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Thread: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

  1. #1
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Its possible I'm the only one who thinks this way.

    Most of the instruments I own, certainly my main players, feature natural finish, maple wooden binding and wooden (or at least dark plastic/horn) tuner buttons.

    I really don't like the look of yellow-to-black, yellow-to-red or red-to-black sunbursts, bright white plastic binding or pearloid anything, but those are all part of the look on most mandolins out there. Is this just tradition? Availability of parts/materials? Is this what people are asking for or just what they've come to expect?

  2. #2
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Tradition.
    Maple binding is cool but it doesn't go well with sunbusts (finishing nightmares) and binding F style with maple strip is also not a job for faint hearted person and doing it to some quality level is almost impossible.
    Adrian

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    To make it to a high level of craftmanship that will pass all the tests of fanatically critical customers and players, an all wood binding F5 in natural finish can take almost twice the effort. It has to be perfect in every aspect and then have a blonde finish, leaving it basically naked. I prefer and always use solid wood bindings on my mandolins, but I also accept its importance and I realize the additional commitment required.

    Plastic binding and sunburst finishes are much more forgiving and can hide a tremendous amount of imperfections and building challenges. The last time I bound an F5 in curly maple, it broke 37 times! Additionally, both the level of skill and the expectations placed on modern builders are such that most of us could never get away with what was perfectly acceptable on an original Loar signed 1920s F5. Compare the binding and scroll work on an original Loar and then take a look at someone like Andrew Mowry's work; night and day for many of them. Andrew's express surgical precision and finess!

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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    Its possible I'm the only one who thinks this way........
    I really don't like the look of yellow-to-black, yellow-to-red or red-to-black sunbursts, bright white plastic binding or pearloid anything, but those are all part of the look on most mandolins out there. Is this just tradition? Availability of parts/materials? Is this what people are asking for or just what they've come to expect?
    Its why they come in different colors and bindings. You choose. Some choose differently.
    Play it like you mean it

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Quote Originally Posted by j. condino View Post
    To make it to a high level of craftmanship that will pass all the tests of fanatically critical customers and players, an all wood binding F5 in natural finish can take almost twice the effort. It has to be perfect in every aspect and then have a blonde finish, leaving it basically naked. I prefer and always use solid wood bindings on my mandolins, but I also accept its importance and I realize the additional commitment required.

    Plastic binding and sunburst finishes are much more forgiving and can hide a tremendous amount of imperfections and building challenges. The last time I bound an F5 in curly maple, it broke 37 times! Additionally, both the level of skill and the expectations placed on modern builders are such that most of us could never get away with what was perfectly acceptable on an original Loar signed 1920s F5. Compare the binding and scroll work on an original Loar and then take a look at someone like Andrew Mowry's work; night and day for many of them. Andrew's express surgical precision and finess!
    One of my highlights every year at Wintergrass for the past many years has been to admire and play Andrew's (and Austin Clark's) amazing craftsmanship.

    But I'm more than satisfied with my less costly binding-less all natural Sonny Morris hybrid F4 and my several Cricketfiddle (Tom TJ Jessen) builds, which feature beautiful maple binding. I don't need perfection in the looks department - nature's perfect imperfection appeals more to me. But I recognize there isn't much of a market for that.

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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    I am with you Mandobart. I have never done a sunburst, and have never used plastic bindings. Sunbursts are tricky to get right all the time, but they do hide a multitude of sins. All my mandolins have wooden bindings, and only occasionally do I use stain, and then only on Maple, and the bindings are Ebony so is easy to wipe the stain off with a wet rag. I also only use wooden tuning knobs unless there is no alternative. I used to make wooden tuning knobs, but that was not my favourite job to do. Now I can get Schaller or Rubner tuners with Ebony knobs so use them. However, I only make A styles and have access to a wide range of native Australian woods that have beautiful natural colours so any additional colouring is unnecessary. On Maple, James is right, unstained it is naked so you need to make it flawless. I have done unstained Maple a few times, but it is stressful, especially the neck joint. Darker coloured woods are not quite as stressful.
    Peter Coombe - mandolins, mandolas and guitars
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    I really don't like the look of yellow-to-black, yellow-to-red or red-to-black sunbursts, bright white plastic binding or pearloid anything, but those are all part of the look on most mandolins out there. Is this just tradition?
    I don’t like those finished either but I only see the ones you describe on the lower end instruments. True sunbursts are much more complicated than two colors. I think the finishes con the best of the Loar F-5s is beautiful. I also admire a well crafted blond finish as well. My current favorite is my Campanella violin finish A-5.
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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Back to binding - I get that using wood is more difficult, thus more costly. But why not nicer colors if we are stuck with plastic? I've seen some nice tortoise shell looking binding, dark brown, black and others. Yet most use the ugly stark white or layered black and white. Even the ivoroid binding on my Eastman looks better.

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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    The last time I tried to order ivoroid, there was a hazardous substance shipping restriction and the shipping charge was going to be like 10x the amount of the material. A compromise I've come up with is to use black plastic binding (BWB on top) and let the darker part of the sunburst blend into it. I love a good burst. Yellow>amber>orange>red>red/brown> tobacco brown is mesmerizing and worth the work to me.

    I like wood binding on guitars but over the years, it tends to take a beating. Getting a tough enough wood (like rosewood) bound in is a fair amount of work.

    Heck, these days if you have any binding on your instrument at all, you're doing good. Seems like it takes $5K to get a new Collings mando with a bound back. I've seen new mandolins where the top and back are unbound. I can imagine what an unbound instrument is going to look like in 2o years and it ain't pretty.
    Last edited by Rob Roy; Aug-12-2020 at 8:24pm. Reason: grammar

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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    We agree.

    I prefer natural wood and a Martin D18 look on instruments to include mandolins.

    White/ivoroid binding is a deterrent to purchase.

  14. #11

    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    I'm using some white ABS on a guitar I'm building, at least that's the plan. Good enough for my first guitar but I miss being able to by ivoroid for cheap. I'm either going wood next time or just order enough ivoroid to make the hazmat shipping worth it.
    Last edited by Dick Hutchings; Aug-13-2020 at 10:00am.
    Richard Hutchings

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    Registered User Steve Sorensen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    In this mando world where there is a strong pull to copy a Victorian role-model, it seems to me that it is very important to be clear on what your goals are with each build. The component elements then follow to meet the parameters of the design goals. I've found the niches in the car world to be a good way to think about building philosophy --

    1. Historic Copies -- Building a bench-copy of a specific instrument or a generalized imitation of a specific period of instruments.
    2. Historic References -- Riffing on the Victorian designs with a few little twists.
    3. Everyday Drivers -- Built to look good, play well, not stand out.
    4. New "Resto-Mod" -- Using a period look with modern amenities and guts to take advantage of technological advances
    5. Rat-Rods and Show Cars -- Combining quirky period elements to create something new and eye-catching. Sometimes design ideas trump or overshadow tone, playability, range of response.
    6. Hot Rods and Race Cars -- Refined modern lines and excellent power and response. Accepts that some basic parameters of early instruments are essential but can be refined and modernized. The goal is to maximize player comfort, range of response, power, and efficiency using every innovation available.
    7. Super/Ultra Car -- No expense spared on design and component costs. Power, coolness, and bling are pushed to the extreme.

    I would suggest most builders in the bluegrass-affiliated world are doing #1, 2, and 3 . . . and so the components should align with the historically correct materials.

    Most of the modern established builders like Ellis, Mowry, Austin Clark are actually doing something like the Resto-Mod cars -- using modern technology, components, and building techniques to improve performance while maintaining a mostly historic look.

    I, personally, am obsessed with building "hot-rodded race car" instruments, so the design and component questions all turn back to maximizing how the instrument "hits the road running" for maximum sustained comfort, power, speed, and innovative style.

    There are aspects of the tone, response, and geometry of the Gibson/Loar Era instruments which I believe essential for instruments to play in a way that experienced players expect, but from there, my goal is to be looking forward, not back to the Victorian mind-set. For example, I love the balance and strap-holding efficiency of the scroll, so I often include that element, but look for ways to have it augment the design and playability goals of the instrument.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Front Bass Side.jpg 
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ID:	187922

    So, when it comes to binding and finish, it seems that first thing to be clear on is -- what do you like, want, and need? What, exactly, are you trying to achieve with each build? The component elements must follow those goals.

    Steve

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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    OMG that is a superb looking instrument Steve. My first 3 were an attempt at historic Loar models. Any future mandolins will lean a little toward historic references to hot rods and race cars.
    Richard Hutchings

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Sorensen View Post
    In this mando world where there is a strong pull to copy a Victorian role-model, it seems to me that it is very important to be clear on what your goals are with each build. The component elements then follow to meet the parameters of the design goals. I've found the niches in the car world to be a good way to think about building philosophy --

    1. Historic Copies -- Building a bench-copy of a specific instrument or a generalized imitation of a specific period of instruments.
    2. Historic References -- Riffing on the Victorian designs with a few little twists.
    3. Everyday Drivers -- Built to look good, play well, not stand out.
    4. New "Resto-Mod" -- Using a period look with modern amenities and guts to take advantage of technological advances
    5. Rat-Rods and Show Cars -- Combining quirky period elements to create something new and eye-catching. Sometimes design ideas trump or overshadow tone, playability, range of response.
    6. Hot Rods and Race Cars -- Refined modern lines and excellent power and response. Accepts that some basic parameters of early instruments are essential but can be refined and modernized. The goal is to maximize player comfort, range of response, power, and efficiency using every innovation available.
    7. Super/Ultra Car -- No expense spared on design and component costs. Power, coolness, and bling are pushed to the extreme.

    I would suggest most builders in the bluegrass-affiliated world are doing #1, 2, and 3 . . . and so the components should align with the historically correct materials.

    Most of the modern established builders like Ellis, Mowry, Austin Clark are actually doing something like the Resto-Mod cars -- using modern technology, components, and building techniques to improve performance while maintaining a mostly historic look.

    I, personally, am obsessed with building "hot-rodded race car" instruments, so the design and component questions all turn back to maximizing how the instrument "hits the road running" for maximum sustained comfort, power, speed, and innovative style.

    There are aspects of the tone, response, and geometry of the Gibson/Loar Era instruments which I believe essential for instruments to play in a way that experienced players expect, but from there, my goal is to be looking forward, not back to the Victorian mind-set. For example, I love the balance and strap-holding efficiency of the scroll, so I often include that element, but look for ways to have it augment the design and playability goals of the instrument.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Front Bass Side.jpg 
Views:	56 
Size:	398.9 KB 
ID:	187922

    So, when it comes to binding and finish, it seems that first thing to be clear on is -- what do you like, want, and need? What, exactly, are you trying to achieve with each build? The component elements must follow those goals.

    Steve
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    Count me as #6 & 7....with the occasional #5

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Every time something like this comes up I post this same thing:

    There are lots of good custom builders who are willing to make an instrument with our choice of color, binding, inlay, etc. etc.. We don't have to settle for anything that we don't like the look of, when we are buying. Certain choices can raise the price because of extra expense and/or extra time and effort for the builder, but for the most part, builders are not getting a fair wage for their skill and effort anyway, so complaining about the price of one's chosen options is simply not justified. Even less so than complaining about builders building for the market. It is the aesthetic of the market that really makes most of the binding, color, shape, hardware, etc. choices after all.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    ... It is the aesthetic of the market that really makes most of the binding, color, shape, hardware, etc. choices after all.
    Excellent point. I'd much rather make them all bright purple sunburst finishes, but that would limit me to six potential buyers in the US....

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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    I'm a boring traditionalist myself. I don't know why, I just like what I like.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  23. #18

    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    It is the aesthetic of the market that really makes most of the binding, color, shape, hardware, etc. choices after all.
    Oh I hope someday I have that concern:-)
    Richard Hutchings

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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    ... but for the most part, builders are not getting a fair wage for their skill and effort anyway...
    This probably deserves a second mention, seems all too true! Luthiers must love what they do, I dabbled with a few setup things I never got down and completely gave up on the idea of ever becoming competent at it... I’d much rather play and pay someone else for the luthier work. Thank god there is finally a good guy (Micah Bruce) in my area!
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Building maybe not so many but setup and repair, I've actually earned a decent wage doing that from my home. I don't get a lot of business but when I do, I can charge a fair price to my customers and myself.
    Richard Hutchings

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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    being a friend of Dave Cohen during his time in Richmond, I can agree with John's summary. Dave made all sorts of custom-looking instruments for people. Just amazing what folks want and what builders can do!

    I'd say, order what you want and it'll magically appear in a few years!

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  27. #22

    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    When I was a kid and learning violin (unsuccessfully), the cheap factory ones had sunburstish finishes. Later on I would call it antiquing, as in glaringly phony. So although I appreciate the craftsmanship and some notions of overall design, a sunburst on a guitar, mandolin or violin still seems somehow wrong. I also do not get excited about vast amounts of inlay (e.g. your bouzouki) or other decoration.
    In the car modality, as above, it’s just too much chrome. Chrome, though, sold cars.
    Feel free to diss me; I’m used to it.

  28. #23
    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    ...but those are all part of the look on most mandolins out there. Is this just tradition? Availability of parts/materials? Is this what people are asking for or just what they've come to expect?
    My 2 cents. "Most mandolins out there" mostly are purchased from stores or online, not from individual builders or boutique dealers. They are made by the "factories" so they can be "affordable". The factories are manufacturing more of whatever sells the most. I would say that most mandolins out there are traditional, in the sense that they traditionally bring in the most income to the manufacturers and dealers. Why is the look that you don't like the one that sells the most? Who knows? But I would say the people who buy the most mandolins out there aren't the ones who sit down and say "hmmm... let's see, I want ebony buttons on my tuners - with removable screws, and I want fancy wood bindings instead of plastic, and I want varnish instead of acrylic," et cetera. No, most buyers out there go to a store or an online location that sells the most mandolins out there (so sells them for "the best bargains out there"). They look around a while, then, maybe, they say "Yes, I'll take that one." Because it just looks right. I don't know what the OP is playing, but if they are made in a factory then it proves that a lot of people want what you have at the price you paid for it, even if it is not like most mandolins out there. Well, "a lot of people" is a misnomer in the mandolin market world.

  29. #24
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Haywood View Post
    ....I would say the people who buy the most mandolins out there aren't the ones who sit down and say "hmmm... let's see, I want ebony buttons on my tuners - with removable screws, and I want fancy wood bindings instead of plastic, and I want varnish instead of acrylic," et cetera.
    ...I don't know what the OP is playing, but if they are made in a factory then it proves that a lot of people want what you have at the price you paid for it, even if it is not like most mandolins out there. Well, "a lot of people" is a misnomer in the mandolin market world.
    I started out, like many did, without knowing much at all about mandolins. With experience I learned what I liked and didn't like in tone, playability and looks (in that order). So when it came time to upgrade, I did go to a local builder to get what I wanted. It was ready in about 6 months (not years).

    Over the past 12 years or so I've expanded into mandola, octave mandolin and mandocello. I've been fortunate to meet a couple of high quality, less expensive US builders whose offerings match my taste in tone, playability and looks. I've also expanded my existing skills to include pickup installation, setup, bridge fitting, nut making, converting between guitars and mandocellos, converting a 4 string fiddle to 5, etc. I'll probably never be a real luthier, but I've been able to customize a few "factory" instruments to match what I like.

    So my post wasn't meant as a complaint, as I'm able to get what I'm after in stringed instruments. Really just wondering how far my tastes deviate from the general mando public.

  30. #25
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aesthetic Question for Builders (and Buyers)

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard500 View Post
    .... I also do not get excited about vast amounts of inlay (e.g. your bouzouki) or other decoration.
    In the car modality, as above, it’s just too much chrome. Chrome, though, sold cars.
    Feel free to diss me; I’m used to it.
    I'm also not into bling. As an old Harley rider who eschews chrome, I like the old school saying "chrome don't getcha home."

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