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Thread: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

  1. #51
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    I have read that Bill Collings didn’t use EVO fret wire on his mandolins because he didn’t like the tone it produced. It was here on the ‘Cafe that I read it, I don’t care to put the effort into searching the archives to validate this statement.

    bgpete, I agree with you. A mandolin that I play almost everyday for the last 10 years, that gets an annual set-up, got EVO frets last year. I thought it sounded brighter. Bottom line is, after playing every day for 10 years, I know what it sounds like when it’s dry, I know what it sounds like when the humidity is high, I know what it sounds like with dead strings, for that matter I know what it sounds like with 5 different brands of strings played with 20 different varieties of picks. I can guarantee that switching from nickel-silver to EVO made a difference, it made The A and E courses brighter when fretting.

    Can I “prove” it?...No, but what I hear is not a figment of my imagination that was conjured up by a preconceived notion that changing frets would change the tone.

    -Best
    Scott

  2. #52

    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Thanks yet again to all posters - this has garnered more interest than I ever thought it would! I wouldn't say anything will be resolved here (nothing to resolve, really) - but the exchange of opinions and ideas has been very rewarding, to me at least.
    - pete

  3. #53

    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Quote Originally Posted by bgpete View Post
    "Half-deaf old geezers.." - harrumph! I resemble that remark ;-) !
    There have been a couple previous threads about how many Cafe members have hearing loss and wear hearing aids -- many members do, IIRC. I was trying to be clever and compared a hard of hearing musician to a blind photographer -- and was severely criticized for that statement. My point being how can we evaluate and compare mandolins, price points, wood choices, strings, picks, etc. -- IF WE CAN'T HEAR??? I still stand by that statement.....

    I do, however, agree that most of us can hear that a $3000 Martin guitar sounds better than a $100 import, FWIW, ......beyond that....????

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  5. #54

    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Jeff - I really didn't take offense at that (though I suppose some might), since I am a thick-skinned card-carrying geezer, with a number of the maladies that go with age. Although - considering my time doing sound reinforcement, my hearing actually ain't too bad compared to some of my peers.
    Also - until my job disappeared with the appearance of Covid-19, I worked in a culture of gratuitous, affectionate (I think) insults - actually kinda fun since I can sling 'em too. Being old enough to have fathered many of the people I worked with made me a great target.
    The tough one for a string player, as we age, is the onset, for many, of arthritis in the hands, which I have. My fingers and wrists don't want to do some of the things they used to do quickly and easily, so it takes a lot of playing just to tread water, so to speak.
    That's one of the reasons I got so excited about the change in my mando - it feels more responsive, so I play better! What's not to like?
    But to your point - hearing loss does make music and everything around it harder, but many people do find ways to compensate.
    I was lucky enough to see most of the first generation bluegrass performers while they were young and vigorous - and then watch as they got old and left us. Many of them kept performing with diminished abilities and still made really fine music. They just kept going, some more gracefully than others, until they couldn't. It's all we can do.

  6. #55
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Quote Originally Posted by bgpete View Post
    ...my hearing actually ain't too bad compared to some of my peers...
    I started to realize that several years ago. I was standing on the front porch of Tim's house with my poker buddies. On the 4th ring of the telephone inside the house I said "Tim, do you want to get the phone?". Tim said "Oh, is it ringing?". I was the only one on the porch who could hear the phone. It happens a lot nowadays; I'm the only one in a group that can hear something. Still just in dime store reading glasses too.
    Fingers and wrists? Well, that's different, unfortunately.

    ...and while I'm posting again anyway, yes I have changed instruments from nickel silver to SS frets as well as to Evo frets. Neither I nor my customers heard a difference.

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  8. #56
    Registered User Steve Sorensen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    I switched to EVO after my first build and to predominantly stainless steel after about my 50th build. To my ear and hand, the biggest differences come from the quality of the seating, leveling, re-crowning, and polishing -- regardless of the material. And, harder frets just take more attention to get really right.

    Stainless steel can eat tools and takes a lot more time to get to the glassy, "sliding on ball bearings" feel that makes them pay off. Bottom line, the reason factory builders don't use stainless is because it adds tool wear, time, and the risk of more uncomfortable sharp fret ends if not really done well. But the pay-off in ease of play, crisp notes, and consistency over time is well worth the added time and effort to me.

    My goal is to have consistent balanced focus across the neck -- a response that I have heard described as "Piano-like". On the other hand, I think a lot of older mandolin players (older mandolins and older players) are drawn to the dry softer "Cigar-box" sort of response. In the simplest sense, I think the difference can be perceived as less focused, but greater warmth.

    I really hear the difference when comparing bone and mother-of-pearl nuts on the same instrument. There are times when a mother-of-pearl nut is just too jangly or harsh on a particular instrument. Other times that added edge is just what is needed to hone the response.

    I can certainly feel the difference, between stainless and nickle silver, but for me it is like a very subtle comparison of the floating of a big 1970s Pontiac, compared to the crisp handling of a new sports car. I prefer the crisp response and the feel of directness.

    And, I guess that is the bottom line, I've realized a lot of my decisions as a builder come from a very visceral decision of what I like and what I believe will give a consistent response that matches what I have come to understand the players who like my stuff find appealing. But I also know I'm building for other people, not myself.

    In the end it is all about, "Easy to play, hard to put away." So if nickle silver frets add that for a player . . . no problem!

    Steve

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  10. #57
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Never looked back after changing to EVO. But it was done by a qualified luthier (the same one who did two great refret jobs for me before), and some of the issues mentioned in the OP seem to be more connected with workmanship than material.
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

  11. #58
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    Strings move (vibrate) when we pluck or bow them, frets don't (OK, every part of an instrument moves a little) to speak of. String movement is what drives the instrument to make sound. Frets simply stop the strings.
    String stiffness and density are the two main things that affect what the string will sound like because the string is moving. The wire in a non-wound may be stiffer or less stiff and may sound different accordingly. As for wound strings, the core wire can be relatively larger or smaller, stiffer or less stiff. The winding wire doesn't really affect stiffness of the string, but it can affect density of the string significantly when alloys of different density are used.
    None of that goes on in a fret.



    When we stop a string on a well shaped fret we get a fairly definite stop. When we stop a string against a fretless fingerboard the stop is less definite. We have a soft finger holding the string against a wooden surface. There is a little bit of buzz and in general the sound that is produced is different from a fretted string. There is virtually no mechanical difference between the tops of well shaped metal frets of any material.

    Somehow, I'm not surprised about the sax players although I didn't know that.
    (My money would be on them not being able to reliably pick out which screw was which in a double blind test.)
    Iím not sure that itís really that simple. On both the fretted and fretless fingerboard there are lengths of string that interact with the stopping surface. The length is much shorter on the fretted board, but it is not simply an immeasurable point with vibrating string on one side and motionless string on the other. I think that most of the difference in tone between different string material and composition results from the interaction of the string and stop, whether the stop is a fret or a fretboard. A good example is the lack of metallic sound produced by flatwound strings compared to roundwounds. And we do know that hardness of the surface affects timbre because fretless fingerboards of different material produce different sounds. A fretless ebony fingerboard does not sound the same as an ebony board coated with epoxy, or an uncoated rosewood board for that matter.

    I think that any difference in tone produced by various fret materials would be subtle, but without testing wouldnít assume that it isnít audible.

    Or I could be way off and material has no effect whatsoever.

  12. #59

    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Thanks, Steve - it's interesting to hear what builders focus on, and how their conception of mandolin tone affects their choices of materials - coupled with the realities of producing instruments as a business. I like the analogies you use!
    Lowtone2 - that's what I was trying to get at in one of my previous posts, but you said it much better: the interaction between the string, fret, fingerboard, and finger might be more complex than it seems at first sight, if I paraphrase you correctly. (Let me know if I'm wrong!)

  13. #60
    Registered User tree's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    I think it's way more likely that sometimes our perception is deceptive.

    Humans are funny creatures, we can be biased in all kinds of ways that are not apparent to us, that may not even seem possible to us, but are there just the same.

    I'm glad you're pleased with your instrument after switching back to nickel-silver frets, it's your own hands and ears that you have to rely on and it's (IMO) unimportant whether you convince others of a particular hypothesis as to why you think the refret improved your sound.
    Clark Beavans

  14. #61

    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Tree - I'd be among the last to argue that our perceptions of sound don't have hidden biases! It was part of my job for many years to locate and minimize my biases about sound systems so I could offer a useful judgement as to whether a particular speaker or complete system was going to withstand the scrutiny of many audiences during its useful life with my company. I sure wasn't always right, but I was usually in the ballpark, so to speak.
    I'm really not trying to convince anyone of any hypothesis about my refret (what a futile effort!) - just asking if others had the same or opposite experience, and looking at some possible mechanisms of how the perception of a difference could arise. One possibility is bias, another is a mechanical process, another is variations in human hearing, and so on.

  15. #62
    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    No one mentioned that the hammering and physical manipulation of the instrument may have caused it to settle in and open up. Kind of like a tone-rite. Or they did and I missed it. But I just wanted to make sure we didnít leave any controversial stones unturned.

    My Weber Bighorn sounded better then ever when I got it back from a refret. I went from whatever Weber used back in 2004 to EVO. I like to think it was the luthier rather then the EVO.
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

  16. #63
    Mando Mando Sperry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    My 2003 Collings MT2 sn:231 was recently refretted by Pat DiBurro. He is a firm believer in all-original. Factory frets are the only way to go. "Medium" .080 x .040 18% nickel silver frets and nut from Collings. He also addressed the saddle and a top crack.

    Repairing the saddle, which I had previously ignored as a "handy" crack which helped me remember which side was bass, has both restored arc to the strings and improved lower end tone. ē There was what looked like a crack in the finish along the treble f-hole. Maybe a hairline crack into the wood but it was not visible to me. Pat described it as "flapping in the wind", got some 150˚ epoxy into the crack, wiped it up, buffed it, and now it is more solid than original. An amazing effort which, along with the frets and saddle, have brought the tone together into its 17 year old maturity.
















  17. #64
    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    ...
    Too much snake oil in everything these days. Internet marketing BS is spoiling sense of reality of way too many folks.
    As a genuine old geezer, I will note that my education pounded home the concept that there is reality and there are opinions. Many opinions, some of which may turn out to be pretty close to reality. But there is only one reality.

    Nowadays, everybody is entitled to their own reality. Opinions ARE reality.

    BTW, I think NS frets look real nice.
    New to mando? Click this link -->Newbies to join us at the Newbies Social Group.

    Just send an email to rob.meldrum@gmail.com with "mandolin setup" in the subject line and he will email you a copy of his ebook for free (free to all mandolincafe members).

    My website and blog: honketyhank.com

  18. #65

    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Sperry - looks like a really beautiful job done on your mando!

  19. #66
    Mando Mando Sperry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    He did indeed, Pete. Pat bonded with my old Collings and felt he did right, bringing her back to life. The old frets were nearly flat lines at that point, and tone had suffered. He expertly removed the old frets without compromising the ebony and performed a winning installation of new frets across my bound fingerboard. We were both thrilled it came out as well as it did; Pat takes personal interest in restoring quality instruments to better-than-new condition.

    As far as fret sizes go, I cannot get used to EVO frets just yet. They feel cold and the .043 height throws me off. Tom Ellis uses .037 height frets; this would be the shortest I'd use; the really tiny "pre-war" frets I find impossible; maybe they were made for strings of low tension?

    Here's a pic of an MT someone chipped up in their attempt to save a few hundred. Note from the experienced: if you are going to try this at home, start on a fret you seldom use. Master-quality refretting takes far more patience than any of us imagine. Personally, I'd rather reset the neck on a century-old violin then refret a mandolin.


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