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Thread: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

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    Default Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    I am currently playing a Collings engelmann spruce, gloss top MF. I LOVE this mandolin and couldn't be happier with it. It suits my play style.

    That being said, I was thinking about the future and the possibility of me buying another mandolin. Ignoring the fact that I can customize the neck, fretboard etc with a new mandolin to improve playability, what would an "upgrade" actually get me in terms of sound improvement?

    My gut tells me once you're at this "range" of instrument any improvement is likely to be a matter of diminishing returns. But I am curious what people think is the reason to get a mandolin that is classed/priced above a collings.

  2. #2
    Registered User LastMohican's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    So, can I hear the tonal difference between and $5k Collings and a $10k fern? Yep, you bet I can. Can I hear the $5,000 difference? Nope. I can't. But, I fully get that it's a "31 Flavors"-type issue. I know that there are folks that would make the exact same claim regarding the difference between the $3k Northfield that I play and a $1K Kentucky. Bottom line...the very best you can do when it comes to these beautiful, higher-end mandolins is just default to the premise, "Go make yourself happy!"
    "I actually wanted to be a drummer, but I didn't have any drums." - Stevie Ray Vaughn

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    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    I sold a Collings MT that I was very fond of last September to help fund a new Stiver built to my desires. I missed my Collings until I received my Stiver. Absolutely no regrets now!
    I am fortunate enough to own a Kentucky KM 950 upgraded with a Cumberland Acoustic Bridge and James tail piece. This mandolin satisfied me while I waited for my Stiver. I considered my Collings a SLIGHT upgrade to my Kentucky, but not by much and probably not by a thousand $. The Collings had a sweeter tone and balance while the 950 was almost able to compete with a banjo to be heard and also sounded pretty good.
    I do notice a huge difference between my Stiver and my Collings. Primarily volume and sustain. Other factors being pretty much equal. So yes, I do feel more $$ gave me more mandolin. But keep in mind this is just my humble opinion and mandolins are very individual. Mandolins built the same way out of the same woods can sound different from each other. The only truly safe way to know your additional cost will get you a mandolin that you see as an improvement is to play it first and compare.
    For me, I'm 69 years young and my MAS is now over as my Stiver is my Holy Grail of mandolins. So, in summary extra dollars got me what I wanted. I took a gamble on an unplayed mandolin and won.
    Stiver A style Custom Build
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    Registered User Ken_P's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    I have a couple possibly contradictory thoughts on this. I've had a Collings MT2 for about 12 years, it's a great mandolin. I also within the last month got a new mandolin, custom built for me by the great luthier Brian Dean. The reason I got this mandolin was not so much to "upgrade" from the Collings, I was looking for a completely different style of instrument that suited my playing style better. I have taken some time to play them side by side, though and the difference is night and day. I played the Collings first and I thought that's a really nice mandolin, bright, clear, excellent tone and projection anywhere on the neck. Once I picked up the new one, though, it's like there are four more instruments playing behind me somewhere, I can't believe so much sound is coming from such a small box.

    Now, having said that, I think your gut reaction is basically right. What I experienced was with (1) a completely different style of mandolin which was (2) built by one of the best luthiers working today and (3) custom made entirely for me. Going back to the Collings, it's still a very high quality instrument and it does what it does extremely well. I have always thought that if I wanted to keep the same style of instrument, the American carved top variety, I would be hard pressed to find something better. I've played a lot of other high end mandolins, many of which would cost several times what I paid for my Collings and with very very few exceptions I would say my Collings was at least as good if not better, at least for the way I play it.

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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    Ken P
    Good advice! A lot to consider when spending additional $’s to upgrade a mandolin you already are fond of.
    Stiver A style Custom Build
    Kentucky KM-950
    Keith Edward Coleman A style, oval hole Mandola
    Weber Gallatin A Mandola "D hole"
    Rogue 100A (current campfire tool)
    Harley Benton A style (grandchildren's learner)

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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    Last summer I spent some time in a local music store comparing my Collings MT to other mandolins. The nicest I played were a new Collings MF and a used Stiver F-style. I played both for some time, the Stiver in particular. In the end, to me it came down to small differences in sound - I was not "blown away". I had my wife with me also, and I was ready to buy if the Stiver spoke to me, but it did not seem like a big enough difference to me to shell out the $$. The stiver was 4200. I figure I could have sold the MT for close to $2K, so I would have spent $2k+ to get the Stiver. I left feeling very very happy with my MT.
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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    Does mandolin A sound better than mandolin B? It’s entirely a matter of opinion and all you can really say is that they’re likely to sound different.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    I like the Collings I have played but my taste in mandolin tone veers off in another direction. I believe you are not so much talking about an upgrade necessarily but more adding to a palette of different voicings or tones from another instrument. There is not reason you should not be completely satisfied with what you have and stay with one mandolin. However, we all try out other instruments and one time might come across one that just plays and feels right to our fingers and ears. So maybe not an upgrade but a parallel move might do it. Remember it is not the cost that makes the sound but the instrument itself. I have played $2000 mandolins that wowed me vs. BION $10,000 ones that didn't.
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  13. #9

    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    The Collings englemann top mandolins I've played and worked on are nice instruments, but not banjo killers. In terms of playability and consistency, you're probably already there with Collings. If you're in a bluegrass band and need more power to cut through the mix, then you'll benefit from a different mandolin. Perhaps check out a MT-2. A friend I play with was in a similar situation and found a 30 year Flatiron, talk about a bark! Leads is where it really overshadows his Collings.

    BTW, mandolins have gone way up in price recently, especially Collings. Check out the classifieds, you may be surprised at what your MF is worth. Enjoy the search.

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    Registered User Aaron Bohnen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    Collings mandolins are very well built from beautiful woods and have great playability. They also have typically very clear tone with good volume and projection. With just a few occasional exceptions they can consistently be relied upon to be excellent instruments. I have really appreciated every one of them I've played and owned. It's really hard to go wrong with one.

    I entirely agree with Jim above - it seems to me moving on from a Collings could be more about seeking a different sound rather than seeking a 'better' instrument. Factors such as tone flavour and complexity, etc. Those will be distinctive to each mandolin you're considering. It might be worth exploring the world of different construction philosophies, F5 vs F4, oval vs f-holes, modern vs "Gibson" voicing, etc. to see what appeals to you.

    Perhaps the best possible case would be to seek another mandolin that inspires you and that's rather different than the Collings, add it to your music room and let them both take you in their own directions. It could be worthwhile to play the field a little - try a short-neck F4 with transverse bracing, a long-neck F4 with X-bracing, an F5 with X-bracing, etc. Since you like the way the Collings plays you might even consider trying a few of their other models. Sometimes a pair of quite different instruments from the same maker can be a great combination.

    What a nice problem to have - Enjoy!
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    Registered User mingusb1's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    I've had 2 different MTs over the last 15 years. Both instruments were very good--perfectly built and played easily. I don't think you can really do better for the money. But in the last few years what I was looking (listening) for changed. I got a Duff A-5 and sold my MT. The Duff sounds and looks and feels different. More traditional, more mid-range, less bass. The Duff is red spruce and the MTs were Engelmann, so that's part of it I guess. And I think Paul goes for a traditional Loar sound, which I like now too.

    I was talking at length with a pro player here in North Carolina and he remarked that a lot of new mandolins seem pretty bass-heavy. And he said bass is not what is really needed in a mando--mid-range is more important. On stage and in studio he said the bass tends to be mixed down/out of bass-heavy instruments anyway. My MTs both were quite bass-heavy.

    So in terms of an upgrade from an MT you may be after an instrument that isn't built any better, but the tone and feel could be better--for you.

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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    Quote Originally Posted by jbanchiere View Post
    Ignoring the fact that I can customize the neck, fretboard etc with a new mandolin to improve playability, what would an "upgrade" actually get me in terms of sound improvement?
    I had an Engelmann-topped MT which I have described as the first instrument I’ve ever owned that didn’t limit in me in any way. It is still the benchmark for build quality and playability against which all others are measured. If it were a wine, I’d score it a 90 and happily serve it at my table. Now some vineyards produce better fruit, and some chateaus employ more talented enologists, with the result being a more expressive bottle that might score in the mid-90’s, or perhaps even 100. And some trees yield better tonewood, and some ends up in the hands of more talented luthiers, with the result being a more expressive mandolin. In some ways, it’s only the difference between an A- and an A, the fine distinction between a 4 and a 5 on an A.P. exam. But if you’ve consumed enough bottles, or worked with enough students (the one often follows the other), the truly transcendent ones stand out in your memory, and the same holds true for mandolins. I ultimately sold that MT I liked so much because I acquired a Passernig A5 that is a more expressive, more fully realized version of it. And I liked it so much that I bought one of Stefan’s F5’s when it became available.

    If you love the MF, but are thinking about the possibility of buying another mandolin, you might forgo the search for an “upgrade” in favor of a “complement.” Ken_P already discussed his choice of a Dean to join, rather than replace, his MT2. So if you couldn’t be happier with your Collings, you could consider an oval, flattop, or resonator to add a different voice to your playing, or you might even branch out to a mandola, tenor guitar, or octave mandolin to expand your repertoire. Even if the MF suits your play style, you might find that another instrument transforms it.
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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    Quite often the changes we associate with different instruments over the decades of our lives are not responses to different instruments, but changes in our hearing as we age.

    What sounds powerful and responsive at 23 may be quite different at 68!

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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    Play as many as you can. You will know it when you hear it. Very, very clearly.

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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    That's what I did.... added a new flavor of mandolin. I have an awesome MT2 with an Italian Spruce top and wide nut but started thinking about a new sound. I got an APC/Carvalho octave and I'm figuring out a new direction in mandolin. It might be the answer for you without spending lots more money to satisfy your curiosity.

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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    I have a Collings MT (I liked it better than the MT2 which is supposed to be better,) it is nicely complemented by my Weber Bitterroot oval, and my Pava Player. These are all basically at the same level (IMHO as well as price-point,) and give me enough variety that I am able to enjoy them all. Perhaps you are not really looking for an upgrade as much as variety, as several have suggested. You may not need to spend $$$ to get what you are looking for.

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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    Keep the Collings and add to your collection ! Take a look at an Ellis and Girouard !
    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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    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    Your Collings is a very good mandolin, and will do you fine. I've got a MT which has served me very well, and provides me with a different style and sound of mandolin than the Sobell 10 stringer which I also have, and I have no plans to change it.

    But if one day you come upon another mandolin which blows you away, then you will know it might be time for a change. I don't think there's any need to get a more expensive mandolin just for the sake of it. You actually may not like it so much. Stick with what you've got until that happens.
    David A. Gordon

  27. #19

    Default Re: Playing a collings - what would an "upgrade" really get me?

    The loudest mandolin I own is a Collings MT2v with a carpathian spruce top. It is louder than the Duff F5 I had, with my torrified MT2v as a close second. I took it to a lesson the day after I picked it up at the store, left it with my teacher while I went to get something from my car, and you could hear it all the way down the hall in the old mill building where his studio is located. The sound was just bouncing off the walls.

    Materials are the key here. Not just the brand. Collings brings a lot to the table. I’m not sure you are going to get anything better than what you have, but you will get something different if you buy let’s say a Pava, or a Duff, or a Girouard.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

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