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

  1. #51
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Experience AND expertise. Skaggs was a mandolin pro at what.....3 years old or something like that. Sam Bush, Chris Thile, etc. They very simply had a gift. And I could practice 8 hours a day until I'm 100 and not play as well as Skaggs did at 12.

    I think it's the same for builders. Gil, Dude........these guys are gifted, and now they are experienced.

    The point has been made that you can't know how good the mandolin is until you've played it. I agree. Some of these builders are experts at building, but also gifted at designing what you or I want. If you want a mandolin that plays 'like butter,' sounds like Loar, looks distressed, etc, etc, and you tell a reputable builder that's what you want........and he says, yes I can get build that........you will probably get it. A reputation for consistancy is the way to measure........designing, knowing where to buy the wood, selecting the wood, building the mandolin to a players specs. Yes there are exceptions. Very rarely there may be a lemon, or there may be a WalMart 'killer' mandolin, but I doubt it.

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  2. #52
    Henry Lawton hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Ah Grasshopper, You wish to know difference of bad, good and great mandolin.
    You no worry now answer is simple. Environment and nurture key to how mandolin come out.

    Bad mandolin born in big factory with too many brother and sister. No love, only hurry hurry every time think of it. Poor mandolins line up on racks sad and over weight with too much wood, glue and shiny coat. All makerís thoughts not go to wood singing but only to make next one.

    Good mandolin born in big family sometimes love spread thin but still there as makerís work hard to give all new mandolins good start with attention to good cut and glue but still suffer from family too big. Sometime just not enough time and good wood to go around.

    Great mandolin born in small loving family. All attention and thought go to make best mandolin can be. Maker not care about money so much as create best mandolin ever born. Best wood, all seamless fits with just right amount of glue, all attention to make baby mandolin as one piece of wood. Then put just right amount of finish to still let wood sing. Baby even get singing lessons and tiny cuts on aperture for voice sound just right.

    Hoss mandolin born when moon and stars line up with grain and glue think it wood. Hoss very different, canít be still even sing when not played. Walk across floor and hoss start ringing, play guitar and Hoss start humming, canít wait to be heard. Only very few Hossís born so when find one best buy on spot and feel very lucky.

    So Grasshopper hope this help you and you put that in pipe and smoke it.

    Sorry Caleb, I couldn't resist.

  3. #53
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by hank View Post
    Walk across floor and hoss start ringing, play guitar and Hoss start humming, canít wait to be heard...
    I was getting ready to mow the grass once and found that my gas can was empty. As I carried the empty gas can toward the shop door and walked by the radio, the gas can felt alive in my hand! The music on the radio made that gas can want to sing! I guess that's why my lawn mower sounds so good!

  4. #54
    Henry Lawton hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Sounds like that gas can is a keeper. Maybe it could sit in on the next jam. Jamie found a great sounding tractor.

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    Registered User majorbanjo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    I know there are well regarded makers and not so well regarded makers from a consistancy stand point......but I'll never again buy a mandolin without playing it.....

    I bought an instrument from one of the well regarded makers already mentioned above......I got it used site unseen and it was bar none the worst mandolin I've ever played.....it made me want to gnaw my arm off to get away from it.....I had big money into it and even took it to a well regarded luthier and he couldn't make it sound any better......I finally got rid of it in a trade involving several other instruments.....the day it left my possession was the best day of my life......

    I still have nightmares about that mandolin.......I've since seen it here on the cafe for sale.......I cringe every time I see it.....

    No sir, never will I buy a mandolin without playing it again.........
    Thank you baby Jesus for one smokin hot mandolin...
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  6. #56
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by majorbanjo View Post
    No sir, never will I buy a mandolin without playing it again.........
    I. like you, will never buy one without playing it. My eye (or ear) opener was playing a "major maker" mandolin priced At $3000 used and finding it absolutely average. Just plain average. It had been setup also. There are tons of mandolin for sale. $400 or $4000, I'm going to play it before I reach for the wallet!

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

    This is not hard. Mandolins are either born great, good, so, so, or terrible. A big name can be poor in sound quality and a Pac Rim can have great sound. Mandolins are strange little beasts. There seems to be many more so so ones than really good ones. I guess that's why we keep writing all this stuff! Nick
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Ah, the last few posts all ring very true. I'm not that experienced with expensive mandolins, but expensive violins, yes, thanks to a symphony-playing wife and many artists who pass through our house and concert series. There have been many "tests" done over the past few years where three or four violins are lined up, starting with a Strad, then something like an Amati, then two newer modern makers of generally-considered very high quality. Prices range from 3-4 million down to about $20,000. Then they get three professional violinists, all of whom play Strads, and conduct a blind listening test. The judges are the two musicians not playing at that time, and 2-3 "highly regarded" critics. Each musician plays all the violins, while the judges sit behind a thin curtain to disguise the violins being played. In every instance, the musicians and judges guessing are right well less than 50% of the time. That's worse than just dumb luck, which means they're into the strange realm of "psychoacoustics" where one adds one's anticipation of what they should be hearing into the mix of what they actually are hearing. Moral of the story; don't worry about the label. Play them all, and get whatever makes you smile, and for whatever reason. If it makes you drool, even better. You're the one who has to justify the price, no matter how low or high, not the rest of us out here in space. If you're not grinning when you're playing, then, ooops.

  9. #59
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by Charley wild View Post
    I. like you, will never buy one without playing it. My eye (or ear) opener was playing a "major maker" mandolin priced At $3000 used and finding it absolutely average. Just plain average. It had been setup also. There are tons of mandolin for sale. $400 or $4000, I'm going to play it before I reach for the wallet!
    I didnt play my Collings Mt before I bought it I trusted the judgment of the mandolin store, and I couldnt have gotten a better sounding mandolin for the price... Although if you re close enough to a store who does sell the mandolin your wanting to buy, it is a good idea to play it first...

  10. #60

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

    My wife always says "your banjo sounded nice" when I come upstairs after playing the mandolin - regardless of whether it was a cheap or expensive mandolin.

  11. #61
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by OldSausage View Post
    My wife always says "your banjo sounded nice" when I come upstairs after playing the mandolin - regardless of whether it was a cheap or expensive mandolin.
    I'd get a new wife....no no I am just kidding . But I do make sure that my girl friend knows what I play. It helps that she grew up on bluegrass though .

  12. #62

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

    Quote Originally Posted by Dfyngravity View Post
    I'd get a new wife....no no I am just kidding . But I do make sure that my girl friend knows what I play. It helps that she grew up on bluegrass though .
    Oh, she knows.

  13. #63
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by OldSausage View Post
    Oh, she knows.
    I knew that was coming. Sounds just like one of my exwives..... I don't recall which one.

  14. #64
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by Charley wild View Post
    I knew that was coming. Sounds just like one of my exwives..... I don't recall which one.

  15. #65
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    If you're trying to sell it to me, it's a good mandolin, perhaps a bit overpriced.

    If I'm trying to sell it to you, it's a great mandolin -- and at the asking price, a total steal!
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    A great mandolin is one that has established a reputation amongst the best players for being GREAT. Example: Reischman's Loar. Good mandolins may aspire to greatness.

    Changing the subject, a very interesting question was posed early in this thread by Farmerjones. "Do luthier's from Collings, Eastman, and Gibson know the same things?" Now that is something to ponder.
    -Newtonamic

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    Okay, I'm with you fellas tburcham's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Ok guys and ladies! I'm an engineer, so I'll throw an engineering-based answer to this question. When one studies engineering, most fields of engineering study Properties of Materials. This is the science of how a materials behave under various loads, tensions, vibrations, etc. So we have tables with all these properties for concrete, steel, rubber, and yes, even wood! While the study of these properties is well defined, in every case an engineer will apply a statistical distribution to the various properties to create a "bell curve" which is a statistical term that shows the most common occurrence of a property at the height of the bell and the less common values in question towards the tail of the curve...in other words if I place a weight on 100 pieces of steel that are all dimensionally the same, and measure the deflection (how much it bends), there will be a large number of the pieces that will have a deflection about the same, but there WILL be pieces that deflect more and pieces that deflect less. In an industrial setting, we might even reject pieces that deviate from the average value by more than one or two standard deviations (another statistical term I won't explain here).

    While I indicated that we have values for wood, you must know that while wood behaves in similar manner to other materials, it typically has a wider spread of values, e.g., no two pieces are the same...not even if they are from the same tree....each successive cut will have different grain etc.

    Ok, so you're wondering at this point what in the world is he talking about???? He's rattling on about statistics, yield strength, vibrations, etc...what does that have to do with GREAT vs. Good mandolins?

    So here's the bottom line...GREAT occurs when ALL of the elements of the mandolin (primarily the top, back, and neck) work together to produce GREAT volume, GREAT tone, and GREAT playability. A great builder never starts any mandolin with a goal of it being GOOD...he (or she) selects the best woods, builds with the utmost care, etc., but at the end of the build, he (or she) will have to tune the mandolin (shaving braces, removing wood from the top, etc,) to make it perform to the ideal or as near as possible to that ideal...at that point the mandolin will be all its going to be...if the builder has corrected for as many of the interactions between top, back, and neck...and the mandolin is still just GOOD, then it is a GOOD mandolin.

    Now once in a while, the various wood properties come together in a harmonious manner that exceeds even the builder expectations...all of the harmonics of the individual pieces naturally work together...the result is a GREAT mandolin!

    This is why builders that use CNC (Collings and others) get consistently GOOD results....and sometimes they get GREAT results. (I'm just using Collings as an example here, so all you Collings folks don't start throwing stones...they're fantastic mandolins...and VERY consistent).

    The great independent builders, that we all adore on the Cafe, have developed a feel and sense for the various pieces of wood....and how they will interact...that's why their ratio of GREAT to GOOD mandolins is value much greater than 1... but I assure you that every mandolin they make is a unique instrument...the variability in the properties of wood guarantees this!

    This is just an opinion, but I would be willing to bet that when Gibson luthiers begin with a goal of creating a Gibson Master Model...and they put the utmost care into every aspect of the build, select the finest tone woods, etc., etc., but at some point at the end of that build...it will either be a Master Model or it will be rejected. I'm guessing that some they intend to be MM's don't ever receive the Gibson Master Model label...remember this is just conjecture on my part.

    I'm an engineer...we try to make sense out of stuff...the above argument (treatise) is why your Weber Yellowstone and my Weber Yellowstone may be similar, but never exactly the same! We might argue about which one is GOOD or GREAT (-;

    NOTE: All of the argument above would not hold for a MIX graphite mandolin. With carbon graphite, the material properties are so uniform that a VERY consistent product could be turned out with little to no tweaking. They should all sound the SAME...one could argue then as to whether that sound is GOOD or GREAT.

    Hope this treatise helps everyone have a better understanding of the "ART and SCIENCE" of building a mandolin (or any musical instrument from wood).
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  18. #68
    Henry Lawton hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Good post Tim. I enjoyed Big Joe's post on the Master Model thread about keeping key tone components hand made to preserve the voice individuality of each master model. I believe that project and Charlie Derrington have helped Gibson's Luthiers take it to the next level. But Even with CNC the grain, wood density and tonal qualities will always keep things interesting and somewhat unpredictable.

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

    I agree that you should play it before buying. That wasn't an option for me. I called Janet Davis and talked to Tom. He sent me one I'm happy with. If you can't play it there is an element of trust. Of course check the return policy.

  20. #70
    Henry Lawton hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Tom Anderson introduced me to my Goldrush as well. I wasn't really even looking for another mandolin when I stopped by JD's and asked Tom what ya got to knock my socks off? Wrong question to ask if you want to sleep at night after leaving empty handed. It took a week or so to convince myself but I asked for Tom again when I returned to make her mine. Good guy even if he does play banjo.

  21. #71
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    I recently heard about some violins being built with wood that was treated with some sort of mold or fungus. pros could not tell it from the mega expensive Strads. Maybe that would help a so-so mando.
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    Your mandolin is good, my mandolin is great...

    My mandolin is good, the one I want to buy is great...

    Good picks pluck across
    Great metal stings
    Mood magic ensues...

    Great harmony from good intentions...

    Great times for good mandos...

    Good time for great mandos...

    I'm tired from an evening jam session with many friends. Instruments from fair to great but the common thread was the joy of music. Good times come from the soul which even the greatest instrument cannot give.
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  23. #73
    Mandolicious fishtownmike's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    One of the main things i have found in difference between a quality mandolin and a cheaper factory mass produced mando is the the setup. Now don't get me wrong the wood and everything else is usually a much better quality on higher priced instruments but the important things like bridge fitting and nut work are lacking in cheaper instruments. I have found these areas very rough on cheaper instruments. You will be surprised what effect on the sound this can make. I have taken cheaper mandos and fitted the bridge or even in some cases built a new one and replaced the nut with bone and made a big improvement in these instruments. Are they comparable to a high dollar mando? No! But an improvement to what they were.

  24. #74
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    Default Re: Good or Great Mandolins: What Makes the Difference?

    The judgement of tone and volume qualities are usually subjective. The instrument that you play every day can sound great, most of the time, but sometimes doesn't seem to please you.
    Very small differences in the setup can make a huge difference, so the differences that you notice, when trying out a bunch of them, may just be that a couple of them, even the better ones, need a good setup.

    Also, each player usually adjusts his own techniques, over a period of time, to the particular instrument that he is playing. That often accounts for the improvement credited to "opening up".

    Then, too, mandolins are like women, no two being exactly the same.
    3 finger chop

  25. #75

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

    I just did a bunch of informal research by comparing my Loar LM-520 against a bunch of different peoples nice mandolins. There were too main things. 1. the nice ones are really amazing to play. Low action and amazing feel. Everyone was different but they all played great. (Loved the Collings the most)
    2. All of them had a louder, clearer, more rounded sound. They just were more alive than my budget Mando. And that makes them so much more fun to play cause the sound is great. I think it is because the wood is thinner and carved much more expertly. Best guitar I ever played was one a guy made by himself and carved the wood really thin. Sounded amazing. So I came to the conclusion that it is well worth it to spend a lot more money to get that sound. I ended getting a KM-1050 and its great! Cheaper than most good ones but has that great sound. Still want a Collings but that may never happen.

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