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Thread: Why a carved top and bottom?

  1. #1
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    Default Why a carved top and bottom?

    Is a carved top "better" than a noncarved?

    Does the carving replace bracing?
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  2. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why a carved top and bottom?

    Many things can influence the sound a musical instrument makes. Type of wood, strings, and the methods by which they are manufactured all enter the picture. Carved tops and backs are one of those things. Sure, mandolins can be made with flat tops and backs. They can be made with backs that are created by gluing ribs of wood together to make a bowl shaped back. Mandolins can be like banjos.

    The carved top and back on mandolins becomes a major thing when they start to become the norm in the very late 1800's early 1900's. Even within the carved top and back process there are other things that can affect the sound one way or the other. One of them is the use of F holes verses and oval or round sound hole.

    Is a carved top better? Some people think so. Some people swear by flat top and back mandolins. Carved tops are more expensive as they are labor intensive. Some of what people think are carved tops and backs are actually wood that has been pressed into that arched shape.

    It does not take the place of bracing. There is an entire discussion to be had about what are called tone bars in most of the F style mandolins. Most of the A style mandolins built by Gibson had a single transverse brace under the top. The Ms. Griffith Loar A5 had tone bars.
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: Why a carved top and bottom?

    There are cheap mandolins that have the top bent and not carved. Not speaking of a bent top, but made to look like a carved top. They don't sound as good as a carved top IMO.
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    Default Re: Why a carved top and bottom?

    Bowlbacks are usually made with bent tops, and they sound fine. Some are definitely not cheap.

    "Better" is the wrong way to look at mandolins. "Best for a particular purpose/sound/tonality" is more to the point, I think.

  6. #5

    Default Re: Why a carved top and bottom?

    A carved top mandolin is like an archtop guitar. One is not necessarily better but they are different in the sound they produce. Archtop instruments, including mandolins, have more of a focused sound with more projection and fewer harmonics. For some types of music this is preferred. In guitars archtops are preferred for jazz as the tighter sound cuts through the mix of a band better. The rhythm style is more chunky and percussive. In bluegrass the guitar is primarily a rhythm instrument, filling a broad midrange, so the flat top is preferred.

    In mandolins arch (carved) top mandolins are preferred for bluegrass and jazz for the same reason an archtop guitar is preferred in jazz. They focus the sound and cut through a band on leads better. In Celtic as well as some folk styles a flat top mandolin is preferred with its more sparkly sound. Classical and Italian styles prefer bowl backs with their flat, canted top. The sound is traditional and people are used to it though the F5 carved top mandolin was originally developed intended for classical and orchestra use.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why a carved top and bottom?

    Are we comparing carved top to induced arch top? My understanding is that an induced arch is not as good as a carved arch, for several reasons that i will leave to the luthiers to explain.

    If we are comparing the carved to the flat top, its a different answer. Two different kinds of mandolin, with their own advantages and disadvantages. Both types can "do it all", with the exception of bluegrass, for which iconic sound you really need an arch top mandolin, preferably carved.

    My opinion: Flat tops are a highly under rated type of mandolin in this country, which means flat tops are generally available for less than a carved top. This means in general, realizing there are exception but one should expect that for a reasonable amount of money, one can get an excellent flat top, great woods, great construction, great tone and playability, while for the same money it would be harder to get an arch top of comparable quality. Check out these beauties. https://www.mandolincafe.com/archive...s/flattop.html
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  9. #7
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why a carved top and bottom?

    The why and the history is kind of fascinating, having to do with Orvil Gibson's idea of using violinish techniques in making a mandolin. And then of course the accident of history that a Gibson F5 became the model Bill Monroe played.
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  11. #8
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why a carved top and bottom?

    Most guitars have induced arches, speaking of what we call a flat top guitar - most have slight induced arches. I think what pops1 was referring to is better called a pressed top - these are generally cheaply made instruments meant to look like the carved top variety. The dead giveaway on such “f style” instruments are the flat scrolls with no ridge.
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