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Thread: Breaking in or Opening Up

  1. #1

    Default Breaking in or Opening Up

    What characteristics change in a new instrument as it is played and ages? I have a fairly new red spruce topped mandolin; and it seems somewhat tight or restricted in the upper areas of the fretboard. Will note volume and sustain increase as the top ages?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    The old chestnut. Many will tell you of their experiences of the sound new instruments improving as they are played and age (a posteriori) whilst many will claim that it doesn’t happen because you can’t actually prove that it does.

    For those “nay sayers”, please prove to me that the sun will rise in the morning!

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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    “Mutability”
    BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY

    We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
    How restlessly they speed and gleam and quiver,
    Streaking the darkness radiantly! yet soon
    Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:—

    Or like forgotten lyres whose dissonant strings
    Give various response to each varying blast,
    To whose frail frame no second motion brings
    One mood or modulation like the last.

    We rest—a dream has power to poison sleep;
    We rise—one wandering thought pollutes the day;
    We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep,
    Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:—

    It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,
    The path of its departure still is free;
    Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
    Nought may endure but Mutability.
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    I can not tell any difference in sound from an instrument that has been played a lot from a new one ! I cannot hear any "opening up" or improving as it ages ! Does this mean that this phenomenon does not exist ? Absolutely not ! It means I don't have the ear for hearing this or it may not exist ! The new instruments I have bought sound great from the beginning or not good from the beginning ! I can't tell any difference between two buck Chuck wine and twenty dollar a bottle wine so I buy cheaper wine ! I guess I don't have the taste buds or the ear to distinguish the difference !
    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 Mando Mort's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    Because I feel as though I am slowly yet constantly improving as a player, that perhaps the improved sound is the result of better "tone" I get through improved technique rather than the instrument changing. Or, it could be a combination...
    "All of us contain Music & Truth, but most of us can't get it out." - Mark Twain

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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    I have definitely heard my mandolin change over time. Others have heard it too so it's not just me thinking or wishing. I am sure you will get both sides of this story.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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  12. #7

    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    Quote Originally Posted by Madpiper View Post
    What characteristics change in a new instrument as it is played and ages? I have a fairly new red spruce topped mandolin; and it seems somewhat tight or restricted in the upper areas of the fretboard. Will note volume and sustain increase as the top ages?
    Taylor guitars says the instrument changes as it ages and is played. That certainly is my experience with my Taylor and with my mandolin.
    Loar LM-370

    “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” ― Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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  14. #8

    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    I have been reflecting upon what is this concept of an instrument “opening up”? As time progresses how do we “objectively“ remember how our instruments sounded yesterday, last month, last year and beyond? The more we play our instruments the more we are capable of bringing out their finer nuances. If we enjoy the sound and playability of our instrument I suppose we are motivated to play it more and thus improve. Players often change picks, picking styles and choose new string brands with different metallic compositions. Seasonal climatic variation will yield different temperatures and humidity levels and unquestionably change the physical qualities of a wooden instrument. (I happen to live in Canada where the extremes are well known!) In turn the action and acoustical properties will change. Parallel to our instrument changing we change too! Hearing and other senses are certainly not consistent and negatively accelerate as we age! Given all of the above possibilities along with all permutations and combinations thereof how should we describe the changes our instrument project to us as the listener? Is this what we are trying to describe as “opening up”? Tomorrow’s sound will be different hence could we say my instrument “opened” again “overnight”. How about a month from now, a year from now and so on. I have several mandolins and often switch between them. Sometimes I pick one up and feel the sound “sucks” and it is returned to it’s case! Other times I will pick up the same mandolin and say to myself this mandolin is “incredible” and fall in love with it at least until I
    feel it has “closed down”!!! Or desire a different sound altogether.
    With all the changing parameters mentioned above and along with factors I haven’t even thought of is it really the same mandolin ????)
    Maybe the term “opening up” should be replaced by a different term which could incorporate the concept that acoustic instruments have a life of their own and have vacillating qualities just as we humans do!
    Just a thought!

  15. #9

    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    From a purely economic and marketing perspective, isn't it extremely useful to believe that instruments, all instruments, must only get better, and never worse, with more playing and age? And isn't it interesting that this is the only engineered structure in existence in which the normal distribution lies 100% within the range of changes which are not only significant, but considered beneficial by the player/owner/seller?

    Taylor's obviously not going to print up a pamphlet that says, "our guitars are 100% as good as they can be right out the door-- don't play 'em too much, they may get worse or better, you take the risk!"

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  17. #10
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    If your not sure you are in love with the tone of your new instrument, just keep playing it. You'll get used to it.

    I do think there is a little something to aging of the wood/glue/soundboard. I just think that effect is exaggerated exponentially by most.
    Then again, what isnt ?
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    In my mind and experience, there is likely some change over time and over the use of an instrument, but I believe it is subtle and I find it amazing when some folks will buy an instrument that they find has some limitations to their ears at the present but with the idea that it will change dramatically over time. The most extreme was a comment on a guitar site when the poster said they just bought a #$12,000 flattop and couldn't wait until it opened up in a few years. Huh?

    I have played dozens or instruments that were amazing to my ears on first playing. But I would never pay big money for something that didn't "tickle" my ear buds on first playing. Most of the ones I have sold I did so because they never really sounded the way I preferred.
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  20. #12
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    I'm one who is somewhat agnostic on the process of opening up. Regarding the above post questioning the assumption that any change that does occur is sure to be a positive; great point but I do tend to think that any permanent changes that occur are more likely to be improvements. As the components of a newly constructed instrument settle in and stresses equilibrate, I would think that it would move more towards functioning as designed, that it, to produce mandolin tones. Maybe not.

    As far as long term opening up. It may happen but it would be hard to detect due to difficulty in remembering tone for longer than 10 minutes. I do seem to be able to detect an instrument opening up while I play. My '46 D-18 is wide awake whenever I pick it up, regardless of how long it's been since I played it last. As a matter of fact, that seems to apply to all of my Martin's (the youngest being a '69). My '44 J-45 definitely takes a while to really let go of what's it's got. My mandolins seem to like to be beaten on for awhile before they're really happy.

  21. #13

    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    I think it is a phenomenon akin to another that many of us experienced: When I was 18 my parents didn't know anything. By the time I was 30, I couldn't believe how much they had learned since I was 18.
    Last edited by Franc Homier Lieu; Mar-24-2020 at 12:26pm.

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  23. #14

    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    I feel it’s something that can happen, but can’t be counted on. I just had an experience with an adi top. When I first strung my Arches up, I was pretty pleased, but the G strings didn’t have quite the tone I had hoped for, but they sounded better than the imports I was shooting to better. A year and a half later, the mandolin has developed a more mature tone.
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    Quote Originally Posted by DocT View Post
    Taylor guitars says the instrument changes as it ages and is played. That certainly is my experience with my Taylor and with my mandolin.
    Not doubting you in the least ! My only point is that "I" can't hear any difference ! Same for taste buds so two buck Chuck it is !
    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. #16
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    A year and a half later, the mandolin has developed a more mature tone.
    And so did you!
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  27. #17
    Registered User John Soper's Avatar
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    I have a friend whose mandolin didn't get broken in, it got broken down by his fingernail & pick drag on the top. He claims it sounds better than when it had a pristine finish, but I find that there mojo hasn't changed it to my ears - just to my eyes!

  28. #18
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    The more you play it, the better it sounds. So yes. it's science.

    To quote the NYT: "Researchers in England say that laboratory tests conducted on wood commonly used to make violins supports age-old claims by musicians that the regular playing of a stringed instrument improves its tone."

    https://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/27/s...s-improve.html

    Case closed! Boom! (Probably not, but ...)
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    The more you play and practice, maybe you are opening up !
    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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  32. #20

    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    Guitars change over time. They become more resonant. Aging vapes resins and other volatiles from the wood—at least the soft top wood. That's one reason why well-made old guitars, like Gibsons and Martins, go for so much: It's the sound.

    It's also why so many tops of high-end guitars are now baked, a.k.a. "torrefied." It's a process that makes new wood sound like it's fifty years old. In a good way.

    As mentioned above, a regularly-played guitar does seem to gain some voice. That's the folklore, anyhow. But they say that it needs to be played in tune and that it takes quite a while.

    So my impression is that it takes years for an instrument to start to ripen. And I agree with several of the comments above: A lot of it is you getting used to the instrument and becoming a better player generally.

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  34. #21
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    Doubt the carbon fiber Mix A will change at all..
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    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    My favorite beat to death thread topic! A bunch of half deaf old geezers arguing about tone!
    Spruce dork

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  38. #23

    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    Loar LM-370

    “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” ― Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  39. #24

    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    If you can make yourself get older, you will lose the ability to hear high frequencies, and this will make your mandolin sound much less tinny, and give it way more bass. I've been trying this for 20 years now, and it is starting to work. I plan to get a lot older and I'll report back once I do.

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  41. #25

    Default Re: Breaking in or Opening Up

    You know what really helps break in a mandolin? A ToneRite. And playing with a Blue Chip. But only playing real bluegrass. On an F-style, but not an A.

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