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Thread: tone differences of F vs. O hole in same mandolin body

  1. #1
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    Default tone differences of F vs. O hole in same mandolin body

    Okay, please 'scuse the novice question.

    I understand that F hole mandolins with F bodies tend to be used for Bluegrass, and O (oval) hole mandolins with oval bodies tend to be used for Celtic, Classical, and sometimes other styles (including Bluegrass).

    However, focusing just on the type of hole versus the type of body ...

    My reading over the last few weeks (including the threads here at the Cafe) describes (or ascribes) a greater projection and overtones to the F hole mandolins, which assist in (presumably) keeping pace with Bluegrass instruments such as banjos, and in general imparting the traditional sounds one heard in the mandolins of yore -- which had the tendency to "bark" and "growl" -- a sound prized in F hole mandolins today. My reading also leads me to believe that the Oval hole mandolins have a more generally clear/guitar/bell-like tone which lends itself to the styles of music already mentioned, as well as solo play.

    Am I all wet or pretty much within the accepted catechism with the statements above?

    Presuming I'm not all wet, I have to say I'm finding it really hard to hear the difference between the various hole types in the same mandolin body. Yeah sure, an F body versus an Oval body is distinctly different, but I'm really not hearing the hole differences in MP3 recordings similar to:

    http://www.folkofthewood.com/page1815.htm

    versus:

    http://www.folkofthewood.com/page1777.htm

    Now, is the difference too subtle for my neophyte ears, or the quality of the recordings, or what? Is it more a body thing and less a hole thing?

    Does someone have a link to MP3s that clearly show the difference between an F hole mandolin and an A hole mandolin of the same body/quality/manufacturer?

    Another possibility: I know the two mandolins in the clips above differ in X bar versus tone bar bracing internally because of the different holes, but are the instruments perhaps simply too new to show the differences in tone?

    Thanks for any pointers or feedback, or even dope-slaps on where I went astray.

    Richard

    P.S. By the way, a big Thank You! to the Folk of the Wood site for the clips, as well as their instructional mandolin and octave mandolin DVDs, and House of Musical Tradition for their helpfulness -- sites like these and the Mandolin Cafe are the in-the-know buddies us folks without local mandolin players or stores can get started with. Before the internet, we wouldn't have a chance to break into this world.
    Last edited by astroboy; Aug-12-2009 at 4:26pm.

    Richard
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  2. #2
    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    Default Re: tone differences of F vs. O hole in same mandolin body

    I can't hear much of a difference in those clips, either. Some, but not much. I think part of that is Mickey's playing style. The oval will usually have a lot more sustain, and is more "resonant" sounding, especially on slower chords. Cross-picking fast like that doesn't give much of a sustain sample.

    I have an Eastman 504 oval A and a 505 (ff hole A). They sound totally different. Actually they aren't exactly the same body-- the 504 has the short old-Gibson style neck, and the 505 has the long, "hybrid" 14th fret neck. I really like the sound of both of them. The 504 has more of a sweet sound. It makes me want to just play quiet and slow, soaking up the tone. The 505 is more percussive, and it makes me want to whoop on it.

    BTW, if you can get to a dealer that has a good selection of Webers, they make all their models in either an oval or ff style. I've seen oval A Gallatins next to ff holed Gallatins. The bodies are identical, but I think the bracing also varies with the hole style. My Gallatin has tone bars, and I believe their ovals are "X" braced. It would be fun to do an A/B.

  3. #3
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: tone differences of F vs. O hole in same mandolin body

    Well, I hear a difference between the two Breedloves, with a good deal more "ring" from the oval-hole. Some of the sound similarity is partially due to their being played in a very similar style, with a lot of arpeggiated figures and open-string chords. Listen to when the player goes up the neck on the Oregon; you hear a real clear treble cutting through, characteristic of an f-hole mandolin. No "chopping" on these videos, which is where the sharp attack/quick decay of the f-hole instrument shines in a bluegrass context.

    Also consider: two mandolins from the same builder, often show acoustic similarities, even with differences in design. Two mandolins played in the same style by the same player, also exhibit similarities. Breedloves have a characteristic timbre; they're often described as "non-bluegrass" instruments. Not sure that's fair, because an accomplished bluegrass picker could get good use of one in that style, but were you to compare a Gibson oval-hole, say an F-2 or an F-4, with a short-neck* F-hole Gibson from the same era, say an F-7, I think you'd hear a clearer difference.

    * specified the shorter neck to eliminate the difference caused by the longer F-5 scale.

    One other thing: a really accomplished picker on the two videos, but when I looked closely at his right-hand technique, he seemed to be continuously "giving the finger" to the audience. Planted ring and pinky fingers, extended middle finger... Wonder if anyone ever takes offense?
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    Default Re: tone differences of F vs. O hole in same mandolin body

    Allen and Lee,

    Yeah, I picked the examples trying to make the holes the only difference -- rigging the test on purpose.

    I went back and listened again to the two clips for what you mentioned, and yes, I hear a more ringing tone for the O hole mando vs. the F, especially as the player goes up the neck (as Allen mentioned). There's a "bork" or "pluck" or slight "bark" in the Oregon (F hole) that is lacking in the O hole. It's subtle to me, but it's there.

    I hear what you say about the Breedloves in general being more ringing in tone, even the F style bodies here:

    http://www.folkofthewood.com/page3921.htm

    ... seem to ring more. But I do hear the "bork/bark" in even that clip, now that it's been pointed out what to watch/listen for, versus the oval hole mandos.

    Thanks, gents.

    Richard
    Last edited by astroboy; Aug-12-2009 at 6:35pm.

    Richard
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    Default Re: tone differences of F vs. O hole in same mandolin body

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    One other thing: a really accomplished picker on the two videos, but when I looked closely at his right-hand technique, he seemed to be continuously "giving the finger" to the audience. Planted ring and pinky fingers, extended middle finger... Wonder if anyone ever takes offense?
    I can't speak to that, but I'll take your point as a cautionary tale as I start playing and keep my middle finger curled under.

    I would note that this thread from the elsewhere in the forum:

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...ad.php?t=53465

    ... says whatever works is okay, mostly, unless the habit becomes a crutch.

    Frankly, I'd trade a hand position that annoys a few people for the skill shown by Mickey Cochran in these clips -- Lucifer, just tell me where to sign. Weren't violin players were supposed to have sold their soul to the devil in exchange for their talent? I think I'll be trading Father Time for any hard won skill -- years and years of practice.

    Oh well, it's the journey that matters ...

    Richard

    Richard
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    They call 'em instruments because they measure whomever touches them.

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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: tone differences of F vs. O hole in same mandolin body

    I also hear a decent difference. The oval has more of "shimmer" to the tone, whereas the F-hole is more focused, as you might expect.

    The factor Allen pointed out is significant: The stereotypes of oval versus F holes are rooted in the Gibson designs, where the oval holes had attached fretboards, transverse bracing and shorter necks, which pushed the bridge more toward the tailpiece. The modern "hybrid" ovals, like the Breedloves, have the same length necks and raised fretboards just like the F-hole designs. Also, I think the cross bracing does make a difference from tone bars, but it is not as different as transverse bracing. So the modern oval hybrids are kind of in-between the classic oval tone and F-hole tone.

    Another factor is the recording enviornment. Unless you really do full studio-quality recording, it is sometimes hard to appreciate the nuances of the live acoustic sound. I have long had the impression that a lot of those Folk of the Wood recordings sound more alike than they should.

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    Registered User Fstpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: tone differences of F vs. O hole in same mandolin body

    An excellent thread. I've often wondered what the differences in tone were, especially since my experience in mandolins has been primarily the "A" models with oval holes. I play mostly Old Time, Gospel, Celtic, and folk on mine.

    Keep the comments coming...

    Jeff
    Last edited by Fstpicker; Aug-12-2009 at 7:33pm.

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    Default Re: tone differences of F vs. O hole in same mandolin body

    lots of factors left out, internal bracing for one ... single cross brace or some builders do oval hole with a cross brace and an X brace. like an X with an ___underline [vs FFhole with tone bars.. ]

    Go forth and play a bunch of different ones and your ears will follow...

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    Default Re: tone differences of F vs. O hole in same mandolin body

    Get the "Tone Poems" CD from Acoustic Disc. You can hear examples of a basketful of different great mandos.

    And guitars.......
    Just when I got a paddle, they added more water to the creek.

  10. #10

    Default Re: tone differences of F vs. O hole in same mandolin body

    Regarding the finger, my right middle finger triggers painfully. On guitar I play fingerstyle, but on smaller instruments I pick, and have to extend that finger to be able to play. It has limited flexibility, and there is no way to fold it under my hand. The only time that fingertip touches my palm is when I roll on it in my sleep... and then the jolting pain of it straightening out unconsciously is enough to wake me abruptly.

    It's not an bad acquired habit, but is just my price to pay to be able to play with a pick. I'm just glad the left middle finger is just a bit more flexible (not by much, but enough), so I can still play....

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