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Thread: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals?

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    Registered User Mike Romkey's Avatar
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    Default Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals?

    I’m looking for some collective wisdom on ordering a new oval.

    Lately I’ve fallen in love with Os. I have a ’24 A2Z that I’ve had for a while but only recently started to play. And, wow. Way different machine than the F5s. I’m smitten — especially when there’s no banjo in the picture.

    Love the Z’s tone and the playability is pretty good. I put Stew Mac repro tuners on it, but for some reason it’s a chore to tune up and keep in tune. I’m beginning to suspect there might be intonation issues. Weren’t some of the '20s Gibsons built with some of the frets off a bit? Or was that just the F5s? I’ve taken it out on a couple of jobs and struggled to tune it and keep it in tune.

    So I’ve decided to get a new oval. The contenders:

    1. A Brentrup. Or would be, if the used one I was interested in hadn’t gotten away. : (

    2. An Ellis 2-point oval Mando Mutt has. I’m pretty intrigued by this. It’s an “homage to Jethro” build. I’m not crazy about either the color (it’s that wine hue) or the block inlays. I’m told it sounds great. I know the cosmetics are of secondary importance, but it's a lot of money to spend on something it'll take me a while to figure out whether or not I like.

    3. A Collings MT 0 or MT2 O. I’m a red spruce guy so I think that means MT2. Music Emporium has an Italian spruce model that sure looks interesting. I have a Collings mandola I like; I had an MF that had a thin tone which quickly became a catch-and-release mandolin. I’m sure one of the MT2 Os would suit me. Though I don’t think they have EVO frets.

    4. I’m really leaning toward finding or ordering a bespoke Ellis A4. The neck is a little longer than usual, meeting the body at the 14th fret. Looks like the Collings is the same. I don't think this is a big issue for me. The raised fingerboard seems like it would be a plus. It has EVO frets, Waverly tuners, some options I’d like to add if I get one.

    5. There are some other makers. Will Kimble will build an oval. There’s a used Gil Model 1 for sale. Both the Gil and Kimble are the more traditional A ovals, without the raised fingerboard. I'm thinking if I'm going modern on an oval, I just ought to go with the "new" style (Collings or Ellis). I don't live within 500 miles of a play-and-compare situation, maybe closer to 1,000.

    So, to Ellis or not? Or is there another A oval maker I’m overlooking?

    Thoughts? Thanks!
    '09 Gilchrist Model 1, “July 9” Red Diamond F-5, '12 Duff F-5, '19 Collings MT2, ’24 A2-Z, ’24 F-2, '13 Collings mandola, '82 D-35, Gibson Keb Mo.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Romkey View Post
    Weren’t some of the '20s Gibsons built with some of the frets off a bit?
    Absolutely, I had a 24 F4 and the fretboard was especially off in the upper reaches. A luthier showed me a properly fretted one and you could see the obvious difference when placed fretboard to fretboard.

    I love my Brentrup but these are hard to find.

    First of all, have you played any of the brands you mention above? I have played a few Collings Ovals but they don't do it for me. OTOH I have played a few of the f-hole models and I liked them for the most part, some more than others.

    I can't imagine that any Ellis would not be an amazing instrument. Then again, this Pava A-4 doesn't sounds too shabby.

    Personally, I have liked the few Kimbles I have played and I love my Campanella but that is an A-5. Perhaps Mandobar can chime in. I know she loves her oval Campanella A-440. If it is anything like mine, it has a unique sound unlike most other makers.

    Before my Brentrup I wanted a modern oval hole but what I didn't want was an x-braced longer neck one (hybrid). The Brentrup I have is exactly what I wanted: a modern version made very much like the 1920s A-4 with transverse bracing and shorter neck. I don't know if that is the tone you are looking for but I got what I wanted.

    I was also looking at Gilchrist. I knew a guy who had a Gilchrist Model 1 (not the junior). I even contacted Steve and at that time he was making some of those I that batch. I think if I had the ash i would have commissioned one of those or a Nugget. Lots of cash, though.

    BTW I really like this page on Steve Gilchrist's site that explains his thoughts on archtop mandolin design.

    Oh, one more... what about Lawrence Smart?

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    Good luck to you on your search.
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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Romkey View Post
    ...
    3. A Collings MT 0 or MT2 O. I’m a red spruce guy so I think that means MT2. Music Emporium has an Italian spruce model that sure looks interesting. I have a Collings mandola I like; I had an MF that had a thin tone which quickly became a catch-and-release mandolin. I’m sure one of the MT2 Os would suit me. Though I don’t think they have EVO frets. ...
    I can’t speak to the other choices but I love my Collings MT2-O

    The elevated fret board and longer neck do seem to make these style of ovals a little less tubby, a little more like a hybrid with an f hole instrument. I like that, but from what I read here not everyone does. I have a one-piece birdseye maple back on mine, and use monel strings - both of which seem to contribute to that hybrid nature... I feel the red spruce top also helps this. I do feel you could do the opposite of what I did and accentuate the classic sound by string and wood choice.

    I can’t put my MT2-O down once I get playing on it, it seems to have the longer sustain and a deeper tone then my f-hole collings, but it doesn’t quite chop as well. Definitely my preferred instrument for around the house and melody playing. I don’t gig with it, but I have used it in a practice with a former bluegrass band and it did hold up well.


    What a wonderful thing to consider, and I would say go for an Ellis if you can manage it. I have never played an Ellis let alone an Ellis oval, but what the heck - it’s not my money! . A reasonable option would be to wait for the right used MT2-O to come up, I do think that would meet the criteria you have laid out.

    I think the key thing here is that you know what you want, or at least have an idea. Every time I have followed that I have (eventually) found it. Or along the way evolved my idea of what I want.
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    When I visited Tom's shop a couple years ago, I played a couple Pava ovals that were the real deal. There were no Ellis ovals there at the time. There's a Pava oval with a torrified top at TMS that looks just like the Gilchrist Jr. I'd bet it's got something extra to it tonewise. I'd also imagine the Ellis A4 oval would be even nicer--love that design.

    Max and Lauri Girouard also make some fine ovals.
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    MT-O. Similar enough to be comforting, different enough to be interesting.
    Gunga......Gunga.....Gu-Lunga

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    Registered User seankeegan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    I've an Ellis A4 and love it. It's an exceptional mandolin. I've also a Girouard oval, another long neck x-braced oval. The Girouard might be worth considering.

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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    Quote Originally Posted by seankeegan View Post
    I've an Ellis A4 and love it. It's an exceptional mandolin. I've also a Girouard oval, another long neck x-braced oval. The Girouard might be worth considering.

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    I played most and many other ovals not mentioned at Gruhn's in Nashville ! The two that stood out best to my ears were Ellis and Girouard ovals ! I had Max Girouard build me an A4 oval and I liked it so much Max is now building me a F4 ! Both builders are at the top of the mandolin food chain !
    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 Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    +1 for a Girouard, but then there is this in the classifieds...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/149692#149692

    NFI
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    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    Hi Mike,

    Have you considered Mike Black's mandolins? He builds in the style of the old Gibsons, but obviously new and built as you want it. His instruments are beautiful to look at, to play and to listen to. He is also really easy to work with. I had him build me an A4-style Piccolo with Virzi that I absolutely love. It gets lots of play time and has become a regular in my Duo's repertoire. I also think his instruments are underpriced, but ssshhhhhhh on that. I don't want him to figure that out before I have him build a full-sized big sister for my Piccolo, and that's a little ways off yet.

    Happy searching,

    Bob
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    Registered User Steve Roberts's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    Weren’t some of the '20s Gibsons built with some of the frets off a bit?

    Teens too. I had a teens A that was off just enough to be really disconcerting. Bob Smakula put a new fingerboard on and it made all the difference. It would be a lot less expensive to put a new fingerboard on that A2Z than buying a whole new mando. Just saying-

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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    My '22 drove me nuts for a while, after some careful measuring I put a 1mm shim between the nut and the end of the fingerboard and now it plays in tune beautifully.
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    I certainly enjoy the tone and playability of my Old Wave oval. I believe it was modeled after a teens Gibson and, for me, a pleasure to play. It likely does not qualify as "upper tier" as you requested.

    Gene

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    Registered User Mike Romkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    I had one of Mike Black's A2Zs and let it go. For some reason I have the oval fever these days. The Black was nice. Good thought.
    Last edited by Mike Romkey; Feb-10-2020 at 12:08pm.
    '09 Gilchrist Model 1, “July 9” Red Diamond F-5, '12 Duff F-5, '19 Collings MT2, ’24 A2-Z, ’24 F-2, '13 Collings mandola, '82 D-35, Gibson Keb Mo.

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    Registered User Mike Romkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    Update: Just called Ellis. I could get a new one in about a year. But I need it now. : ) Or this summer? The plot thickens. I'm leaning toward getting an MT2 0, and if six months from now I'm lusting for more, ordering an Ellis. ...

    Italian vs. red spruce -- that would be the next question if I go down the Collings road.
    Last edited by Mike Romkey; Feb-10-2020 at 12:10pm.
    '09 Gilchrist Model 1, “July 9” Red Diamond F-5, '12 Duff F-5, '19 Collings MT2, ’24 A2-Z, ’24 F-2, '13 Collings mandola, '82 D-35, Gibson Keb Mo.

  25. #15
    Registered User mtucker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    I owned a Collings, then a ‘24 Gibson and then a Gilchrist Model 1jr. Not to say that the Collings wasn’t nice but perhaps just more modern sounding than I preferred. As I recall, brighter and cleaner, not as dirty. My Gilchrist Model 1 Jr was the nuts, very punchy and much less tubby then the ‘24 but had a lovely bottom end that didn’t break up like the Gibson when you hammered it. I’ve pondered another at some point. All just one person’s perspective FWIW, hope it helps.

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    I really liked my Collings MT-O....until I played a Girouard oval A - emailed Max the very next day to place an order! One year on since taking delivery and I am still head over heels for my Girouard, first time since 2009 that my MAS is well and truly quashed!
    2018 Girouard Concert oval A
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    Registered User Rich Benson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    There's an amazing, fully tricked out Pava oval at Music Emporium as well. Incredible quilted back and sides, Waverlys, EVO frets, pickguard, tortoise binding, etc. I'm a Pava owner and have heard Tom Ellis describe the Pava's as been very equivalent to an Ellis.
    Rich

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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    To my ears, pretty much all of the teens and twenties-built Gibson mandolins have intonation problems. None of them play in tune like a quality CNC-cut modern fingerboard mandolin can play in tune.

    This really bothers some people and others don't notice or don't mind.

    In my experience, Ellis, Pava, and Collings mandolins all have very accurate fingerboards.

    There's a whole story about the computer programming involved in these calculations and the source that is responsible in turn for how a bunch of these builders and more (Gibson) cut their boards. It's not my story to tell but there's something to be said for modern technology when it comes to fingerboard accuracy.
    Paul Glasse
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    Registered User Mike Romkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    Well, dang. Now you've got me looking at the Pava. I do own a Pava Player I got from Carter's a few months ago. To tell the truth, it doesn't excite me much. It's turning into my wife's mandolin. (G) But the Pava at Emporium does have some great features. Sending for a sound clip.
    Last edited by Mike Romkey; Feb-10-2020 at 1:29pm.
    '09 Gilchrist Model 1, “July 9” Red Diamond F-5, '12 Duff F-5, '19 Collings MT2, ’24 A2-Z, ’24 F-2, '13 Collings mandola, '82 D-35, Gibson Keb Mo.

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  35. #20
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    I have measured many pre-war Gibson fingerboards. In short, all of them are at least a little bit off, sometimes within reasonable tolerances, sometimes not.
    It seems that the fret placement gets sloppier after 1920.
    Fret placement on pre-war Gibson guitars can also be a problem. I haven't measured any of the banjos, but I suspect that they also have problems.

    On those that are noticeably off, moving the nut back a millimeter or so as Pops noted often takes care of the problems well enough, at least in the lower positions.
    Sometimes a fret or two can be moved if necessary.

    I have seen a few fingerboards that were so far off that they had to be replaced.

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Exclamation Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    I got my Gibson 1922 A4 re-fretted recently, It has been fine It's been in the region since bought initially by a returning WW 1 Veteran ..

    It passed through the hands of a friend, bought from the Estate sale ...
    another local player had a new fingerboard fitted on one of a similar vintage ..
    It is a factory product , not all came out spot on..

    Germane to the topic , go to where many mandolins are in stock to audition them.. in person.



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  37. #22
    Registered User Mark Seale's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    I'd be hard pressed to pass up the Gil at TME. Those from the early batches are ridiculously good. Similarly, if you can find a Kimble oval, they're very similar.

  38. #23

    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    That 1-1/16th nut though is the killer.
    Gunga......Gunga.....Gu-Lunga

  39. #24
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    The Gil at TME is exactly how I’d order one. But they’re asking the same price, or real close, to what a new one costs. I had a Model 1 for awhile and got $5,800 when i sold it. Killer mandolins though. Sold mine to find an F5 purchase. Would love to have another. Steve is doing a pearl inlay on the new ones.

    Kimble will not take an order for an oval. I’ve been pestering him for years. Owned one of those too and wish I had it back. Very similar to the Gil.

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  41. #25
    Registered User Mike Romkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your thoughts on Ellis A4s and other modern, upper tier ovals

    I hadn't realized what an issue intonation is. That's a puzzler. I'm keeping my A. Maybe there's a new fingerboard in its future.
    '09 Gilchrist Model 1, “July 9” Red Diamond F-5, '12 Duff F-5, '19 Collings MT2, ’24 A2-Z, ’24 F-2, '13 Collings mandola, '82 D-35, Gibson Keb Mo.

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