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Thread: Another newcomer

  1. #1
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    Default Another newcomer

    Hello. I've been lurking for a while. I'm a US history professor for a living. I've played bass and guitar for over forty years, small time local gigs around DC. How I wound up with a mandolin has a bit of a story to it.

    A few years ago i got interested in a man named Francis O'Neill, who left Ireland at seventeen, sailed the word for a few years, and wound up as a cop in Chicago, where he rose to be chief of police by 1900. He's most famous, though, as a collector of Irish music. He collected the music Irish immigrants played and published a number of tune collections and histories of Irish music. He's regarded by many as having "saved" Irish folk music. My biography of O'Neill is coming out from the University of Chicago press in early 2022 as The Beat Cop: Chicago's Chief O'Neill and the Creation of Irish Music.

    To write about O'Neill I felt I had to learn the music. Traditionally guitars were not part of Irish folk music, and my hard earned repertoire of Lydian major chords and 13b9s were not going to do me much good. I decided to learn the flute.

    After almost three years I was modestly proficient and could play at Irish music sessions if the other people were tolerant and kind. But alas, Covid. In my job all the students, and myself, are required to be masked indoors. It seemed strange to be blowing air into a tube in a crowded pub, with no mask. Maybe the flute is not the right instrument to play publicly in these times?

    I could play the guitar but honestly nobody wants to see two guitars at an Irish music session. So I thought about it for a while and landed on mandolin: small, portable, (compared to the double bass!) and you can play it in a mask if necessary or desireable.

    A look at Craigslist turned up a F-Style mandolin branded "Austin" for $100.

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    I would describe this mandolin as "amazingly OK." Extremely playable, low action, pleasantly decent but not great tone.

    My local music store has an old Weymann Mandolute, with the rope binding and flamed back and sides. I'm probably going to pick it up tomorrow in exchange for a lot of old effects pedals and some NOS vacuum tubes. I'm from Philadelphia, where the Weymann was likely made, and am currently working on a book that's partly about the Irish in Philadelphia. So aside from sounding good, the Weymann has a nice personal historic resonance. Tomorrow I may be posting pictures of the Weymann.

    Thank you for all the information on this site. Now back to practicing
    Last edited by PB+J; Sep-06-2021 at 10:37am.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Welcome to the Cafe! Being of Irish kin myself (my mother's maiden name was Doyle) I have gotten off on a tangent lately playing a lot more Irish tunes on the fiddle and mandolin. And yes Oneill's book is a must source. I have learned some tunes from it that I never heard or never heard of. "I will if I can" and "Paddy's Resource" come to mind. I'd be interested to read your book. Keep us posted about its publication.
    Regarding the Weymann I'd certainly jump at the chance to get that. It may be more suited to solo work rather than a group session. Think some of O'Carrolan material would sound great on it. And of course the history connection is really cool. I'm a sucker for that stuff. I recently found a 120 year old bowlback at an estate sale that sounds beautiful. Made by Bauer in Philadelphia!
    Many here agree that a flat top oval or round hole is a good choice for Irish music. Plenty of discussions on various threads here. So there, I've planted the MAS seed.
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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Welcome, pb+j (still my favorite sandwich, if on toast). I look forward to reading your bio on O'Neill. What an interesting character he was.
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    Welcome! How great that you've written a book about Chief O'Neill and that the process led you to learning the music as well! Keep us posted on the Weymann!
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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    PB+J, I have a contact you might be interested in talking to: Ted McGraw, who for 40+ years hosted the Irish Party House show on Rochester radio, and in the process accumulated a collection of tens of thousands of recordings of Irish music, which he recently donated to the Ward Irish Music Archives. Here's Ted's website, and here's Ward Archives discussion of his collection.

    Ted's a great guy, long-time friend of mine, and would certainly enjoy discussing your biography of O'Neill. He's an accordion player, but hey, everyone has some faults...
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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    This is a great place to share your growing love of the mandolin and just get to know nice people. Welcome aboard!
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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Welcome! And thank you for telling us about your upcoming books. Please let us know when the O'Neill book comes out. Fascinating character for sure.
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    Please keep us in the loop as regards the release date of your book. Very interested.
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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Welcome, really kool story.

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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Thank you all for the welcome! I didn't think people would know who Francis O'Neill was. He had a very interesting life and as a historian of the US i was as interested in his police career as in the Irish music.

    Also I've been listening to the "Cocaine and Rhinestones" podcast on the history of 20th century country music, and it's pretty brilliant and entertaining. Really well researched and well informed: also funny and sharp. The episode on the Louvin brothers has a lot of Mandolin in it.

    This Austin Mandolin is interesting--it's a fake F style really, it's not a carved top, but rather a pressed/molded probably laminate top and back. It has the sound I associate with laminate tops, inoffensively pleasing and even but not "rich" or complex or deep. The adjustable bridge is clearly made of some brown wood that's been stained black, and it looks like it's warped a bit from string pressure. It's nobody's idea of a great mandolin but I remember how bad "starter" instruments were when I was a kid, and this has none of those problems.
    Last edited by PB+J; Sep-07-2021 at 8:29am.

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    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Welcome to the Cafe. If you look at the main forum index page, you'll notice a subhed called "Music by Genre." Under that you will find a section devoted to Celtic music. I think you'll find it of interest.

    Do you mind sharing where you teach history? I graduated in journalism from American but nearly switched to history while I was there. I'm not sure where there are fewer jobs these days, college history departments or news outlets.

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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Quote Originally Posted by PB+J View Post
    I didn't think people would know who Francis O'Neill was.
    At what must have been one of my very first folk music festivals there was a vendor selling tune books. I was a young hungry mandolinner just recently introduced to Irish music, contra dance tunes, and the like. I discovered the great yellow "O'Neill's Music of Ireland", and "Ryan's Mammoth Collection". O'Neill's had 1850 melodies in it, and Ryan's and 1050 fiddle tunes in it. I bought them both and thought I had all the music I would ever need.

    I thought O'Neill's was the end of the search, and I discovered it was just the beginning. Had I known what this was all going to turn into... Well thank goodness we don't know such things. It was but a seed that grew into many six foot long shelves of tune books.

    That first O'Neills turned faded pale with numerous coffee rings, especially in the section of O'Carolans. It eventually fell apart and I had to purchase a second one, which by that time was published by Mel Bay.

    In any event, O'Neill has been a feature of my music life from nearly the beginning, and, quite frankly, I cannot think of too many moments as a mandolinner that I didn't know about O'Neill.

    As far as mandolins, I wanted to add to your thoughts the amazing and number of flat top mandolins available. I really (really) like the sound of a flatty in Irish music, as it is so un-Gibson sounding. A mandolin without any bluegrass taint. (Don't get me wrong, I do play bluegrass, with an arch top of course, and I love it. But when the music is not bluegrass, for me so is the mandolin not bluegrass.) Flat tops are amazing values for the quality and workmanship. Its just since the universe of mandolinners is very arch top biased, flatties cannot command the same prices. Just a thought.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric F. View Post
    Welcome to the Cafe. If you look at the main forum index page, you'll notice a subhed called "Music by Genre." Under that you will find a section devoted to Celtic music. I think you'll find it of interest.

    Do you mind sharing where you teach history? I graduated in journalism from American but nearly switched to history while I was there. I'm not sure where there are fewer jobs these days, college history departments or news outlets.
    George Mason University. At our university, enrollments in the traditional liberal arts are way down, so people who retire are at the moment not being replaced

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    At what must have been one of my very first folk music festivals there was a vendor selling tune books. I was a young hungry mandolinner just recently introduced to Irish music, contra dance tunes, and the like. I discovered the great yellow "O'Neill's Music of Ireland", and "Ryan's Mammoth Collection". O'Neill's had 1850 melodies in it, and Ryan's and 1050 fiddle tunes in it. I bought them both and thought I had all the music I would ever need.

    I thought O'Neill's was the end of the search, and I discovered it was just the beginning. Had I known what this was all going to turn into... Well thank goodness we don't know such things. It was but a seed that grew into many six foot long shelves of tune books.

    That first O'Neills turned faded pale with numerous coffee rings, especially in the section of O'Carolans. It eventually fell apart and I had to purchase a second one, which by that time was published by Mel Bay.

    In any event, O'Neill has been a feature of my music life from nearly the beginning, and, quite frankly, I cannot think of too many moments as a mandolinner that I didn't know about O'Neill.

    As far as mandolins, I wanted to add to your thoughts the amazing and number of flat top mandolins available. I really (really) like the sound of a flatty in Irish music, as it is so un-Gibson sounding. A mandolin without any bluegrass taint. (Don't get me wrong, I do play bluegrass, with an arch top of course, and I love it. But when the music is not bluegrass, for me so is the mandolin not bluegrass.) Flat tops are amazing values for the quality and workmanship. Its just since the universe of mandolinners is very arch top biased, flatties cannot command the same prices. Just a thought.

    I tried a Big Muddy that was at my local store and the sound didn't grab me though though it was very nicely made. But I'm considering building an "Army/Navy" style. I have all the tools but not the time.

    O'Neill took about 200 tunes from Ryan's without mentioning it. He sometimes changed the names--"Belles of Omaha" became "Bells of Omagh." His letters show clearly he was very familiar with it, but he was careful about what he considered Irish and what he did not. A lot of his letters with Henry Mercer concerned what tunes were really Irish or not, especially The Arkansas Traveler and Turkey in the straw. His collections were an amazing accomplishment. He lived to see them on remainder at Lyon and Healey and believed that he had probably failed, but he was also aware of irish music on records and on the radio. Although he was a practicing Catholic hiself, he tended to blame the church for what he saw as the decline of irish music

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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Welcoime! I believe you will benefit from the MC as a wonderful resource and you've already contributed. Thank you!

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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Quote Originally Posted by PB+J View Post
    I tried a Big Muddy that was at my local store and the sound didn't grab me though though it was very nicely made. But I'm considering building an "Army/Navy" style. I have all the tools but not the time.
    For Irish I really love the sound of the Fylde mandolins, especially the Touchstone line.
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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    If you think O'Neill was very particular about what he considered Irish tunes and what he considered "not," you should wander over to session.org for those discussions. They'd probably out-O'Neill O'Neill! And I wouldn't worry about over-explaining O'Neill -- someone had to explain who Bill Monroe was to me when I first started playing mandolin since I came from the classical/celtic side. We all come from different places and all knowledge is good.

    That said, welcome to the cafe and to the mandolin!
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    I just went up to the local shop--the weymann wasn't ready to be put through its paces yet, so I took another look at the Big Muddy, which was actually a mid-missouri. It's pretty nice

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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Quote Originally Posted by PB+J View Post
    I just went up to the local shop--the weymann wasn't ready to be put through its paces yet, so I took another look at the Big Muddy, which was actually a mid-missouri. It's pretty nice
    You need them both. Hey, you teach history at a public university so you must be rolling in dough.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric F. View Post
    You need them both. Hey, you teach history at a public university so you must be rolling in dough.
    LOL no! I'm trading in a bunch of guitar stuff for the Weymann, if I decide I like it--the fingerboard was lifting so I could not get a great sense of how it would play. The action was high--I'd probably bring it down some

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    Quote Originally Posted by PB+J View Post
    LOL no! I'm trading in a bunch of guitar stuff for the Weymann, if I decide I like it--the fingerboard was lifting so I could not get a great sense of how it would play. The action was high--I'd probably bring it down some
    That just demonstrates why you need both.

    If one is being worked on, you need another mandolin to play

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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Quote Originally Posted by PB+J View Post
    LOL no! I'm trading in a bunch of guitar stuff for the Weymann, if I decide I like it--the fingerboard was lifting so I could not get a great sense of how it would play. The action was high--I'd probably bring it down some
    It might be that they both need you.
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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    That just demonstrates why you need both.

    If one is being worked on, you need another mandolin to play
    Ya'll are terrible.




    You don't even mention his need for an electric...

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Southern Man View Post
    Ya'll are terrible.




    You don't even mention his need for an electric...

    Buncha instigators here.

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    Default Re: Another newcomer

    Well I bought the Weymann. Traded in a bunch of NOS vacuum tunes and effects pedals and came away with money. I've know the owner of the store for decades. The mandolin had been kind of forgotten and he reglued the fretboard and lowered the action. I might lower it a bit more, or just make a new bridge. I'm not in love with it. It sounds great on the low strings and a little plinky and harsh on the high. I'l start a thread on it


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