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Thread: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meantime

  1. #1

    Question Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meantime

    Hi,

    After lurking on and off for a few years, I've become more interested in the mandolin. Mostly because I'm finding the fiddle too difficult for me. After 7 years of private lessons, I'm just not at the level I thought I'd be. I love GDAE tuning and know notes and positions, so I was thinking a mandolin would be a logical choice.

    I live in France and I haven't found a good place to buy a good brand mandolin. I do visit family once a year in Phoenix and so I thought the next time I'm there I'll stop in the Mandolin Store. I am interested in the Eastman MD515 Varnish. Or I could order a Loar (the cheap one) from Thomann and attempt my own setup. That would be fun but I think the Eastman would be better.

    While waiting for my trip to the Mandolin Store, which may be far away due to the virus, I restrung my flea soprano with the Aquila GDAE strings. I have a bit of trouble with the stretch and I'm wondering is the the distance between frets about the same on the uke as a mandolin? They have almost the same scale length (13 7/8" vs. 14"). Maybe the uke neck is wider? Or maybe it just takes time. For example going from a B to a G# is a big stretch, whereas on the fiddle it's fine.

    So is it a good idea to learn mandolin with the uke and wait for a good mandolin? Am I on the right track? I still play my violin so there's no hurry.

    Thanks

  2. #2

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Sorry to say but the mandolin store moved to Tennessee

  3. #3

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Quote Originally Posted by Em Tee View Post
    Sorry to say but the mandolin store moved to Tennessee
    Wow, I wasn't aware of that. That puts a dent in my plans.

    I guess I could still order online but I was really hoping to be able to try them out in person.

  4. #4
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Maybe you can talk one or more of your family members into a road trip. Road trips are awesome!

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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    I don't know much about the uke-mandolin transition but I know that one of my wife's nephews (in his early teens) crossed over to our side of the fence about a year ago and the last report I had was that he was loving his Eastman (that he got at the Mandolin Store). I think the main complaint was the higher tension metal strings required him to build his caluses up a bit.

    I am sure TMS would be happy to ship either directly to you in France or to your family in AZ. See their website (https://themandolinstore.com/product...ory/mandolins/) and get in touch with them. They are good folks.
    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

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    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Quote Originally Posted by cunparis View Post
    Wow, I wasn't aware of that. That puts a dent in my plans.

    I guess I could still order online but I was really hoping to be able to try them out in person.
    Trying out in person is smart !
    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: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Hi cunparis:

    I play fiddle, mandolin, and ukulele. You are probably referring to a soprano ukulele, which I am not familiar with. I have a tenor ukulele, and the distance between frets on my tenor ukulele is much longer than on a mandolin. I have attached a picture of both instruments.

    Going from B to G# on the same string is quite a stretch. I can't do it. More than likely if I had to go from B to G#, I would play the G# on the next string over.

    The transition from fiddle to mandolin was super easy for me because both instruments use the same tuning (GDAE). You might find this easier than going from ukulele to mandolin.Click image for larger version. 

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  8. #8

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Quote Originally Posted by Lucas View Post
    Hi cunparis:

    I play fiddle, mandolin, and ukulele. You are probably referring to a soprano ukulele, which I am not familiar with. I have a tenor ukulele, and the distance between frets on my tenor ukulele is much longer than on a mandolin. I have attached a picture of both instruments.

    Going from B to G# on the same string is quite a stretch. I can't do it. More than likely if I had to go from B to G#, I would play the G# on the next string over.

    The transition from fiddle to mandolin was super easy for me because both instruments use the same tuning (GDAE). You might find this easier than going from ukulele to mandolin.Click image for larger version. 

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    Hi, yes I was referring to a soprano tuned GDAE. Thanks for the photo, the tenor fret spacing is quite large. I'm going to look for some videos of people playing larger scale GDAE instruments to see how they do with the fingering and stretches. Here is a comparison photo I saw of a soprano & mandolin:



    For the B to G#, I was referring to 1st finger B on the A string going to high 3rd finger on the D string. With the violin, my teachers taught me to leave the fingers down, especially the first finger which serves as an achor, and especially when changing strings. So I try to do the same with the ukulele.

    What would be really great is a soprano uke with a neck the same size as the mandolin. My search for this led me to the Griffin Mandolele. I'd love to try one. I couldn't find any other makers of such instrument since they're more than the lower priced mandolins, I think I should get the mandolin.

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    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Hi cunparis:

    Thanks for the clarification. I can easily play B on the A string followed by G# on the D string, no problem, and I don't have large hands or long fingers. Even with anchoring. The mandolin nut width is narrower than the nut width on a soprano ukulele, and judging by the picture you sent, the distances between frets are shorter on a mandolin.

    I looked up the Griffin mandolele. It uses nylon strings instead of steel. You are not going to get that mandolin sound. It will give you a ukulele-like sound, so I would avoid it, unless that is what you are after.

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    Registered User Bunnyf's Avatar
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    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Cunparis, I play both mandolin and soprano ukulele and they are similar enough for me to use my uke w/ GDAE strings as a quiet mandolin practice tool. Here’s how they compare: My mandolin is 3 cm at the nut; my uke is 3.5 cm, so obviously my uke has a bit wider fretboard. With the double course of strings, my mando feels even a bit more tight, but I think that’s a good thing. Measuring from the center of the double course to the center of the next course (at the first fret), it’s about 7 mm. The space between courses is 4.5 mm. My uke’s strings are 8 mm at the same location, so obviously a bit more space.As far as scale, they both start off about 2 cm. at the first fret, but the mando starts stretching out more than the uke w/ each subsequent fret, so that narrower neck comes in handy in terms of reach. So, there are differences but they are not huge, and I still like to keep one uke in this tuning. I think it will certainly get you on your way, while you are taking your time to find the right first mandolin for you.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Quote Originally Posted by cunparis View Post
    . . . I guess I could still order online but I was really hoping to be able to try them out in person.
    Trying them out is nice, but when you're starting out, they all sound pretty much the same. Unlike a guitar (or uke), it isn't until you've been playing mando for a while that you start to hear the differences.

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    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    I have not been to the store, but I note that Sun Valley Guitars is in Phoenix, and carries Eastman and The Loar.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Trying them out is nice, but when you're starting out, they all sound pretty much the same. Unlike a guitar (or uke), it isn't until you've been playing mando for a while that you start to hear the differences.
    This is the case for me. I have listened to a lot in youtube videos, which I admit is not the best for hearing the sound. And most sounded the same. My ear isn't refined yet. But I did come across a comparison video with a Silverangel and I heard the difference immediately. I rewound the video several times and was really surprised. I love the Silverangel sound and I like the idea of buying a mandolin from a maker instead of an import. The Silverangel is over the budget budget so I'd have to get the A model.

    So now I'm wondering if I should:

    1 - Play the uke GDAE until I can get a luthier made mandolin like the Silverangel or similar
    2 - Get a "cheap" mandolin like an Eastman 305 or The Loar LM-310 (and try a home setup with Rob Meldrum's guide) and make sure I stick with it, and if I do, upgrade later to a luthier made one. And playing on a cheaper instrument might be less motivating.

    I prefer to buy used but there aren't many for sale in Europe and shipping/duty from the US to Europe is prohibative. So I could try and time it with a vacation in the US which is hard to do if there are waiting lists or nothing available in the classifieds at the time.

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    Registered User Cobalt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    I would have thought that even a cheap mandolin with a good setup would be preferable to improvising with a uke, if the long-term goal is to learn mandolin. A lot of the playing technique comes from how everything feels, both left hand and right hand. It seems to me that practising on a uke might lead to expenditure of time and effort in learning something which later has to be unlearned. You needn't aim as high as an Eastman in terms of expenditure to just get something to fit into your hands.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    R. F. Charle was a well-respected music store in Paris. It looks like it was taken over by these folks but they do have some older mandolins, not necessarily budget ones.

    I have heard that APC, a Portuguese company, has some decent instruments for reasonable prices. Maybe not exactly bluegrass-sounding ones but probably would not cost you a fortune to have it shipped to France as it might buying from the US.
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    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Quote Originally Posted by Cobalt View Post
    I would have thought that even a cheap mandolin with a good setup would be preferable to improvising with a uke, if the long-term goal is to learn mandolin. A lot of the playing technique comes from how everything feels, both left hand and right hand. It seems to me that practising on a uke might lead to expenditure of time and effort in learning something which later has to be unlearned. You needn't aim as high as an Eastman in terms of expenditure to just get something to fit into your hands.
    I'm starting to agree with you. I've been playing my uke by myself and it's quite soft. But I tried to play along with the jam track for the song I learned (mandolessons.com) and I couldn't hear myself. And I realize that the extended range tuning GDAE is really pushing it too far. Then I had the same when playing with my son who is learning guitar, couldn't hear it.

    I searched for a few hours and i don't find Eastman or Loar or any other "minimum acceptable" brand available in a physical store. I think I will order the Loar LM-310 and attempt to do my own setup.

  18. #17

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    R. F. Charle was a well-respected music store in Paris. It looks like it was taken over by these folks but they do have some older mandolins, not necessarily budget ones.

    I have heard that APC, a Portuguese company, has some decent instruments for reasonable prices. Maybe not exactly bluegrass-sounding ones but probably would not cost you a fortune to have it shipped to France as it might buying from the US.
    I read great things about RF Charle but now the store that took it over seems more high end and vintage, and more guitar oriented.

    For APC, I learned my lesson with violins that I don't buy an instrument without trying it unless it's a very well known brand or luthier.

  19. #18

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Quote Originally Posted by Bunnyf View Post
    Cunparis, I play both mandolin and soprano ukulele and they are similar enough for me to use my uke w/ GDAE strings as a quiet mandolin practice tool. Here’s how they compare: My mandolin is 3 cm at the nut; my uke is 3.5 cm, so obviously my uke has a bit wider fretboard. With the double course of strings, my mando feels even a bit more tight, but I think that’s a good thing. Measuring from the center of the double course to the center of the next course (at the first fret), it’s about 7 mm. The space between courses is 4.5 mm. My uke’s strings are 8 mm at the same location, so obviously a bit more space.As far as scale, they both start off about 2 cm. at the first fret, but the mando starts stretching out more than the uke w/ each subsequent fret, so that narrower neck comes in handy in terms of reach. So, there are differences but they are not huge, and I still like to keep one uke in this tuning. I think it will certainly get you on your way, while you are taking your time to find the right first mandolin for you.
    Thank you for taking the time to measure the distances on your instruments. That is good to know that the uke is just a little bit bigger and that it's still playable. I think with more practice the fingers will stretch more and have more reach. and maybe I'm not holding it in the optimal position too.

  20. #19

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Quote Originally Posted by cunparis View Post

    2 - Get a "cheap" mandolin like an Eastman 305 or The Loar LM-310 (and try a home setup with Rob Meldrum's guide) and make sure I stick with it, and if I do, upgrade later to a luthier made one. And playing on a cheaper instrument might be less motivating.
    If you get an Eastman 305 (or 304, I like the sweeter sound of the oval hole) from the Mandolin Store or another place that does quality setups, you are probably set for some time. You may not feel the need to upgrade for a long while.

    I prefer the Eastman (solid wood top, back, sides) over the Loar 310 (solid top. laminated back and sides, but either one is preferable to playing a uke when what you want is a mando.

    If you order through TMS or Elderly or Banjo Ben, probably some others too, you'll get a good setup. But it's still a good idea to ask Rob for his ebook on setup. Even if you don't plan to do a full setup yourself, it's good to get the overview of the instrument's qualities and specs and components that you get with the book.

    Good luck in your quest.

    Jim

  21. #20

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    I have a soprano uke and the distance between frets is the same as my mandolin. I have other instruments with greater distance, including an octave mandolin, and although it is difficult to go from B to G# it is not impossible. I don't have big hands or anything either. In fact, for some things it seems easier to play the larger instruments. This would indicate to me that everything takes technique and practice.

    I started playing mandolin with an inexpensive $100 mandolin. It was set up well, easy to play and honestly I never thought it sounded any better or worse than any other mandolin. I replaced it with a fancier F-style that cost me $750 and now I think after several years with it I would rather have my original mandolin back.

  22. #21

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Hi Cunparis. I have an Eastman that I purchased from The Mandolin Store and I really like it. It sounds like those of us living in the U.S.A. may be a little spoiled to being able to try before we buy.

    At any rate, good luck!

  23. #22

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    The Flea soprano is a fraction longer than normal - most sopranos are around 13 7/8 inches. Your picture clearly isn't a soprano uke, looks like a tenor (17 inches) to me.

    I suspect the string spacing is what is making the chords harder on the GDAE uke. Fifths tuned instruments tend to have narrower spacing than 4th tuned (guitars, ukes) and that seems to help. I have a tenor banjo with narrow spacing tuned in fifths, and a tenor guitar I made with wide spacing tuned in 4ths. The scale length on the tenor guitar is a little shorter than the banjo, but long chord stretches are easier on the banjo.

  24. #23
    I really look like that soliver's Avatar
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    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Quote Originally Posted by Oregon Jim View Post
    If you get an Eastman 305 (or 304, I like the sweeter sound of the oval hole) from the Mandolin Store or another place that does quality setups, you are probably set for some time. You may not feel the need to upgrade for a long while.

    I prefer the Eastman (solid wood top, back, sides) over the Loar 310 (solid top. laminated back and sides, but either one is preferable to playing a uke when what you want is a mando.

    If you order through TMS or Elderly or Banjo Ben, probably some others too, you'll get a good setup. But it's still a good idea to ask Rob for his ebook on setup. Even if you don't plan to do a full setup yourself, it's good to get the overview of the instrument's qualities and specs and components that you get with the book.

    Good luck in your quest.

    Jim
    I agree with this assessment 100%. Remember too that less expensive doesn't necessarily mean "cheap"... At least the connotation of "cheap" gives one the impression of poor quality and this is not really the case with Eastman, IMO. I played an Eastman 305 for many years and even on stage. They are very good quality instruments that can last you a long time into your playing. I am not much of a fan of The Loar, especially more recent models, but Eastman mandolins are all hand made and a great value. As are Kentucky mandolins, if you want to add to your buying options.
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  25. #24

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    Here is a video of a guy who really knows how to play playing a gigantic thing called an Octajo. The scale length is over 22". I just bought one. Watch his left elbow in this clip. In a second or two his left elbow will move from being behind him to being in front of him. The key to being able to reach is not the size of the instrument but your technique. I've been learning this same technique on the violin, of moving the elbow so that you can reach. https://youtu.be/bpkG1l0dgrA?t=93

  26. #25

    Default Re: Long term planning for 1st mandolin and uke GDAE in the meant

    The Kentucky mandolins are very good. George Gruhn heartily recommends them and he knows mandolins.

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