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Thread: F style vs A style mandolins

  1. #1

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    I'm not raised with mandolin models or stringed instruments in general so I think it's quite confusing with all these model names.
    I have a Washburn M2SW. It has F holes, but not that little thing beside the neck that the typical bluegrass model, the F5, has. Go to Cyber Mandolin and look at the pictures. My Washburn model is in the middle. Would you call it an A style or F style mandolin? I would call it an F style mando because it has F holes. If not, what makes a mandolin an F or A style, if not the holes? I know many folks say my mandolin is an A style, and I've never understood why.

    I'd be glad to have that explained!

  2. #2
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    F-style refers to the body shape, not the sound hole configuration. There are f-styles with oval holes.

    A-style = teardrop
    F-style = teardrop on acid
    "...almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. ...only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement."

  3. #3

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    As I understand it, the "F" stands for "Florentine". So unless the mandolin has all the curley, scrolley, pointey things, it's not an "F-style". Now I don't know where that leaves the two-point mandolin. Is it considered an "F" or "A"?
    Fred

  4. #4

  5. #5

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    Thanks for the info! I thought all mandos were teardrop shaped? Teardrop with acid, what do you mean by that?

    If I got it right, F style mandos are those with ornaments like little thingys sticking out of the teardrop shape.

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    Bluegrasstjej,

    You've got an "A" model with "F" holes. It took me some time to get it as well.

    Mandolins can have "oval" holes or, like yours, "f" holes (there are a few variants of the soundholes). It's simple if you consider the "style/model" and "soundhole" unrelated descriptors.

    Like another poster said, "F" models have the curly things. "A" models are the tear drop shape.

    At the risk of inflaming the world, "A" models look and sound much better. Please, I'm kidding. Probably 75% of the people that frequent this site prefer "F" style mandolins with "f" holes. Just goes to show how the majority can be wrong -- OK, I'll stop.

    Hoyt

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    Bluegrasstjej,

    The curly thing on F style mandolins is a $1000 strap hangar, really. Yeah, they look cool. But the scroll contributes nothing to the acoustic properties of the mandolin.

    Yeah, I'll probably buy an F style mandolin someday, just because I think they look cool. But I don't pretend that they sound any better than an A style mando.

    <ducks and runs>

  9. #8
    Cafe Linux Mommy danb's Avatar
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    A or F Model?

    This one is easy. If it has a curlycue on the bass side of the neck next to the fingerboard, it is an F model ("Florentine") mandolin. An A model mandolin is symmetrical, and teardrop-shaped.
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    Registered User Tom C's Avatar
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    "But the scroll contributes nothing to the acoustic properties of the mandolin."
    - generally I would agree, but the scroll does increase the volume inside the chamber. When I was looking to upgrade from my Flatiron Performer F I was looking at A styles as I wanted a step up in tone and playability. But I did end up with another F style as BRW gave me the best of both for the $.

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    Tom, most of the mando scroll is solid wood. There's a narrow bit that isn't solid wood, but I'm extremely skeptical that this makes the slightest difference in the acoustic properties of the mandolin. I'd bet a lot that a double-blind study would show that people can't tell the difference between the sound of a good A style and a good F style mandolin.

  12. #11
    Registered User Tom C's Avatar
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    I bet you are right. That's why I was looking at going from F to A. but....

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    I've heard from more than one luthier that the scroll DOES affect volume/tone because the solid wood in the scroll and points add mass to the body of the insturment. #

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    I've never built an instrument and I've been trying to learn to play for less than 18 months. #Still, I'm amazed at the posts that claim that little details like the grain of the wood, minor differences in gradiation, tap-tuning, etc. are crucial but a change in the shape and volume of the body is dismissed. #In a thread a few months ago there was a post that linked to a study of vibration patterns that seemed in indicate that the top didn't vibrate any differently with an f-style.

    Since it is impossible to build both and A and an F with everything else identical (no two pieces of wood are identical), there will never be a definitive answer. #I'm not sure a blind identification is necessarily proof of anything. #The recent Mandotasting showed most people couldn't tell the difference in f-holes and oval holes.

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    Tim, you make a very good point. I was wrong to claim that the additional volume due to the scroll would have "no effect". It must have some effect, agreed. But I see no reason to assume that it will always make a mandolin sound better.

    Wow...people couldn't tell between oval holes and f-holes? That surprises me a great deal. The "received wisdom" goes right against that! Of course, a great player can probably make any mandolin sound good.

  16. #15

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    Try to tell Tim O'Brien that F-models are better for bluegrass than the A style. There are a lot of good sounding A's that would kick tail on some F's but I really think it comes down to what the individual's taste is telling him/her. If you like an A, then play one. While the scroll is an expensive strap hanger, it does a very good job of serving as such! I have three F-style mandos and they all have varying amounts of hollowed out air space in the scroll, so I can't help but think that's gotta be doing something to the sound.
    Fred

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    This argument comes up time and time again. As far as I am concerned, the last word for me comes from the best in the business, Steve Gilchrist himself. On discussing this very subject with Steve, when I visited his workshop a few years ago, he told me that his Model 3 and Model 5 mandolins sound near enough to identical, with the Model 3 maybe sounding a bit better because of the simpler construction. It is very difficult to do this sort of comparison because you need identical instruments from the same builder, and we all know there is no such thing as identical instruments, so you need a fair number of "identical" instruments to be confident of the conclusion. Steve is one of very few builders who have made enough of both A and F models (F soundholes) to be able to make any sort of reliable generalisation.
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    Dear NG,

    My Flatiron A5-1 is better than my Aria F-5. So it's settled.

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  19. #18

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    Frankly, I remain skeptical that the body profile has much to do with tone. #Whether the scroll is hollow or not, it is still in a relatively inactive portion of the body (unless vented like the classical guitars after Ruck). #this has been endlessly debated...and it will continue to be, but there is still no quantifiable, objective evidence of which I am aware to support the notion of F-style mandolins sounding significantly different from A-style mandolins (unless Dr. Cohen has generated some, eh Dave?).

    Soundholes, on the other hand, have a great deal to do with how the top vibrates; oval-holed mandolins almost behave as completely different instruments in comparison to f-holed mandolins. #Cohen & Rossing documented this holographically and put a nice article on it in the Catgut Acoustical Society Journal (I don't have the full citation in my office, but can look it up at home if anybody is interested and Dr. Cohen himself doesn't beat me to it).

    The whole "A" vs. "F" designation entirely originated in reference to the production of a singular commercial entity, Gibson. #There's nothing wrong in applying this terminology to the Gibson line and their intentional emulators, but I tend to feel that using it in reference to different mandolin lines, even arched mandolins (e.g., those by Lyon & Healy, Martin, the Vega cylinderbacks, etc., which are often lumped as "A style" even though Martin's or L&H's definition of "A" was very different from Gibson's), is an inappropriate overextension. #I wrote some of my thoughts on this topic in the Mandolin Types section of the FAQ.




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    A-Style mandos lose less sound waves to the body of the instrument. Allowing more sound out. The scroll actually traps sound in for a ringing affect.
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    Actually, there is a way to test the differences between A's and F's without having identical instruments. The key is to have a whole bunch of A's and a whole bunch of F's. If the body shape makes a difference, then one or the other group on average should sound different. This is the way just about everything from drugs to educational curricula are evaluated. If the differences between types are no greater than the typical difference between specific examples within the same type, then you'd conclude that A's and F's don't sound any different. If A's or F's get ratings that are more different (on average) across different body types than among examples of the same type, then body shape does influence sound.

    Personally, I don't think shape per se makes a bit of difference. On the other hand, I do think that some makers take greater care in the selection of materials and in the hadcrafting of the instruments they will be asking the higher price for -- the F's. It's generally not good business to charge more for the instrument that sounds noticeably less good. So, I think A's and F's from the same builder sometimes do sound different, with the advantage usually (but not always) going to the F's, but not because of the extra volume or mass in the scroll. This is just an opinion, though, based on informal comparisons. Some builders very well may strive for the closest they can come to tonal perfection on every single instrument they make. This is perhaps less likely the case if the number of instruments produced is very large. In those cases, any instrument that reaches a certain level of quality (higher for some makers than for others, no doubt) is considered an acceptable product. The builders who take the time to get every instrument as close to perfection as possible will probably have to charge more per instrument for their slower rate of output.

    If anyone cared enough, it would be technically straightforward to do a randomized blinded study, where a group of listeners individually (so as not to be swayed by others' reactions) were assigned at random to hear either an A or F style, without knowing what style it was. They could then, for example, rate the instrument they heard on various tonal characteristics along a continuum from subjectively bad to subjectively good. Then, you could crunch the numbers and see what turned out. I think the reason we haven't done this experiment yet is that no one really cares that much what the answer would be. As individuals making choices among mandolins, our best course of action would still be to listen to the available instruments and choose the one we like best, for whatever reason.
    Bob DeVellis

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    This is an extremely subjective area, for fun go to the Mando Tasting post further down on this General Mandolin discussion catagory. Mandolin #9 which has been identified as a Givens A model, was picked as being possibly a Nugget F, a Loar F, and a MidMo. Pretty broad range of possibility l still think that the bottom line is whether you like the sound of the mandolin you're playing or not.

    Ken
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    I reached the same conclusion Bob expressed above. Now comparing "herd" or "gaggle" or "brace" of Collings new low end Fs and As would be interesting. They are well made, made in significant numbers and with much consistency. A Mandotasting CD of a number of these in ramdom order would be interesting.
    Mike McManus

  24. #23
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    Get ahold of any number of recordings made featuring the Griffith Loar--the only Loar-signed A model...

    Or better yet, play the thing...

    End of discussion...

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