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Thread: "Playability"

  1. #1

    Default "Playability"

    Could forum members comment on what the factors are regarding “playability”? In the current downtime I picked up a Rover 75 mandolin that had been languishing in the basement for years. It was not pleasant to play, but I decided to push forward anyway. I did a bit of reading about strings and changed out to some D’Addario light strings and the instrument was immediately more pleasant to interact with. I would also assume that the set up of the action, as a function of nut and bridge height would be important as well. What about nut width or are there aspects to the fingerboard that make it more or less playable? Any other factors.

    Then part 2 of this question. I am living in the middle of nowhere Pacific NW and unlikely to even want to go Seattle or Portland at such a time as this to play other mandolins. Are there any intermediate A-style mandolins, $800 - $1200 range that would be particularly “playable.” Sound is not critical to me at this point as I have not been able to appreciate major differences in sound on YouTube demos until you get into the multi-1000 dollar instruments. Appearance of the mandolin is important and I am particularly attracted to MD505CC/n, or others in the Eastman line.

  2. #2
    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Playability"

    Another playability adjustment that is possible on most instruments is truss rod tension if the neck has a bit of bow to it. But as for the non-adjustable aspects of a particular mandolin's design, playability has more to do with personal preferences. Like the profile of the neck, the nut width, radius of the fretboard. And if you develop a preference for one or another of those factors and you play nothing but instruments that suit your preference, you may well get to the point of not being able to play an instrument very well unless it has all those same "playability" factors. But me, I have several mandolins here and I have bought and sold several others and their playability design factors are all over the map. And I play them all more or less equally poorly. Really, I adjust from one to another very easily.

    Re what to buy and where. Just about any of the advertisers here at the Cafe will be happy to help you to arrive at a good choice if you call them up. I suspect they would mostly have new instruments but they also might have some used ones in that range. I have referred people to Dennis Vance at The Mandolin Store and he has given them good advice and good deals. I suspect also that you will end up with an Eastman or Kentucky unless you find a nice used something better.

    Good luck, and welcome to the Cafe!
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  4. #3
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Playability"

    Quote Originally Posted by DCHammers View Post
    ...Are there any intermediate A-style mandolins, $800 - $1200 range that would be particularly “playable.”...
    Probably not right out of the box, but nearly any if well set up.
    Playability is almost completely a function of set up, although neck size and shape can also be involved. Most new instruments (nearly all) bought in stores are in need of some amount of set up adjustments to get them playing really well. Perhaps even more instruments bought on-line are in need of set up work.
    You can buy from a store that includes a set up in the purchase price, or you can buy and then have the instrument set up elsewhere (or do it yourself). Otherwise playability will probably not be very good.

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  6. #4
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Playability"

    Again who you buy it from counts as said above Setup..
    getting the action down to where it's reasonable finger pressure,

    Fretboard leveling?
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  7. #5
    Registered User John Soper's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Playability"

    The mandolin that you have probably needs a set up. A Rover isn't a "top quality" mandolin, but a set up by a competent luthier or repair person would make it more playable and might help you make decisions about whether to get a new instrument, depending on how much you play it. Or learn a few skills while the Covid keeps us in - learn how to do set up yourself. Rob Meldrum has offered an eBook on mandolin set up for quite some time. He is a member of Mandolin Cafe and will send a copy if you PM him:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...hlight=meldrum

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  9. #6
    Rush Burkhardt Rush Burkhardt's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Playability"

    Hey, DC! If you take the online purchase route, I would add to Dennis Vance, at The Mandolin Store, Kevin Douglas, at MandoMutt! Both of these guys are 1st class, and very interested that you get the right instrument! Good luck!
    Rush Burkhardt
    Towson, MD


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  11. #7
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Playability"

    It may be a matter of semantics, but I think of a difference between setup and playability features.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Soper View Post
    The mandolin that you have probably needs a set up. A Rover isn't a "top quality" mandolin, but a set up by a competent luthier or repair person would make it more playable and might help you make decisions about whether to get a new instrument, depending on how much you play it. Or learn a few skills while the Covid keeps us in - learn how to do set up yourself. Rob Meldrum has offered an eBook on mandolin set up for quite some time.
    What John is describing here is what I think of as setup. It’s a series of adjustments — to the bridge, the fret ends, the tuners, the truss rod, and especially the nut — that optimizes a mandolin. A Rover likely left a Chinese factory with no setup, and depending on where it was purchased, it most likely still has not received a setup. In the right hands, which might be your own (with Rob’s help), that Rover (or any other healthy mandolin) should be pleasant to interact with you.

    Quote Originally Posted by HonketyHank View Post
    But as for the non-adjustable aspects of a particular mandolin's design, playability has more to do with personal preferences. Like the profile of the neck, the nut width, radius of the fretboard.
    What Hank is describing here is what I think of as playability features. They’re a series of design choices — nut width, neck profile, fret size — that really can’t be “adjusted” (though they can be modified). For some players, the differences are very important. A Cafe regular named Jeff Hildreth is insistent that anything less than a 1-3/16” nut is unplayable for him, while another named Don Grieser finds that anything over 1-1/16” is not sustainable for him. Some, like Hank here, have owned a variety of mandolins and are able to adapt to these differences comfortably. Others, like me, own a variety of mandolins and can play them all but still notice some that feel more intuitive. For me, the big issue is neck profile. A full neck with lots of meat in the shoulders gets in the way of my playing in a way that a narrow one in a V profile doesn’t. But that kind of observation only comes when you’ve played a bunch of mandolins over a period of time, and hopefully doesn’t come at all.

    Once you have that sorted out, there are real upgrades, not only in setup but tone, in the $800-1200 range depending on what you want to do musically. You are towards the high end of the American flattop market (only the Waterloo is above budget), and used options from Flatiron and Big Muddy can be found for far less. You are towards the bottom end of the American archtop market, where new options include the Pacific NW’s own Sonny Morris and used offerings can sometimes be found by Ratliff, Silverangel, Flatiron, and Rigel.
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  13. #8
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    Default Re: "Playability"

    Look into an Eastman 505 A or a Kentucky Artist A model. Either is within your projected budget. Either is available through The Mandolin Store. As stated above Dennis Vance sets his instruments up before shipping them out. Make sure you are getting a hard case with your purchase. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  14. #9
    Registered User J Mangio's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Playability"

    For an oval hole, The Eastman 604 is in your price range, and a looker for sure, If you want f hole, the 605 will work.
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  16. #11
    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: "Playability"

    A great sounding mandolin that has bad playability can be fixed, but a great playing mandolin that sounds bad is always going to sound bad.

  17. #12

    Default Re: "Playability"

    I just downloaded Mr. Meldrum’s e-book for future reference. Wow! Lots of detailed info neatly put together. Whether it be for a little tweak or a full set up, the info is in this free E-book. Thanks Mr. Meldrum! Awesome job!

  18. #13

    Default Re: "Playability"

    Many thanks for taking the time to make all the great suggestions. Great forum.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Thanks Hank for the quick response on both questions.

  19. #14

    Default Re: "Playability"

    Howard Morris is in Oregon. His mandos are in your price range and, from what I've read, the instruments are terrific.

    If I wanted a new mando, I'd probably get one of his.

    Morris mandos

    Here's a cafe thread about him:

    Cafe thread

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