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Thread: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

  1. #1
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    Default Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    I'm looking purchase a new or used mandolin, to move up in class and quality, but before I start asking opinions about particular mandolins, I have a few questions that I'm hope some of you can help me with. I'll lay them out, and don't feel you need to tackle all of them at one time. Thanks in advance; here are the questions.

    1. Some mandolins are described as having a wide nut. What's the advantage or disadvantage? I'm old enough to have mild arthritis that so far has not impacted my playing, but thinking ahead: Does a wide nut mean that the strings are further spaced and perhaps more difficult for those with that affliction in the hand?

    2. What's the advantage or disadvantage of a radius fret-board? I take it that this would be subtle enough not to have much bearing on the arthritis question, right? Should I be looking for a narrower neck, though?

    3. Some mandolins have binding on both sides, others just on one. Is that relevant at all to quality?

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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    1. A wider nut, typically to 1 3/16, adds about 60/1000 in width, split between the the 3 string groups. Some people find greater ease of playing, some find it too wide.
    2. Flat v radius board is also very personal. Some love one, some love the other. Some have both and have strong opinions, some don’t see much difference.
    3. Binding is all appearance. If you think that relates to quality it does.

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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    Just my opinion:
    1. The wider nut will provide you with more fretboard space to accommodate an arthritic condition for finger placement BUT make sure the neck dimension is NOT TOO thick in the back to front dimension. You would find older Gibson pre-truss mandolins TOO thick.
    2. Use Thomastiks flatwound strings! These have significant reduced string tension and are easier for arthritic stricken fingers. I have suggested this to a friend of mine who is is an excellent mandolin player. He has an older Gibson with a truss rod and is finding the Thomastiks very helpful for his ongoing arthritic condition.
    3. As Bill states: binding is only an add-on!

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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    I have a wide-necked mandolin, an Espana. I too am arthritic in my hands (and knees, and hips, and...). I find it a little easier to use than my regular mandolin, a Godin A8, though there isn't a great difference. I haven't noticed that that the spacing adds any pressure against my fingers. In truth, I use my Godin A8 as much as or more than I use my Espana. There's some advantage and disadvantage to each. I'll take Barry's advice on the Tomastik flatwounds next time I buy strings.
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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    I like a wide neck mandolin, because I don’t have to worry about muting adjacent strings when I’m playing. I thought 1 and 1/8 was my sweet spot until I bought my Rigel, and, man, I’m digging the 1 and 3/16. My RM-1 is 1 and 1/4, which I also like, but it does take a couple minutes to get used to.

    I also prefer a radius FB and find them more comfortable to play. That said, I’ve owned both, and agree that you can adapt to either. If I found “the one” in tone, I wouldn’t pass because of a flat board.

    Honestly, if at all possible, get thee to a store that has a variety you can put your mitts on. I don’t know anything about the acoustic shop options in St. Louis, but Mass Street Music looks like a 3.5-4 hour drive. If that trip is doable over a day or a weekend maybe, see about making an appointment with them. You really won’t know what feels best to you until you have it in your hands. Not trying to be obnoxious about it, just sharing that it took me years of trying mandolins and, honestly, a trip to Nashville where I tried out everything to really be able to know what plays the best for me.
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    Thanks, Ranald and Chuck. Ranald, I too have a Godin A8, which I play in my cover band. I like its versatility. Chuck, you're right on the St. Louis scene. Music Folk and Fazio's here used to carry higher end instruments. The Mandolin Store near Nashville might be my best bet driving east. Morgan music about 2.5 hours west might be the ticket too. I think the store inventories are down. I'm watching the classified here.

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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    Binding protects the edges of the wood. Simon Mayor said that his first Mike Vanden mandolin has suffered from having no back binding.

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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    Quote Originally Posted by hellindc View Post
    1. Some mandolins are described as having a wide nut. What's the advantage or disadvantage? I'm old enough to have mild arthritis that so far has not impacted my playing, but thinking ahead: Does a wide nut mean that the strings are further spaced and perhaps more difficult for those with that affliction in the hand?
    A 1-3/16Ē nut might give you more room for playing melody if youíre feeling cramped with a standard 1-1/8Ē. It might also make chording more difficult if youíre already struggling to chop a four-finger G.

    Quote Originally Posted by hellindc View Post
    2. What's the advantage or disadvantage of a radius fret-board? I take it that this would be subtle enough not to have much bearing on the arthritis question, right? Should I be looking for a narrower neck, though?
    A radiused board seems to offer more functional playing space within that nut width. You might like it for picking leads in front of an accompaniment. You might not not like it for barring chords behind someone else.

    Quote Originally Posted by hellindc View Post
    3. Some mandolins have binding on both sides, others just on one. Is that relevant at all to quality?
    Binding offers protective and aesthetic value but does not seem to affect playability.

    The one factor you havenít mentioned and the one that Iím most sensitive to ó I alternate between mandolins with flat and radiused boards that range in nut widths from 1-1/16Ē to 1-1/4Ē ó is neck profile. I can deal with a variety of shapes and depths but feel at home with a narrow V.
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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    One option that many like ... a speed neck, or a bare neck stripped of any finish. Or never finished with varnish at all. I personally prefer a neck like that, but certainly a matter of choice
    Another is a scooped fretboard, to try to make it easier to avoid pick click
    Another is a abbreviated finger rest/pick guard
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    And to add a contrarian to the lists ... depending on where your arthritis is may play into whether a wider neck works for you or not. I have osteoarthritis in my left thumb and found that holding onto a wider neck sent shooting pains down my wrist. So i went in the other direction, and found that a narrower nut saved my thumb and my wrist. The nut on my snake is 1 inch. a lot of people would find that incredibly untenable, but it works for me. I can play an instrument with a modern neck -- like the Eastmans -- but 10 minutes on my old Strad and the shooting pains are back. Now, if your arthritis is in your fingers, that may be another entire kettle of fish.
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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hanson View Post
    Binding protects the edges of the wood. Simon Mayor said that his first Mike Vanden mandolin has suffered from having no back binding.

    Dave H
    Perhaps someone with more expertise than me (it doesn't take much) could chime in. I was told by a builder that while binding does not effect playability (obvious) it does to some degree prevent the absorption of humidity to some of the wood edges in addition to the fore mentioned protection attributes.
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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    Perhaps someone with more expertise than me (it doesn't take much) could chime in. I was told by a builder that while binding does not effect playability (obvious) it does to some degree prevent the absorption of humidity to some of the wood edges in addition to the fore mentioned protection attributes.
    I'm not a expert, just made a few guitars. Seems like many mandolins have ebony fingerboards. Ebony and good rosewood don't absorb much moisture, compared to e.g. spruce tops. The side of the board is side grain wood, as is the top of the board - and the much larger open fretted area is exposed to finger and atmosphere moisture unless your board is oiled or whatever. So, I'm not convinced by the moisture protection argument. Personally, I regard binding as as non functional decoration. I'd say if you like the look of it, get it. Your mandolin isn't going to fall apart without it, but should you ever need to refret it, a bound board may cost you more.

  17. #13

    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    In terms of humidity fluctuation, the spruce top is going to affect the tone and action fluctuations. Because it's quartersawn, the endgrain areas are going to allow the fastest transpiration, BUT, the pores are sealed by finish if there's no binding, same for the F holes. I'd imagine modern catalyzed finishes are more durable and will protect the edges of the top and back on an unbound instrument for a longer time than the nitro lacquer used in the past. However, the entire inside of musical instruments are unsealed/finished so there's really not much slowing down humidity change.

    Binding certainly can add some pretty strips to the design but is costly to install in terms of labor, thus the omission of it in lower cost instruments. It really does add protection though. In looking at and repairing old instruments I see that it is the edges of the rims that take the most punishment over time. The edges of the spruce top are particularly soft and easily damaged. For these reasons, the instruments I've build always get binding on the tops and backs, even if it's just a single black layer that doesn't show much.
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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    Please donít take this in the wrong way!
    I am not trying to be pretentious!
    If binding would have been essential for either playability or acoustics I think Stradivarius would have figured that one out!
    Some well regarded modern mandolin builders donít even include binding on their instruments.

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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    I think the OP may have been talking about fingerboard binding, guys, rather than top and back binding (if not, my bad!). The base Eastmans like mine have top binding but no back binding, so the back edges could suffer if you're a big belt buckle guy. BTW, I just found a vid on YouTube of a Stradivari bowl back 'mandolino', Barry Canada - it looks half way between a bowl back mandolin and a lute:

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    Default Re: Some questions about optional features on mandolins:

    Just a word of thanks to all who have responded. It has helped me evaluate what I want to prioritize--and not prioritize. BTW, my arthritis so far is mild and limited to the right (pick) hand, but I figure that down the road I might develop some in the left as well. And I learned some things from your posts, so again, thank you for taking the time.

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