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Thread: What is your take on Stelling Mandolins?

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    Stelling came out with a real pretty but very pricey mandolin, and from what I can tell it didn't sell very well. Maybe the competition in the muti-thousand dollar price range was a little stiffer than the company moguls thought that it would be. Maybe they were relying a little too much on the association with their fine line of banjos. Maybe it wasn't up to snuff for that dollar amount. I can't say, I never played one. In any event, they then went "offshore" for their production and picked a good one from what I can tell. The Czech Republic has some very fine products coming out of it right now. What I'm tryin to get at is what is your take on this situation? Do the Czech made Stellings sound as good as the American made Stellings? Are they made as well in terms of craftsmanship, materials, etc. Are they an option when looking for a decent F style? What do you folks think?
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    Quote Originally Posted by (JiminRussia @ April 04 2004, 01:11)
    Stelling came out with a real pretty but very pricey mandolin, and from what I can tell it didn't sell very well. Maybe the competition in the muti-thousand dollar price range was a little stiffer than the company moguls thought that it would be. Maybe they were relying a little too much on the association with their fine line of banjos. Maybe it wasn't up to snuff for that dollar amount. I can't say, I never played one. In any event, they then went "offshore" for their production and picked a good one from what I can tell. The Czech Republic has some very fine products coming out of it right now. What I'm tryin to get at is what is your take on this situation? Do the Czech made Stellings sound as good as the American made Stellings? Are they made as well in terms of craftsmanship, materials, etc. Are they an option when looking for a decent F #style? What do you folks think?
    There is a huge difference in the tone and quality of the US made Stellings and the Czech-made ones. The two US-made ones I have played are really awesome. The Czech ones are similar in quality to the Czech-made instruments being sold today. Not bad, but not great.

    The US-made Stellings were simply ahead of their time and never got a market foothold. There weren't many professional-quality mandolins being produced in volume at that time. There were small builders like Randy Wood and Gilchrist, and there was Flatiron. However, the price of a good mandolin was a lot lower then, and Stellings were priced at a premium. I recall seeing them in the Mandolin Bros. catalog and thinking at the time that they were ridiculously expensive. I don't remember the price, but it was around $4500 I think. Someone correct me if I'm way off.
    Passernig #42

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    Yeah I believe Ward Elliot made the U.S Stellings also. They were really up there in price for the times when it was released. Beautiful mandolins though. I actually had one of the earliest Stelling F-5's ever built. It was a strict F-5 copy with the Stelling logo. It was a great mandolin.

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    Crowder...you should drive over to my house...i think i might just change your mind about those Czech mandolins...
    <lol>...

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    Stelling mandolins were first made in California before the move to Virginia. The early ones were made by Kim Breedlove, former Stelling employee (and VP), currently with Breedlove Guitars. He made a total of 78 or so, but quit making mandolins because he was needed to keep up with the banjo demand.
    In 1990 John Hamlett, former Stelling employee, started to build Stelling mandolins. The demand was there, but the time wasn't, with the demand for banjos.
    Ward Elliot started to build mandolins under contract with Stelling to help fill the demand, but later resumed building under his own name, and the demand was still there, so Geoff Stelling contracted with Lebaeda.
    David Houchens has built the most recent USA made Stelling mandolins, but is leavlng the company soon.

    Kim breedlove made mandolins with model designations of S1, S2, S3, I'm not sure there was ever a S4, and S5.
    All other USA made Stellings are S5.
    The Lebaeda built ones are designated LS5.




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    I got to play a Stelling at a festival where Stelling was set up with his banjos. This was when it was introduced and he had just one mandolin. It looked beautiful. I was surprised how lacking it sounded, no bottom, just thin sounding. As I walked a distance away another fellow asked me what I thought of it. I told him and he said he thought so too but neither of us wanted to offend anyone with our opinions. I guess if Stelling had asked me what I thought, I would have given an honest opinion. I don't know who made this one but I really expected it to sound great.
    Cabin Fever String Band, Bill Gorby and the Musical Mercenaries

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    Quote Originally Posted by (Spare Change @ April 04 2004, 16:20)
    Crowder...you should drive over to my house...i think i might just change your mind about those Czech mandolins...
    <lol>...
    I've played several. Most of them reminded me of every other Czech thing I've touched (tools, art, etc.), as in pretty but chinzy. There is one Lebeda A here locally that is much better than the others I've seen. Guess it depends on how much Ouzo is flowing in the shop or something
    Passernig #42

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    I now have the Stelling that Maverick referred to . It was made by John Hamlett. I've had it four or five years and i # haven't seen many (any) #other mandos that i would rather have . Of course I haven't played any of the very # high end mandos.

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    Joboy if you can a chance post some pics of that mandolin. It had some killer wood to it. Glad to see you still have it. It was a great one.

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    <span style='font-family:comic sans ms'><span style='font-size:10pt;line-height:100%'><span style='color:navy'>The first Stelling mandolins, that were made, were not F5 copies. #I can't remember the details, but the shape was neither F nor A, and did not have points. #The peghead was similar to the Stelling banjo peghead.</span></span></span>

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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    "I've played several. Most of them reminded me of every other Czech thing I've touched (tools, art, etc.), as in pretty but chinzy."

    Crowder, does does "playing several" enable you to generalize about every builder in an entire country? I've heard there are some so-so luthiers in Australia too. Does that mean there can't be any good ones? Matter of fact, there are some downright bad builders right here in America. Does that discount our culture's ability to produce something excellent?

    The Czech culture was one of the central European cultures that perfected the violin--a couple hundred years before there WERE any American builders. Some Czech builders were making the world's most sought-after violins at a time we were still throwing tea in the harbor. So it should come as no surprise that when the Czech people began to demand bluegrass mandolins, their luthiers figured out how to make them - they have all the resources: a strong domestic demand, access to first-rate tonewoods, and the intellectual capital that comes with centuries-old luthierie traditions.

    The best of the Czech builders are making instruments on a par with the best western builders -- if you don't believe me, ask David Grisman, Joe Craven, Radim Zenkl, Mike Marshall, Chris Thile, Andy Statman, or Peter Rowan -- ALL of whom either own mandolins made by Czech builders, have given them professional endorsements, or have personally communicated to me a great respect for at least one individual Czech luthier.

    Full disclosure: I represent four Czech builders, so I can't claim to be unbiased -- but I'm a teacher and performer first, and got into the sideline of representing the luthiers because I was impressed by their work. It burns me up when world-class craftsmen get discounted because of our own cultural myopia. But last week on the Cafe I saw Gilchrist being discounted because he's not an American, so nothing surprises me anymore.

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    Quote Originally Posted by (August Watters @ April 05 2004, 16:01)
    Full disclosure: I represent four Czech builders, so I can't claim to be unbiased
    Gee, never would have guessed you had a financial interest in this issue

    It would be naive not to notice that products of certain cultures usually share certain attributes that are either considered desirable or at least acceptable within that culture. Have you ever been in a Harbor Frieght Tools? If you had, you could very quickly generalize about certain aspects of Chinese tools. If you've ever seen a Japanese movie, you can instantly tell the difference between typical Japanese movies and American movies. The same goes for French wines and South American beach babes.

    Generalizations are very useful for getting through life without wasting a lot of time experiencing the same things over and over again. Based on the samples I've heard, I'm pretty sure I don't need to listen to every Whitney Houston song to figure out that it's not my cup of tea. However, I love mandolins, so whenever I pick one up I will always give it the benefit of the doubt. Notice that I made it a point to say I knew of a really good Lebeda, which is important since the one I briefly owned had a too-flat back, a sunken top and $10 tuners on it that wouldn't stay put. I will also say that if you can show me a Czech mandolin that sounds as good as the two US made Stellings I have played, I'd be shocked.

    Sorry, back to the normal programming.
    Passernig #42

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    ugh.









    Dennis Benjamin
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    I happened to play a Ward at a jam a couple of weeks ago , it was a very nice mando. workmanship was sweet. It was a great sounding mando the volume had not peeked yet but man the tone sure was there. a beautiful piece!
    Rose mandos and the tone they produce

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    Jim, I'm wondering if I was that other guy you saw at the festival that played the Stelling? I had the exact same reaction, pretty, nice workmanship, played nice, but no guts, not my cup of tea. The bad thing about all this stuff is it is just opinions and everybody likes and gets different tone out of the same instrument. I don't want to get in the middle of this but I can see how Crowder could be wary of Czech stuff after his experience. I'm the same way, because of all the work I did on my sister's BMW and then her Honda you couldn't give either car even though they are a lot better now. I also had no opinion on either the Stelling until I played it or the Cepek(sp?) until I played it. Both were well made, clean, well finished etc. But the way I play and the sound I like I'd take a Cepek over the Stelling. I think EVERY instrument has to be taken on it's own merit.

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