Club Jazz but that has waned now that I have the third iteration of The Buckeye #87. I'd love a Club Jazz but The Buckeye pretty much serves all my jazz needs for now.

    I could have obsessed more over all the different luthiers that can be found on the Builders section but as I said in that other thread: life is an adventure that sometimes requires a leap of faith or two along the way.
    Play that which you feel is groovy, get down with your bad self, and shake your money maker if it makes sense for you to do so.

  30. #23

    Default Re: Solo builders

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    I can't recall seeing a used Apitius F style for $6K, or a Ruhland, or a Sorenson, and many others. These are fairly well known builders. I'm thinking more like Buckeye, Poe, Ratliff, etc. This subject came to my mind when I looked at the Mando Mutt site and saw ,I think, four or five of these and wished I could try them all. And woe is me for the scroll addiction. I can't help it.
    I’ve seen a few Apitius used at around $5k. The lesser-known builders market is a bit softer, especially if someone has a “distress sale”.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

  31. #24

    Default Re: Solo builders

    I played an F5 from Tyler White (White Mandolins) at Green Mountain Bluegrass & Roots last year and it was one of the finest instruments I have ever put my hands on. His new builds are under that 5-6k mark I believe still...as a newer builder...and really hit the mark in tone, playability and fit and finish. The guy's website alone makes me drool all over my keyboard. There was one recently on the Cafe Classifieds for around $3,500 given or take, I think.

    http://www.whitemandolins.com/

    For those who aren't hell bent on the $2500 strap hanger feature, a good friend of mine Andrew Mueller has been making some beautiful A5s the past few years. While he is a friend, I have no financial interest and he is currently building me a GBOM as well, which I am incredibly excited about. I believe he is up to number 16 or so for A5 mandos. He also builds guitars for Froggy Bottom.

    Check out his website for some photos and videos of previous builds...and while you are there take a look at the raffle that he has donated an oval hole birch mando to. 10 bucks a ticket and the proceeds go to supporting a local venue's new music series.

    https://www.muleskinnerinstruments.com/

    Couple of photos of some of his previous builds too...one of a sycamore, one of the birch mandolin and three from a batch about a year or so back (the birch on the right)

    Click image for larger version. 

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  32. #25

    Default Re: Solo builders

    Quote Originally Posted by Josh Levine View Post
    I'm not sure of Ruhland's current F5 prices, but I would think it would be under 6k new. I really can't recommend him enough. I have been playing my A5 he build a lot recently and it is a total monster. He has really dialed in the tone and playability and his finish and appointments just keep improving as well.
    I believe someone said $7500. And why not given that he has a year and a half wait time?
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

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