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Thread: Classical Mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Classical Mandolin

    Hello, I am taking classical mandolin lessons from someone who learned in Italy. They have a Bowl Back Mandolin that sounds beautiful. I live in the US, and I play with a small informal string orchestra.

    My question as I learn more about classical techniques, what is a good affordable mandolin that would sound well with the orchestra? Is there a difference between the F style and A style? Currently I have an F-Style Loar, LM520-VS. Altho I do realize that good playing and practice are what makes a good sound, I wonder if an A style mandolin would be more suitable for classical playing or does it really make a difference. Perhaps the A style would look more "classical" regardless of the sound. I am not finding any bowl back mandos in Ohio or many classical mandolin players either. Would like some suggestions from those with experience about classical playing. Thank you!

  2. #2
    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin

    There are others here far more qualified than I to answer your question, but I will chime in a bit from my limited experience. People will debate the issue but I believe for all practical purposes there is no difference in sound between an A and F model. There IS a difference between f-hole and oval sound hole mandolins. Also, there is a difference between archtop, bowl back, and flat back mandolins. The sound of any one of those types can vary greatly depending on the type of strings and pick used. There can be further sub-divisions of these types but I think at this point that is perhaps too impractical to explore (ie comparing a German to a Neapolitan bowl back). If you have the option I would suggest you try playing a mandolin of each type within your price range and hear and feel which type speaks to you the most. As a reminder the f-style was originally designed in a world that played classical music on mandolins. Bluegrass had not arrived on the scene. Also, for reference if you look at the mandolins I own they are all four quite different in tone and feel, but are all totally suitable for classical music. In truth all mandolins are suitable - the choice relates to the sound and feel you most enjoy. I hope this is helpful.

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674
    2015 Collings A (MT2-V)
    2018 Carlo Mazzaccara Lucia
    2020 Burgin Shanghai Octave Mandolin - in progress

  3. #3

    Default Re: Classical Mandolin

    Strings and picks can make a big difference in tone and are fairly inexpensive to experiment with,

  4. #4

    Default Re: Classical Mandolin

    Thank you! Good to remember F style was for classical. Lots to factor in here, this is helpful. I wish my fellow orchestra friend would stop saying my mandolin looks plastic because of the finish. it is all in the sound.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Good point, thanks!

  5. #5
    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin

    Marie do you have music stores and/or friends who could allow you the opportunity to try out various types of mandolins? You are right, it is all in the sound!!! It is easy to get trapped into the “look and prestige” of mandolins, rather than the true purpose: creating beautiful sound.

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674
    2015 Collings A (MT2-V)
    2018 Carlo Mazzaccara Lucia
    2020 Burgin Shanghai Octave Mandolin - in progress

  6. #6
    Registered User Rob MacKillop's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin

    Marie, are you aware that we have a dedicated sub forum for classical mandolin?

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/f...al-Renaissance

    You will get lots of specialised help there from people who play classical every day, and also belong to orchestras and smaller classical ensembles.

    Choice of instrument comes down to two sometimes polar things: what you like, and what your ensemble expects of you. Most amateur orchestras will accept whatever you turn up with, as they are always on the lookout for members, in which case just play what pleases you most. However, there are a number of orchestras which associate themselves with a particular type of mandolin - be it bowl-back Italian or German, or US Gibson F-style - which helps to give a more unified sound to the group.

    You might want to write your post again for the Classical sub forum, as many members just visit that area of Mandolin Cafe, and might never see your post. From my experience, they are an incredibly welcoming and helpful bunch.

  7. #7
    Registered User Martin Ohrt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin

    Hi Marie,
    I'd like to put a bit more emphasis on what Rob said about the orchestra's expectations:
    When you play in an orchestra, it is very important that your instrument does not "cut through the mix". Being the only mandolinist in a bluegras band you sure want your intrument to stand out amongst banjos and fiddles because otherwise you wouldn't be heard at all. At the same time, everything else about the sound and tone is only a matter of taste - you can sound the way you like because you are the mandolinist.
    All this is totally different in an orchestra. Here, you "team up" with others that play the same part as you, and you want to sound like one instrument. Also, a second group will play something different, and they will also try to sound like one instrument. Thus, an orchestra is a very delicate and well-balanced system, and it makes sense to us instruments that do not differ that much soundwise as this would disturb the balance. I assure you, a "Gibson-style" mandolin (A or F, whatever) will always stand out in an orchestra of bowl backs, no matter how soft you're playing. And now imagine playing some "backing" voice in second mandolin with an instrument that stands out!
    So, in conclusion: Look what kind of intruments the others play and get one that fits in. And maybe this has not the sound you like when you're on your own, so "unfortunately" you need another one (Just search for the term "MAS" here on the cafe...)
    Mandolins: 1920s (?) Meinel & Herold Bowlback, 2006 Furch "Redwood MA-1" A5

    Octaves: 2004 Fender FMO-66 Flat-Top, 2015 A. Karperien 5 String Electric

    Banjos: 2007 Gold Tone IT-250F Irish Tenor, 1963 Vega Vox No. 1 Plectrum, 2016 Recording King RK-OT25 Clawhammer

  8. #8
    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classical Mandolin

    In the classical forum Rob describes, you will find INCREDIBLE expertise and generosity. Perhaps the moderator can move this whole thread there, but I don’t really know how that works. Here is a link about a very famous (also rare and extremely expensive) style of bowl back made by Embergher. The site was put up by a world renown mandolinist, conductor, you name it, named Alex Timmeman (who posts on the classical forum). If you scroll to the instrument section you will see a list of the various models. Here is the interesting point: the instruments are described in part by how the will sound relative to the orchestra or as soloist instruments - as Rob and Martin are describing. Again, I am just a neophyte student, but I thought you might find that diversity within one maker of bowl backs interesting.


    http://embergher.com/instruments-introduction/

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674
    2015 Collings A (MT2-V)
    2018 Carlo Mazzaccara Lucia
    2020 Burgin Shanghai Octave Mandolin - in progress

  9. #9

    Default Re: Classical Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    In the classical forum Rob describes, you will find INCREDIBLE expertise and generosity. Perhaps the moderator can move this whole thread there, but I don’t really know how that works. Here is a link about a very famous (also rare and extremely expensive) style of bowl back made by Embergher. The site was put up by a world renown mandolinist, conductor, you name it, named Alex Timmeman (who posts on the classical forum). If you scroll to the instrument section you will see a list of the various models. Here is the interesting point: the instruments are described in part by how the will sound relative to the orchestra or as soloist instruments - as Rob and Martin are describing. Again, I am just a neophyte student, but I thought you might find that diversity within one maker of bowl backs interesting.


    http://embergher.com/instruments-introduction/
    Thanks for your reply and link!

    - - - Updated - - -

    I did not know about the Classical form, thanks much!

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop View Post
    Marie, are you aware that we have a dedicated sub forum for classical mandolin?

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/f...al-Renaissance

    You will get lots of specialised help there from people who play classical every day, and also belong to orchestras and smaller classical ensembles.

    Choice of instrument comes down to two sometimes polar things: what you like, and what your ensemble expects of you. Most amateur orchestras will accept whatever you turn up with, as they are always on the lookout for members, in which case just play what pleases you most. However, there are a number of orchestras which associate themselves with a particular type of mandolin - be it bowl-back Italian or German, or US Gibson F-style - which helps to give a more unified sound to the group.

    You might want to write your post again for the Classical sub forum, as many members just visit that area of Mandolin Cafe, and might never see your post. From my experience, they are an incredibly welcoming and helpful bunch.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Classical Mandolin

    good idea, most are closed right now but something to think about.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Classical Mandolin

    Hi Marie.

    I am a newbie mandolin player, but can add (for what it is worth) that most of the classical players I have seen play either a bowl back or an A style oval hole.

    Either way, enjoy the playing.

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