Page 1 of 4 1234 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 92

Thread: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Location
    Guildford + Falmouth England
    Posts
    228

    Default Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Most here like to see some mandolin porn with fancy flame maple neck tops and backs etc - it looks great and it's all part of the art of making musical instruments. However:

    * Do you think that bearclaw spruce and/or highly figured maple neccessarily sound better than plain good quality wood worked well?

    * To what extent do players you've met assume fancy instruments sound better?

    * Are there makers who made/make great sounding mandolins out of plain wood - or do they tend to bow to player demand for looks?

  2. #2
    Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Central Illinois
    Posts
    3,563

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Good questions ! I don't have exact answers but I imagine there are some people who justify in their mind that a beautifully made mandolin sounds better than another plain made instrument. Percentage of people I don't know ! I am sure that great makers can build great sounding instruments out of plain looking wood however ! I have always said that it would be interesting for players to conduct a blind folded test of playing many instruments from lesser known builders to top end builders. There could be some real surprises in which instrument sounds better to their ears !

  3. The following members say thank you to yankees1 for this post:

    maxr 

  4. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Location
    Albany NY
    Posts
    1,044

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Well most that I have had or played look at least as good as they sound. The one exception would be the Michael Kelly F style Octave, which looked totally cool but was toneless ( or I at least could not coax tone out of it).
    I have a "less than attractive" mandolin someone treated very poorly, but the tone is not bad.
    Mike Marshall's beat to hell F5 is still cool to look at, and sounds awesome even if you close your eyes.

    The choice of materials and Wood "quality" is very important as is the skill of carving, fitting, joining and finishing. All contribute to tone, and lets face it mandolins just look cool.
    Can a good luthier make a pine box sound good? I'm sure it happens.
    "Mean Old Timer, He's got grey hair, Mean Old Timer he just don't care
    Got no compassion, thinks its a sin
    All he does is sit around an play the Mandolin"

  5. The following members say thank you to tmsweeney for this post:

    maxr 

  6. #4
    Registered User poul hansen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
    Location
    Danmark
    Posts
    156

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    I don't expect a fancy mandolin to sound good but the looks normally follow the quality. Builders of good sounding(expensive) instruments, also tend to make them look good.

    I do want an expensive instrument to sound good but also look good. You can't play all the time, but then you can enjoy looking at the instrument.

    I have on the other hand, a couple of well made and good sounding but plain looking instruments, that were cheapish, where I set sound above looks.
    Last edited by poul hansen; Jan-22-2021 at 8:16am.
    Kentucky KM-805
    Hora M1086 Portuguese II
    Hora M1088 Mandola
    Hora M1087 Octave
    Dean Tennessee Acoustic-Electric
    Richmond RMA-110-VS
    Noname (German?) mandolin

  7. The following members say thank you to poul hansen for this post:

    maxr 

  8. #5
    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    near Boston, MA
    Posts
    517

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    I think the old addage " You can't judge a book..." Certainly applies to instruments as well as thier players.

  9. The following members say thank you to Frankdolin for this post:

    maxr 

  10. #6
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    40.1646° N, 74.2083° W
    Posts
    24,391

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Bill Monroe's mandolin didn't look all that great. The back was a little mismatched and as the years went by it didn't get any newer. If you pay a bunch for a mandolin I'm of the opinion that it should look and sound great but in the end it's the sound that matters. Well, I guess that and the playability.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  11. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to MikeEdgerton For This Useful Post:

    DavidKOSmaxr 

  12. #7
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    North CA
    Posts
    4,322

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    Bill Monroe's mandolin didn't look all that great. The back was a little mismatched and as the years went by it didn't get any newer. If you pay a bunch for a mandolin I'm of the opinion that it should look and sound great but in the end it's the sound that matters. Well, I guess that and the playability.
    There sure are some beautiful looking and sound mandolins out there.

    But as you point out not all great sounding instruments look perfect. Many of the world's top master-made violins sought after by concert violinists would not pass the prejudging round of a modern violin making contest due to rough scroll carving, asymmetry, less than ideal finishes, etc. - but they are the best sounding instruments.

    I've also worked NAMM and the Messe and seen many guitars and mandolins made of the finest woods, with flawless finishes that left me musically cold, since they looked way better than they sounded.

  13. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to DavidKOS For This Useful Post:


  14. #8
    Gibson F5L Gibson A5L
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Posts
    2,322
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Hmmmm .... quality craft work comes first and foremost ... quality materials are also a must but pretty always seems to sell better than plain. For me it is Tone first , then playability and lastly looks. Playability can usually be adjusted or repaired but if the tone isn't there to begin with it is likely not to show up ... ever. Beginners are likely attracted to "pretty". Indeed F style instruments have a certain visual cache` it's true. Then that's just how it goes . . . . . first your money then your clothes.
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  15. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to UsuallyPickin For This Useful Post:

    DavidKOSmaxr 

  16. #9
    Pittsburgh Bill
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    PA
    Posts
    791
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Good questions, but difficult or perhaps impossible to answer. I think all builders start out with the desire to build a great sounding/playing mandolin. I also think that the materials the builder starts with determines a desired "look" and selling price if built for resale. I also think that there is a surprise factor when the mandolin is completed. The more experienced the builder and the quality of components used are both factors that contribute to a lessor chance of surprise of having built a dud.
    I'm not sure if I am adequately expressing what I am trying to convey, but simply put, I think surprises happen. Turds sometimes sound great and beauties sometimes don't.
    Stiver A style (MAS has stopped here)
    Kentucky KM-950
    Keith Edward Coleman A style, oval hole Mandola
    Weber Gallatin A Mandola "D hole"
    Rogue 100A (current campfire tool)
    Harley Benton A style (grandchildren's learner)

  17. The following members say thank you to Pittsburgh Bill for this post:

    maxr 

  18. #10
    Confused... or?
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Over the Hudson & thru the woods from NYC
    Posts
    2,509

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Absatively!! After all, don't clean cars always run better than dirty cars?
    - Ed

    "Then one day we weren't as young as before
    Our mistakes weren't quite so easy to undo
    But by all those roads, my friend, we've travelled down
    I'm a better man for just the knowin' of you."
    - Ian Tyson

  19. The following members say thank you to EdHanrahan for this post:

    maxr 

  20. #11

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Beautifully figured wood typically costs more than plain, but any connection to the sound of the instrument likely derives from economics—i.e., a builder whose instruments are sufficiently well-regarded to command a higher market price is more likely to be able to absorb the higher cost of fancy materials. (And of course buyers who are paying top dollar typically want the appearance to match the investment.) One possible exception to this, albeit a controversial one, is bearclaw spruce which many builders (certainly European violin makers, etc.) believe is often stiffer than straight-grained and thus may be physically correlated to better sound.

  21. The following members say thank you to Richard Mott for this post:

    maxr 

  22. #12

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Just as a coda to this, I know of an absolute top guitar builder who had a customer come to him and say “Build me an instrument out of the best-sounding piece of spruce in your shop that you could never use because of its appearance, and then finish with black lacquer on the top.” The customer got an absolutely incredible instrument.

  23. The Following 4 Users Say Thank You to Richard Mott For This Useful Post:


  24. #13
    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    DFW, Texas
    Posts
    3,451

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Pretty wood might not always sound better, but it seems to me that most people paying top dollar for a good mandolin expect it to look beautiful.
    “Never laugh at live dragons.” -Bilbo Baggins

  25. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Caleb For This Useful Post:


  26. #14
    Barn Cat Mandolins Bob Clark's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    Beautiful Salem County, NJ
    Posts
    1,834

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    To the OP's question, in a word, no.
    Purr more, hiss less. Barn Cat Mandolins Photo Album

  27. The Following 3 Users Say Thank You to Bob Clark For This Useful Post:


  28. #15
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Greer, SC
    Posts
    517

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    The ones that sound good, always look better to me.

  29. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Bob Buckingham For This Useful Post:

    FredKmaxr 

  30. #16
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    NC
    Posts
    4,050

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    We’ve had several luthiers through the years comment that they can (and sometimes do) build instruments out of plain looking wood that sound just like their other builds, but people paying for premier instruments will pick the more highly figured instruments almost every time, so that’s what they build.

    My personal example of this was the Flatiron 1N I owned for about a decade and sold during a downsize move recently. It’s back was a very plain flatsawn maple, but, man, that little guy had A++ volume and tone from a flat top perspective. Someone got themselves a good ‘un there. I’ve also had the good fortune to play 2 Loars, and neither had terribly figured or matched backs, but the tone was there for both.
    Chuck

  31. The following members say thank you to CES for this post:

    maxr 

  32. #17
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Location
    Guildford + Falmouth England
    Posts
    228

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Quote Originally Posted by tmsweeney View Post
    Can a good luthier make a pine box sound good? I'm sure it happens.
    I think that's called a fiddle

  33. #18
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    DeKalb, IL
    Posts
    3,544

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    The difference in cost of "fancier" woods compared to plainer woods in a mandolin are minor in the grand scheme of things. They usually do take greater care to work with. Anyone that's ever tried to bend highly curly maple up around the neck on an F5 will know what I mean. And carving the more figured woods also is more challenging. Do the fancier woods necessarily sound better? No. That's up to the luthier. But it does take more time to work the figured woods and that will necessitate a higher price if the luthier wants to stay in business.

  34. The Following 3 Users Say Thank You to Dale Ludewig For This Useful Post:


  35. #19
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Location
    Guildford + Falmouth England
    Posts
    228

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Quote Originally Posted by CES View Post
    We’ve had several luthiers through the years comment that they can (and sometimes do) build instruments out of plain looking wood that sound just like their other builds, but people paying for premier instruments will pick the more highly figured instruments almost every time, so that’s what they build.
    That's interesting looking at some of the Chinese workshop ranges like Eastman. I picked Eastman because I think they're all made in one shop, and the whole range is carved solid woods. It looks like a top of the range of each Eastman mando style has the same basic design and workmanship as the base model of that design - at about 40% of the retail cost. Fittings and finish improve as you go up in price. However, it looks like no or slight flame maple is only used for the base models, and they don't make painted back mandos. That suggests that a no flame back with good sound potential will still end up one of the base model mandolins, which could be good news for the impecunious musician.
    Last edited by maxr; Jan-22-2021 at 12:43pm.

  36. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to maxr For This Useful Post:


  37. #20
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    Maryland
    Posts
    2,717

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    No, they don't have to sound better.

    I've had Italian bowlbacks made by the same luthier, one extremely ornate and the other rather plain; they both sounded just fine, and both had the characteristic tonality of the maker.

    Seemingly the culture at that time and place was geared toward producing fine-sounding instruments for players; adding ornamentation and fancier woods increased the price for those players who preferred such things, but the quality was uniform throughout the line. (Of course there were truckloads of "souvenir" instruments made for the tourist trade, basically "mandolin-shaped objects". I've noted thesame phenomenon in the violin world.)

  38. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Bob A For This Useful Post:

    DavidKOSmaxr 

  39. #21
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Rochester NY 14610
    Posts
    16,524

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    I've gotten a lot of mileage out of Strad-O-Lins that were "ugly ducklings" compared to some of my fancier instruments. Ditto for a whole bunch of Regal run-of-the-mills that did the job -- uke, banjo, Octofone, etc.

    Generally, the cost of a more expensive mandolin reflects the amount of expertise and work that went into making it. If you're going to hand-craft an instrument, and spend many hours doing so, you want to be compensated in line with that skill and effort. And you realize that you're more likely to get a high price for an instrument that has highly figured woods, immaculate fit and finish, etc. So you put out the additional funds needed to get figured woods, and the additional time needed to make sure there are no finish flaws.

    Taylor Guitars, a few years ago, made some "pallet guitars" out of wood (oak, I think) from shipping pallets. Here's one for sale for $17K. Leaving aside the "gimmick" nature of the experiment -- and the flashy inlay work -- one could conclude that "looks ain't everything."
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  40. The Following 4 Users Say Thank You to allenhopkins For This Useful Post:


  41. #22
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Location
    Kentucky
    Posts
    14,893

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    * Are there makers who made/make great sounding mandolins out of plain wood - or do they tend to bow to player demand for looks?
    Not usually. Fancy (relatively) wood is just as easy to get and it sounds just a good, so why build with plain wood?

    Some things:
    It has been said that "perception is reality". Generalizing here, but when many people see an instrument that they think is great looking it will sound better to them. In other words, if someone thinks it sounds better it does sound better to them.
    It has been shown through double blind playing/listening tests that, when people know what an instrument is, they perceive it to sound better or not as good as they perceive the same instrument when they don't know what it is.
    It gets complicated because it gets into the realm of human psychology and lots of other human traits. Also, people are individuals and perceive things differently, are influenced differently, are subject to change, and so forth. There are no cut and dried answers.

    If you prefer plain wood and you think it sounds better, fine, but it may be hard to find because, as I said, fancier wood is just as easy to find and use.

    Whatever you think of points and scrolls, I can't count the times I've heard someone say: "that sounds really good... for an A-style".
    Obviously there is a persistent myth that "F"s sound better than "A"s. Surely there is some similarity when it comes to fancy wood.
    Last edited by sunburst; Jan-22-2021 at 1:25pm. Reason: cleaning up grammar and spelling

  42. The Following 7 Users Say Thank You to sunburst For This Useful Post:


  43. #23
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Location
    Guildford + Falmouth England
    Posts
    228

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Taylor Guitars, a few years ago, made some "pallet guitars" out of wood (oak, I think) from shipping pallets.
    Come to think of it, the sadly departed English luthier and guitar maker Norman Reed (who did some really ornate work) made a number of 'basic' acoustic guitars which sounded and played really well, but had the most basic finish possible - the idea was to get good affordable guitars to players. Unfigured woods, their tops and back sometimes had toothed plane marks visible, with just a coat of oil finish. Then the Chinese workshops upped their game to where we are now...

  44. The following members say thank you to maxr for this post:


  45. #24

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    Bob Givens made some very fine and excellent sounding instruments, but they were not made of the fanciest woods
    Last edited by 108 Mile; Jan-22-2021 at 1:54pm. Reason: Spelling

  46. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to 108 Mile For This Useful Post:

    lenf12maxr 

  47. #25
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2020
    Location
    New Hampshire
    Posts
    500

    Default Re: Do great looking mandolins have to sound better?

    It seems like in the mandolin world, "looks good" very often equates to "looks fancy". Maybe not universally true, though. I personally am a big fan of simplicity. I had emailed Mike Dulak about the finish on my Mid-Mo mandola, which is a very understated looking instrument. One thing he said is "I don't inhibit the wood with excess finish". I like that.

    That mandola sounds good, too.

  48. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Sue Rieter For This Useful Post:


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •