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Thread: Collings f5 lacquer v. collings f5 varninsh?

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    I would love to hear from you who have/had either of these mandolins and what your thoughts were regarding tone. Do you think varnish is worth the extra $? What does it buy you as far as tone? Will lacquer eventually sound as good as varnish the more it's played and with age? Thanks!
    Sadee

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    Registered User Chris Biorkman's Avatar
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    I can't really speak for the varnish model, but I have an MF-5 and I absolutely love it. Great tone and flawless workmanship.
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    I previously owned a MF-5 and now own a Varnish Deluxe. Both are awesome mandolins. Tonally they sound very much the same, with a very slight edge to the Varnish in the trebles. I personally don't think that you can justify the difference in tone of the varnish model versus the lacquer if you go by the Collings prices (a new Varnish Deluxe is about 50% more than a new MF5 - a lot of money to be sure). However, sometimes you can find a used Collings Varnish at a good price on the Cafe classifieds, then you should go for it.
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    Registurd User pjlama's Avatar
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    If nothing else the varnish will age better (cooler looking patina) I played some while I was looking at them recently and would go for the varnish if it fits in the budget. BTW I was cruising elderly.com today and noticed a varnish MF5 for $7500. That's only $300 more than a new MF5. I have NFI just trying to help someone else spend all their money on little pieces of wood.
    PJ
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    I have in my shop a laquer MF5 with the exact same specs as an MF5V that was at the NAMM show in Austin. I have played both extensively. That varnish finish is really amazing. It is about 1/3 the thickness of the laquer. Playing the varnish mandolin takes less effort to produce the same tone and volume. It is much much more responsive no doubt due to its thin application

    I liked the varnish so well I ordered three varnish Collings mandolins (and some guitars too) for the shop at the NAMM show. I can truly tell the difference. It comes at a price though. After touring the Collings factory and speaking with the guys that physically do the varnish finish- they spend a lot of time and effort getting it right and that time is expensive. These guys are actually exited about the work they produce.

    Pretty cool stuff

    Jeff



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    Yes, that Varnish MF-5V at Elderly with a Calton case is a very fine value indeed!
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    I have a MF5 that I will always keep but I if I was was you I would consider the MF5V.Why is that said? Because you will never look back to lust for another Collings

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    Since there is no way to equalize all other variables the point is moot.

    Curt

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    Registered Mandolin User mandopete's Avatar
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    I think the real difference between varnish and lacquer is the look, not the tone.
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    I've played Pete's MF5, and it's a good one. I have had both varnished and lacquered Collings MF5's. As to the tone, I liked Mandopete's lacquered one better than my varnished MF5. But mine was pretty new.

    I let a lacquered MF5 go to get the varnished one, and I was pretty sure I'd made a mistake, because my old MF5 was pretty well broken in when I let it go.

    I also had a MT2V birdseye which I thought was magnificent when I played it the first time. That mandolin came up for sale again recently here, and I was sooooo tempted to buy it back.

    I think that when you are talking Collings mandolins the method of finish has less to do with the sound than some other makers' mandolins do. Maybe because Collings is such a perfectionist type of builder, they all sound pretty predictable.

    I do tend to favor the varnish finish mandolins if only because of a perceived advantage in tone. But they also look pretty cool. Oh, Mandopete already told you that.

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    I had a Collings MF5 that was absolutely fantastic and always said that the only thing I would ever consider getting in its' stead was a MF5V. I recently traded the MF5 for a mint used MF5DV and I haven't regretted it once. Used one are occasionally for sale but they seem to sell almost instantly. The tonal response is better and as Tone monster put it, I will not have to lust after another Collings model. I have read in several places that the Collings varnished mando may very well be the next Loar level mandos 30 years in the future. I have been told by several reliable sources that Mr. Collings picks only the absolute best wood in the shop for the varnished versions. That being said, I'm yet to play any Collings mandolin that is not excellent in workmanship and tone. The waverly tuners and red spruce top justify the extra $ for me. By the way, my old MF5 is for sale in the classifieds here at the cafe(around 7/26/07). It is a steal for what Kevin is asking for it..there's not a scratch on it, it is crazy flamed, and will cut through like nobody's business. See http://s189.photobucket.com/albums/z16/kddoug/MF-5/
    Rick Smith

    Collings MF5 Deluxe V

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    Registered User red7flag's Avatar
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    While I was at SPBGMA last year there was a dealer with 2 MF5s and and an MF5V. I tried them all. I played the same song, St. Anne's Reel, on all three. Also doodled on all three. The varnished seemed to have a more subtle sound, maybe a bit more rounded. I definately perferred the sound over the other MF5s there. That is too small a sample to make conclusions, but given that, I would pay the extra, not for the fancy touches, just for the sound.
    Tony
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    Registered Mandolin User mandopete's Avatar
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    As Curt points out there are just too many variables to generalize about the "tonal" characteristics of varnish vs. lacquer. #In my mind I thought that a varnish finish would allow the instrument to breathe more and perhaps this is appliciable to violin, but in my experience it has little or nothing to do with mandolin tone.

    I asked asked several mandolin luthiers that same question and their response was that it's more about the look.

    And one other thought that has recently popped into my head on this subject - if you're seeking a "distressed" look down the road I would go with varnish as it doesn't hold up like lacquer.

    That's why I went with lacquer.



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    I talked to Charles Horner, a local builder, a couple of years ago and he said, "I don't know what the fuss is about having a varnished mandolin. They don't hold up as well and in time the laquer ones will sound just as good, and cost a lot less." That always astuck with me...He makes some really good mandolins.

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    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    I know this is loosely realted, but I'd like to make the point any way.

    Regarding perceived differences, I recently have played the heck out of a cedar topped Weber. My main axe is a red spruce topped Weber. A lot of people claim that cedar Webers are so great, compared to spruce Webers. I can report that I perceived a difference between the two, but feel wholeheartedly that the cedar offers no distinct advantages. In fact, t feels more brittle to me. I like the pulpy responsiveness of the red spruce, and I like the darker, more powerful sound.

    The point is, I think it's hard to make sweeping generalizations. I know some people swear by varnish, and some people swear there's no difference between varnish and lacquer. The thing I swear by is that every time people state a prefernce for one thing, a point to the contrary immediately bubbles up.

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    Registered Mandolin User mandopete's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (ratherbpickin @ Aug. 21 2007, 08:13)
    The thing I swear by is that every time people state a prefernce for one thing, a point to the contrary immediately bubbles up.
    Yes, we mandolin players are really just a collection of contrarians aren't we. But you are right that this is all highly subjective and there is no right answer, it's really just a preference.
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    I just tried another M55V recently and now consider my plain MF5 really special. After over two years of three hours aday and travels all around the world and many different climits,it's a killer.

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