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Thread: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

  1. #1

    Default A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Alright, so I've been playing mandolin for a little over a year now and have started saving up for an upgrade. Of course I was initially enamored with the cool looks of the f-styles such as some of those beautiful collings and webers (wayyyyy out of my budget range) or even eastmans that are out there. But then i noticed that A-style mandolins, particularly from makers like Collings and Weber, were 60 to 75% of the price of the equivalent F-Style mandolin.

    So i began to research and please tell me what you believe. I am under the impression that if you want the maximum "acoustical bang-for-you-buck" then you are better served to by an A-Style mandolin. Is this correct? Is there any redeeming quality (aside from esthetic appeal) in the scroll present of F-style mandolins?

    Essentially, would there be any real difference in the Collings MT A-Style ($2,250 and still out of my price range, but dreamable) and the equivalent Collings MF F-Style ($4,400!!!) aside from a $2,200 scroll that looks hella pretty.

    Some luthier site tend to say no, the scroll effectively jacks up the price without a change to tone.

    Ideas??

    Thanks everybody!!

  2. #2
    Registered User G. Fisher's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Play a bunch of both style mandolins and pick the one you like the best. You're the only one who can decide which mandolin best suits what you want.
    “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”


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  3. #3

    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    If you want a great sounding mandolin and don't have to have the strap hanger, an Old Wave A-model made by Bill Bussmann will get you all the great sound your heart desires without costing you F-model money. Sometimes they come up for sale in the Classifieds. I used to have a nice Summit F-model, but I sold it.

    Most luthiers will tell you that the scroll thingy makes very little difference in the sound.

    I believe I read on the Mandolin Brothers site that Bussmann is making mandolins that come closest to emulating that old Gibson tone. That is quite an endorsement IMHO.

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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Roughly half of the mandolin world, including me, agrees that comparable A-style and F-style models (comparable is important, for example, a Gibson A9 vs a Gibson F9), sound just as good (or poor), on average. The other half will disagree, or qualify.

    I own ~8 quality A-style instruments, and I don't ever expect to own an F-style. I prefer the symetrical A-style aesthetics, but mainly I would rather own 2 $1000 A-styles than one $2000 F-style any day.
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    There is no reason that an A model mandolin from the same builder should sound any different, at least to any significant level, from an F. I'm not self promoting. But I can say that I've had a number of my own, both styles, played so that I couldn't see what was being played. I couldn't tell. And I made them.

  6. #6

    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Quote Originally Posted by G. Fisher View Post
    Play a bunch of both style mandolins and pick the one you like the best. You're the only one who can decide which mandolin best suits what you want.
    That is just what I've been doing, but i think there is a placebo with F-styles...like the fact that it's so damn pretty makes me think it sounds nicer.

    I gotta work to get my head out of that

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    I have two mandolins from the same maker (Ken Ratclff - Silverangel). One is an A, one an F. While not identical in sound, there is a powerfully close similarity. They have the same character. Very much so. I think that is more down to the fact that no two instruments, even two A's or two F's sound absolutely identical anyway. Mine's a custom A, with a few extra features and was around the $2K mark.... the 'F' style was twice that. Ken does essentially the same A with less binding for $1500.. I play them both about equally, and yes, the 'F' style is nice to look at, but honestly, in terms of sound/playability there really is next to nothing in it.

    http://www.silverangelmandolins.com/pricing.html

  8. #8
    acoustically inert F-2 Dave's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    I would guess that if blindfolded, most mandolin players would have a hard time picking out the sound of an F over an A. That said, for a lot of people, the visual appearance of the mandolin does figure into the over all satisfaction level of the instrument.

    In my own case, I played an old Gibson F-2 for thirty years or so. It was my only mandolin, and I used it for everything, Bluegrass, Old Time, Swing, etc. I always had a hankering for the F hole sound, but good quality F styles with f holes were just out of my price range. A couple of years ago, I traded a banjo for a Collings MT. It sounds wonderful, and does everything that I want it to do sonically. But I missed the scroll.

    A couple of months ago I found a Nashville made Flatiron Festival. It has a lot more of the Gibson type sound than the Collings. Still have the Collings. Between the two mandolins (and a few others) MAS has been successfully in check for a while. Although I know it's only a matter of time before it rears up it's ugly head again.

    I guess my point is that if looks really don't matter to you, go for a quality A model. It's very likely that you'll get more mandolin for your money. If you need a scroll, you need a scroll. You're among friends. We understand.
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  9. #9

    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    The scroll costs money. It's your choice to buy one or not.

    Nothing to do with sound, it's to do with having a scroll on your mandolin.

    An instrument sounds like whatever it sounds like. There are good and bad sounding mandolins with scrolls, there are good and bad sounding mandolins without scrolls.

    People hear what they want to hear. If they want to believe scrolls sound better that's what they will hear. Especially if that scroll just cost them a couple thousand bucks.
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    Registered User G. Fisher's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    The "A" and "F" are structurally different and the volume of the sound chamber is different. So, they will have different sound characteristics. It's just like guitar models sounding different because of their size, shape and bracing.
    “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”


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    Registered User Andy Alexander's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Quote Originally Posted by G. Fisher View Post
    The "A" and "F" are structurally different and the volume of the sound chamber is different. So, they will have different sound characteristics. It's just like guitar models sounding different because of their size, shape and bracing.
    Wrong

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    Registered User Chip Booth's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy Alexander View Post
    Wrong
    Not wrong at all actually. Of course any builder may do things differently but I give you these pictures of the inside of two Lawrence Smart mandolins to compare. The internal shape and volume of the F is clearly different, although not nearly as different as say a dreadnought guitar vs a OOO.

    That said, I am huge proponent of the A style mandolin. I think that the difference in construction is no greater of a factor than all the other choices that go into making a mandolin, the wood, carving of the plates, etc, so an A model can sound every bit as good or better than a comparable F model. I play a Gilchrist A model, and with the money I saved vs an F model Gilchrist I could buy an F style mandolin from most other builders. I do not feel that I compromised in tone in the slightest.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Quote Originally Posted by Chip Booth View Post
    ...I give you these pictures of the inside of two Lawrence Smart mandolins to compare. The internal shape and volume of the F is clearly different...
    I think Smart's hollow scroll is the exception rather than the rule...more informed Cafe-ers will no doubt correct me if I'm wrong.
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    I will chime in as I have wafered on this question for some time. I played F's for years before going to an A model. They are very comparable especially in the higher end mandolins. I have had a Collings MT2V that was killer and now own a Ellis A model that is great. I will say that each mandolin projects sounds in a different manner and each ear will catch that sound differently. I have found in my opinion that the F's normally have a lower end than the A's, I think that is due to the mass of the body versus the air chamber size. I think the A's overall have a more "bell like" toneness to them also that you dont see in the F's.....So my overall decision is buy one of each and compare them for the next 20 years
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    I am sure we can all agree on that. You definitely need one (or more) of each as these comparisons do take time... tough work, but someone has to do it.

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    Registered User mandobassman's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    I think Smart's hollow scroll is the exception rather than the rule...more informed Cafe-ers will no doubt correct me if I'm wrong.
    I agree that is the exception. Almost every F mandolin I have seen opened up, 80% of the scroll is a solid block. What remains is insignificant. The points and scroll on most F styles have virtually no effect on tone. There is a ton more labor involved in creating that scroll and that is partly why it costs more. The other reason is demand. More people want F style mandolins. Personally, I don't even care for the scroll. Not that I haven't seen some beautiful F style mandolins, but I have seen some equally stunning A mandolins as well.
    Last edited by mandobassman; Nov-21-2011 at 1:29pm. Reason: spelling
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    Registered User Chip Booth's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    I think Smart's hollow scroll is the exception rather than the rule...more informed Cafe-ers will no doubt correct me if I'm wrong.
    Allen, I don't know the answer to that for sure but I scanned 30+ pages of the Mandolins Under Construction thread for pictures and every F scroll was hollow to some degree. Most of them tended to look like this one from Newell:



    Here are the best images I could find of a Gibson blueprint:
    Click image for larger version. 

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    These images suggest a partially hollow scroll with the neck block being curvy similar to Lawrence's F rather chopped of straight across like the Newell above or Lawrence's A. All of these differences are subtle and probably create some tonal differences, but as I said above I feel like these differences are no more important than the many other factors that go into creating the tone in any individual instrument.

  18. #18

    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Ok, so based on all of this input and the fact that the Collings MT i played today costs 2,285 where as the Collings MF costs 4,500 i'm gonna probably go with the A-style (after another year of saving.... ). The two mandolins sounded very similar (not exact, certainly) and the 50% chearper price definitely speaks to my college-student-seeking-a-good-instrument budget

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    Registered User f5loar's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Even if you put them on equal bases as to sound and the way it plays you still ain't got that neat strap hanger the F model has.
    It's worth the difference in price to have a place to attach your strap. And those points come in handy when you need a can opener.

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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Keep your eyes peeled for a used MT as well - they frequently pop up in the classifieds here in the range of anywhere from $1500-1700.

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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    When I first started, I had no preconceived notions at all about either A's or F's. That being said, I bought 2 that really sounded great to me years. That's about as simple as it get's, I suppose.

    I DO WONDER what people mean when they say, " F you" to me? Do they mean get get another mando? Huh.
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    Okay, I'm with you fellas tburcham's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    I am the present owner Bradley's killer Collings MT2v....I have yet to play a F-style under $10,000 that will rival this mandolin. Granted this was Collings 2009 NAMM show piece, but I've played regular MTs that were outstanding as well. I love the look of F-style mandolins. I own two exceptional F's (see tag line), but neither of them has the projection and raw power of this Collings A-style! I play Bluegrass (and Old-Time) and this mandolin shocks and amazes all those who formerly thought that this kind of projection and power were reserved for F's. Bradley called it Killer, Dennis at the mandolin store christened it Monster, so I would argue that mandolins don't require scrolls or points to sound spectacular.

    So I have moved firmly into the camp of going with the current crop of great builder's A-style mandolins (Collings, Ellis, Kimble, Stanley, Smartt). For the price of a good F you'll get a great A!
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    From what i've gleaned over the years i've been on here & from one personal experience,the general opinion is that a well made "A" style is usually 'as good' as a well made "F" style,& many a 'newbie' has been recommended to look for an "A" style by a good maker as the best buy for the cash - i'd agree. I used to own a Weber "Beartooth" "A" style,which tonally, was as good as my Weber "Fern",but way louder.If it hadn't had a problem with the neck,i'd still have it. There's a terrific Weber Beartooth 'Snakehead' Mandolin for sale in the Classified ads. & considering that the "Beartooth" was Weber's top of the line "A" style,the price is pretty good.
    There's also a super looking "The Loar" LM 400 "A" style in the ads.as well selling for $499.99 US,that might suit your needs,
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    Last edited by Ivan Kelsall; Nov-22-2011 at 4:06am.
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    So an A that costs about the same as the F alongside it, might sound better (but we'll have to qualify that, since not all As are as good as Fs). And an A that costs a bit less than an F can sometimes be just as good as the F, but not always. Also, an A will always have as much volume as an equivalent F, except in cases where it doesn't.

    Glad we got that sorted out. If ever there was proof that we should disregard preconceptions and base our decisions on personal playing/testing of instruments we covet, surely this is it.


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    Registered User mandobassman's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-Style or F-Style: Cost vs. Acoustics

    Quote Originally Posted by blueron View Post
    So an A that costs about the same as the F alongside it, might sound better (but we'll have to qualify that, since not all As are as good as Fs). And an A that costs a bit less than an F can sometimes be just as good as the F, but not always. Also, an A will always have as much volume as an equivalent F, except in cases where it doesn't.
    Well said! Just basically proves that each instrument should be judged based on it's own qualities, regardless of body style. If F style looks are important to you, then by all means buy one. I prefer to buy an A style and put the extra money into a higher quality A and get the most sound I can get.
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