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Thread: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only goal

  1. #26
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Quote Originally Posted by yankees1 View Post
    Girouard and Ellis and pocket the rest !
    Do you mean Girouard and Pava? An Ellis A-5 would be well over $5,000.
    Last edited by Jim Garber; Oct-05-2020 at 6:34pm.
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  2. #27
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    The original challenge posed by bradeasley strikes me as self-contradictory. On the one hand, he stated that "money was no object," but then he wanted to eliminate aspects that he felt were purely aesthetic, like "scrolls & points, inlays & bindings, figured woods ..., fancy hardware, etc." And he wanted something that was "fully bare-bones, so I think we have to say minimum viable ornamentation."

    In the real world, quality instruments from the top-end builders will, more often than not, come with fancier ornamentation as well as great tone. Certainly, they will be built from the finest available woods and come with the best possible finish. The hardware may not be gold-plated or engraved, but it will be from the highest-end available manufacturers. And so on.

    If money is truly no object, then any search for the best possible tone in a mandolin would, by definition, be completely BLIND to all ornamentation! In any such search, it simply would not matter if the mandolin were plain or fancy! Now, because the vast majority of the highest-end mandolins being produced by the most skilled luthiers (with famous names we all know) serve a relatively small market of folks who can afford top-end instruments, they tend to produce a great many more highly ornamented instruments (e.g., F5-style models with inlays) than plain ones (e.g., A5 models without inlays). In doing so, they are (1) serving the demands of their market and (2) maximizing their profits. That's simply how the business works.

    In light of the foregoing, statistically speaking, you're much more likely to find an F-5 model with great tone than an A-5 model. The best builders build more F-5's than they do A-5's, and they pour more effort into the F-5 models, too, not just because they're more complex/fancier, but also because they are more profitable. That is not to say that there are not great A models out there (there certainly are!!), but just that there tend to be more numerous higher-end models with great tone than plain-Jane models with great tone.

    So, if money is truly no object, all mandolins should be considered in the search, and it will prove more likely to identify an F model with great bluegrass tone than an A model. These both exist, but the available F-models outnumber the A-models in this category by a wide margin.



  3. #28
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    I'd be really curious to know if F models are 'more profitable' than A's. Maybe they are by dollar amount, but I'd think the per hour rate garnered is less, generally. If you can get >$20K, F's might make the targeted shop rate on a consistent basis.
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  4. #29
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    I'd be really curious to know if F models are 'more profitable' than A's. Maybe they are by dollar amount, but I'd think the per hour rate garnered is less, generally. If you can get >$20K, F's might make the targeted shop rate on a consistent basis.
    Well, "profitablility" is a complicated thing. If you sell more of particular kind of instrument, you obviously stand to bring in more income. But do you profit more, with that income? It depends! As you point out, if a model takes less effort and less out-of-pocket expense to produce, you have less invested in it. So it really comes down to the margins for each kind of instrument (plain or fancy), AND ALSO on the sales volume of each type. These can vary quite a bit, in practice.

    My impression is that an F-model type of instrument not only requires more time and energy to produce, but it also tends to have a higher profit margin. A luthier likely stands to make more by selling a few, fancier F models than a larger number of plain A models.

    Of course, this is not always the case! Some luthiers have found a healthy, niche market for instruments that are neither F-5 nor A-5. For example, there is a healthy niche market for modern, carved-top oval holes (without points or scrolls) with a neck that joins the body at the 14th fret, like an A-5. Others have satisfied a demand for mandolas and octave mandolins, which can be hard to come by. But, in fairness, none of these addresses the "bluegrass tone" that the OP was asking about. To get that particular tone, you probably require something like an F-5 (Loar style) or A-5 (Mrs. Griffiths style).

  5. #30

    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    I do understand your points, sblock. All valid. The premise was more of a thought exercise intended to answer a different question. Note, I pointed out that I had my sights set on commisioning an Apitius A Studio Loar Spec, which I caveated would not fully meet the "bare bones" criteria. What I was driving at is that I would like an A style mandolin with the most Loar-like bark for the buck. I was hoping the challenge as posed would draw my attention to builders I was otherwise unaware of, and it did just that in many cases. The gist of the matter is that I'm not necessarily casting my net into the sea of what's available in the used market right now, I'm looking to put cash in the hands of an exceptional craftsman in the small and not quite as lucrative as one might imagine niche of bespoke mandolins without overspending for frills. I intend to find a mandolin that I can't put down, that makes me want to play it till the wheels fall off. But if I had just said, "Who makes the best mandolin?", the responses would have been skewed towards the highest price contenders, your Gils, Duds, Red Diamonds, McClanahans, and such.

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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    My Weber Yellowstone sure sounds good.

  7. #32
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    So you want to order a new one and not buy used to support a modern builder -- Admirable!
    Looking for traditional bluegrass tone and willing to go with an A5 -- Smart!

    Girouard -- he's been working on a Griffith A5 project for awhile. I've never played one but might be worth checking out. Some friends have them and love them.
    Sorensen -- Love his A5s. Cool modern design. Might not be traditional enough but worth checking out.
    Hester -- Gail makes a fine traditional A5.
    Vessel -- Traditional tone in spades and would probably make you what you wanted.
    Kimble -- A fully appointed A5 is around $5k. I happen to love them!
    Heiden -- will make a stripped down model but not sure he's taking orders. And even those will be pricey but worth it.
    Red Diamond -- He makes an A5 but I think it's in the $7-8k range. Maybe more?

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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Do you mean Girouard and Pava? An Ellis A-5 would be well over $5,000.
    I missed the part where $5000. tops was his budget. In that case I would go for the Girouard ! My Ellis A5 was well under $5000. when I bought it.
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

  10. #34

    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    For the record, I never said that I had a 5k limit. I said the Apitius A was around 5k. Also said I have no set limit, but don't want to spend more than necessary to satisfy the goal.
    Last edited by bradeasley; Oct-05-2020 at 10:33pm.

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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Quote Originally Posted by bradeasley View Post
    For the record, I never said that I had a 5k limit. I said the Apitius A was around 5k. Also said I have no set limit, but don't want to spend more than necessary to satisfy the goal.
    In that case a Girouard or Ellis ! Both great sounding instruments !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Cast my vote for Red Diamond. My F5 is just alien-technology voodoo good. And I have some other nice mandolins. But the RD is the bluegrass (and other) beast. And that goes double if I'm playing with other instruments. Nothing else I've played compares. ... I did take a long gander at the above mentioned Heiden but it has a wide nut. ... All of the above makers create wonderful instruments. But in my opinion, the RD is the one that comes closest to having that classic Lore bluegrass tone.
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Many Great builders! I'm happy and lucky with what I have so if $ was no object I'd just pay Dawg so he could live with me or me with him for a year and get in some serious playing and him teaching me! That's all I'd want.

  16. #38

    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Romkey View Post
    Cast my vote for Red Diamond.
    I gather that the RD Vintage F is $15k new. Anyone know how much his Vintage A model runs?

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    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    I do know that at the last Banjothon/Loar Fest down in Knoxville this past January that the Red Diamonds that Don had there were mighty killer! He explained his Torrification process that he does and he has it down! His F-5's he had there were mighty impressive, Scott Napier and myself checked and sampled them and WoW! I'd take one of his over any higher end mando out there in that price range! I think they were 15K or around there and for that $ they were better sounding to me anyways than some I've had or played costing way more! One could get into his A-5 a bit cheaper I'd bet-Don didn't have any A's there though that I seen anyways!

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  19. #40

    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Josh has great advice. His catch and release program is well known��
    Yes, legendary. Second only to your "catch" program. Do you have one for every finger yet?

    I haven't owned a vintage Red Diamond. I had an earlier A that was decent, but his Vintage are where its at. A buddy had a baked F5 from 2017, I think that just had it going on. His A's probably cost somewhere in the 8k neighborhood these days.

  20. #41
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Quote Originally Posted by Josh Levine View Post
    Yes, legendary. Second only to your "catch" program. Do you have one for every finger yet?
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Quote Originally Posted by bradeasley View Post
    I do understand your points, sblock. All valid. The premise was more of a thought exercise intended to answer a different question. Note, I pointed out that I had my sights set on commisioning an Apitius A Studio Loar Spec, which I caveated would not fully meet the "bare bones" criteria. What I was driving at is that I would like an A style mandolin with the most Loar-like bark for the buck. I was hoping the challenge as posed would draw my attention to builders I was otherwise unaware of, and it did just that in many cases. The gist of the matter is that I'm not necessarily casting my net into the sea of what's available in the used market right now, I'm looking to put cash in the hands of an exceptional craftsman in the small and not quite as lucrative as one might imagine niche of bespoke mandolins without overspending for frills. I intend to find a mandolin that I can't put down, that makes me want to play it till the wheels fall off. But if I had just said, "Who makes the best mandolin?", the responses would have been skewed towards the highest price contenders, your Gils, Duds, Red Diamonds, McClanahans, and such.
    Ellis just finished the first A style Tradition model. There are more to come.

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  24. #43

    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    I am a mediocre player at best but I have been lucky to have been the care taker of some really fine mandolins of the past six years. So take this my thoughts with a grain of salt.

    Duff - I heard one and got to play it a little at a one day clinic. For bluegrass I can't imagine a better mandolin. Forrest O'Connor had a really great sounding Duff A5 and there are some Youtube videos of him playing it. Also there are some videos of cafe member Amanda Gregg doing a great job of playing her Duff.
    Ruhland - based in Portland. Last year at a camp the out instructor had one. It was definitely had the bluegrass tone.

    Mandolins I have or currently owned.
    Ellis - great mandolin and effortless to paly, best mandolin I will ever own. You could play anything on it, but it was not a dedicated bluegrass mandolin. On the other Billy Bright (wood and Wire) has a Ellis F5 that is a monster bluegrass mandolin. Heard him at a local festival. That mandolin stood out on stage among some other really good mandolins including two other Ellis mandolins. Which get back to the debate of how much is the player?
    Girouard - sample size of one. I had and A5 for a little while. Great build quality and a terrific mandolin, I would not consider it a bluegrass mandolin.
    Collings - I have heard many and currently have a MT2, all are very good with some great ones. Like Ellis tends to lean toward the modern tone but very versatile mandolins that can play about anything.
    Pava - I will have to let you know. I had one for a trial and sent it back. Out of the box it was loud and powerful. Pretty amazing for a new mandolin. It was the satin model and I like the more traditional sunburst and was wanting more of a bluegrass tone. But that would have been all the mandolin most of us would ever need. This summer I bought a Pava. I had a lot going on at the time and really did not have a chance to play it so I sold it. When the guy came to buy it I was shocked at how good the tone was and it seems to lean more towards the bluegrass spectrum than the MT2 or Ellis? I had an opportunity to get it back and will be here this week. So I will get an opportunity to fully check it out.

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  26. #44
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Quote Originally Posted by bradeasley View Post
    I also believe that the instrument is the floor and ceiling of possibility.
    I think that's your problem right there. I've heard Dave McLaughlin playing a Kentucky that costs around $1k and I don't think there really was a ceiling to how good he could sound. If I didn't know what he was playing, I would have assumed it was something incredibly expensive. Adam steffey has recorded how many albums using a Northfield? Tone resides in the player more than the instrument.

    I also think another incorrect assumption you're making is that all Loar-era Gibsons sound remarkable (they don't) and that they are the ideal bluegrass sounding mando. They were the best at the time when the basic bluegrass mandolin sound was being created, but who's to say that that tone is the ideal bluegrass tone? What if you find the super-clean and bright sounds of someone like Steffey or Sierra Hull the ideal bluegrass tone?

    Basically you're asking for the closest thing to a great sounding Loar-era Gibson and you have said price is no object. So, why not get a Loar-era Gibson? I get that you want to buy from a current builder and are leaning towards an A-model, but...again...if money's no object and you want a Loar copy, then just buy a Loar-era Gibson.

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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Quote Originally Posted by Northwest Steve View Post
    Ellis - great mandolin and effortless to paly, best mandolin I will ever own. You could play anything on it, but it was not a dedicated bluegrass mandolin. On the other Billy Bright (wood and Wire) has a Ellis F5 that is a monster bluegrass mandolin. Heard him at a local festival. That mandolin stood out on stage among some other really good mandolins including two other Ellis mandolins. Which get back to the debate of how much is the player?
    This gets to the subjective nature of tone, and to some degree, perhaps how a broken-in instrument affects one's appreciation of the brand. I've probably played about a half-dozen Ellis mandos and only one of them really spoke to me. It was also the only one that had been played hard for a while. The others were all new or nearly new and not being played very much. Especially for the price, I just wasn't impressed.

  29. #46
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Quote Originally Posted by William Smith View Post
    I do know that at the last Banjothon/Loar Fest down in Knoxville this past January that the Red Diamonds that Don had there were mighty killer! He explained his Torrification process that he does and he has it down! His F-5's he had there were mighty impressive, Scott Napier and myself checked and sampled them and WoW! I'd take one of his over any higher end mando out there in that price range! I think they were 15K or around there and for that $ they were better sounding to me anyways than some I've had or played costing way more! One could get into his A-5 a bit cheaper I'd bet-Don didn't have any A's there though that I seen anyways!
    Don is on record ( on this site) stating that his F-styles are more powerful than his A-5 models.
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  30. #47
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    At the very top end, from the best builders (both then and now), for a great bluegrass-style sound, there are a few A5-style mandolins available, but a whole lot more F5-style mandolins. I've played the occasional A5 model that blew me away, for example, a terrific one by made by Wayne Henderson that was at Carter Vintage Guitars a few years back. To my ears, it blew away just about everything else in the shop, except for one exceptional Gilchrist "Classical" F-5C and two or three original Loar-signed F-5's from 1922-1924. The price on the Henderson was around $10,000, as I recall, so it was not inexpensive! But then again, it was roughly half the price of the Gilchrist and a fraction of the price of a Loar. I don't think it sold quickly because at the top end, most folks in the market happen to be looking for an F-model. Let me try to explain the rationale for that now.

    At the low end of the price spectrum, you can always save a ton of money by buying an A-5 instead of and F-5. The A's tend to have similar tone to the F's in this range, and you don't wind up paying for all that superfluous bling, like a scroll, points, and a fancy peghead. Or even all the extra binding or inlay or so many frets. Your money is just going into the build and the tonewood. Also, there are probably more A's out there than F's in this price range, so your statistical chance of finding one of the better ones, provided that you can try a good many, is rather high. Always buy an A at the lower end.

    Towards the middle end of the price spectrum, you can still save significant money by buying an A-5 instead of and F-5. The catch here is that there are probably more F's out there than A's in this particular price range, so your chance of finding one of the better A's, provided that you can try a good many, is now diminished. This is because the demand for F's in the bluegrass world remains high, and the profit margins on these, in the middle end of the market, are somewhat higher.

    At the top end of the spectrum, you are already paying well over $6,000 for the instrument, and likely over $10,000. In this price range, the extra cost of all the bling (scroll, points, inlay etc.) and the associated work on an F-model represent a comparatively smaller fraction of the overall cost of the instrument. Just as in the middle price range, most of the market demand is still for F-type models. Yes, a few of the top builders will still churn out a few A-models on occasion (sometimes in small batches), like Gilchrist and Nugget, but their bread-and-butter is still with the F-models. Now, there do exist some incredible A's, like the Henderson mentioned earlier, but these are comparatively rare in the market. The purchasing rationale that drives the market at the top end goes something like this: "If you can afford the top dollar, then why not get some of the bling, along with the great tone, and from a great builder?" A consequence is that there are a great many more F's out there than A's at the top end of the price range, so your chances of finding a great A-5 with the most desired bluegrass tone, provided that you can try a good many, are severely diminished. It's a whole lot easier to find a great F-5 in this price range. Then again, if you happen to come across an A-model in this range that is not selling well, and you just don't care about the bling, you might find an incredible deal. Can this happen? Heck, yes! It is likely? No. There are probably dozens of highly desirable F-models with great tone for every A-model in the top range.
    Last edited by sblock; Oct-06-2020 at 6:23pm.

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  32. #48

    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    sblock Thank you for a thoughtful response on the subject matter. I think you're spot on in your assessment of the market of existing instruments. I am actively watching the market (locally, classifieds, shops, reverb, etc. etc.) for instruments that might fit the bill. That said, where I was at going into this post was wanting to commission a new instrument, which is a bit of a different scenario. Oliver Apitius claims his A model is exactly the same as his F in all ways that would impact tone. His waiting list is currently closed though, so I was looking for alternatives. I did contact him and he was gracious enough to put me on the waiting list for his waiting list. Although he hasn't built an A model in his Loar Spec voicing yet, he did tell me that he would gladly do so and that it would be identical tonally to the F version. So, now I wait for... probably 2022. Must have patience.

  33. #49
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    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Yes sblock has nailed it pretty much and if you want to improve your bluegrass tone just listen to the best recordings rather than pay a lot for high end mandolins. Even better you can find some courses in intermediate and advanced bluegrass mandolin that will give that 'bluegrass' tone even with a mediocre-good instrument. I would highly recommend that path first.

    I remember once a player with a KM-1000 mandolin blew away everyone else with higher end instruments because he knew how to pull tone out of his instrument. He had only been playing bluegrass for 6 months and had spent the time immersing himself in every possible way to learn bluegrass tone. His performance showed his investment. He did go on to purchase a higher end F-5 mandolin a few years later but only first when he knew how to play bluegrass. Actually he sounded pretty much the same as he did with the original KM-1000.
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  34. #50

    Default Re: If money was no object, and perfect bluegrass tone was only g

    Nick - Thanks for the reply. I did mention in a comment, I've been playing mandolin for 20 years and have owned several $2-4k mandolins in addition to some lower grade instruments. Also previously worked for Janet Davis Music for a couple years, and regularly played top-tier Gibsons, Webers, and another high-end instruments. I've got a pretty good sense of what you get as you go up the price point ladder and how much of tone comes from the player. I know this is a contested opinion, but I believe that there is perceived tone that results from the player's technique, phrasing, dynamics, and experience pulling the best out of an instrument and then there is inherent tone of the instrument. If you remove variables this becomes more apparent. For example, if you could have [insert famous player] just play slow arpeggios on mandolins at different quality/price points, let's say $1k, 5k, 10k, & 15k, you remove the perceived tone that comes from our impression of what they're playing and allows us to just hear the actual tone of the instrument. In that scenario, I can certainly hear the difference between the instruments. It's a diminishing returns argument, but there is not a $1k instrument that competes with a good $10k instrument, even if the $10k instrument isn't 10x better.

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