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Thread: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

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    Default Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    First, hats off to all of you for making this a terrific site with all of your contributions.

    Still consider myself a beginner, but ready to start investing in some equipment upgrades as I continue to improve. I dont really get out and play, due to many health issues. I am 48 yo, and really enjoy just playing along with my daughter, who is a ukulele player and excellent singer. We enjoy playing hymns, Christmas tunes, fiddle tunes.... we will chord through together, and then take turns playing through a melody...

    So, here are a few questions...
    1. While playing chords along with the mandolin along with the ukulele, the harshness of the G and D string really comes out. Before spending the money, what strings eliminate that if any? Do the GHS Silk and steel eliminate that sound? Elixirs?

    2. In this setting, and with the type music we enjoy, Im guessing an oval hole would be the way to go? And would also help mellow the tone a little?

    I am not trying to eliminate the mandolin sound from a mandolin lol, just trying to learn what slight equipment changes can do for our tone before spending money on those changes, with wrong expectations.

    Also Im currently using a very inexpensive, beginner of the beginners mandolin from Donner. Its an A-shape with F-holes. Its actually not too bad, but Im graduating quickly, figuring out where I want to go next. Im thinking the Eastman 304 might be next for me, just wanted to run some of these things by yall....

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    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    If you're able to buy the Eastman now, I'd not bother spending money on strings for the Donner, but in general, experimenting with strings and picks can give you a different sound. Some inherent flaws cannot be overcome, though.

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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Thank you Eric. Yes, I wouldnt mess with the Donner at all if buying the Eastman.

    Im wondering, if I would favor using something like the Silk and Steel on my new Eastman when I get it? Based on what I play, who I accompany, etc?

  4. #4

    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    I would recommend experimenting with picks first. Consider a rounded pick like the Dawg picks or something similar. A heavier pick will give less harshness also.
    Also experiment with the angle of attack, Try turning or rotating the pick slightly in your grip. Also firmness of your grip and looseness of the wrist can make a significant difference. How deep are you digging into the strings? If you are digging in deeply the sound will often be harsh. It is best to glide over the top of the strings especially when strumming. And you want to be away from the bridge somewhere near the bottom or middle of the Florida extension on the fingerboard. Again experiment with the position to see what sounds best.

    The pick and these technique things will have at least as much effect as the string choice and will give you a lot of tools for drawing out the sound you want as you go forward.

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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Also I have found when string are not intonated correctly the will sound brighter/harsher. As others have stated heavier pick and more rounded corner will help.
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    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Silk & steel strings and a very heavy pick (3.0 mm) will tone down the brashness in an inexpensive mandolin.

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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Picks have more impact on tone than ANY other factor, but especially in comparison to cost. Just keep away from those super-exotics that you dare not lose at, ya know, $30+ a shot.

    I find the triangular D'Andrea Pro-Plec 346, at 1.5mm, works great on mandolin and won't break the bank. Also the Big Stubby might suit you. IMHO, the Dawg picks are just TOO rounded, but they still might work well on your Donner. Or not. Fortunately, even at several times the cost of a standard Fender, those choices are still cheap enough to experiment freely.
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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Thank you all for chiming in. Yes, Ive been experimenting with picks. So far, a thick, triangular V-Pick is working the best. I have some triangular name branded picks from the Mandolin Store coming, as well as some Prime Tones, the rounded triangular.
    I have a Dawg and Golden Gate, both work pretty good going through chords, suffer a little through melodies at times.
    I do know that a lot of it is me, as I continue to develop my attack, and everything else.

    Any other thoughts about Silk and Steel, other string options?
    Or, the Eastman 304?

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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    I find the V picks very bright and almost brash. The triangle golden gates are much better then the round ones for me these days, but in the beginning it was always the round golden gates that gave me the most tone at the expense of some clarity. I use blue chips almost exclusively now but keep a triangle golden gate in each case as a backup. The triangle pro plecs are also in my rotation, when I play on a deck where dropping a pick could be an issue.

    I have always found the silk and steel do you have the wrong feel for me, a little too Spaghetti like (floppy), but I have big hands and the silk and steel may suit your needs.

    Happy picking!
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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Quote Originally Posted by Medley12 View Post
    Any other thoughts about Silk and Steel, other string options?
    You might consider flatwound strings. Thomastik-Infeld makes wonderful, and expensive, sets, but you might try D’Addario’s more affordable EFW74 pack.
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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Oval Hole Eastman + primetone triangles got me a nice dark sound for not too much money. I've never felt the need to upgrade, it just sounds so good as is.

    An upgrade would give more acoustic power though, so for acoustic jam sessions a nicer mando would really help, but for playing alone I prefer less volume to not bother neighbors.

    Lighter strings trade less power for more sustain and playability, I liked that enough I run GHS ultra-light strings.

    Experiment for what works for you and enjoy. :-)
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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    You might consider flatwound strings. Thomastik-Infeld makes wonderful, and expensive, sets, but you might try D’Addario’s more affordable EFW74 pack.
    I've never heard of putting Thomastik-Infelds on a Donner! The strings may cost more than the instrument.

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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Funny stuff....

    Ya, me thinks an Oval hole Eastman, some experimentation with picks, and strings, and I would be doing mighty fine

    Thanks all

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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Get the best Eastman x04 you can avail yourself of. There are differences in characteristics as you go through the model lines...I haven’t tried a 304, 404 ha a mahogany body instead of maple, 504 you can expect better appointments and a more focussed sound, 604 probably has a built-in pickup...but the 304 would probably suit you. Experiment with strings. The Eastmans are built to expect medium strings but no harm in trying the lights. I would just try standard lights first tho, silk n steel are primarily for more delicately-built instruments that dare not touch mediums or heavy. Its true what others say about flatwounds, try the D’addario mediums, I have used them for years. Long-laasting too and the bass won’t jump out the way the round-wounds do (and way comfier on the fingers.)

    Another plus for the Eastman, all models, is that they are easily upgradable with standard-order tuning machines (Grover 309s are popular) or custom bridges (Cumberland Acoustics being the most frequently mentioned ones).
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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Thank you very, very much sir. I feel like your post really directed me to a starting point.
    I already convinced myself on the Eastman. I love the idea of the mahogany 404, but I think it looks horrible with the black top... just me.
    So, going with the 304. After reading your post, Im convinced to forget about the silk and steel and to try flatwounds on it. I had no idea what flatwounds were, so a little description about them from you made me want to try them.

    Thank you.

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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Quote Originally Posted by Medley12 View Post
    ...
    1. While playing chords along with the mandolin along with the ukulele, the harshness of the G and D string really comes out. Before spending the money, what strings eliminate that if any? Do the GHS Silk and steel eliminate that sound? Elixirs?
    ....
    It is interesting to me that you have hit upon the first thing I discovered about the difference between a "beginner" instrument and a "nice" instrument. After going through a couple of beginner mandolins I formulated the rule that I should not be able to hear the difference when I played a descending scale and crossed from the A string to the D string. And that rule pretty much crossed all the so-called beginner instruments of my list.

    I do have other criteria now, much of it being highly subjective, but that one is quite important still.

    I did discover that strings with a reputation for having a warmer tone usually helped disguise that harshness. The GHS silk and steel strings did, but they also went very dead very rapidly. The flatwounds also helped but I didn't like the overall result much (just my personal taste maybe).
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    Question Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    1) old ones .. with corrosion & dead skin cells on them.. Mellower ?

    Oval hole. a 90 year old A type? or a Mandola Perhaps /..

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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    I think the big bluegrass four finger G chord is not particularly pretty. Its good for a chop, but for a more legato sound there are better choices. So that is the first thing - choices for fingering chords.

    And then where you pick. The closer down to the bridge the harsher, more banjo like. There is a sweet spot somewhere above the bridge but lower than the fret board, where the tone is the best.

    Then what kind of picks are you using? A thicker and or rounder pick will have more depth, and creamy and body to the tone, a thinner pointier pick will have more lightness and flight and brilliance and scintillation.

    And yea, the type of strings. I prefer the good old D'Addario EJ74s for most things. But I do like Tomastic Infeld flatwound, also, for certain things. Definitely matters. (Different string types justify owning more than one mandolin, by the way. Your welcome.)

    With mandolin, all these little things make a bigger difference. I think its because the mandolin is so small, so whatever the effect it is more over the whole instrument. More pronounced. I dunno. Its magic.

    The shape of the body has no impact on the sound as regards arch top F style and arch top A style. Flat mandolins are something else.

    And the type of wood. I have an all mahogany flat top mandolin, and I just love its tone.

    The shape of the sound hole does. F holes tend to make a more focused sound. Oval holes less so. I prefer the oval hole sound myself. So here is the idea:

    You hear an f hole mandolin and comment on how good the mandolin sounds.
    You hear an oval hole mandolin and you comment on how beautiful the tune is.

    Most of us spend most of our time chasing tone. And meanwhile our tastes in tone change. Its crazy. Crazy fun.
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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    Very nice post Jeff, and thank you for the MAS justification lol

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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    I agree with all the advice above. I am also almost always looking for a mellower sound in a mandolin.

    In order of least to most expensive upgrades for you:
    1. Adjust playing position. Closer to the bridge is harsh, further up the strings is mellow. Common advice is to play midway between the bridge and the end of the fingerbroard, but I sometimes play up near the 12th-15th fret, for a creamy sound
    2. Adjust playing method. Playing with the pick perfectly perpendicular to the string can be a little harsh. A slight angle to the pick (I have it angled so the edge of the pick nearest the headstock is below the edge facing the bridge) mellows out the sound. This is a little harder to do than playing further up the neck but it is not hard.
    3. Adjust playing method. Loosen up the grip on the pick as much as you can. Tight grip makes it harsher.
    4. Adjust playing method. There are eight strings on the mandolin, but you don't need to play them all.
    5. New pick. Thicker picks sound mellower than thin picks. More rounded picks are mellower than pointy ones. I find super round picks, like Dawg picks very hard to play with, as it seems really hard to get the sound out. Personally I play with a 1.4mm triangel, but that is because I got one when I bought my second mandolin. I really like the Dunlop Primetone smooth version, the translucent textured one is brighter. As a side note, you do not have to play with the point part if you have a teardrop pick. The round edges work, too. To an extent, even with a triangle you can turn the pick in your hand so the part that engages the string is not quite just the pointy bit, if that makes sense. Mellows it out a bit, but if you go too far and play with the side of the pick, it gets scratchy, like you can hear the windings on the strings. Never thought of this before, but it may be because of the pick angle I use and the string windings?
    6. New strings. It can make a big difference, but I am no expert. I have found string/mandolin combos I don't like, but not enough to suggest changes.
    7. New mandolin. I have never played the Eastman 304, but I have played several 305s (I think. F-holed A style version) and really liked them all. I prefer oval holes in general, and have often found Eastmans to have a sound I don't love, but those 2 or 3 305s I have played were great.

  21. #21

    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    As said above, try lots of different picks. You might even find that you'll have different favorite picks for different songs.

    I had a Dunlop Dawg for a while that was the warmest pick I've ever played. Smaller, thinner picks are bright. You can spend a lot on picks, but you don't have to.

    Disclaimer: I mainly play guitar and will always be a beginner on other instruments.

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    Default Re: Beginner ?s about changing sound/tone

    I've found this to be the least "shrill" sounding pick in my arsenal of picks.

    Mine are 1mm and I've see them in 1.5mm and 2mm. I'm sure all would work well. They do tend to spin in my hand though. Just gotta loosen that grip!

    https://themandolinstore.com/product...olin-pick-1mm/

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