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Thread: Flat top for blues?

  1. #1
    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Flat top for blues?

    Iím considering a flat top mandolin. I mostly play blues. Now most people donít think blues when they think of the mandolin, and they donít think mandolin when they think blues, but I guess Iím just not most people.

    Iím thinking maybe a popular mandolin maker from Missouri. They offer flat top, oval hole jumbo mandolins, which are mandolin necks on mandola bodies. Iíll also probably upgrade to red spruce for the soundboard. And an engraved James tail piece, because why not?

    They also offer several different tonewoods for the body - Walnut, maple, rosewood, and mahogany. And this is what brings me to my usual bout of overthinking.

    What do you guys think would be the best body tonewood to go with?
    Eastman MD-514 (F body, Sitka & maple, oval hole)
    Klos Carbon Fiber (on order)

    And still saving my nickels & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for my lifetime mandolin.

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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    I think that’s a great choice for blues. Body wood? I don’t know, but it probably doesn’t matter very much. Get mahogony.

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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    Iíll also probably upgrade to red spruce for the soundboard. And an engraved James tail piece, because why not?
    I know the question is asked playfully, but the answer offered honestly is that youíll likely never recoup the funds should you ultimately decide to place this instrument on consignment.

    Iím a big fan of Big Muddy/MidMo mandolins, but Iíd look for one (or one like it) used and significantly depreciated:

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  6. #4
    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    I'll also likely never find a wide nut, jumbo body Big Muddy mandolin with a red spruce top, figured sugar maple back & sides, and a James tailpiece on the used market. But if I buy direct then I can have exactly that, or any other configuration I want.

    I understand smart & frugal shopping. I also understand getting what you pay for & paying for what you get.

    I'm really just wondering if there's a good reason to go for a body tonewood other than maple.
    Eastman MD-514 (F body, Sitka & maple, oval hole)
    Klos Carbon Fiber (on order)

    And still saving my nickels & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for my lifetime mandolin.

  7. #5
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    It all depends on the tone you're looking for. The old blues players probably used instruments that had birch or mahogany bodies.

    Birch sounds a lot like maple, and mahogany tends to be a bit warmer. Rosewood might sound a bit too "refined" for blues.

    You could call the builder and ask for his opinion.

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    I like the idea of the larger body. I personally love walnut as a tone wood and if it has figure all the better. Red spruce is my favorite top wood of choice when I was building.
    Let us know how it turns out.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  9. #7
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    I'll also likely never find a wide nut, jumbo body Big Muddy mandolin with a red spruce top, figured sugar maple back & sides, and a James tailpiece on the used market. But if I buy direct then I can have exactly that, or any other configuration I want. I understand smart & frugal shopping. I also understand getting what you pay for & paying for what you get.
    My rule of thumb for buying new is that it has to be something that would not otherwise exist in nature and thus turn up used in the classifieds with enough patience. If those specs are important to you, then I can understand buying new although I will say again that the rate of depreciation for flattops is steeper than archtops and upgrades rarely return their investment on the secondary market.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    I'm really just wondering if there's a good reason to go for a body tonewood other than maple.
    Yes! My MidMo had a mahogany back, as did the Kalamazoo flattops of the 30ís. The original Alrite and Army-Navy pancakes had birch backs, which is what I chose for my Poe Scout. Iíd ask Mike about his stash of wood and the piece heíd recommend for your purposes.
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    Registered User Joey Anchors's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    I love flat tops and use a Waterloo WLM that has a figured maple back and sides with mahogany neck/rosewood fretboard.

    Here’s a short clip of it with flatwound strings. https://youtube.com/shorts/AetdnJ2xt...jkmV4ZyaYksFYx
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    The old blues players probably used instruments that had birch or mahogany bodies.
    They probably used instruments they could afford; their compositions were a secondary concern.

    "It's not what you have; it's what you do with it that counts." I'm appropriating that from an irrelevant source and repurposing it to this context. But inasmuch as I use my late teens Gibson A for purposes other than its intended, it works very well for me, to my ears. It has a strong lower register, which is key for producing a bluesy growl, and also a solid sustained drone. How much of that is affected by the woods in its construction, or how much by the way I play it, I don't know. Will building a new instrument incorporating these woods help produce an instrument similar in sound? I don't know; ask your luthier. It's worth consideration, though, factoring the success of 100-year-old materials and construction techniques into what can be done with what is at hand now.
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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    They probably used instruments they could afford; their compositions were a secondary concern.

    "It's not what you have; it's what you do with it that counts." I'm appropriating that from an irrelevant source and repurposing it to this context. But inasmuch as I use my late teens Gibson A for purposes other than its intended, it works very well for me, to my ears. It has a strong lower register, which is key for producing a bluesy growl, and also a solid sustained drone. How much of that is affected by the woods in its construction, or how much by the way I play it, I don't know. Will building a new instrument incorporating these woods help produce an instrument similar in sound? I don't know; ask your luthier. It's worth consideration, though, factoring the success of 100-year-old materials and construction techniques into what can be done with what is at hand now.
    The cruddy instruments a lot of the blues guys used, particularly in the early days, would shock a lot of you. Sure, B B and muddy used nice Gibson and fenders. But look at hound dog Taylor. It took Yank Rachell years to get nice instruments.

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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Also, there is a difference between mandolin culture and guitar culture, even in blues. Fewer mandolinners, playing blues or anything else, will worship a beat up mandolin with a jute cord for the strap and a canvas basmati rice sack for a case.
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  16. #12
    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    I just noticed that for what I'm specing out for a Big Muddy I could get a Northfield Calhoun for cheaper.

    I'm still leaning toward the Big Muddy, but is it EVER a mistake to buy a Northfield?
    Eastman MD-514 (F body, Sitka & maple, oval hole)
    Klos Carbon Fiber (on order)

    And still saving my nickels & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for my lifetime mandolin.

  17. #13
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Ans it looks like you are selling off you other mandolins and have a Klos CF one on order. If your Eastman and Kentucky sell soon what will you have to play in the meantime? Your fans want to know.
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    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    I have fans?

    I’m playing acoustic blues guitar until my Klos ships.

    If I love the Klos then I’ll use the proceeds from the other two to get a Big Muddy. If I hate the Klos then I’ll flip it and use the proceeds from all three to get a Bourgeois M5F.

    But I anticipate liking the Klos.
    Eastman MD-514 (F body, Sitka & maple, oval hole)
    Klos Carbon Fiber (on order)

    And still saving my nickels & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for my lifetime mandolin.

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  21. #15
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    I just noticed that for what I'm specing out for a Big Muddy I could get a Northfield Calhoun for cheaper.

    I'm still leaning toward the Big Muddy, but is it EVER a mistake to buy a Northfield?
    Does the Northfield have a wide nut? jumbo body? red spruce top? sugar maple back & sides? James tailpiece? Those specs seemed more important to you in earlier posts than smart & frugal shopping.
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    Registered User Ky Slim's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    I think the jumbo Big Muddy is a good choice. Following from what is generally known and predictable about flat backed guitar tone woods I would go with Rosewood or Walnut for deeper darker tone. However, I'm not sure the same tonal qualities that are usually found in guitars translate 1:1 to smaller bodied instruments like mandolins and mandolas.

    Upgrades?? If it was me I wouldn't do any and as phefferman suggested I'd look for used instruments. I wouldn't upgrade to a James tailpeice or upgrade the tailpiece at all. As for red spruce top and sugar maple back and sides - if that's what you want go for it. IMO the qualities of those materials (aside from looking pretty) really present themselves when those woods are carved not flat.

    Journeybear mentioned the early Gibson oval A style. To me that is a great choice for acoustic blues because of the "tubby" quality of the lower strings. The Stradolin is also a popular choice for blues. The pancake or frying pan Army/Navy style would work well. Check out Troublesome Creek mandolins NFI.

    You didn't mention your intended use other than that you play a lot of blues but blues isn't just one thing. I think we assume you mean acoustic blues but if you plan to play loud with drums and electric bass then there are lots of cool electric options- solid and semi-hollows.. I'm just trying to stoke that MAS fire now Good Luck!
    Last edited by Ky Slim; Nov-22-2023 at 9:18am.

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  24. #17
    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    You’re right, and that’s why I’m still learning toward the Big Muddy. It’s just… a Northfield.
    Eastman MD-514 (F body, Sitka & maple, oval hole)
    Klos Carbon Fiber (on order)

    And still saving my nickels & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for my lifetime mandolin.

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  26. #18
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    You’re right, and that’s why I’m still learning toward the Big Muddy. It’s just… a Northfield.
    It’s always seemed to me that Northfield has marketed the Calhoun as a more affordable starter instrument: “It was created to make Northfield Mandolins more easily accessible to our growing demand among beginners and interested school programs, without sacrificing a whole bunch of things that make mandolins work well.”

    https://www.northfieldinstruments.com/thecalhoun
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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Hard choice between a new Big Muddy and a used Northfield Calhoun. Have not played the latter, but have owned multiple of the former, so I probably have a bias.

    After getting my M-11 as a "Featured" special, am very happy with it. The all mahogany has a nice bark and the instrument has good volume and tone. I would think that something like it would be excellent for blues. It does not sound like an old Gibson A model.

    Also, if the idea of getting a Gibson A sounds good, you might need to budget new frets and having the transverse brace checked.
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    the great long island bluesman Ken "the rocket" Korb plays an army-navy pancake.

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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    I have always played blues music and have played mandolin since the early 1970s. I play blues music on any sort of mandolin and it sounds like blues mandolin...no matter what sort of mandolin...
    too many strings

  30. #22
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Same for me.
    But I do like it better on an instrument with a higher "funk factor," perhaps something like an old Regal or a mahogany Vega cylinder back.

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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Same for me.
    But I do like it better on an instrument with a higher "funk factor," perhaps something like an old Regal or a mahogany Vega cylinder back.
    I cannot entirely disagree, but I recently was hired for a recording session, playing mandolin on a Blues number using a big-time, fancy-schmancy F5. I wondered if I should slightly detune the courses to invoke the Yank Rachell ethic, but all involved were delighted with the results played legit.
    too many strings

  33. #24
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Not "real" blues but I think it sounds great on a flattop!


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    Default Re: Flat top for blues?

    Good going, coupla little oopsies and all. Reminded me of this great number (though much faster) by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith - the B-side of the single. There are a few points of convergence between youse two, which just goes to show some riffs are just naturally occurring on the mandolin. No idea what model he's using, but I believe the recording is from 1948. (Not sure about that; "Guitar Boogie" dates to 1945 but this was not the B-side of the original issue.)

    I got assigned to learn this by fearless leader of my old jug band for a feature number. To learn it I ran the 45 at 33 over and over and over - he's got almost every riff you would want in there, one after another after another. Anyone who masters this and plays it at the right tempo (a bluesy one) will be accorded the respect of untold dozens of aficionados and acknowledged as a Blues Master.

    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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