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Thread: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

  1. #1
    Every day is a gift. Sheila Lagrand's Avatar
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    Default Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    During my years with the violin, tuning always involved bringing strings that had gone flat back up to the proper note.

    I'm finding that my mandolin, an Eastman 305 (but not my Eastman 305 octave mandolin) often goes sharp between playing sessions. Is that strange? Any ideas why that happens?
    Now, what was I after when I wandered in here?

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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Is the humidity increasing? You did not say how long between sessions and not sure if that matters. However that information may influence a more definitive response.
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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Wow Sheila, I was going to come here tonight and ask the very same question.

    I play nearly everyday. Tonight, I had 3 out of 8 strings sharp, and I had just played last night. Not that big of deal maybe, I tune every time that I play. But, as Shelia was eluding to, shouldn’t they be flat, and not sharp?

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    Registered User mandrian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Hi,

    I find that sometimes individual strings will bind or get stuck in either the nut or bridge grooves. This means that they will release over time and cause the string to play sharp after the release. If you're seeing only certain strings, typically the same ones, being the problem, that points in this direction. A good way to tell is to tune the strings, play for an hour say and then retune again. If certain strings are now sharp, binding is likely the issue.

    Regards

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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    I don’t believe it is the same strings every time, but I will pay more attention.
    Not trying to hijack Sheilas original inquiry...

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    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    Is the humidity increasing? You did not say how long between sessions and not sure if that matters. However that information may influence a more definitive response.
    My mandolins have always gone sharp when the relative humidity is lower. I lived in a house with ac window units and not central air so when I took them to church, where the central air produced lower humidity, they were always sharp, some strings more than others. It took about 20 minutes for the top to acclimate, settle down and stay in tune.
    The reverse happens now when I take a mandolin from the low humidity at home to play outdoors, it goes flat and takes about 20 minutes to acclimate.

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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    My mandolins and basses go out of tune sharp as well. I believe it has more to do with humidity and temperature than poor cut string slots for my instruments. Its never been of too much concern for me.

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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Ya, I wasn’t too concerned either, but definitely curious.

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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    I have read that when you play a string instrument your body temp warms it. When you put it in the case it cools down contracting the metal of the strings. So as the metal contracts the pitch tends to go sharp. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    It likely isn't due to linear expansion from body heat, as if you tuned it right when you picked it up, the strings would likely expand a miniscule amount, then when you put it back in your case they would return to their original tuned length. It also likely isn't bound strings, if a string was bound and released, it would "release" extra length making your string flat. It's likely, as everyone said, just humidity changes from your case to your play area making your mandolin's body expand. YMMV (source: my physics addled brain).
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  19. #11

    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by UsuallyPickin View Post
    I have read that when you play a string instrument your body temp warms it. When you put it in the case it cools down contracting the metal of the strings. So as the metal contracts the pitch tends to go sharp. R/
    Humidity changes affect the wood WAY more than temperature changes affect the metal. Your body temperature makes little difference to the string temperature.

    Body temperature DOES affect brass instruments, but you are blowing a lot of heated air into them. Enough to actually change the temperature of the metal.

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  21. #12

    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    I have a hammered dulcimer which has a light coating of marine varnish inside, sealing the wood. Its pitch variances follow only temperature.

    Similarly, my carbon fiber Mix NewMAD mandolin and Adamas 12-string guitar only change pitch due to temperature.

    The all-wood dulcimer, mandola and mandolin, and guitars change mostly due to temperature, and but also to humidity changes in a lesser way.

    So, if I play the Adamas outside during a deep winter event, the strings' pitches vary (not much, and as a group) based on how much my hands are touching them.

    ---

    So, based on that body of experience accumulated by myself and other gigging acoustic musicians in the DC area since at least the '80s, generally I'll let cased instruments sit at the venue to reach close to ambient temperature, pull them out and warm them up with a little playing and hand contact on the strings, and then tune. That avoids the tuning down of colder, sharper strings, and then re-tuning up once they warm up.

    If the instruments haven't traveled, then just a little playing to warm the strings brings them back to close or perfect, followed by the tuning.

    Cheers!

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  23. #13
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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Medley12 View Post
    I don’t believe it is the same strings every time, but I will pay more attention.
    Not trying to hijack Sheilas original inquiry...
    I'm not feeling hijacked at all! I think it adds to the discussion that two of us can share experiences.
    Now, what was I after when I wandered in here?

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  24. #14
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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    Is the humidity increasing? You did not say how long between sessions and not sure if that matters. However that information may influence a more definitive response.
    I play nearly every day; with a goal of daily play and occasional interventions by life. We live in the desert, so humidity is mostly something we remember.
    Now, what was I after when I wandered in here?

    2020 Eastman MD 305
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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandrian View Post
    Hi,

    I find that sometimes individual strings will bind or get stuck in either the nut or bridge grooves. This means that they will release over time and cause the string to play sharp after the release. If you're seeing only certain strings, typically the same ones, being the problem, that points in this direction. A good way to tell is to tune the strings, play for an hour say and then retune again. If certain strings are now sharp, binding is likely the issue.

    Regards
    Thank you for this reply from my ancestral homeland. The change isn't specific to certain strings. I will check tuning after playing for an hour and see what that investigation reveals. I'm grateful for the suggestion.
    Now, what was I after when I wandered in here?

    2020 Eastman MD 305
    2016 Eastman MDO 305
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  26. #16
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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Hall View Post
    My mandolins have always gone sharp when the relative humidity is lower. I lived in a house with ac window units and not central air so when I took them to church, where the central air produced lower humidity, they were always sharp, some strings more than others. It took about 20 minutes for the top to acclimate, settle down and stay in tune.
    The reverse happens now when I take a mandolin from the low humidity at home to play outdoors, it goes flat and takes about 20 minutes to acclimate.
    That's interesting, Jon. We're in a desert environment, so the humidity outdoors is nearly always lower than indoors. My husband takes his mountain dulcimer outside to play a lot. I haven't taken my mandolin out yet.
    Now, what was I after when I wandered in here?

    2020 Eastman MD 305
    2016 Eastman MDO 305
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  27. #17
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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Zach Wilson View Post
    My mandolins and basses go out of tune sharp as well. I believe it has more to do with humidity and temperature than poor cut string slots for my instruments. Its never been of too much concern for me.
    It's more a matter of curiosity than concern for me, Zach. Thank you for sharing your experience. We live in very different climates, so it would be interesting if environment proved to be the culprit, hmm?
    Now, what was I after when I wandered in here?

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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by UsuallyPickin View Post
    I have read that when you play a string instrument your body temp warms it. When you put it in the case it cools down contracting the metal of the strings. So as the metal contracts the pitch tends to go sharp. R/
    Interesting. I'm wondering if wood conducts heat well enough to transmit warmth to the strings? Although of course, one's fingers are on the strings, so that would be the more likely source of warming. My instruments stay in hangers on the walls, though, so they don't experience an environmental change when I take them off their hangers and sit down to play them. I only use the cases if we're going somewhere with them.
    Now, what was I after when I wandered in here?

    2020 Eastman MD 305
    2016 Eastman MDO 305
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    Every day is a gift. Sheila Lagrand's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Theo W. View Post
    It likely isn't due to linear expansion from body heat, as if you tuned it right when you picked it up, the strings would likely expand a miniscule amount, then when you put it back in your case they would return to their original tuned length. It also likely isn't bound strings, if a string was bound and released, it would "release" extra length making your string flat. It's likely, as everyone said, just humidity changes from your case to your play area making your mandolin's body expand. YMMV (source: my physics addled brain).
    Thank you, Theo, for sharing the perspective from your physics-addled brain. My brain is addled by stream-of-consciousness nonfiction, which doesn't really illuminate this discussion. It does entertain me, though.
    Now, what was I after when I wandered in here?

    2020 Eastman MD 305
    2016 Eastman MDO 305
    1959 Husband

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    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sheila Lagrand View Post
    That's interesting, Jon. We're in a desert environment, so the humidity outdoors is nearly always lower than indoors. My husband takes his mountain dulcimer outside to play a lot. I haven't taken my mandolin out yet.
    I live in East Texas. On a Spring afternoon the relative humidity in my apartment is 50% but outdoors it is 65-80%.

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  32. #21

    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    My experience has been that the ambient temperature is more of a determining factor than humidity. If the temperature drops my strings go sharp, and when the temperature rises the strings go flat. This is probably a miniature version of why they put slack in telephone lines during the summer, otherwise they would snap due to the increased tension during winter.

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  34. #22
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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by billykatzz View Post
    My experience has been that the ambient temperature is more of a determining factor than humidity. If the temperature drops my strings go sharp, and when the temperature rises the strings go flat. This is probably a miniature version of why they put slack in telephone lines during the summer, otherwise they would snap due to the increased tension during winter.
    Relative Humidity explains what your observation regarding temperature. Warmer air can contain more moisture than cooler air. 50% relative humidity at 75 degrees isn’t the same amount of moisture as 50% r.h. at 65 degrees. Martin Guitar keeps their plant environment at 75 degrees/50% r.h. 24/7.

    This principal is what allows a lumber dry kiln to gradually remove moisture from wood. A slow, steady increase in temperature pulls water from wood without damaging the wood.

    What’s happening with our mandolins is the top is slightly shrinking or expanding as the wood physically acclimates to achieve equilibrium with the air. As the top changes dimensionally, the geometry involving the string, nut and bridge is actually changing.

    I realize this might be more technical than anyone was interested in, in which case, I apologize.

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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    My teacher gave me a humidifier for my case last week. Maybe someone has already suggested trying one, but just in case. . . .

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    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    My teacher gave me a humidifier for my case last week. Maybe someone has already suggested trying one, but just in case. . . .
    Be careful with that, more damage has been caused by over humidifying than not. If you are dry think about humidifying your house. Your nose, instruments, furniture, cabinets, floors and anything made of wood will thank you. I have wood heat and never have one in my case, I do keep my house 45-50% tho.
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  40. #25

    Default Re: Mandolin goes sharp between sessions?

    I finally ordered a humidifier for my apartment this weekend after noticing the humidity at a steady 25% since I started checking it.

    I notice frequent tuning changes caused by ambient temperature, since I play outdoors as much as indoors. I’ve avoided playing when it’s really cold but if you really want to entertain yourself with frequent tuning try playing next to a patio heater

    I can see how a binding nut slot could cause a string to go sharp. It’s not “releasing” slack into the main string, it’s drawing slack from the main string into the over-tensioned string between the tuner and the nut.

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