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Thread: Help with tone

  1. #1
    texaspaul texaspaul's Avatar
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    Default Help with tone

    I have two mandolins, one was built in Houston TX in 1988 by Bill Northcutt. It is an F style, maple back and sides with spruce top. The mandolin has a strong chop and D and G string notes up and down the neck. The A note on the E string is noticably stronger to my ear than F through G notes on same string. The treble in general doesn't have the richmess of the bass notes. I have had the instrument since 1989 and have tried lots of different strings over that time and these tcharacteristics seem to be the same.
    I have a 2011 Weberbitterroot pretty even sound seems richer in the treble than the Northcutt but not in the bass. The chop does not have the strength of the Northcutt.
    I was wondering if there is something I could have tweeked on either mandolin to combine the best sounds from each into one. Or maybe a regraduation of the top on the Northcutt. Any ideas.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Help with tone

    Aside from setup and bridge work, there is probably nothing simple you can do. You might check to make sure the frets are seated and dressed well. Loose frets can rob tone. Regraduation may help, but it may fix one thing and break another. You never know. I might show the mandolin to a well respected maker and ask if they feel it can be improved.
    Robert Fear
    http://www.folkmusician.com

    "Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't.
    " - Pete Seeger

  3. #3
    texaspaul texaspaul's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with tone

    Thank you Robert for your reply. For such a large city Houston is mandolin resource poor. I checked the frets and none seemed loose. The first 5 showed some grooving and wear. I had it tuned up, frets dressed and everything adjusted that the lutherier suggested. I sent it to a guy in AZ whose last name was Lemon forgotbfirst name he had moved there from Nashville, TN. I like the chop especially the bark of the bass just wish the treble was a match. I guess what it is, is what it is and will be.

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    Default Re: Help with tone

    You have quality mandos. To expect a mando to do everything equally well may be expecting the unlikely or close to impossible. Like you I have two primary players, one a bit strong on the bass and the other strong on treble. If I am concerned I pick the one most suited for the particular tune. I doubt that a luthier could bring out a tonal emphasis the mandolin wasn't constructed for .
    Bart McNeil

  5. #5
    texaspaul texaspaul's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with tone

    I guess tone envy takes over for common sense. They are really good mandolins.
    I still dream about improving the sound some How.

  6. #6
    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with tone

    Have you tried them with different brands/types of strings? That might alter tone in ways you prefer (or not, as the case may be).
    Purr more, hiss less.

  7. #7
    texaspaul texaspaul's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with tone

    I have used a variety of strings on the Northcutt from silk & steel, Elixars (which it as now and are best so far)' to various gauges and brands without the desired tonal changes. I have used a large # of picks BC, Red Bear, genuine tortoise, Dawg and standard picks. I have only tried J74 on the Weber I all try different strings eventually on it just had several on hand.

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    Default Re: Help with tone

    I have F style manolin built in Houston TX in 1988 by Bill Northcutt too. It had "off-set" scale ( the best intonation position of the bridge was closer to the neck - not on the line of the F-holes innear points).So the bridge was not on the top of the dome. Just the same situation with poor treble strings tone.
    I decided to take off the fingerboard and move it toward the tailpiece - to set the bridge in the "right" position. Will see if it helps.
    From Russia with Love!!!
    1921 Gibson F4 mandolin
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  9. #9
    Registered User Vernon Hughes's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with tone

    If you haven't already tried a cumberland acoustics bridge it would be worth a shot.
    Hughes F-5 #1
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    Default Re: Help with tone

    Hi, Paul. Sometimes heavier strings will quiet loud strings and lighter strings can increase volume. If you haven't tried this you might try .0115 for the E.

    Glad you've tried picks. i've found the BC TAD 60 to give good overtones in this situation...making sure the pick is more vertical than laid over. The other obvious thing is to examine how the pick is held and the best place on the strings for the pick to strike the strings. And when it sounds good to look carefully and see how to duplicate that.
    Last edited by dan in va; Jul-12-2014 at 8:21am.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Help with tone

    Of course by some standards having two mandolins is nowhere near enough. I have about ten total and am always coveting another one, or two, hoping that another "voice" will be just what I need,

  12. #12
    Registered User bernabe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with tone

    Quote Originally Posted by anserg View Post
    I decided to take off the fingerboard and move it toward the tailpiece - to set the bridge in the "right" position. Will see if it helps.
    This, besides a very wide nut space, will leave your neck wider than the fret board which probably wont feel good to the left hand. Moving it within reason probably wont make enough difference anyway to justify removing the fret board and all it will entail. Id think that one over if it were me.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Help with tone

    If the loudness and tone is low on the unwound strings the first thing I would check is the bridge to make sure it is seated as perfect as can be, look closely at the edges to see if it is touching 100% across the top...

    Willie

  14. #14

    Default Re: Help with tone

    "I decided to take off the fingerboard and move it toward the tailpiece - to set the bridge in the "right" position. Will see if it helps."

    You moved the entire fretboard and nut? Now you will have to move the bridge to compensate for moving the fretboard. You have changed very little or nothing tonewise, or if you have changed the tone you have likely made it worse. The distance between the nut and the bridge has to remain the same, Adjustments in intonation are done by moving the bridge, not the fretboard, The bridge is not glued down so that it can be moved if for some reason it needs to be moved, The best you can do is make sure the bridge is in the correct position and if it is, then your intonation will be correct right up the fretboard and of course the open strings. The first thing to do is re-glue the fretboard and nut back where they belong...

    Check frets,com for information on setting up a mandolin and locating the bridge. Very likely your mandolin has never been properly set up properly and you need to start from scratch.

    The nut needs adjustment so that the strings are at proper height from the frets.
    The bridge needs to be located correctly and its base fitted to the instrument.
    The frets may need leveling.

    All of these things and much more can be found at frets.com where Frank Ford explains all this stuff and illustrates it with excellent photos.
    Last edited by bart mcneil; Jul-12-2014 at 2:58pm. Reason: speling

  15. #15

    Default Re: Help with tone

    regarding re-graduating the top or backside: Unless you are intimately familiar with mando construction you will likely turn your mando into firewood, I think the best approach to graduating the top would be to buy a kit and work from the partially constructed kit mando. That way you will have total access to the plates and can carve away at will,,,,

    I have had a great experience with the three A style kits I have built. And yes, I ruined one almost beyond repair by overdoing the thinness of the top plate as you could do if not extremely careful.

    I very much like the A style kit from International Violin. It is a perfect kit for the beginner, and will allow you to experience how the mando is constructed and why. In addition you really should have "Building a Bluegrass Mandolin" by Siminoff. This book has all the critical information on mandolins. If you could only have one, then the book will be an invaluable resource for building your knowledge and later perhaps building your own mando. Highly recommended if you don't already have it.
    Last edited by bart mcneil; Jul-13-2014 at 8:13am. Reason: speling

  16. #16
    Registered User Steve Sorensen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with tone

    Isn't this question kind of like saying, "I have a Poodle and a Dachshund, but I want a Jack Russell Terrier."

    Seems like the best solution would be to find the instrument that has all the traits that you are looking for, and then, if necessary, sell the two that you have now to help make the switch.

    Steve

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  18. #17
    Registered User David Houchens's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with tone

    If you wanted to move the bridge back, and not the nut, move the bridge to where you'd like it, measure and have a fingerboard slotted to that scale length. Won't change the nut or string spacing. Will require a a fret job though.
    Having it in the center may well change the tone very slightly.

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