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Thread: Mandolin 'dogs'?

  1. #1
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    Default Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Do you ever pick up a mandolin that looks great and is well made, to find it doesn't 'work' for no obvious reason? There used to be an authenticated Strad violin near here that had the reputation of being a real dog to play, so it seems the big names of the past would occasionally hit that problem.

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    Gummy Bears and Scotch BrianWilliam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    I thought this thread was going to bring balance to the mandolin+cats dominance....

    Iíve played some big name ďdogsĒ in music stores (when that use to happen) and then the same model that belonged to a friend that were great. It happens

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Quote Originally Posted by BrianWilliam View Post
    I thought this thread was going to bring balance to the mandolin+cats dominance....
    Cats Rule and Dogs Drool

    (Homeward Bound, one of my all time fav kid movies)

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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    There are a few that I have tried that were not to my liking, but I would not call them 'dogs'. One I purchased on line for what I thought was a great price, and it turned out to be a factory second.

    On more than a few occasions I have tried a mandolin just completed by an aspiring luthier. More often than not the wood working skills were fantastic, a real joy to look at, but the sound was mediocre or less.

    So many little things significantly affect the sound and playability of a mandolin, set up, string types, neck profile, and all the acoustic magic inside the box, that I am always tempted to think that any "real dog" could be tweaked into being a real player. Not always true, but it is a prejudice I have.

    Especially a well known name. How did it get out into the mandoverse sounding like that. What did a previous owner do, or not do, that could be easily undone?
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Ha ha! Yes. I bought a name mandolin from one of the great dealers present here and it just didn’t have any undertones or character. Very strange. I bought it via their website. It had been in their stock for a while and I think I found out why the hard way. It just didn’t have a voice.

    I kept it for a while thinking it would play in or I’d figure out how to get a good tone out of it, but I eventually traded it. I’m sure somebody is happy to have it. Well made mandolin with a buzz-worthy name on the headstock, just no mojo. I took it to another builder thinking he might be able to work some magic on the setup or recommend something exotic. He just shook his head and shrugged.

    There are some mandolins that just have something special. I played an incredible Gibson A5 once from an undistinguished era that had amazing tone. By the same token, there are occasional dogs. I’ve been told by an informed source that a certain A-list maker runs his through a bandsaw and takes the loss.
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  11. #6

    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    There's always a variance isn't there? I don't think any of the reputable makers produce bad mandos but some are special and others, not so much.

    Sometimes you see a mandolin that has two or three homes in its first year or so and you wonder if it's circumstance or if it's just not the best of its kind. That said, a "dog" at 5k might be a gem at 3k.
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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Yes, I've played a number of expensive beautifully made and finished mandolins that I wouldn't trade my cheapest beater for, as they lacked volume and richness of tone.

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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    JeffD mentioned above about buying a mandolin and then finding out it was a second. I have a Gibson second and for the life of me cannot discern what about it makes it a second, as no finish problems are apparent and it plays and sounds great. Being a second does not make it a "dog". Could perhaps some builder or experienced salesperson please describe what qualities lead to an instrument being marked as a second.

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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hudmister View Post
    JeffD mentioned above about buying a mandolin and then finding out it was a second. I have a Gibson second and for the life of me cannot discern what about it makes it a second, as no finish problems are apparent and it plays and sounds great. Being a second does not make it a "dog". Could perhaps some builder or experienced salesperson please describe what qualities lead to an instrument being marked as a second.
    Back in prehistory, one of the 42nd St music shops in NYC used to get a few Guild factory 'seconds', which reduced the price a lot. I bought a 'second' Guild dreadnought (all US made at that time), and the salesman pointed out the flaws - two round varnish drips 1/2" across, just where the guitar rests on your leg when you sit down.

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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Yes, I've played quite a few instruments by makers of good reputation that were either mediocre or no good at all.
    That's why buying an instrument on-line with a no-returns policy is not a good idea.
    That's also a reason that buying an instrument because you have your mind set on a certain make and model is also not a good idea.

    Sometimes, the problem is simply that the instrument needs work. And at other times, nothing that the best craftsman can do will help the instrument. And sometimes, there is nothing wrong with the instrument at all, but it simply does not fit your tastes and needs.

    I recall a Nick Lucas guitar I bought many years ago. After I set up and adjusted it, I realized that the shape of the neck did not fit me, and that it did not respond well to my touch when I fingerpicked it. During the month that I had it, another competent guitarist played it and really liked it. So, I sold it to her, and she has used it as her primary instrument ever since.

    I'm surprised to hear of a poor Strad, unless the instrument has been poorly maintained and poorly repaired over the years. That's because Strad was known to destroy any instruments that did not meet his standards rather than finish them and let them out of his shop. Some of our modern makers have the same attitude, but others do not.

    When I evaluate an instrument, I pay more attention to how the instrument sounds and feels rather than what the make, model, or color is. I've passed on several instruments that were attractive to me, but did not fit my hands and ears.

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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    There are certainly dogs out there, but i think a small portion are actually fine instruments that just don't work for a specific player for one reason or another, or as Chuck Leyda said, a dog at $5k might be a gem at $3K. I own a bunch of sub $500 instruments and I've only had one that I would call a "dog" -- even the Rogue had its good points once it got a professional set up. That one was an electric version of a MSO that nothing could help. I believe I threw it in as a "plus" when I made a trade for something else. However, I did have another instrument from a company that usually gets a fairly good rep but it just didn't do it for me. Dull and lifeless most of the time and nearly impossible to keep intonated properly. I passed it on to a beginner who found it fine, since the player wasn't doing much but noodling on it in their spare time so it was all the same to them.
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    I played a Derrington F-5 that simply didn’t speak to me once, it felt rather “Standoffish” to me, just was not inviting at all.
    I’ve played several expensive instruments over the years that were just not for me but, I’ve also played some that made me want to sell a kidney too!
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    my first bench-made, oval hole, hybrid. One tune and I knew, I hated it. So much I wondered if I'd be able to find a happy buyer. Builder has an almost legendary reputation. Never played another of his works either. Just knew I had to get rid of that mandolin!

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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    A friend, who is a luthier, brought me a Loar (the real deal) to try out. According to him, it spends most of the time in a safe. I sat down with great excitement so afraid that I might drop it. Then, I hit the strings with a pick and truly nothing happened. There was no Loar sound. As a matter of fact, there was not even much "The Loar" sound. Were it an electric, I would have checked to see if it was plugged in. This was at IBMA, a noisy venue, but I had been playing a number of instruments that were not dead. I thanked my friend the luthier for he really made a special effort to bring this for me to play. All I told him was that I really preferred the sound of his instruments to the Loar. I guess that was a backhanded compliment. I never played one of his instruments that was not clearly better than that Loar. Was this due to being shuttered up in a safe or just a "dog"? I surely do not know. I can only say I was disappointed.
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  29. #15
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Evaluating instruments is highly subjective thing and many "dogs" are not real dogs but maybe good instruments in need of setup or some other work.
    Years ago I played the Rinzler fern for the first time (I was 18 or 20) and just hated it. It seemed hard to get tne out of and my Krishot sounded 1000% better to me (actually it was reaaly good one). Only after more years of tasting every mandolin that came my way on festivals playing with bands and gaining experience as builder I could evaluate if the condition of instrument is good enough to fairly evaluate it's quality I learned that my Krishot was not really on the top of the heap (though darned near) and there are other aspects of those old mandolins that make them special.
    I played Gil that was underwhelming but apparently neck joint was loose and bridge bottomed out and still too high action. The best builders build to very high standard and I doubt they would let any dogs out, I even doubt they really have to destroy any instrument after they build it. If you build to consistent specs with good wood and good workmanshp it will be fine. I don't think I've seen a mandolin that was poor and I couldn't at least point to several "weird" things on it. Sometimes they are not easy to spot just by looking at the instrument.
    Beginning builders, experimenters or factories can be different story. But usually one or more factors are not up to par and that adds up to poor result.
    I posted few years ago about my overhaul of an F-9, that was real dog with all objective reasons.
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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    your ear gets acclimated to what you are playing. Grab a GREAT mandolin and your ears may not recognize it!

    No joke, I know this to be true. I usually need several weeks or months to really get it! Hence, my problem with the 48-hr approval. Like I'd ever know?

    f-d
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  33. #17

    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Oh you innocents! A factory second is a marketing concept to move product that otherwise is hanging around and about to get shoved aside by the new model. The reason it works is that we’re fine with a ‘bargain’ but suspicious of a deep markdown. Even if it’s the exact same item.

    Meanwhile, do mandolins bark? This is said to be a positive thing, which could be confusing.

    I have precisely no experience with anything identified as a high-class mandolin, but from what I’ve picked up from many comments on this forum, there is no standard quantitative measure of great sound, and we wouldn’t embrace it if there was. Keeps it all interesting. Now about those picks....

  34. #18

    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Back when Gibson introduced the F9, I picked up 3 of them a 2002, and two 2003s. One was loud and bluegrassy, one was weak and meek, and one that I kept for several years had a very sweet and balanced tone, but was not loud.

    When I think of a "dog" it is one I regret buying because I honestly could not in confidence try to sell it to another musician. I have given a couple away to friends for stater instruments.

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  36. #19
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hudmister View Post
    JeffD mentioned above about buying a mandolin and then finding out it was a second. I have a Gibson second and for the life of me cannot discern what about it makes it a second, as no finish problems are apparent and it plays and sounds great.
    Back in the day, Gibson guitar "seconds" were instruments that had some cosmetic flaw...often not readily noticeable, as I was told by the owners of the music stores I worked in.

    I have an ES-175 that is a 1979 Kalamazoo factory second...it has some minor finish issues but is a great guitar.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    I played a mandolin from a well known maker that was on consignment in a shop, at a good price. I've played mandolins from this maker, they've been good, this one looked great, clearly well made. But it just didn't have it, it just seemed lifeless and uninspring. Old strings? the set-up seemed okay, but??? In contrast, a flatiron pancake mandola that was also on consignment at the same shop was just killer, that came home with us.
    -Dave
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Breedlove Quartz, was a 2001 model and wouldíve been better suited as a concrete statuary mold. A stump had more going for it sonically than this thing did. Seriously an old A40 with a sunken top sounded better! Have had a bunch of mandolins over the years, however that Breedlove was and remains a dawg, where ever it is.
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    My first guitar was a Guild factory second D-40 with a nicely done sunburst. Had I realized at the time it was made the first year Fender acquired the brand I probably would have passed. But, I got it and a hard shell TKL for about $500 because Fender had lacquer issues that year, and it came with some crazing. It also smelled like winter mint Skoal for a long time. My younger brother, who had a nauseating experience with snuff as a youngster, couldnít play it for more than a song without turning green, lol. Iíve had several guitars through the years, but that one is still on my music stand in the living room and is played often. It has an awesome D-18 esque bass thump, but is well balanced across and up the fretboard. Flat picks like a champ, and responds well to fingerpicking. The finish checking has been stable, though my forearm has rubbed out a fair amount of finish on the upper bout. My only gripe (now that Iíve played wider boards) is the 1 and 11/16 nut width, but I adapt quickly to it now. As crazy as it may sound, Iím actually considering getting a refret done on the thing. They got this one right.

    As Dawgs go, yeah, Iíve played a couple. One that stands out was a Gibson A9 that I wouldnít have traded my $350 Kentucky for, then or now. The first Loar I played at Carterís was special because of what it was, but it had a Virzi and didnít do it for me. Not a dud at all, but I was surprised at my lack of enthrallment with it. Were funds not an issue, there were 5 or 6 other mandolins from modern makers on that wall Iíd have taken home instead. Now, the second Loar I played at Lowe Vintage a couple years later almost vibrated my shoes off...

    I actually wonder what my more experienced hands and ears would think of that Virzi Loar now...
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    I had 80s Steve Carlson signed Flatiron Artist, looked gorgeous but it might as well have been a plank. I like tight and dry, but that was ridiculous.

    The truss rod channel had been cut too deep and the truss rod was penetrating the back of the peghead, coming through. So I sent it to Montana and had a new neck put on it. Had high expectations after the repair, but nope. Sold it back to Elderly. That instrument had the prettiest maple on the back I have ever seen.

    Maybe whoever owned it after me figured out how to make it work.

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  46. #24

    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    I tried out 3 Gibson F9s the first 2 were lifeless, I bought the third one which incidently was the cheapest of the 3, it sounds fabulous.

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  48. #25
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    Default Re: Mandolin 'dogs'?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    Do you ever pick up a mandolin that looks great and is well made, to find it doesn't 'work' for no obvious reason? There used to be an authenticated Strad violin near here that had the reputation of being a real dog to play, so it seems the big names of the past would occasionally hit that problem.
    Some Strads are notoriusly difficult to play well (or temperamental) but probably not actually dogs, just require a high skill level. It's also important to bear in mind that they have all been altered from their original configurations for modernization, ie- new longer necks with different projection etc, which changes a lot of the instrument's character. I would suspect that any "dogs" in the mandolin world are just crappy mandolins.

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