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Thread: Tone bar question

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    Default Tone bar question

    I think most builders include shaving the tone bars in tuning a mandolin top board?

    But I wonder what is the limit in thickness and height that you won't go past in carving them?

    Said another way what is the minimum thickness & height you dare to carve a set of tone bars before you'd better put the chisel away.

    Seems to me smaller and lighter is best but going too far would not be good of course.

    I know most make the bass tone bar a little thicker and taller than the treble bar so I guess I'm wondering about the minimum dimensions on both bars?
    Bernie
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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    I think most builders include shaving the tone bars in tuning a mandolin top board?
    I use them to adjust stiffness. Perhaps that qualifies as "tuning", but I don't try to "tune" them to notes or any of that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    But I wonder what is the limit in thickness and height that you won't go past in carving them?
    I don't think there is a limit in terms of structure. An arched top is pretty strong and most would be OK without tone bars at all. At some point, I would think they would be too small to be an effective top stiffener and so no further adjustment of stiffness would be possible, and I recon that would be the limit in terms of their usefulness.


    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    Said another way what is the minimum thickness & height you dare to carve a set of tone bars before you'd better put the chisel away.

    Seems to me smaller and lighter is best but going too far would not be good of course.
    Not sure what else to add to what I said above, but I generally carve them until a "little voice" tells me to stop. That probably comes from how small they look, how stiff the top plate feels, what it sounds like carving and tapping the wood, and what experience has (hopefully) taught me.


    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    I know most make the bass tone bar a little thicker and taller than the treble bar so I guess I'm wondering about the minimum dimensions on both bars?
    Mine are made from the same 1/4" wide brace stock. I carve them to similar dimensions, though because of the slight difference in angle one is a little longer than the other. As for minimum dimensions, same as above.

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Bernie, tone bars are beams. They span a space and support pressure from one direction (top pushing down). So, if you want, or there was some acoustical reason other than stiffness, you can make this beam any shape. The least mass and most stiffness is the I beam. Next in the mass/stiffness ratio is a tall, thin rectangular beam, a little easier in wood! Beyond that, you could use different woods, or even cuts of wood, (as plane modelers do with the different cuts of balsa).
    But, as John says, there may not be compelling reasons to go too far from the simple stick.
    Where you put the bars is a presumably much different story!

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard500 View Post
    ...Where you put the bars is a presumably much different story!
    Apparently not. Dave Cohen tried different bracing patterns (tone bars, x-brace, his own bracing scheme) and found no particular difference in sound or in laser holography using the same mandolin (with a detachable back so that braces could be removed and replaced). It seem so come down to total stiffness vs mass most of all, regardless how that ratio is achieved. Other factors (modulus, damping etc.) seem to have limited effects. Dave's work is published.

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    Apparently not. Dave Cohen tried different bracing patterns (tone bars, x-brace, his own bracing scheme) and found no particular difference in sound or in laser holography using the same mandolin (with a detachable back so that braces could be removed and replaced). It seem so come down to total stiffness vs mass most of all, regardless how that ratio is achieved. Other factors (modulus, damping etc.) seem to have limited effects. Dave's work is published.
    Thanks John.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    Apparently not. Dave Cohen tried different bracing patterns (tone bars, x-brace, his own bracing scheme) and found no particular difference in sound or in laser holography using the same mandolin (with a detachable back so that braces could be removed and replaced). It seem so come down to total stiffness vs mass most of all, regardless how that ratio is achieved. Other factors (modulus, damping etc.) seem to have limited effects. Dave's work is published.
    Thanks John! I had heard that at least one other noted mandolin maker (do not recall who for sure so I don't want to guess) also ventured the opinion that the precise location of the tone bars made little difference in the tone. OTOH, I have heard some say the opposite too. But it seems Dave actually did some physical experiments so that data could be considered more "objective" in my humble opinion.

    I kind of wonder how it is that the Gibson factory in 1922 came up with the different angles (relative to a mid-line) and different distances from the center for the two tone bars?
    Bernie
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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard500 View Post
    Bernie, tone bars are beams. They span a space and support pressure from one direction (top pushing down). So, if you want, or there was some acoustical reason other than stiffness, you can make this beam any shape. The least mass and most stiffness is the I beam. Next in the mass/stiffness ratio is a tall, thin rectangular beam, a little easier in wood! Beyond that, you could use different woods, or even cuts of wood, (as plane modelers do with the different cuts of balsa).
    But, as John says, there may not be compelling reasons to go too far from the simple stick.
    Where you put the bars is a presumably much different story!
    Thanks Richard,

    I definitely like the idea less mass ( or minimal mass) for the top and the tone bars! I am totally convinced that tone bars make a big impact in the sound of the mandolin.

    Before I glue the tone bars on the top board (which is now glued to the sides and neck) it rings like a bell when I would tap it with a cork hammer, and it has a significant amount of sustain too.

    After I glued the tone bars down the volume is reduced, the tone is sharper, and the sustain is reduced.

    Makes me wonder if a mandolin without tone bars might have a lot more sustain? I mean since they are not needed for support anyway....??? I'm sure someone has tried it?
    Bernie
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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    ...I kind of wonder how it is that the Gibson factory in 1922 came up with the different angles (relative to a mid-line) and different distances from the center for the two tone bars?
    I can't say I spend time wondering about that, but I sure don't know why the decision was made to do them them that way. Gibson archtop guitars were not done that way, so perhaps that decision was made by someone else.

    FWIW, I followed the F5 brace placement closely on my first mandolin, and I have continued to use that positioning because it works as well as any other. It is interesting that I placed them on the "wrong" side of my line once so they ended up 1/4" from their usual position, and the sound of that mandolin was not noticeably different from my others. I was not worried about the "mistake" because I already understood that placement wasn't critical. Back when I started building I probably would have considered them wrong and perhaps would have re-done them.

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    ...I definitely like the idea less mass ( or minimal mass) for the top and the tone bars!
    I am more convinced that optimal (rather than minimal) mass is important to sound. Part of the characteristic sound of a carved arched mandolin is because of the relatively massive and stiff top. If we change things too much we move toward something else rather than a traditional sounding carved mandolin.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    I am totally convinced that tone bars make a big impact in the sound of the mandolin.
    I don't necessarily agree with that. Mass vs stiffness is the main thing IMO, and tone bars are simply a convenient way to adjust that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    Makes me wonder if a mandolin without tone bars might have a lot more sustain? I mean since they are not needed for support anyway....???
    Sustain is largely dependent on mass. To over-simplify, a heavier top will contribute to added sustain (at the expense of loudness), so removing the mass of the braces would not be expected to increase sustain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    I'm sure someone has tried it?
    So am I!

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Ok guys, I was thinking violin when I assumed position was important. In a violin, the bass bar has to be about where it is usually found, under the bass foot of the bridge, and is angled slightly off the main axis. The other end of the bridge is supported by a nearby, but not directly under, sound post. Both of these items, partly because the f-holes weaken the general area, are needed to keep the table, or top from collapse. A violin bridge also is a sophisticated acoustic filter sitting on two very small contact points. Moving the sound post even a little definitely changes the sound of the instrument. Both elements adjust the net stiffness of the top. There are no other supports as there may be in mandolins or guitars. Large literature on this subject! Also endless hand-waving.

    If mandolins (and presumably similar guitars) are insensitive to placement except for structural necessity (or not even that!), I guess there’s much more freedom to play around, which is, at least this lockdown Sunday afternoon, interesting.

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Violins, with their relatively tall, light, flexible bridges, their bass bars and sound posts, and their bowed playing behave so much differently from carved mandolins that we can fall into various traps when we try to compare them. As it turns out, studying guitar research can teach us a lot about mandolins because they behave more similarly.

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    I am more convinced that optimal (rather than minimal) mass is important to sound. Part of the characteristic sound of a carved arched mandolin is because of the relatively massive and stiff top. If we change things too much we move toward something else rather than a traditional sounding carved mandolin.



    I don't necessarily agree with that. Mass vs stiffness is the main thing IMO, and tone bars are simply a convenient way to adjust that.



    Sustain is largely dependent on mass. To over-simplify, a heavier top will contribute to added sustain (at the expense of loudness), so removing the mass of the braces would not be expected to increase sustain.



    So am I!
    Great comments! Thanks! Now I will think about this some more with a fresh viewpoint!
    Bernie
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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard500 View Post
    Ok guys, I was thinking violin when I assumed position was important. In a violin, the bass bar has to be about where it is usually found, under the bass foot of the bridge, and is angled slightly off the main axis. The other end of the bridge is supported by a nearby, but not directly under, sound post. Both of these items, partly because the f-holes weaken the general area, are needed to keep the table, or top from collapse. A violin bridge also is a sophisticated acoustic filter sitting on two very small contact points. Moving the sound post even a little definitely changes the sound of the instrument. Both elements adjust the net stiffness of the top. There are no other supports as there may be in mandolins or guitars. Large literature on this subject! Also endless hand-waving.

    If mandolins (and presumably similar guitars) are insensitive to placement except for structural necessity (or not even that!), I guess there’s much more freedom to play around, which is, at least this lockdown Sunday afternoon, interesting.
    Good comments! The philosophy of violin makers seem to me to be so totally different -- they seem to use minimal amounts of hide glue so that the instrument can be taken apart when necessary for the inevitable repair? Mandolins are built so to never (hopefully) be taken apart?
    Bernie
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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    I know most make the bass tone bar a little thicker and taller than the treble bar so I guess I'm wondering about the minimum dimensions on both bars?
    I don't know much about others but Loars have lower (and shorter) bass side bar. Width of bars is basically same approx. 1/4". It almost looks like they trimmed the bars flush with plate underside (as when placed on flat surface) and then just adjusted the shape a bit

    How they arrived at the position? I only have guesses (there's old thread about loar tonebars from few years ago). I believe they made some experimental mandolins (prototypes) with varying placements and sizes of bars and they also tried different plate thicknesses (maybe they sanded the prototypes with strings on...) and then they took apart the best one and copied that.
    I only have exact measurements of tonebars from two mandolins and they are exactly same numbers to 10th of mm. That alone tells something...
    The very first batch of 22 had slightly different position (but within 1/8" from later more common) and slightly different shape (rounded top at center with almost constant height for some 3"- and tapering to flat at ends) - you can see that on the first Loar. Later thay shaped them to a "rounded triangle" and they tapered from center to ends.
    Even graduations of Loars were very consistent (minus some imprecision of factory work). Many modern makers use much wilder graduation "excurses" than what you see among most Loars.
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    I don't know much about others but Loars have lower (and shorter) bass side bar. Width of bars is basically same approx. 1/4". It almost looks like they trimmed the bars flush with plate underside (as when placed on flat surface) and then just adjusted the shape a bit

    How they arrived at the position? I only have guesses (there's old thread about loar tonebars from few years ago). I believe they made some experimental mandolins (prototypes) with varying placements and sizes of bars and they also tried different plate thicknesses (maybe they sanded the prototypes with strings on...) and then they took apart the best one and copied that.
    I only have exact measurements of tonebars from two mandolins and they are exactly same numbers to 10th of mm. That alone tells something...
    The very first batch of 22 had slightly different position (but within 1/8" from later more common) and slightly different shape (rounded top at center with almost constant height for some 3"- and tapering to flat at ends) - you can see that on the first Loar. Later thay shaped them to a "rounded triangle" and they tapered from center to ends.
    Even graduations of Loars were very consistent (minus some imprecision of factory work). Many modern makers use much wilder graduation "excurses" than what you see among most Loars.
    Thanks! That last sentence is extremely interesting IMHO! I've always fount it interesting (ironic? whatever) that the standard for F-5s comes from some guys in 1922 who were building the very first ones -- and together their combined output was "only"about 300 mandolins. Some modern builders have made something like a 1000 mandolins!
    Bernie
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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    But I wonder what is the limit in thickness and height that you won't go past in carving them?
    I've seen a couple of quality mandolins with the tone bar heights carved down to almost nothing - concave between the ends. Based on that, I have carved them flat across on one mandolin and slightly concave on one, in order to get the desired "note" (mass) for the tops. While the tone bars do provide some support and stiffness, I think their main function if you tap tune to a "note" or other sound or "voice" is that they give you a fairly precise way to get there.
    Tom

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    Thanks! That last sentence is extremely interesting IMHO! I've always fount it interesting (ironic? whatever) that the standard for F-5s comes from some guys in 1922 who were building the very first ones -- and together their combined output was "only"about 300 mandolins. Some modern builders have made something like a 1000 mandolins!
    They made thousands and thousands of mandolins they had SOME experience It's the F-5 model of which they built less... But they built mandolas and guitars style 5 as well...
    One more thought about bar placement. Those guys were following whatever new "theories" or "secrets" violin guys spilled at the time and basic bass bar position on violin is very close to edge of f hole and going under outside of bass side bridge foot, the soundpost on the other side is generally centered behind the treble side foot so they just shifted the bars on mandolin to follow this...

    The shape of bars is very consistent on Loars but modern makers are all over the place some even carve them like scalloped guitar braces. They still sound like mandolin so the difference in tone is not as huge as the difference in shape and size. I carve them close to Loar size and never needed to adjust them. Material that you take from top makes much more difference in tone.
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    They made thousands and thousands of mandolins they had SOME experience It's the F-5 model of which they built less... But they built mandolas and guitars style 5 as well...
    One more thought about bar placement. Those guys were following whatever new "theories" or "secrets" violin guys spilled at the time and basic bass bar position on violin is very close to edge of f hole and going under outside of bass side bridge foot, the soundpost on the other side is generally centered behind the treble side foot so they just shifted the bars on mandolin to follow this...

    The shape of bars is very consistent on Loars but modern makers are all over the place some even carve them like scalloped guitar braces. They still sound like mandolin so the difference in tone is not as huge as the difference in shape and size. I carve them close to Loar size and never needed to adjust them. Material that you take from top makes much more difference in tone.
    Yes I meant that they made approximately 300 (or less?) Loar-signed (or the first) F-5 mandolins.....
    Bernie
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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    Yes I meant that they made approximately 300 (or less?) Loar-signed (or the first) F-5 mandolins.....
    Yes, I understood that. But they had already made a piles of oval hole models and could transfer much of the experience to the new model where they only had to figure out the tops - the backs and sides of F-4 and F-5 are virtually the same, including graduation scheme. One batch of prototypes would easily show good range of thicknesses and tone bar sizes.
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    Yes, I understood that. But they had already made a piles of oval hole models and could transfer much of the experience to the new model where they only had to figure out the tops - the backs and sides of F-4 and F-5 are virtually the same, including graduation scheme. One batch of prototypes would easily show good range of thicknesses and tone bar sizes.
    I see what you mean!
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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    So this is a much-argued topic, but - at risk of reprisal - I'm glad to throw my hat in the ring. The arched and graduated soundboard of a mandolin is strong enough to function under the 45 pound download of a medium gauge strings without tone bars. The tone bars are used to tune the bass and treble bouts of the soundboard. They are tone bars not structural braces (and there is a huge difference between tone bars and braces). The tuning is done by removing wood. As wood is removed from the tone bar, the pitch is lowered. As wood is remove from the ends of the tone bars, the pitch is lowered more slowly than wood removed from the center of the bars. If you study the insides of Loar-signed F5 mandolins, you will find tone bars of different sizes and shapes - instrument-to-instrument - but the tuning of the soundboards is identical. Ideally, the tone bars should be tuned to notes that part of Concert Pitch A-431 (not A-440Hz). The bass bar should be tuned to Ab and the treble bar to A# (at Concert Pitch A-431), but other tunings that are a half-step above or below these tunings can be successful. Tap tuning is NOT difficult, just typically misunderstood. It is not voodoo, and it really works. At least Stradivari, Guarneri, and Lloyd Loar thought so.
    Roger

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    I have no building knowledge to add to what our resident masters have so generously shared, but I have Mr. Siminoff’s book and plan to build at least one A style someday, so find this stuff fascinating.

    I’ve been watching what Northfield has been doing with their Artist series with interest. And, Bernie, The Loar LM 700 was produced without tone bars, at least for a few years. I only played one back before their philosophy shift, and it was a good sounding mandolin that held its own with a couple of Eastmans and a Bovier. Obviously they’re in a much more budget mandolin class, but just remembered that example as I was reading the thread.

    Thanks!

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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    This has been discussed endless times around here; the search button is your friend.

    I posted many times here and it has been well documented & demonstrated at many of the major luthier conferences: if you use my removable plate test rig, you can take your working mandolin top and try as many variations in the brace placement and thickness as you desire and can answer every one of these questions yourself instead of random internet speculation. It is well proven, well documented, and it works excellent.

    Here is a link to an old thread detailing a student experience using it:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...t=days+condino
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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post

    I kind of wonder how it is that the Gibson factory in 1922 came up with the different angles (relative to a mid-line) and different distances from the center for the two tone bars?
    My assumption on this has always been that they were trying to introduce some asymmetry in order to prevent the tonebars from vibrating at almost exactly the same pitch, possibly introducing some unwanted beats, sound cancellation, or other interference. By having the bass bar larger but tilted away from the longitudinal axis, it provides about the same longitudinal stiffness as the treble bar but vibrates at a different frequency. I may be totally off base here, so take this with a grain of salt .

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Tone bar question

    I've never seen any really visible variation of tonebars either position or size on Loars. The position is always within 1/8" or so (the earlly ones from first batches are at the extreme of this) and their height virtually same (again the first batch being exception in shape -rounded U vs. straight chamfer later on - but the basic size is the same as well) They certainly don't show any signs of being tuned - that would result in much larger variability.
    I haven't had a chance to test any number of disassembled Loar tops or backs to check tuning to particular notes and certainly would like to see it in person or on video if anyone did such test.
    I would not try to build mandolin without bars, at least not to typical Loar thicknesses. I would bet my hat it would collapse within short order.
    I've only played (and measured) two mandolins without bars, both "the Loars" and their tops measured over 6.5mm in center (1/4"+) and about 5mm at f holes - edges of f holes were chamfered from inside not to show the extra thickness. That is awfully thick and any tonebars would just add extra weigth to that. They both sounded thuddy and relatively dull with little sustain.
    Adrian

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