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Thread: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

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    Default Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    My boy's violin teacher reckoned many fiddles don't sound so good in higher positions (on all strings) because they never get played up there, and that many will open up if you do that. Is it the same with mandolins?

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    I don't know about opening up in specific areas of the fretboard but I know that if you have an instrument that sounds good up at the 15th fret plus, you have a good one

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    My boy's violin teacher reckoned many fiddles don't sound so good in higher positions (on all strings) because they never get played up there, and that many will open up if you do that. Is it the same with mandolins?
    That is very debatable. Certainly some change might occur but I also think that players adapt to the instrument and may subtle changes to get the tones they want.
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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    Maybe what your boy's violin teacher was referring to, is that because students don't often play out of first or maybe second position, when they do go up higher, they don't intonate accurately or adjust bowing speed or pressure to bring out the best sound.

    Otherwise, no idea what (s)he was talking about. There's a theory that if you play certain pitches on an instrument frequently, it somehow "self-adjusts" to make those pitches sound better. As a theory, it sounds dubious to me. Undoubtedly, certain instruments may resonate more at particular frequencies, but that's almost certainly a function of their construction, and not something they can be "trained" to do.

    Many people report that their instruments sound better after they're "played in." I haven't noticed that, but since I almost always acquire older, used instruments, I'd guess most of them have been "played in" extensively -- they sure look like it! I've never heard, however, that playing the high notes on an instrument will make the high notes sound better, other than maybe you're playing them better.
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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    With violins, a great sound in the upper register is one thing you pay big bucks to get.

    It's more likely that many violins never get played in the higher positions because the sound up there is pretty dire.

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    She was talking about playing in 7th position and higher, which he was just getting to at that time. Suggestion was that decent quality fiddles up will often respond to playing in that area - I guess in the same way as playing in 1st position will loosen up a lot of fiddles that haben't been played for a while.

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    definitely takes more skill and nuance in the upper positions I am finding, but if your instrument , but if your instrument can't physically do it , it won't happen

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    I'd gently opine that it's the touch of the player. The only way to get a better touch in the high registers is to practice playing up there. Subtle changes in pick angles make a huge difference in tone.
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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    I suspect intonation is a big part of it. A decent mandolin will have good intonation way up the neck in the nose bleed frets. Violin helps the player not at all up there, and getting it right would seem to be a bigger challenge.
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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    Even if you strongly believe that the sound of stringed instruments "opens up" with human playing (this concept is debatable), or simply opens up with age, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that playing in specific registers is necessary for this to happen. Every note that's played in the lower registers carries plenty of overtones in higher registers. Therefore, ANY playing will excite the instrument across a wide spectrum of frequencies. It should not be necessary to play up the neck to "open" that part up.

    Many (most?) mandolins experience various intonation problems higher up the neck, due to things like small errors in fret placement, fingerboard leveling, stretch in the fretted strings, and the inevitable breakdown of fixed compensation at the bridge (which can't be helped). These are all structural issues, and more play-in time won't help any of those things, obviously. So NO, the advice from your violin friend does not carry over to the mandolin, which has its own issues in the uppermost registers, different from violins. In fact, I doubt that his advice holds for the violin, either!

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    Well, sblock, I have to disagree with you as far as fiddle goes, because my son's violin did open up in the high registers once he'd been playing up there for a few weeks (he only did 30 mins a day, maybe 4/5 days a week). I know because we had 5 fiddles between us at the time, and I compared it with others as we went on. It may well be that as you say, any playing will excite the instrument across a wide range of frequencies - but surely if you're playing at the high end of the instrument, it will be subjected to more of those frequencies? Dunno about mandolin, just asking

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    This will be an argument that will never be settled. Just check for the number of threads on the subject. No difference whether a mandolin or violin or guitar or whether it is played in multiple positions, stuck in front of a speaker for two weeks at full volume or one of those tone-enhancing contraptions, there are too many variables to come to any real conclusion. My feeling is it is not just one thing but the materials affected by the player and the player adjusting to the instrument and the player’s ears hearing what he/she wants—all those interactions.

    My favorite posting on the subject was on a guitar site by a guy who bought a $15000 boutique guitar and was so excited. He said he couldn’t wait to hear what it sounded like when it opened up!
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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    Makes me wonder if the vibrating "Tonerite" devices should have a frequency knob (like radio). I don't know enough to know anything about it but . . . . .

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    So much BS out there. In the violin world too, apparently.

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    Quote Originally Posted by J.C. Bryant View Post
    Makes me wonder if the vibrating "Tonerite" devices should have a frequency knob (like radio). I don't know enough to know anything about it but . . . . .
    Just had to look up this thing. If it did anything, you’re right, the frequency or frequencies matter, but it appears just to be very weak line frequency buzzer - optimum for American-owned instruments at 60Hz, and optimum for ROW use at 50Hz! C’mon!

    Anyway, I enjoy collecting delusional stories, about quack machines, homeopathic things, intelligent water, and most fun, audiophile crazy stuff. Now I have one more thing to add, although there might be some potential to the idea even if the implementation looks very much inadequate. Orders of magnitude inadequate.

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard500 View Post
    Just had to look up this thing. If it did anything, you’re right, the frequency or frequencies matter, but it appears just to be very weak line frequency buzzer - optimum for American-owned instruments at 60Hz, and optimum for ROW use at 50Hz! C’mon!
    I have a Tone-Rite, Richard, and I can tell you that in my experience it works - on maybe 2/3 of the instruments I've used it on. Which means, of course, that it doesn't work on others. I've owned and played many other instruments, and multiples of most. Some of my violins, violas, cellos, and nyckelharpa respond to regular playing by 'opening up', some don't. This is a widely known phenomenon among experienced violinists, and one of the reasons professional classical players often like to try an instrument for a couple of weeks if it's been sitting in a dealer's shop unplayed. I suspect the precise frequency may not matter hugely, it's just vibration for prolonged periods that does it. I'm not suggesting they'll speak to you afterwards in Latin, write Shakespeare plays, or prove the world is flat. I'm just saying that the simple mechanical process of vibrating the wood for an extended period appears to do something that changes the vibrational response of the instrument, so the whole thing becomes more responsive to string vibration. It'll also shake out loose glue joins and occasionally augment a wolf note (ask a cellist...). It's just physics, so if it's going to work for your instrument, it'll do so whatever you think of it good picking!
    Last edited by maxr; Mar-04-2021 at 12:18pm.

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    As I noted above, we can discuss this until we are all blue in the face. IMHO there is probably something of a slight changing in the wood structure that does happen over time with age and with changing of conditions. I also believe that an instrument that sits unplayed would respond to some extent by playing. However, as far as I know, there is no real scientific way to measure this.

    Plus much of the observations that we can make of the phenomenon is purely subjective. I can pick up my mandolin or fiddle one day and love the tone I get from it. The next day I may hate it. Maybe the humidity or temperature changed or maybe the room acoustics changed (there is wood in my house, too). OTOH I may be in a bad mood, feel fatigued, or, as I have just experienced, had some fluid in my ears which would, of course, affect the way I hear anything.
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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    Well, it was easy to find a few reasonably scientific tests, but to a believer, meaningless; as Mr. Garber points out, it’s in our heads. That said, if someone asked me to design something to do this job, I’m pretty sure that I’d relate the frequencies and amplitudes to the actual resonances of the instrument; not just package a vibrator, one that probably isn’t even washable. Such a thing isn’t particularly complicated, and given enough oomph, could be useful; but I’d still have to measure the improvement - and to me, that’s what’s called instrumentation.
    I accidentally impinged on this last year, when I foolishly decided that owning a cello might break loose some ancient debilities with smaller machines. It not only didn’t, but revealed how my joints have lost abilities over the decades. However - I immediately noticed that vibrato really makes a sweeter sound, but just finding the notes was already too much, so I made a vibrato machine consisting of a motor, eccentric weight, variable speed drive, and mounted it on the tailpiece. It worked fine - a tension vibrato sounded the same as a string length one. It was, of course, putting a fair amount of energy into the whole structure too, at 5-6Hz. I could imagine it exercising the wood, etc., but I wouldn’t claim such unless I could measure something relevant, and on many platforms.

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    I'm with Jim and Don, in that the biggest effect I've noticed is that after I play some instruments for a while, they sound much better because if I'm listening, they tell me how they need to be played and I "open up" to that instrument. I'm usually not that conscious of it, it just gets better sounding after a while. Playing in different registers is similar in that the sound and feel can be different enough that one has to get used to it before being able to get the most out of it.

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    https://www.savartjournal.org/index....le/view/22/pdf

    If you care to download the only study I know of on this subject.

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    https://www.savartjournal.org/index....le/view/22/pdf

    If you care to download the only study I know of on this subject.
    John, thanks for that link! I was initially disconcerted by the idea of "hammer strikes" on Collings guitars, but from the photos it looks like they took appropriate care of them. It looks like that was a pretty reasonably designed study, although some may not appreciate the conclusions.

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    A good study there, thanks for that link John. In my neccessarily limited experience of 9 instruments, I was playing mostly bowed carved tops with a relatively high and stiff arching and lower string tension. It appears to be a commmonly observed phenomenon that the violin family often take longer to 'play in' from new than instruments like guitars with flat tops and higher string tension - and I suspect modern guitars are built to sound really good straight off the shop hanger, with torrified tops etc.. The mandolin appears to be somewhere in the middle, with a shallower arch carved top but higher string tension than a violin. Then again, my unscientific observation suggested 6 of 9 responded noticeably and 3 didn't. if that's at all typical (who knows) it would be easy to pick two guitars at random that didn't respond. So, I guess it's one of the many questions that remains open. All I can say is I've seen it work on some instruments, and I've been playing fiddle etc long enough to know it's not me getting better .

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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?


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    Default Re: Do mandolins respond to playing at the dusty end?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    As I noted above, we can discuss this until we are all blue in the face. IMHO there is probably something of a slight changing in the wood structure that does happen over time with age and with changing of conditions. I also believe that an instrument that sits unplayed would respond to some extent by playing. However, as far as I know, there is no real scientific way to measure this.

    Plus much of the observations that we can make of the phenomenon is purely subjective. I can pick up my mandolin or fiddle one day and love the tone I get from it. The next day I may hate it. Maybe the humidity or temperature changed or maybe the room acoustics changed (there is wood in my house, too). OTOH I may be in a bad mood, feel fatigued, or, as I have just experienced, had some fluid in my ears which would, of course, affect the way I hear anything.
    What Jim said...

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