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Thread: Hamlett Two-Point Review

  1. #1
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Hi, Everyone:

    It's my pleasure to provide this review of my recently commissioned and acquired Hamlett two-point mandolin. It was built by Cafe compadre John Hamlett of Richmond, Kentucky, a wonderful luthier and person who built something beyond what I imagined.

    Let me first say that this mandolin was gift from my family for successfully defending my doctoral dissertation last Fall and it was completely unexpected. Perhaps, however, my loved ones were especially supportive because while writing the dissertation was an immense challenge, I exacerbated the challenge by struggling with substance abuse and addiction. I was able to get sober September 1 (the day I turned in my final draft) and completed the oral defense two weeks later, pretty raw from withdrawal and the early stages of physiological and psychological recalibration. So, needless to say, it was an intense time and this mandolin represents new beginnings, good health, and family love.

    I was led to John by intuition and years of reading his generous and insightful posts, as well as having played one of his F styles years ago at a jam. The journey into sobriety can involve engaging with new places, activities and people, and John was the kind of person I wanted to invite into my new world to make this instrument. I also shared my personal circumstances with John to let him know the symbolism and meaning embedded in what he was about to make. He embraced that quality with his typical grace and earthy humor. It just clicked from the beginning, and I'm glad I followed my gut to John while being understandably tempted to two points by other great builders. If I could do it all over again I would choose John 100 times. He's awesome.

    There is another thread about my initial reaction to getting the mandolin. This thread, however, is a more in depth review after putting on and playing through a second set of strings and getting my hands back into reasonable mandolin shape after not playing as much over the past year. I've been playing it for at least an hour a day off and on. Sometimes I'm able to play it for a few hours. It has a lot of playing time on it for being only three weeks new. Based on how it is evolving every time I pick it up and also how this second set of strings settled in very nicely, it is a good time to provide this more comprehensive review.

    It is a phenomenal instrument. Broadly speaking, it is loud, responsive, tonally unique, quite light, and is amongst the easiest playing instruments I've experienced. The neck seems to disappear in my left hand. The slight radius is just enough to matter but not enough to completely distinguish it from a flat fretboard. The varnish finish - it's the first instrument I've owned that's not nitro - gives it a quality that's hard to describe. I definitely see what all the hype is. It's earthier, more organic, more natural, and it's possible to feel that quality in your hand when you touch it. There's a slight new varnish stickiness that emerges if my hands are dirty or under what I assume are the right environmental conditions, but it doesn't last and my understanding is that will subside a bit over time as it cures. The bridge is fit to the top in a precise way. It has Rubner tuners which are new to me but seem to be wonderful so far in that they are easy to operate and able to accommodate slight changes when I turn the knobs in a minor way. Finally, John's original tailpiece is awesome. It has substantial mass and enables easy string changing. Plus, it looks super cool.

    Speaking of looks, this Hamlett is a work of visual art. John was so easy going about taking the visual aesthetics in different directions, often saying we could do two or three different things to bring together the look at any given time. For example, I requested a dotless fretboard which he was willing to do, but he also suggested there are smaller fretboard dots and there are black pearl fretboard dots. We ended up choosing small black pearl fretboard dots because they are subtle and they also seem to disappear at the right angle, which the video below shows. Just like that. I never would have known to ask for them and ended up with them as John steered the design to a complete concept. It's a darker burst than his usual, which was my request, and to compliment the darkness we agreed on tortoise binding but with John's suggestion of a thin strip of white binding to separate both sides of the tortoise from the edge of the dark burst. As mentioned in the other thread I stated the headstock design was a collaboration as well. John asked if I had any ideas about the headstock and I gave him an image from a favorite book of mine which he then adapted to what you see in the video below. In addition, he created his name above it to match the design. Finally, the varnish finish gives the instrument a subtle tint that results in a "goldness" all around, which is matched by the color of the frets and the tuners. Very classy. John described it as looking like a tuxedo, lol.

    Although I mentioned the tone above I'll add a few more comments here, and hopefully you get the gist from the video below. There is definitely that woodiness we so often hear about. I'm not sure how to better describe it, but if you've heard it you know. It's a percussiveness that makes it clear you're playing something made out of wood. The mids are really profound, and the low Gs have emerged quite a bit since I've had it. As far as the highs go, they are perhaps showing the most rapid growth. The high Es were a bit jangly at first and were again when I changed the strings. This is to be expected and because they were impressively loud I was happy with how they were. However, they've developed a bit of a stiffer sound while still retaining the same easy feel on my fingers. It's cool. John really dialed in the balance between feel and tone. Speaking of the tone, it's increasingly unique as the mandolin and I jive. I get a substantial throatiness when playing tremolo on the G and D strings, and it gets friskier on the A and E strings. This is a mandolin that can definitely do grass. It also has the potential for exquisite sustain, which I think comes across in the video quite well, and the single notes seem to get rounder and rounder. It's a cool process. For me, the opening and warming up debate is settled because I'm experiencing it every time I play it.

    There you have it. I've also played it with a friend already and it is quite audible next to other instruments, which is a relief because sounding quiet with others can be a thing too. Not so for this Hamlett. As you can imagine, I am really, really looking forward to getting better acquainted with this very meaningful mandolin. I hope you enjoy the video below (please excuse my playing!), and the periodic updates that will follow on this thread:

    Hamlett Two-Point
    Eastman MD805
    Schertler DYN-M + Yellow
    http://www.youtube.com/ktbriggs
    https://www.facebook.com/kevin.briggs.1213

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  3. #2
    Registered User Russ Jordan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlet Two-Point Review

    Congratulations, both on the ownership of this great mandolin and gaining sobriety. Keep up the good work on all fronts!
    Russ Jordan

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlet Two-Point Review

    I don't have a PhD, but I have an MA (biology). Writing and defending that thesis was one of the most stressful and intense experiences in my life. To think that you did that on an even higher level while entering and sustaining recovery.... You deserve that mandolin for sure. That's an amazing achievement. All the best to you in music and life.

    Sue

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    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlet Two-Point Review

    Play it in good health! Congratulations on finishing the degree, and on many months of sobriety. Here's wishing you good work in your chosen field and a never-ending supply of friends to make music with. The Hamlett is gorgeous.

  7. #5
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlet Two-Point Review

    Enjoy that thing!!

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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlet Two-Point Review

    Beautiful instrument, Kevin, use in good health (as my mother would say). As someone with a partner who has been many a thesis advisor, I have seen so many struggling students, made worse by the stress of the university environment. Sounds like you're doing great!
    Cary Fagan

  9. #7

    Default Re: Hamlet Two-Point Review

    Sunburst can 'Bring It.'
    Briggs can 'Send it.'
    And Briggs' family made it so we can all enjoy it.
    I do enjoy it.

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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Congratulations on all fronts, Kevin!
    Chuck

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    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Hamlett Two-Point
    Eastman MD805
    Schertler DYN-M + Yellow
    http://www.youtube.com/ktbriggs
    https://www.facebook.com/kevin.briggs.1213

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  13. #10
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Hey Everyone,

    Thanks again for all of your supportive comments. I really appreciate it.

    Today I put on the third set of strings.... What a great experience! The tone is crisp, the strings' tuning is solid, and there's some real woofy thump in the chops. In addition, the highs are notably stiffer. Really cool. I recall a similar exponential evolution with the few new instruments I've owned. Each new set of strings reveals another layer, perhaps something more. It's very gratifying and inspiring and of course makes me want to play it like heck.

    I'll let the strings settle in a bit before giving a video/audio update.

    Stay tuned!
    Last edited by Kevin Briggs; Aug-22-2021 at 8:18pm. Reason: Typos mostly
    Hamlett Two-Point
    Eastman MD805
    Schertler DYN-M + Yellow
    http://www.youtube.com/ktbriggs
    https://www.facebook.com/kevin.briggs.1213

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    Registered User urobouros's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Briggs View Post
    It's very gratifying and inspiring and of course makes me want to play it like heck.
    Now that's a lifer!
    2020 Big Mon
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    When learning an instrument, there are no cheat codes, short cuts or crash courses. It's simply a matter of practice! - Mr Jenkins (HS Music Teacher)

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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    First, congratulations on all fronts! I remember really enjoying your videos back when you used to post regularly - maybe that was a decade ago. So happy to hear you are moving forward in your life with a new instrument at your side.

    But a question, too: are you changing strings every week? Is that a new mandolin thing, like changing the oil in the car during the break-in period?

  16. #13
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Thanks so much, A4!

    Yes, the older videos documented that sweet Fern I had, which I so wish I still had. I was able to track down the fellow that bought it, sort of. Hi whereabouts are actually unknown, which I learned from his brother and sister in-law. It's too bad. If he re-emerges and still has it I will find a way to buy it from him. His disappearance is a bit of a sad story and I hope he's okay.

    No. I'm not changing strings every week. It is more like every two weeks so far. My approach is I play them until they start to have some thud. Once they do, I continue to play them until it's clear they aren't holding the tuning as well. By that point they sound pretty flat. It's feasible to change strings weekly or so if I'm playing a lot, which I am. Back in my frequent gigging days I'd change them every 2 or 3 shows depending on how long they were and how much practicing I did between.

    I've found that new instruments evolve exponentially, and something about changing the strings shows it very well. Perhaps it's because you get repeated benchmarks. For example, this new set versus the previous new set has revealed a much stiffer and more resonant sound. It's clearly "bigger." I'm very excited for the new string brightness to mellow to see how they settle in this time. What a wonderful process!
    Hamlett Two-Point
    Eastman MD805
    Schertler DYN-M + Yellow
    http://www.youtube.com/ktbriggs
    https://www.facebook.com/kevin.briggs.1213

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    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Got to play it out today for the first time. I don’t usually sing a play solo mandolin, but the event was a reverential celebration of the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington. The tone is exquisite. It also held up very well to a hot, humid day.
    https://youtube.com/shorts/YhguRnUrevQ?feature=share
    Hamlett Two-Point
    Eastman MD805
    Schertler DYN-M + Yellow
    http://www.youtube.com/ktbriggs
    https://www.facebook.com/kevin.briggs.1213

  18. #15

    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Great job sir!

  19. #16

    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Very nice - playing and mandolin - welcome to the Hamlett club. It’s a great place to be.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Gunga......Gunga.....Gu-Lunga

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  21. #17
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Hey Everyone,

    Here’s the full clip:


    It’s actually the entire event, which is wonderful in its own right. But, if you’d like to hear the entire song and some different tones from the Hamlett you can skip to 59:26…. I’m playing it through a Schertler DYN-M pickup into a Schertler Yellow preamp. The broadcast is from our local cable station, so it’s not high def, but it still sounds pretty good. :-)
    Hamlett Two-Point
    Eastman MD805
    Schertler DYN-M + Yellow
    http://www.youtube.com/ktbriggs
    https://www.facebook.com/kevin.briggs.1213

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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Briggs View Post
    Got to play it out today for the first time. I don’t usually sing a play solo mandolin, but the event was a reverential celebration of the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington. The tone is exquisite. It also held up very well to a hot, humid day.
    https://youtube.com/shorts/YhguRnUrevQ?feature=share
    that outdoor sound was swell Kevin, i love 2 points and that thing just has it all, thanks for updating with excellent video, this is fun to watch and hear the changes
    d

  23. #19
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Thanks Daryl!

    It’s really settling nicely. Today it seemed to round a corner in terms of the sound seeming a bit louder and together, if that makes sense. The highs up the fretboard are impressive to at the least. They somehow retain a roundness, even though they’re super high. All around goodness. Here’s an original song to get it across. I’m still getting back into fiddle tune shape but will be able to play some I feel good enough about in a week or two I suppose. Apologies for my singing!
    Hamlett Two-Point
    Eastman MD805
    Schertler DYN-M + Yellow
    http://www.youtube.com/ktbriggs
    https://www.facebook.com/kevin.briggs.1213

  24. #20
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Hey Everyone,

    Some zealousness here…

    Tonight I tried J75s and the Hamlett Two-Point and whoa…. That slight increase in tension/gauge made an impact. First and foremost, it’s loud, and the notes simply sing. It’s really wonderful. There is a bit of a trade off with the action being a bit tighter/stiffer, but it’s sort it so far. Itll be interesting to see how they settle in and lose the new string jangle.

    J75s haven’t always worked for me. Sometimes they seem to bring the heart out of a mandolin, but other times they seem to restrict the tone because I assume it’s a bit for the instrument. For example, I had a great Collings MT that didn’t respond favorably to them, although it sounded really good with J74s. So, I’m happy the Hamlett took them kindly. There’s big tone in this mandolin.

    I’ll post a video tomorrow. Too busy playing, lol!
    Hamlett Two-Point
    Eastman MD805
    Schertler DYN-M + Yellow
    http://www.youtube.com/ktbriggs
    https://www.facebook.com/kevin.briggs.1213

  25. #21
    Registered User Willi Bahrenberg's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Well honestly, a unbiased review this is not - but I do enjoy your swooning a lot

    I hope if I ever can muster the courage to comission a custom build I'll be as happy as you are! Rightfully so, btw, because the mandolin sounds beautiful. In that regard I find the outdoor sound via the Schertler pickup to be even more meaningful than the home recordings - so sweet and natural.

    And don't forget, when you go for higher gauge strings it might allow for a setup with lower string action!

    Best Wishes!
    Willi

  26. #22
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Thanks so much, Will! I took your suggestion to lower the action and gave you a shout out in the video. :-)

    Here you go, folks. Check out the impact if J75s. Please pardon my playing. I’m still getting my hands back in shape. The notes are pretty clean, but not much speed going on right now.
    Hamlett Two-Point
    Eastman MD805
    Schertler DYN-M + Yellow
    http://www.youtube.com/ktbriggs
    https://www.facebook.com/kevin.briggs.1213

  27. #23
    Mando-Afflicted lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Kevin, I have been enjoying your series on the Hamlett 2-point review. It is both entertaining and helpful to learn about other builders. Thanks for sharing and playing on video. You sound great and so does that beautiful instrument. Dan
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  28. #24
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Thanks so much, Dan!

    This Hamlett two-point is the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve recently been using J75s on it (XT) and Golden Gate Clown Barf pics, and boy do they sound amazing. It’s such a delight experiencing a mandolin settling in/opening up. Every day is a revelation.

    Here’s and audio clip (no video) from tonight. I feel it captures the sound two months in pretty well:
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1hPI...w?usp=drivesdk

  29. #25
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hamlett Two-Point Review

    Hi everyone,

    I’m taking this opportunity to post a total Mando-geek picture from a gig at The Lancaster Roots and Blues festival last night. We had a great time, and it was one of those gigs during which we lost the battle with a cavernous room that consisted of a metal ceiling and tile floor, resulting in not being able to hear much through our monitor. It provided a good opportunity to hear the Hamlett after not being able hear it while playing for two hours. When I got home I played it for about ten minutes to see if I could discern any “opening up.” To my ears I definitely could. It was more responsive/alive, the volume took on a life of its own, and I could really hear the tone echoing through the body. Very cool. I’ll add, the highs seemed to fatten up a tad as well. In a sense, it seemed to level up:
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Hamlett Two-Point
    Eastman MD805
    Schertler DYN-M + Yellow
    http://www.youtube.com/ktbriggs
    https://www.facebook.com/kevin.briggs.1213

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