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Thread: "tinny" A string?

  1. #1

    Default "tinny" A string?

    I'm learning to play on the first and only mandolin I've ever built (F5). I'm on the second set of strings. I use a smartphone-based tuning app to tune every time I practice. So I am pretty certain I'm always in tune. However, I have noticed--with both sets of strings--that the A string is notably "tinny." It has a somewhat unpleasant twang to it; not "warm" in other words. And this is when I confirm that it is in tune.

    I'm curious, what from a construction/building standpoint may have caused this? My first assumption is that that treble side of the mandolin's top (spruce) may have been carved so that it's too thin in that area under that string? But that's a wild guess based on my limited experience.

    Any ideas? Thanks for your help.


  2. #2

    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    The specific area under a string isn't going to impact a specific string. A mandolin top being too thin can make the treble strings sound tinny. As can a back being too thin. Or the top or back, or both, being too thick.
    It can also be due to the shape of the nut or bridge slots, or the setup or fretwork. (Or a variety of other things).

    Most of us didn't stop with one mandolin, the reason being that after so much hard work, there is so much further to go in the next few mandolins!

  3. #3

    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    Thanks, Marty! I am definitely keeping at it. I'm working on my next three at the moment!

  4. #4
    Registered User Walt's Avatar
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    Sep 2002
    West Monroe, LA

    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    This is only tangentially related, but does anyone have any thoughts on why the A string generally has lower tension lbs than the other strings? For example on a set of J74s, all of the strings are ~23.xx lbs, but the A string is ~19.xx lbs. On a lot of mandos, the A string sounds slightly less beefy, and I wonder how much of that is due to lower tension.

    I think the D'Addario EFT74s (flat tops) with the ground wound .015 A string can sometimes improve a weak A course. Those come in at 20.5 lbs, though the other courses are heavier as well. The downside is that the ground wound A is very delicate and prone to breaking.

    I have tried to track down a .016 wound string to try on the A course. Some old 12 strings guitar sets used to come with one for the G string, but I don't think they are produced anymore.

  5. #5

    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    Mark, if you only get the effect when right on tune, and only the open string, I’d suspect a resonance. If it’s the same off-tune, more likely the detailed shape of the nut or saddle as has been discussed a lot lately. Resonance: when some part of the instrument other than the strings has a specific vibrational mode with few losses. We don’t want any resonances within the musical range, since one particular note would sound differently. A resonance is diminished by adding energy loss, that is, damping, which could be, say, finger pressure, or permanently, a little mass (see ‘wolf tone’). But if you get the tinny sound on more than just the open A, then it’s not. All notes on that string do point to nut and saddle.

  6. #6
    Registered User belbein's Avatar
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    Oct 2011
    Atlanta, GA
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    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    It can also be your ear. Personally, I have trouble with the treble "e" on mandolin. No problem on the note in a lower register. But it just grates on me on the mando. It's screechy, not tinny. That's one of the reasons I started playing Octave and eventually Mandola and Tenor Guitar (I don't know why I'm capitalizing those!). The string could also be about to go. Or it's out of harmony with the Universe, maybe.

    The bad news is that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. The good news is that what kills us makes it no longer our problem

  7. #7
    Registered User Pete Braccio's Avatar
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    Nov 2003
    Now in the Pacific Northwest

    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    My guess (and only a guess) is that the nut string slot is a little tight. I has one mandolin that produced a tinny (on the A string no less) sound for this reason.

    Pete Braccio

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  8. #8

    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    Thanks, everyone, for the great suggestions. I've actually been considering remaking the nut on this mandolin because I didn't really know what I was doing when I made it. So maybe that's where I'll start.

  9. #9
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Aug 2007
    Sydney, Australia

    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    I was just about to say to check your nut. Put your ear next to it and play the string. Iíd you hear it coming from there thatís it. If not see if itís the bridge.

    When in doubt itís the nut. Then the bridge.

  10. #10
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Jun 2010
    Sugar Grove,PA
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    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    Even with a superb set-up, check your A slots in the nut and saddle-go for no slop! Also strings can be a problem! Try a thicker A string set? I guess I've never had a too thin top or back carved mandolin but yes I've had them on the heavy side, I was just working on a 1961 F-5-slowly scoring around the back and taking the back off for a re-graduation as that old thing is built heavy! Also has two pounds of heavy lacquer on it-LoL! I just have to remember patience! I bought it as a project and got a deal because a few years ago I bought a 1958 Gibson F-5 and that thing turned out to be a tonal powerhouse-granted Randy Wood the king of re-graduation did that one but also had to build a new neck as I got the 58 at a steal as it already had a very poor re-neck and Randy while he's the man it still took over two years to get her back so I have the patience and know how to at least pop the back off and do a full internal re-graduation!

    Now I just need to learn how to do correct neck sets! For me that's daunting, and a bit scary as I've never done neck sets! So with my 61 Gibson F-5 when I finish the re-graduation I may have a luthier friend do the deep neck set for me! And get some real cheapies to practice neck sets?

  11. #11
    Certified! Bernie Daniel's Avatar
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    Oct 2006
    Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
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    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    I'll throw an additional possibility on this twangy, buzzy, tinny A-string. That is how you are fretting and/or pehaps the state of the callouses on your finger tips.

    I have osteoarthritis and it is worse in the worst place too -- the first phalanges joint. This means I've had to come up with a new ways to get my finger tips into position on the fret board in order to make the notes. So every now and then I will start hearing a most annoying high pitched buzz or rattle coming whenever I press a fret on the A-course -- it is consistently worse on some frets.

    I have concluded that in my case it is NOT the mandolin because I can switch another mandolin and get the same thing happening -- it's me, or my hands. The A-string just seems to be in a position that is hard for me to place a finger tip some days.

    I imagine this could happen to others? For me the problem is mostly confined to the A-course. Never have this happen on octave mandolin or even mandola that I can recall?
    Due to current budgetary restrictions the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off -- sorry about the inconvenience.

  12. #12

    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    Bernie, thanks for mentioning that; brings up something I noticed when looking at picks on Ebay. In some sets, for, I think banjo people, finger and thumb picks, but also finger tip protectors. Since, locked down, I’ve been playing mando hours every day, my left hand finger tips just get sore - no noticeable buildup of callous. Does anyone use these, or things like these for reasons like yours, or for tonal effect? Or to make a four-finger lap mandolin?

  13. #13

    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    I think Walt nailed it on this one. On my 5 builds so far, the A string has been the hardest to get a good tone out of. One thing that seems to help some is raising the bridge some on the treble side, but that makes the E string a real bear to play up the neck. I actually drop the E string about a mm or so below the radius on the bridge to compensate for this.

  14. #14
    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Oct 2002
    Richmond, VA

    Default Re: "tinny" A string?

    I am no luthier, so I may not be explaining this right. I had this exact problem for years on one of my mandolins, a mandolin built by a well known builder. I went through two luthiers who worked on it, but didn't make the problem go away. I finally found a guy in the DC area who was highly recommended. He had the instrument for two weeks and he reworked the bridge saddle and problem solved. He said it was a combination of the top of the saddle not being exactly the right radius for the neck and adjustment screws being near the edge or their travel. He reshaped the top of the saddle and all the slots and put a shim on the bottom of the saddle that allowed the adjustment screws to be cranked down farther. I don't know why that worked, but it definitely did.

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