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Thread: The Joy of an OM

  1. #1
    Registered User Mike Buesseler's Avatar
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    Default The Joy of an OM

    I’d like to share an experience that might inform someone else on their quest towards whatever musical goals they pursue.

    I’ve played mandolin for a long time, have owned—and sold—numerous fine instruments. (I know this is starting out like a very familiar story.) I’ll turn 73 in a couple of months. If I ever had a peak in my abilities it passed by unnoticed by me. And I don’t think I can reasonably expect that I’ll be getting much better...at anything, probably.

    Nevertheless, I am enjoying playing as much or more than I ever have (or can remember!).

    I bought an Eastman octave mandolin last year from a great Cafe member (thanks, Kurt!). For starters let me say what a great value for the money the MDO305 is! I found sweetness in the Eastman—especially capoed up—that I hadn’t known before. This made me wonder how much I might enjoy a really good quality OM from one of the big makers.

    I’ll skip over the fun I had searching and finding a gently used Weber Gallatin F-OM right down the road from me, out here in the hinterlands of Montana, at my friend Bruce Weber’s new home at Montana Lutherie on the shores of Flathead Lake.

    This mandolin has a 20” scale, which seems to be the perfect length for me. This thing is a cannon, capoed or not! It’s just a pleasure to play, but the real payoff for me Is discovering that the gorgeous sustain of this OM makes all my familiar tunes sound better than they ever have. Learning new tunes is also more satisfying since they sound great even PLAYED SLOWLY. This is huge for me because when learning new tunes at a snail’s tempo on my regular (fine) mandolins, I often found myself hurrying the process “to hear what it sounds like played up to speed.” As a result, I think my learning process is improving along with my general playing techniques.

    I can’t say everyone would have the same experience I’m having. But, you might. If you are thinking about trying an octave—or other long scale mando-family instrument—go for it! I can easily recommend the Eastman MDO, and my Weber (good luck finding one like this). I’m having the musical time of my life! Maybe you will, too.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    Congratulations!

    For me, 20" is the longest comfortable scale length for a mando-tuned instrument. I'm glad you're playing the heck out it!

  4. #3

    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    I've been curious about octaves for a while now. I play mostly classical/baroque, and I would love to try out some cello transcriptions on an octave. (Why OM instead of mandocello, you didn't ask? Because I can't read tenor clef!)

    Aside from cello rep, I think it would lend an interesting flavor to Irish/Celtic fiddle tunes.

    I've listened to a few demos of the Eastman octave, and it seems like a great bargain, but I can't say I love the tone. Then again, I can't afford one of those fancy Northfield archtops!

    What kind of music have you been playing on your OM? Also, just out of curiosity, what strings do you use? It seems like the only option available for OM is the usual phosphor bronze.
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    Registered User Mike Buesseler's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    I had some reservations about the tone of almost any OM myself. They are admittedly sort of nasal sounding, the Eastman no more or less than others. Still, listen to a few YouTube videos, e.g., anything by Colin Botts. https://youtu.be/TT1gMBWwMRI

    The tone has grown on me. I guess the depth and sustain won out. I love mine now.

    My OM came strung with John Pearse 2265s. Phosphor bronze, I think. Bruce Weber gave me a spare set and I see no reason to change from them. There are other choices out there.

    My Weber is not an inexpensive instrument. Which is why I recommended the Eastman. It is an excellent OM at a fraction of the cost of my Weber. I’m retired, can afford things. But, I started with the Eastman, till I felt like I wanted one of the best.

    I play mostly Celtic, some Old-Time, fart around with a few other things. They all sound good so far. I don’t play bluegrass and don’t know of many that do on OM.

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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    73 also. Must be something about the age. ��

    I bought an Austin Clark guitar body OM. It has been an adventure and, as you have discovered, it is a different approach to the same music. It is slower and more meditative.

    Enjoy the journey.

  7. #6
    Registered User Mike Buesseler's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    Quote Originally Posted by Explorer View Post
    Congratulations!

    For me, 20" is the longest comfortable scale length for a mando-tuned instrument. I'm glad you're playing the heck out it!
    The Eastman has a 21” scale, which was a bit long for me. The real juice came for me when I started to capo anywhere from the second to the fifth fret. I play alone, especially in these times, so the key doesn’t much matter. At the fifth fret, it’s a mandola. Someone playing guitar, say, can just capo at the fifth fret as well and read chords from the same chart.

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    Registered User Mike Buesseler's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Barnett View Post
    73 also. Must be something about the age. ��

    I bought an Austin Clark guitar body OM. It has been an adventure and, as you have discovered, it is a different approach to the same music. It is slower and more meditative.

    Enjoy the journey.
    I can’t think of that many great things to say about turning 73, can you Peter? Having a little more disposable income is nice (no point in saving anymore). Finding ways to keep doing the things I like is key, I think. I still mountain bike, hike a lot, no big health issues. Discovering this particular instrument will keep me energized for some time, I think.

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    I was lucky to get into OM about 10 years ago (at 47). I started with a Michael Kelly Octave Plus which is ok, but not in the Eastman quality range. I did some mods to help the tone and playability, but ultimately got a Cricket Fiddle F4 OM, 21" scale.

    The sound is gorgeous (all hand carved western red cedar top, maple back, sides and neck). Outplays instruments that cost three times as much.

    I've found I can play anything on the OM that I can play on the guitar. Including fingerstyle Hawai'ian slack key.

    Since mine has an Allen cast tailpiece that works with ball end strings I can use any material strings I want. I still love mandolin, mandola, mandocello and guitar, but the OM is mighty sweet.

  10. #9

    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    I had the same experience! Started with an Eastman 305 & traded up to a Weber. I love the 20" scale for blues. Congrats & enjoy!

  11. #10

    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    With a 20" scale, do you still play two frets per finger or switch to one? I also play tenor banjo with a slightly longer reach and switch to one finger per fret. I'm itching to try an octave. Age 71, getting an early start on this.

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    The most enjoyable instrument I have ever played is my 23" scale Burgin Octave Mandolin!

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    My original attempt at OM back about 25 years ago now, was converting an ovation guitar with a hole in the plastic back to an 8 string with banjo tuners added to the head, and customized bridge.
    The action was horrible and it was barley playable, clearly my thirst for an coursed tenor sound was not satisfied and so I wound up getting a Bardsong, and while it seemed more like a dulcimer in tone, I soon upgraded to a Freshwater and then on to a Weber Gallatin and Finally a Weber Yellowstone.
    The Eastman's I've tried I wasn't that impressed with ( no offense to Eastman owners) but I was impressed with the Northfield archtop guitar bodied octaves.
    On the lower end I always thought Trinity college was decent, love the Flatiron Frying pan versions.
    I have always thought Goldtone makes a decent product but I haven't played their octaves.
    Like Mandobart I had the Michael Kelly octave, nice looking but pretty much toneless.
    There was a Cafe member who removed the finish off a Michael Kelly octave and reapplied a very thin layer and wound up with a great sounding instrument.
    For most of 2020 I favored the octave and mandola, events in 2021 have me back focused on the mandolin but I will always love my octaves.
    "Mean Old Timer, He's got grey hair, Mean Old Timer he just don't care
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    "Aside from cello rep, I think it would lend an interesting flavor to Irish/Celtic fiddle tunes."

    This is one of reasons I picked up an OM (Eastman). I use it instead of guitar for a different sound. It also works very nicely backing up vocals. While I really love the sound of the Northfield, for what I use it for, the Eastman is actually better suited: that slightly "twangy" sound is exactly what I wanted.

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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buesseler View Post
    I can’t think of that many great things to say about turning 73, can you Peter? Having a little more disposable income is nice (no point in saving anymore). Finding ways to keep doing the things I like is key, I think. I still mountain bike, hike a lot, no big health issues. Discovering this particular instrument will keep me energized for some time, I think.
    Three times I came very, very near being killed. Reaching 73 is something I deeply appreciate. Watching my grandkids and great grandkids is a joy. Playing my mandolin, no matter how badly, is a blessing. I know others who have had to put down their instruments because of arthritis. Just at a time when they are finally free to do whatever they want.

    So, 73 is a good age and I hope to be picking at 83!

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    In the last 6 months or so I have gotten interested in OMs and I missed some excellent ones at great prices. However, I remembered many years ago a good mandolin friend of mine came over to my house with a newly acquired OM and I mentioned it to him and he said he barely ever plays it and would lend it to me with possible option to buy. This is ideal for me. I really don't need anything to add to the piles but but having one to fool with might be the best. I can give it back if I realize it is not for me and otherwise can probably buy it or know what I want. In any case, I will go and pick it up from him tomorrow.
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    I'd like peoples opinions on OM body types. Actually the neck of the instrument.

    I have a Pono short scale OM and it really feels like a small guitar. It is set up with flatwound strings and it sounds like a guitar, especially when played quietly. It will sound a bit like a bouzouki if it is driven hard.

    A mandolin shaped OM has a slim neck and probably sounds more like a mandolin. I prefer my mandola as the string spacing on the Pono guitar shaped OM is much wider.
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    Love my Weber Bitterroot F hole/a style OM. I had a Hyalite a few years ago that had a 22.5 inch scale length, and it was too much for me. The 20 inch scale with D’Addairio mandola strings fits perfectly, and I played a ton of Christmas carols on it this year; just seemed to work, and the lower register was nice for accompaniment when I could talk my wife/kids into singing.

    I’ll play pretty much any style of music on it, and I also like to use it when I want the guitar range but with that double course/f hole projection, even in our youth praise band (when we could get together, and I’m the “adult supervision”).

    Guitar and mandolin are still my main squeezes, but I’m digging this OM as well. Sounds like you got a gem, OP!

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    Registered User Mike Buesseler's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    Quote Originally Posted by Parker135 View Post
    With a 20" scale, do you still play two frets per finger or switch to one? I also play tenor banjo with a slightly longer reach and switch to one finger per fret. I'm itching to try an octave. Age 71, getting an early start on this.
    Sorry, I missed your question. I’m not sure what I do regarding fingers/frets. Really. I play tunes as much the same way I play my mandolins (which I guess is two frets per finger?) as possible, then do whatever it takes when I can’t reach a note with my fingers held in place.

  21. #19

    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    I almost always play my 20 inch Ashbury 32E OM with mandolin style fingering. Up until recently that included using the little finger on the seventh fret. Now I’ve begun to occasionally make fast hand movements after doing a lot of exercises so I can slide and use the third finger on the seventh fret.
    But the 20 inch is about my limit because if I put the capo on the second fret I can already feel and a huge improvement in playability.

    I much prefer the round body, A style OM’s and my ideal instrument, I guess, would be a 15 inch A style tuned CGDA mandola which has the option of capo at the second fret to give it DAEB

  22. #20

    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    Thanks for coming back to my question. Along with mandolin, I play tenor banjo in GDAE, with 22.5 to 23" scale lengths and switch to one finger per fret. I've been interested in this discussion, especially as it pertains to scale length. It's common to hear comments about "floppy G strings" and trouble with intonation on tenor banjos when scale lengths get down to 21" or less, but I've never come across that in OM discussions. I'm watching for a chance to buy an OM and would have been leaning toward longer scales.

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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    I usually try to move to OM fingering (so my pinky is covering the fifth/sixth frets) when I’m in first position, but, if I capo up above 2 or 3 I can usually play mandolin fingering without issue.

    The G is a little floppy with the shorter scale and OM strings, but using the mandola set fixes that issue.
    Chuck

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    Quote Originally Posted by Parker135 View Post
    Thanks for coming back to my question. Along with mandolin, I play tenor banjo in GDAE, with 22.5 to 23" scale lengths and switch to one finger per fret. I've been interested in this discussion, especially as it pertains to scale length. It's common to hear comments about "floppy G strings" and trouble with intonation on tenor banjos when scale lengths get down to 21" or less, but I've never come across that in OM discussions. I'm watching for a chance to buy an OM and would have been leaning toward longer scales.
    My OM has a 23" scale and I have no problems with a floppy G string - or any other strings. Going to an OM from a mandolin does require a different approach to fingering but it's not really a huge problem to me.

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  25. #23

    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    My OM has a 23" scale and I have no problems with a floppy G string - or any other strings. Going to an OM from a mandolin does require a different approach to fingering but it's not really a huge problem to me.
    Sitting here with a 23" scale Vega banjo on my lap, I think I'd be quite happy with a similar size OM. I jump back and forth with fingerings, but it only takes a few minutes to settle in. So I think I'm narrowing my search a little. Thanks.

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  27. #24
    Registered User Mike Buesseler's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    The Eastman I had before this Weber was 21”. The Weber is 20”. I’m finding the Weber surprisingly easier to play. And the G string isn’t floppy at all.

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    Registered User Dan Adams's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Joy of an OM

    I played in a band once that had two guitar players that were also mandolin players. To add something different to our sound, especially when veering off bluegrass to old time or Celtic music, I bought an octave on a whim so the others, when not playing guitar, could play mandolin. Think Red Haired Boy or Whiskey Before Breakfast. Had to be careful playing into a mic, it would growl on the low end and where the instrument was on the mic was an acquired skill. At the time I didn’t want to spend to much so I purchased a Johnson MA 550 with a 20” scale, the cutaway. I still own it and play it often. I’ve thought about upgrading, but since I mainly play around the house, I’ve resisted. I try to always keep a mandolin and the octave out so if I play a tune on the mandolin, I also play it on the octave; equal time as it were, all the tunes I play on the mandolin, I can also play on the octave. It’s really nice for Celtic tunes. I’ve used it at bluegrass jams, Celtic sessions, and busking.
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