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Thread: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

  1. #126
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    I have often thought that a simple test could be employed. It would not, perhaps, explain what is going on, but would demonstrate that something is going on.

    And it would require super expensive equipment.

    Purchase two of the same mandolin, new. Keep them in the same rooms, same environments. Get them similarly set up and equally playable, with the same strings at correct tension. Then leave one in the case, and play the potatoes out of the other. In five years compare the sound in a double blind test.

    Do this with many models in different locations around the country to even out some of the other variables.

    Don't need any fancy accoustic measurements - if I can't hear a difference between a played in mandolin and the same model just as old never played, and if this is repeatedly the result - we have an answer. If there is an audible difference, we can get on to the science of figuring out where the difference is.
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    And on the lighter side of science.

    http://davidpayneoutdoorsblog.blogsp...r-science.html

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  4. #128
    Registered User Justus True Waldron's Avatar
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    I totally agree with that. If what you start out with isn't what you're looking for you probably aren't ever going to get there no matter what you do to the instrument.
    I'll second that! While I'm a firm believer in an instrument being "played in" I don't think it should ever be used as an excuse to buy or sell something that isn't already what you want. The fact is that in the instrument world usually a dud is a dud is a dud... and no amount of playing or time is going to suddenly turn that dud into a Crusher or a Hoss. Unfortunately with cheaper mass produced mandos you are more likely to get a dud it seems, which is why playing first is always a good idea. That being said, I've heard even cheaper mandos change over time. When I was in college and needed a mando but had no money, I played a friends lower end Kentucky he had just bought for his son. I thought it sounded really nice for the money, so I bought one for myself. I never liked it as much as his from the get go, but kept it and continued to play. 2 years of heavy playing later it WAS much louder and had a fuller low end, but I still didn't like it half as much as I did the other mando brand new. Thankfully by then I was able to get the instrument I have now, which I've loved from the beginning. The other Kentucky? It just keeps getting better! It's got this warm dry hollow woody sound and an E string that rings for days. My point? If you don't like the instrument now, you'll probably never like it. If you DO like it now, and you play it a ton and take care of it, I'd be willing to put money on it sounded even better down the road (unless it breaks or something of course).

    So yes I do believe cheaper instruments can change too, but I think its most commonly seen in high quality instruments, maybe because they are more likely to be "working" right from the beginning. I'd be interested in seeing how many owners of top tier hand built mandos (Dudes, montes, etc) who have had their instrument since new and played them a lot are NOT believers in the opening up concept. From reading an interview last year (the punch brothers in london one) I know CT certainly believes, and he said he bought his first Loar believing he knew what it would sound like once it woke up (i.e. it was "sleeping" when he bought it). He also implied that it was certainly awake now and doing what he wanted. Certainly not scientific, but if arguably the biggest mando player out there today is willing to spend $200k on something in the belief that it will change I'd have to think there is probably something to it. And don't think you can say that it was just his playing or his ears that improved so drastically in that time to make him believe he was right... just a few more "I don't feel like getting to work yet" thoughts.
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I have often thought that a simple test could be employed. It would not, perhaps, explain what is going on, but would demonstrate that something is going on.

    And it would require super expensive equipment.

    Purchase two of the same mandolin, new. Keep them in the same rooms, same environments. Get them similarly set up and equally playable, with the same strings at correct tension. Then leave one in the case, and play the potatoes out of the other. In five years compare the sound in a double blind test.

    Do this with many models in different locations around the country to even out some of the other variables.

    Don't need any fancy accoustic measurements - if I can't hear a difference between a played in mandolin and the same model just as old never played, and if this is repeatedly the result - we have an answer. If there is an audible difference, we can get on to the science of figuring out where the difference is.
    But an instrument doesn't have a sound. It's not a tone generator, it's a tool for making music. So the question is what properties determine its utility as a tool, and do these properties change (favorably) over time? One such property is responsivity, which can conveniently be quantified; in control theory and signal processing the crucial entity is rise time. Responsivity is very important to the player and sensitive and knowledgeable players, i.e., musicians, are acutely aware of that property in an
    instrument, and it affects the quality of their playing, nuance, dynamics, ideas, everything. A blindfolded panel cannot really judge these things, they are, and should be, distracted by the musical content. Would you buy an instrument on the basis of a sound sample, played by someone else? Don't think sound, think properties.

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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    And again, that is where the problem rears its head. What has been observed cannot be quantified by any sort of measurement and that is what the original question was. There isn't any science behind the phenomena only what people have observed and that isn't consistent. What you believe you hear might not be apparent to others.
    Obviously not; lots of people are completely unaware of these things. A recurrent motif on guitar forums is someone just noticed a dead spot like the f I mentioned and invariably several others tell him to return the guitar, it's not supposed to behave like that. Which means that they are unaware of resonances and antiresonances in their own instruments. Musicians are aware of them, and I've heard of classical players who systematically play in their instruments to temper these spots; they can really stand out in the beginning, at least to sensitive ears. And this is exactly the kind of thing that canbe measured; in fact, it has been done.

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  8. #131

    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    ...I've heard of classical players who systematically play in their instruments to temper these spots; they can really stand out in the beginning, at least to sensitive ears. And this is exactly the kind of thing that canbe measured; in fact, it has been done.
    Show me the data, then.

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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    FWIW I went home to see my family this past week for Thanksgiving, and spent a lot of time playing in a room with a DE-humidifier...

    The timbre change was drastic, (in the negative direction) to the point where I was getting frustrated with my tone production. I even tried playing different times of the day/multiple different days, with different warm up techniques just to make sure that it wasn't me but my mandolin that was in a funk. The best way I could describe it is exactly as I've seen here a few times: the tone wasn't as "complex." There were many overtones that I felt as if I was missing.

    Got back home this weekend, and it sounded fine right out of the case...

    Not that this is scientific or conclusive by any means, but I provide the anecdote just to show that it's pretty hard to argue against the fact that tone wood is sensitive animal.

    Definitely don't think you can discount the notion that time acts as a variable on tone woods' responsiveness, resonance, etc.
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  10. #133
    Registered User Justus True Waldron's Avatar
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    So you mean your instrument sounded worse when it's dry (De-humidified)? I'm not doubting you, I just generally notice the opposite in my wood heated house that dries everything out... To be fair I've also thought it sounded its "best" to me at humid times as well... playing outside in the freezing cold, and also sometimes in the summer heat. I have definitely heard my mandolin change in tone at times, but for me It doesn't seem to be tied to any one of these factors directly. Interesting....
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    It can happen. But also playing in an acoustically different room has a huge effect, as does ones own emotional response to the presence of other people in a house. My theory is just this: mandolins change a little bit, spaces change more, and people, being actually alive, change a whole lot.

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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    needing a bit of cheer, David, I checked out your videos (for the first time, I must admit). awful is not a word that applies. either to quantity or quality. thanks for the effort and the sweet playing.

    back to the regular program - opening up, I believe.

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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by Justus True Waldron View Post
    So you mean your instrument sounded worse when it's dry (De-humidified)? I'm not doubting you, I just generally notice the opposite in my wood heated house that dries everything out... To be fair I've also thought it sounded its "best" to me at humid times as well... playing outside in the freezing cold, and also sometimes in the summer heat. I have definitely heard my mandolin change in tone at times, but for me It doesn't seem to be tied to any one of these factors directly. Interesting....
    Right, I thought it sounded TERRIBLE in the de-humidified room.
    And it's funny you mention cold, I've always thought my mandolin sounded more 'woody' when I take it out on the balcony in the cold.
    Quote Originally Posted by OldSausage View Post
    It can happen. But also playing in an acoustically different room has a huge effect, as does ones own emotional response to the presence of other people in a house. My theory is just this: mandolins change a little bit, spaces change more, and people, being actually alive, change a whole lot.
    Right, I definitely tried to take all that into consideration as I was thinking about it though. The conclusion I came to though was that it wasn't resonation, sustain or volume (things concerned with acoustics in general) that changed about the mandolin. It was the timbre and the specific way in which the overtones colored the tone of my mandolin.

    All this is not to say that it still couldn't have been my ever changing brain.. But I at least tried to account for that.
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    So is this a good thing for those of us that live in the Swamplands of the USA? I know the latches on my cases will corrode and rust even though they are stored inside so it's nice to know there is a positive side to humidity other than keeping my skin beautiful and the vegetation green.
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by OldSausage View Post
    Show me the data, then.
    I have already referred to Alan Carruth's findings regarding frequency response patterns. They express very neatly what's involved at the system theoretic level
    (as opposed to materials science, solid mechanics, etc., - that's where things get hairy!), what properties of the instrument contribute to its feel. I never asked about details because I'm not interested in proof for readily observable properties and changes, I'm only interested in an explanation of what's involved.

    Of course, unlike a lot of people here, I have no very strong motive to believe that he's lying about his investigations.

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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by jackmalonis View Post
    Right, I thought it sounded TERRIBLE in the de-humidified room.
    Other considerations of this thread aside, I think I would consider the difference in the way sound waves travel in a de-humidified room before I concluded that the physical properties of the tone wood had an immediate and temporary reaction to its environment.

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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    It's not science, It's magic. You have to love it to make it sound good. You have to know it to love it. You have to play it to know it. New strings, body heat, a singing heart, instrument as pathway of expression. Yeah, they like to be played and to play. It's love and I'm not much concerned it it's not quantifiable or measurable.

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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    While I do sometimes think that the phenomena is mostly in the perception of the player and is not a property of the instrument, I remember when I first played a very old Martin dreadnaught and in that moment I realized that this instrument sounded like that both because it was well made but also because it was so old. That is extreme "opening up", but it is real. That guitar did not sound like that in 1938.

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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Leaving much-vexed "ageing" question aside for the moment, there is no doubt whatever that hygroscopic organic materials respond in various (and profound) ways to changes in temperature and humidity. Keratin is one example we are all familiar with, wood is another. They change shape.. they change in weight... other things such as their Young's Modulus (aka modulus of elasticity) also change. It would be incomprehensible if these things did not affect the sound of an instrument.

    As for age-related effects, again, I suspect that oxidisation of resins in the wood, and in the finish, must have some impact. Quantifying it is far from easy, however.

    Fine mandolins, guitars and fiddles are very, very sensitive things (I deliberately exclude banjos here ) so even small effects are likely to have some audible impact. Actually, even banjos, especially those with the old 'hide' heads respond to quite small changes in temperature and humidity. Modern plastic heads are far more stable.
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by OldSausage View Post
    It can happen. But also playing in an acoustically different room has a huge effect, as does ones own emotional response to the presence of other people in a house. My theory is just this: mandolins change a little bit, spaces change more, and people, being actually alive, change a whole lot.
    There are mny factors, objective and subjective, that affect one's perception of an instrument. My instruments sound deeper and more complex when I've been away from them, the impression of one instrument depends on what I've played or heard just before - I'm reminded of its indivdual quality. I hate it when a YouTube video demonstrating an acoustic instrument begins with a jingle on electric guitar, it ruins my hearing temporarily.

    I'm passionate runner, even at 68, and for some reason my hearing becomes more acute after being out running. That´s the reason I find it so futile to discuss the "sound" or "tone" of an instrument. Instruments have properties, depth, breadth and readiness of response, transparence, projection, sustain, balance, and these are what a musician looks for first of all in an instrument, the feel of it. And the question is to what extent these properties change over the years.

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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    There are mny factors, objective and subjective, that affect one's perception of an instrument. My instruments sound deeper and more complex when I've been away from them, the impression of one instrument depends on what I've played or heard just before - I'm reminded of its indivdual quality. I hate it when a YouTube video demonstrating an acoustic instrument begins with a jingle on electric guitar, it ruins my hearing temporarily.

    I'm passionate runner, even at 68, and for some reason my hearing becomes more acute after being out running. That´s the reason I find it so futile to discuss the "sound" or "tone" of an instrument. Instruments have properties, depth, breadth and readiness of response, transparence, projection, sustain, balance, and these are what a musician looks for first of all in an instrument, the feel of it. And the question is to what extent these properties change over the years.
    You mention many things objective and subjective but all the examples you give are subjective. I spent nearly 50 years doing "hard science" for a living --i.e., measuring things, recording it and then doing statistical analysis on the reproducible data. From my view I don't think see much point in talking about the "science" behind subjective opinions.

    Just as a counterpoint -- I'm 68 too and I run also but I don't think my hearing is effected one bit by it - just saying.

    The instrument "changing over years" is certainly plausible we know wood can decay and/or dehydrate and metal strings can rust and fatigue. This conversion was about the "science behind a mandolin opening up" -- i.e., changes that happen shortly after the playing starts I thought?
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    I have had the experience with one of the mandolins I bought new, where I hadn't noticed anything particularly, but some of the folks I regularly jam with have commented that it seemed to really "opening up" and the "tone was better". Just a single data point.
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    some of the folks I regularly jam with have commented that it seemed to really "opening up" and the "tone was better".
    If someone said this to me I'd take it as a polite way to say "you have learnt to play this thing at last"
    And it would be a point in my favor, but "data"? Hmmm...
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I have had the experience with one of the mandolins I bought new, where I hadn't noticed anything particularly, but some of the folks I regularly jam with have commented that it seemed to really "opening up" and the "tone was better". Just a single data point.
    Yup and you can't make a line from a single data point!

    Or maybe I should say, from a single date point you can draw a line to ANYWHERE!!
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    Default Re: science behind a mandolin "opening up"

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    You mention many things objective and subjective but all the examples you give are subjective. I spent nearly 50 years doing "hard science" for a living --i.e., measuring things, recording it and then doing statistical analysis on the reproducible data. From my view I don't think see much point in talking about the "science" behind subjective opinions.

    Just as a counterpoint -- I'm 68 too and I run also but I don't think my hearing is effected one bit by it - just saying.

    The instrument "changing over years" is certainly plausible we know wood can decay and/or dehydrate and metal strings can rust and fatigue. This conversion was about the "science behind a mandolin opening up" -- i.e., changes that happen shortly after the playing starts I thought?
    Well, I said there are subjective and objective factors that affect our impressions of an instrument. I enumerated only a few of the subjective ones because the objective ones have already been mentioned: humidity, temperature, quality of strings, acoustic properties of the room. In order to get away from the nebulous concept of "tone"
    I tried again to point to the properties that really count to musicians, as they determine the feel of the instrument and its utility as a tool for making music. I would say these are all objective properties, although not all of them are easily accessible to measurement. I think it would be fun - at least - to have some musicians evaluate the properties of various instruments and then try to relate this to measurable entities. E.g., transparence, or separation; what physical properties explain why you can hear the bass line so clearly in a progression of chords in some instruments, and not in others? Balance could at least be compared, what you like is a different matter, of course. The same goes for sustain.

    And, again, I'm not interested in proof of anything, only explanation.

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