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Thread: In search of a mandolin...

  1. #1

    Post In search of a mandolin...

    Hello Mandolincafe people!

    I am mainly a violinist and I am new to this site but I would love some advice about starting my search to find a mandolin.

    I grew up playing fiddle tunes and classical music and went to school for violin performance at Oberlin but I have always loved playing my dad’s f5 that was made for him by his late friend, Bob Schneider.

    I am looking to obtain an instrument of my own but I’m a bit bamboozled by all of the different makers, types, vintage vs. new, etc... I am based in the Bay Area now and have tried one Gibson A model from around 1915-20 but it was a bit too twangy sounding as opposed to the fullness that I remember getting from my father’s instrument.

    I don’t love mandolin’s that are really bright or heavy on the treble and am looking for something with balance, good tone/resonance, a lovely lower range, and easy LH playability. What vintage makers should I look into (and which Gibson models/years are known to be the best) and what newer models should I also check out?

    Looking for something at or under 10,000. Thanks so much!

  2. #2
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Question Re: In search of a mandolin...

    https://themandolinstore.com/ & Grunn's [ https://guitars.com/ ]
    are both in Nashville Now .
    https://www.elderly.com/ another good seller..

    Good selection .. Call them up & say what you will..


    Lots of builder's offer Gibson styled Mandolins, it's very popular

    Classical compositions, ? maybe a Bowl back Italian & German builders carry the flame..


    bottom of the page links to a zillion prior posts (archive) top of the page has a search window..

    have at it ..
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    Registered User John Soper's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    I'd suggest that you play as many mandolins as you can - you may find your hearts delight (at this time) with enough left over in your war chest to begin saving up for the next one. If you don't have your heart set on a scroll, you can find a life-time partner for well under your "limit". Used mandolins cost less than new. Pava, Ellis, Girouard, Collings, Duff, Gibson, Weber, Sorensen, Kimble, and multiple makers could float your boat at your stated budget. Maybe start in the lower range until you figure out the tone that you can't live without, and then let MAS take over. It could be a life's work.

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    The Cafe can be overwhelming for researching such questions so I hope many will chip in and share their thoughts and experience in this thread even though the opinions maybe repeated in other threads. For my part I want to mention that not all mandolins have the same scale length. The Lyon & Healy Model A, made in the 1920's, was made in two scale lengths, the shorter of which is identical to a violin. That may be of interest to you. The L&H's are considered to be some of the finest mandolins ever made. They did not gain the popularity of Gibsons because 1) they were not quite as loud (according to most bluegrass players later on) and 2) Gibson was by far a better marketing organization. Today the L&H's are extremely popular among many American and Australian classical players. Finding one in primo condition takes some effort. But is one instrument you might want to look into. Choosing a mandolin is no different than choosing a violin. It is totally subjective. If you have enough patience the right instrument(s) will speak to you. 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)
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    Quote Originally Posted by cmchaney View Post
    I don’t love mandolin’s that are really bright or heavy on the treble and am looking for something with balance, good tone/resonance, a lovely lower range, and easy LH playability. What vintage makers should I look into (and which Gibson models/years are known to be the best) and what newer models should I also check out?
    Maybe a Lyon & Healy would fit what you are looking for? How about this one at Gryphon Strings in Palo Alto? As for vintage Gibson, the Loar era (1922-24 or so) are the ones that people gravitate to for sweet, nice balance tone and thinner neck. I also think ones with a somewhat chunkier necks but equally nice tone were made in 1921 or even 1920 (and will cost considerably less than the Loar era ones). These would all be oval hole either A models or Fs.

    This '23 A4 snakehead (Loar era) at Bernunzio's is especially enticing. I have played quite a few of these and they are always nice.

    Or this '23 A2Z at Elderly.
    Jim

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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    You have a myriad of great choices with your budget limit. Even at half that you can do real real well.

    Note that, in general, from 1000 miles away, admitting all the exceptions, a violin costs about twice a mandolin of comparable quality. So you can judge what you might spend on a good violin, and will likely be able to get a mandolin of that quality for half or less.

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    If your thinking leads you toward the Lyon & Healy's, here is a link to a good article about them on Australian builder Peter Coombe's website as well as to his very fine classical model: he is one of the very, very few luthiers who builds a mandolin constructed exactly in the manner and to the specs of the original L&H's.

    http://www.petercoombe.com/publications/jaamim10.htm

    “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

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    Registered User Dean Gray's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    I can heartily recommend Peter Coombe's mandolins. I have one of his 2nd generation flat top models, which is based on the outline of a Lyon and Healy style C, but is a flat top with certain design features that make it loud, rich and every bit as satisfying to play as his carved top mandolins. The fact that they are more affordable than a carved top is just a bonus.

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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    Lyon & Healy was going to be my suggestion as well; short violin-sized scale, nice balance between bass and treble response. IMO the ideal compromise. Of course, hands-on is necessary since every instrument has its own sound; plenty of variation between examples of the same model as well.

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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    Quote Originally Posted by cmchaney View Post
    I am based in the Bay Area now and have tried one Gibson A model from around 1915-20 but it was a bit too twangy sounding as opposed to the fullness that I remember getting from my father’s instrument.

    I don’t love mandolin’s that are really bright or heavy on the treble and am looking for something with balance, good tone/resonance, a lovely lower range, and easy LH playability. What vintage makers should I look into (and which Gibson models/years are known to be the best) and what newer models should I also check out?

    Looking for something at or under 10,000. Thanks so much!
    With that budget, I would suggest in normal times using part of it for a trip to Nashville for visiting Gruhn's and Carter's --- two stores that have a phenomenal selection of mandolins in the top half of your price range.

    In the Bay Area, your best bet would be going to Gryphon, in Palo Alto. https://shop.gryphonstrings.com/prod...ily%2FMandolin As Jim mentioned, they currently have a nice Lyon & Healy, but they also always have a good selection of Collings A's and F's. Unfortunately, they don't have any top-of-the-line MF5's right now, but you could call them to find out when they'll be getting the next ones in.

    If you want to check out some Webers, you could take a road trip to Sylvan Music in Santa Cruz. I love them, but based on your description of tonal preferences, I'm not sure that you would. They do get an Ellis A a few times a year, but they generally don't last long, so if you're interested in trying one of those out, ask when they expect to get their next one in.

    Adding on to John's list of great builders who sell under $10K, I'll mention Austin Clark and Oliver Apitius, who both build mandolins that match your preferences.
    still trying to turn dreams into memories

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    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    With that kind of budget, a weekend trip to Nashville to visit all the big dealers is what I would suggest. You would probably leave there with the mandolin of your dreams.
    “Never laugh at live dragons.” -Bilbo Baggins

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    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    Quote Originally Posted by Caleb View Post
    With that kind of budget, a weekend trip to Nashville to visit all the big dealers is what I would suggest. You would probably leave there with the mandolin of your dreams.
    Couldn't agree more. You could probably get a flight, car, hotel and mandolin of your dreams for 10 grand. Just please wear your mask and try to physical distance. Alright, I'll get off my soapbox now.

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  24. #13

    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    Wow, this is so helpful, and I am really appreciative of all of the diverse opinions and suggestions! Thank you thank you thank you!

    I play mainly classical violin but would love a mandolin that is rooted in more of a folk/bluegrass sound.

    Thank you!

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    Just a quick note - the L&H at Gryphons has the longer scale. Quite neat that they have one!

    “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

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  27. #15

    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    Just a quick note - the L&H at Gryphons has the longer scale. Quite neat that they have one!
    Wonderful! I will definitely check them out!!

  28. #16
    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    Quote Originally Posted by cmchaney View Post
    Hello Mandolincafe people!

    I am mainly a violinist and I am new to this site but I would love some advice about starting my search to find a mandolin.

    I grew up playing fiddle tunes and classical music and went to school for violin performance at Oberlin but I have always loved playing my dad’s f5 that was made for him by his late friend, Bob Schneider.

    I am looking to obtain an instrument of my own but I’m a bit bamboozled by all of the different makers, types, vintage vs. new, etc... I am based in the Bay Area now and have tried one Gibson A model from around 1915-20 but it was a bit too twangy sounding as opposed to the fullness that I remember getting from my father’s instrument.

    I don’t love mandolin’s that are really bright or heavy on the treble and am looking for something with balance, good tone/resonance, a lovely lower range, and easy LH playability. What vintage makers should I look into (and which Gibson models/years are known to be the best) and what newer models should I also check out?

    Looking for something at or under 10,000. Thanks so much!
    Obviously your predicament is not only not knowing what type of mandolin you might prefer to play but also not being able to answer this question without any hands on experience.

    Therfore the advice is sound to play as many instruments as you may get your hands on. How do you do that? Either you take a road trip to Mando Mecca (Nashville TN - Gruhn Guitars, Carter Vintage, Cotton Music etc.; a close second may as well be Lansing MI - Elderly Instruments) which might not be your best choice in these troubled times. Or you might try to go local as well as you can.

    Presuming your location from your post, a trip to Gryphon Stringed Instruments 211 Lambert Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306 might be helpful. Checking the website I read that they are currently available online. But maybe they will be able to arrange a meeting by appointment. Another choice may be Schoenberg Guitars, 106 Main St, Belvedere Tiburon, CA 94920. They are open by appointment only due to the current viral situation.

    Both shops have an interesting selection of instruments.

    The limit of "under 10.000,-" ... (I presume USD and not Zloty, Uganda Shilling or even Venezuelan Sovereign Bolivar) actually opens more cans of worms that funneling information in a direction of a specific type of instrument.

    That said there are generalisations that can be made:
    - An A-style mandolin is cheaper than an F-style mandolin (A = teardrop shape; F = with an added scroll = strap hanger)
    - A round hole mandolin is cheaper than an f-hole mandolin
    - A round hole mandolin has more sustain than an f-hole mandolin (therefore it sounds "ringier" and much less percussive when closed chords are played)
    - There are excellent vintage mandolins for under 1.000,- USD (and I have one that I will never sell; check all things Strad-O-Lin)
    - A great vintage mandolin for under 1.000,- USD will eat all your medium to lowpriced current mandolins for breakfast and punch way above their price class with regards to modern mandolins.
    - In the upper price range (5 k and above) you will find great used instruments by world class respected builders (Duff A-5 around 5 k, Duff F-5 around 9 k, Gilchrist Model 1, Red Diamond A-5 around 7 k, Nugget A jr around 9 k, etc.) There is even a vintage F-7 for about 10 k at Shoenberg. This is interesting if you do the Monroe Bros. thing (Bill Monroe playet that type of mandolin - shorter neck, bridge placed further back on the top -while with his bother Charlie).
    - In the upper price range it is more a question of what kind of sound you like and not what kind of built quality you will get.

    Happy hunting!
    Last edited by grassrootphilosopher; Nov-20-2020 at 1:09pm. Reason: Terrible orthography skills today
    Olaf

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  30. #17

    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    Wow, thank you Olaf and you all so much! This is just amazing information and exactly the kind of guidance I need! I was actually able to book an appt. with Gryphon to check out their selection this afternoon! I am just in awe of how helpful and willing you all are to respond with thoughtful feedback and research!

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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    I think the best advice here is to take your time, and try as many different instruments as you can. Your description of tonal qualities sounds like an oval hole might fit the bill. A nice two point, or an F4 maybe. Lucky for you that you have a few great shops that are within a short driving distance. I am familiar with both Sylvan and Gryphon, they both handle some quality instruments. Problem with that is you can sometimes find something you can’t live without. I went into Gryphon a few weeks back to talk with Frank Ford about my Pomeroy, came out with another banjo. It just happens. Good luck with your search.

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    CMchaney - I don't know if it will help but, seeing as how you are a violinist and may not have immediate access to a 13 inch scale mandolin, I have attached a picture of my hand on the neck of my 13 inch scale L&H model A. This may or may not be of interest to you but occasionally a picture is worth a 1000 words. So if it is of the slightest benefit to you then the post is worth it. You are on an exciting search.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by Tim Logan; Nov-21-2020 at 6:57pm.

    “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

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  35. #20
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    figure the cost of the cheapest violin you'd enjoy. Divide that by a half. That's about the mandolin budget you should target.

    f-d
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    My advice is simply play as many instruments as you possibly can, take some real time with each one and see which one trips your trigger. It will be your friend for some time, there’s no reason to rush. One will appeal to you and will know it.
    Last edited by Timbofood; Nov-22-2020 at 1:09pm.
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  39. #22

    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    I’d say put about 7,000 back into your pocket and buy a temporary A style. A Weber?
    Play it like crazy for 6 months, take lessons at Gryphon once a week, get to know the people there and check out all of their incoming stock during that time.
    Join the other players in the Bay Area, see what they say too.
    Your mandolin will wait for you.

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    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    Lots of options in that range. Gryphon is a great store but fairly limited on the higher end mandolins. You most likely will have to fly somewhere to buy or have it shipped with an approval period which is very standard. There are two Ellis F5s in the classifieds in your budget. A couple of new Duffs at Carters. A Kimble F5 would be in that range but not sure if there are any on the market at the moment. A Heiden A5 would also fit the bill. Good luck on your hunt!

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  43. #24
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    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    I don't know about other members' experience, but I had a chance to play a '39 Gibson F5 that had been massaged by Randy Wood. Unreal! it was gone before I could close on it, but ever since then I've been on the lookout for a Randy Wood mandolin. Unfortunately they don't seem to find their way into Canada. But I just noticed there's an F5 at Greg Boyd's, for a fraction of the '39, and half your budget. I'd be putting Randy Wood on my list to check out. I notice there's also a Paganoni on the Cafe. Definitel a first world problem, but these days that's not a bad thing. Have fun.

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  45. #25

    Default Re: In search of a mandolin...

    Thank you all again so much for being so generous with your knowledge and thoughts! All of these suggestions are really helpful and I am excited to keep trying mandolins!

    I was able to go down to Gryphon's shop on Friday and try their mandolins; here is my take away from that.

    - The Lyon & Healy mandolin they have is beautiful but I found the sound to be just not quite 'full' enough for me with just a touch of twang that I didn't love. I tried a bunch of A styles, f4's, and f5's, and the two mandolins that stood out to me out of their instruments in stock were a Collings MT2 Carpathian Spruce Mandolin and a Northfield Big Mon F Style Sunburst Mandolin. Both mandolins had a clear rich sound except when it came to the G string the sound got small and twangy (which was my experience with almost all of the mandolins at Gryphon's shop. The D,A, and E were all great on the Northfield and Collings mandolins with ample resonance, good sustain/singing quality to the sound, and easy playability, but again, the G strings were just not good enough.

    The few f4 style mandolins I tried at the shop had nice "mellow" sounds, but for me, these f4s were too muddy sounding, lacking the life,resonance, and focus that I would like in an instrument.

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