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Thread: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

  1. #26
    Registered User John Kinn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    If you had a variety of mandos to try, you should play them blindfolded...Then you might be better able to hear what instrument spoke to YOU. And you might get yourself a bit of a surprise....

  2. #27
    Registered User fredfrank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    I'm no expert, but I play one on the internet . . .

    One point I see mentioned with regards to mandolins is top graduating. Now, while this part of the process is important, it is also vital that the back be graduated every bit as carefully. The whole instrument has to work together to be great. I believe that some of the low-end mandolins do not achieve that goal.

    Just an observation of mine based on owning many of the great, and not so great mandolins.

  3. #28
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    I like a mandolin that makes me excited to play everyday and allows me to do things that I normally can't do on "Pretty good" instruments. It always seems that those instruments are more $$$ but not always.

  4. #29
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    If it's made from a natural material and made by homo sapiens,
    then each one will be slightly different from even another from the same batch.

    as someone who cannot go to where I can pick from a wall of instruments
    I console myself to be happy enough with what I have ,

    after all there are children in other countries that only get to have a Kalashnikov AK 47 .

    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

  5. #30

    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by fredfrank View Post
    One point I see mentioned with regards to mandolins is top graduating. Now, while this part of the process is important, it is also vital that the back be graduated every bit as carefully. The whole instrument has to work together to be great. I believe that some of the low-end mandolins do not achieve that goal.
    If this is true, it must be also true that some people can graduate these pieces of wood correctly. Therefore there must be a way to figure out what that right way is. If that way is really understood, then it should be possible for anyone to apply it, even to a mass production process.

  6. #31
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    The graduations of the plates are only one aspect to a very complex structure. To have a great instrument all the elements must come together to work in agreement among themselves.

    The other main element is the person that will play the instrument. The ability to sense, use, and appreciate the qualities of an instrument are also very important in this regard. An old violin maker explained to me that a great concert violin is like a formula one race car in that there are very few people actually qualified to operate it. Anyone can drive (or play) but it takes a masterful skill to bring out the great qualities of the car (instrument).

    I find a lot of well meaning folks don't have enough knowledge or skill to tell a good instrument from a great one. Don't get me wrong, they know what they like, they can easily pick out "the best" mandolin on the wall, but often better players will select different instrument from the same wall.

  7. #32

    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Lewis View Post
    I find a lot of well meaning folks don't have enough knowledge or skill to tell a good instrument from a great one. Don't get me wrong, they know what they like, they can easily pick out "the best" mandolin on the wall, but often better players will select different instrument from the same wall.
    This reminds me of the story of Mike Marshall getting Tony Rice to select a guitar for him when he needed one to play in the DGQ. According to Mike, Tony just went down the long line of Martin's hanging on the wall and without taking any of them down, simply plucked the open D and G strings until he found one he liked and said: "this is a great guitar...."
    Last edited by Fretbear; Nov-04-2009 at 4:27am.
    But Amsterdam was always good for grieving
    And London never fails to leave me blue
    And Paris never was my kinda town
    So I walked around with the Ft. Worth Blues

  8. #33

    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    so ... it's:

    - best quality material
    - individual attention during construction
    - consistency

    i was wondering if one person's "good" rating would be "great" to someone else?

  9. #34
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by re simmers View Post
    to try their luck
    Sounds like Wheel of Fortune or a carnival game of chance.

    I look at instrument research/purchase/collection in a totally different light, but that's just me.

  10. #35

    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    $250 or $250,000....
    The money, material, maker or model really means nothing in the end.

    Sound, appearance & feel is as relative as it gets.

    * Your ears..
    * Your eyes...
    * Your feel....
    * Your touch....
    * Your everything.

  11. #36
    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Yes but when it comes to your feel etc. a great instrument will practically "play by itself" and sounds "like a million dollars" (compared to all other instruments).
    Olaf

  12. #37

    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Lewis View Post
    The graduations of the plates are only one aspect to a very complex structure. To have a great instrument all the elements must come together to work in agreement among themselves.

    The other main element is the person that will play the instrument. The ability to sense, use, and appreciate the qualities of an instrument are also very important in this regard. An old violin maker explained to me that a great concert violin is like a formula one race car in that there are very few people actually qualified to operate it. Anyone can drive (or play) but it takes a masterful skill to bring out the great qualities of the car (instrument).

    I find a lot of well meaning folks don't have enough knowledge or skill to tell a good instrument from a great one. Don't get me wrong, they know what they like, they can easily pick out "the best" mandolin on the wall, but often better players will select different instrument from the same wall.
    Hm, so it's so complicated that it can't be explained or understood, and if I don't have sufficient mojo I can't even tell good from great anyway. I'm going to have to ask my witch doctor if this is really true.

  13. #38
    Registered User Charley wild's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Lewis View Post
    The graduations of the plates are only one aspect to a very complex structure. To have a great instrument all the elements must come together to work in agreement among themselves.

    The other main element is the person that will play the instrument. The ability to sense, use, and appreciate the qualities of an instrument are also very important in this regard. An old violin maker explained to me that a great concert violin is like a formula one race car in that there are very few people actually qualified to operate it. Anyone can drive (or play) but it takes a masterful skill to bring out the great qualities of the car (instrument).

    I find a lot of well meaning folks don't have enough knowledge or skill to tell a good instrument from a great one. Don't get me wrong, they know what they like, they can easily pick out "the best" mandolin on the wall, but often better players will select different instrument from the same wall.
    I may not be able to drive a formula one car like professional but I can sure distinguish it from driving a Buick!

  14. #39
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by OldSausage View Post
    ...there must be a way to figure out what that right way is. If that way is really understood, then it should be possible for anyone to apply it, even to a mass production process.
    Hm, so it's so complicated that it can't be explained or understood, and if I don't have sufficient mojo I can't even tell good from great anyway. I'm going to have to ask my witch doctor if this is really true.
    Well I'm not sure which one of those is correct, but one thing's for sure, there's no middle ground; it must be one of the other...

  15. #40
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    John Moore played (plays) a Kentucky.

    Sure sounds great to me.

  16. #41

    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by grassrootphilosopher View Post
    Yes but when it comes to your feel etc. a great instrument will practically "play by itself" and sounds "like a million dollars" (compared to all other instruments).

    Make that a 'quarter of a million' dollars and we have a deal!


  17. #42
    Hipster wannabe GTG's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    I find this a pretty naive thread. John (Sunburst)'s ironic responses are telling - post this question on the builder's forum and see what responses are.

    Better yet, don't post it, but do a search. (One idea - search 'Stradivarius'; this ground ("what makes an inst. great") has been covered many times on this board.)
    Dan P,
    Victoria, BC

  18. #43

    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by GTG View Post
    I find this a pretty naive thread. John (Sunburst)'s ironic responses are telling - post this question on the builder's forum and see what responses are.

    Better yet, don't post it, but do a search. (One idea - search 'Stradivarius'; this ground ("what makes an inst. great") has been covered many times on this board.)
    But the old threads are all so tedious.

  19. #44
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    The details.
    Amen brother
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  20. #45
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    I like the thread, and it saves me from searching for something on the Cafe's search engine.

    Listen to the YouTube clip of Grisman playing an Eastman. It sounds like my friend's Eastman. I kind of like the sound, but it is distinctive to its name, as far as I can hear. I have also heard a great Eastman that sounded like a dream: chunky, loud, and dynamic.

    There's nothing that replaces the details, as Mr. Hamlett stated. If you get someone who believes in mandolins and how extraordinary they will be, that person will build with that in mind and his or hers mandolins will reflect it in some way. As tedious as I'm sure it must be to be a luthier, I also don't think anyone could be a luthier without loving it in some way.

    What am I trying to say? There are people and companies out there that are doing their best to make the best instruments they can make, even down to the smallest details, and their mandolins show it. I'd buy a Hamlett in a second if I could spend more money on a luxury mandolin. There would be no question. You just know that the guy would build you something first class. I could go buy a mass-produced brand right now without breaking the bank and it would be a toss up.

    Thinking something something is good is personal, yes. What makes something personal is, as Vaughn Hebron would say, "... a book." For example, I love my custom Weber Fern. I love the tone and volume for sure, and that's the bottom line, but I also love the way they treated me in a tough time. It makes me proud to play one of their mandolins. To me, that's part of the mojo. Oh yeah, and this just in, they know how to apply finishes pretty good. So for me I hear the tone that I love and feel good to hold it as well, so that's my personal response to the instrument. I think it probably helps that it plays like butter, for whatever reason. :-)

  21. #46
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Ah, back to the prior observation: [not mine] "writing about music is like dancing about architecture" .
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

  22. #47
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Droid,

    I couldn't disagree more. I respect ya, but I can't submit to the notion that there's nothing for us to say about these things that we love. If we give in to that philosophy then it really has no boundaries, and I mean no boundaries. I believe that things matter, and as people we can do okay by talking about them. Will we ever arrive at the essence of our experience? Impossible. But we can be people and not rocks in the meantime.

  23. #48
    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoist View Post
    Make that a 'quarter of a million' dollars and we have a deal!

    So far I´ve been trying hard and without succes to get a raise in my wages, haven´t won the lottery so far and still I´m to ashamed a guy to rob monthly paychecks off of old ladies. Your´s is a swell sounding instrument, by all means. D.H.´s setup is equally great. So if ever a bag of money floats my way, I´ll give a shout. By the way, your D-guitar is very nice as well (from hearing it last year at the White Mountain Bluegrass singing workshop at Voorthuizen).
    Olaf

  24. #49
    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by GTG View Post
    I find this a pretty naive thread. John (Sunburst)'s ironic responses are telling - post this question on the builder's forum and see what responses are.

    Better yet, don't post it, but do a search. (One idea - search 'Stradivarius'; this ground ("what makes an inst. great") has been covered many times on this board.)
    I genuinely don't understand the point of this post. Is the thread naive? Maybe. But I was always told the "dumb" question, or in this case the "naive" question, was the one left unasked.

    Also, I'm sure the search could be utilized for most any topic here, and if that's all we did there would be little discussion left, which would make this a pretty boring message board.
    ...

  25. #50
    Ben Beran Dfyngravity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    There are so many variables that go into building instruments but I think the two that are the most important.

    First one is experience. The luthiers that are building the mandolins for Kentucky, Eastman, Collings, and Gibson are all at different levels of experience. It is not likely that someone who builds Kentucky mandolins would have enough experience to walk into Gibson or Collings and build a mandolin of that quality. The importance of experience is truly invaluable. Everything from knowing how to truly graduate the top and back to the perfect amount of glue necessary to glue two pieces of wood together. When people comment on the weight of the instrument, this is where that comes in to play. From the thickness of the top and back, neck, amount of glue, to the amount of finish.....all of these are great factors in that. And obviously the weight of the mandolin truly has a great effect on the overall sound. The more weight, the more you have to set in motion.

    The second one is all about the quality to quantity ratio. The ratio for Kentucky is definitely heavy on the quantity side. They are trying to produce a very high number of mandolins per year. And as the number goes up, the quality unfortunately will start to go the opposite way. I think Eastman has done a great job in trying to balance that ratio out, and they have done so by going back to the experience factor and hiring luthiers that are more qualified for the job. When you get into Gibson or Collings level, the ratio is definitely tip the other way and quality is now a greater concern. However, the quantity is still a big concern because X amount of instruments need to be produced and sold in order to stay a float. When you get into individual builders, quantity is still a concern but far less. At this level, quality is the greatest concern, after all if you want to put food on the table you need to be building great mandolins that people want in order to sell them. One bad mandolin from an individual builder has a much greater effect on them than it does Gibson and far much more than Kentucky.

    What does all of this have to do with what makes a good versus a great mandolin. In the line of mass produced mandolin, you are more likely to find a great mandolin with a company that is more concerned about quality and is producing a smaller number because they typically have more qualified luthiers with a greater amount of experience.

    When you get into the world of individual builders, again experience has a great effect. As the level of experience goes up, I think you are more likely to find a great mandolin versus a good mandolin.

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