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Thread: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

  1. #26

    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Brock View Post
    I had heard good things about the Larsens, so was disappointed in how they sounded on the Glasser. (I had plenty of warnings about the Glasser’s sound, lol, but the lure of a carbon composite violin at that price was my motivation.) Knowing that strings can make significant changes on an instrument, I tried a set of Helicore I had on hand. They didn’t sound nearly as good as the Larsens. I then reached out to the Fiddlershop who sells Glassers just to see if they had tried any other strings. Their luthier HAD and thought the EP Green did the best on them, and not with the gold E, which he usually favored, but with the silver. I bought a set of EP Green from Fiddlershop and was pleasantly surprised at how much better the Glasser sounded. To me, the Glasser is quite usable now and I play it some every day. Again, for best volume and tone, not the Glasser. But knowing I can take it anywhere without worrying about temperature or humidity (or rough environments in general - I’m thinking camp fires, lol), then that Glasser is ready willing and able.
    Thanks for the tip on the EP Greens!

    Just so you know, Glasser is THE importer of Larsen's so there's some tie there with their fiddles. I have their 5 string violin with the Bartolini pickup. I use a viola bow with it (Coda). But I generally play my wood fiddles now, unless we are playing outside for a long period and then the Glasser is good enough. The only problem then is the bow hair.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

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  3. #27
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    Or, perhaps, by playing it with modern technique. There are some recordings of J Scott Skinner, one of the greatest Scottish fiddle tune composers, from 1899. Skinner was partly a music hall act at the time, and he used a Stroh fiddle for that recording (like a phonofiddle, with a horn). His playing is surprisingly fast, but the sound is unlike any modern folk fiddler I've heard - it's more like Fritz Kreisler, an almost contemporary classical violinist, with big slides and a very round plummy tone, probably partly due to the Stroh.
    I'm not sure that Skinner was a "folk fiddler." He was formally trained -- his ability to transcribe complex timing and ornamentation makes that clear. Still, he had quite a background in the traditional music of Scotland. By the time he was playing, Scottish traditional music had been formalized somewhat in elite circles (think of contemporary "Scottish Country Dancing"; this wasn't how the crofters and bothy workers danced). Skinner was influenced by this movement. Like a great many contemporary musicians, he altered fiddle music from dance music to music for passive paying audiences, writing complex show tunes, and using stage tricks (e.g.,stepdancing while playing) that modern professional fiddlers use. However, he was close enough to being a folk fiddler that many of his tunes have gone into fiddle tradition. As an example, "Angus Campbell" is played in many variations by fiddlers across Canada and the US, most of whom have never heard of Scott Skinner. Many of his other tunes had gone into tradition in Cape Breton, by which I mean they're interpreted in regional styles, and not necessarily played as Skinner wrote them, though some fiddlers will refer to his books while learning tunes.
    Last edited by Ranald; Mar-11-2021 at 11:55am.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  5. #28

    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by Caleb View Post
    ...I canít make my left hand work at all while holding the fiddle tucked under my chin and off my shoulder. Itís the most unusual posture and I just canít do it...
    There are many positions for fiddlers other than the "classical violin." When I started playing hardanger fdl I decided to go with the lower on my chest - as per many trad Nors players. I like to hold the neck lower, angling downward, too. You could even go full carnatic -

    When I played more std. fiddle - up on my shoulder a la classical position - I would switch it around and play "left handed" just to try to keep my musculature balanced.

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  7. #29
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    There are many positions for fiddlers other than the "classical violin." When I started playing hardanger fdl I decided to go with the lower on my chest - as per many trad Nors players. I like to hold the neck lower, angling downward, too. You could even go full carnatic -

    When I played more std. fiddle - up on my shoulder a la classical position - I would switch it around and play "left handed" just to try to keep my musculature balanced.
    Now that is impressive! You played fiddle ambidextrously — lefty & righty?
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    The different venues and audiences create different playing styles. However, if you like an old style of fiddling and want to play that way, you won't necessarily master it by buying a $20,000 violin.
    It depends on the venue and the purpose. One of the oldest styles of "fiddling" is Irish and Scottish traditional music. If you want to be heard in a big amateur pub session with a bunch of other fiddlers, a few players of free reeds, flute, whistles, and maybe a piper or two, you'd better have a loud fiddle and not something that sounds like a cardboard box.

    I think the overall improvement of tone and volume in recently made acoustic instruments of all types, not just fiddles, is driving something of an arms race in volume and tone. You can't get away with playing your grandfather's old beat-up fiddle in a modern Irish session. Not if you want to be heard. That goes for many OldTime jams too, where you're competing with the inevitable "guitar and banjo army."

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  10. #31

    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Now that is impressive! You played fiddle ambidextrously — lefty & righty?
    Well, I won't be playing any gigs lefty - I'm terrible reverse-handed on fiddle or picking/bowing instruments - but I do spend some amount of time doing it to help countereffect the imbalances imposed by such things. I can't throw for beans lefty, but I occasionally hit tennis left with my kids. I do a lot of yoga and skiing too - great for balance..

    I'm much better at switching on harp - I can play a bit reversed (which is actually traditional clarsach if you go way back) - just like piano in that way.. Also english concertina is equivalent to a woodwind instrument - you could say that about anglo too, really - both hands equal..drumming independence..

  11. #32
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    It depends on the venue and the purpose. One of the oldest styles of "fiddling" is Irish and Scottish traditional music. If you want to be heard in a big amateur pub session with a bunch of other fiddlers, a few players of free reeds, flute, whistles, and maybe a piper or two, you'd better have a loud fiddle and not something that sounds like a cardboard box.

    I think the overall improvement of tone and volume in recently made acoustic instruments of all types, not just fiddles, is driving something of an arms race in volume and tone. You can't get away with playing your grandfather's old beat-up fiddle in a modern Irish session. Not if you want to be heard. That goes for many OldTime jams too, where you're competing with the inevitable "guitar and banjo army."
    Actually, my grandfather's fiddle holds its own in any session, unlike my mandolins. However, I get your point.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    I've played a couple of Strohs, and they sounded nasal, yes, but also muffled. I suppose it depends on how they're set up etc. - and of course the old recordings often weren't very clear.

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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    I'm not sure that Skinner was a "folk fiddler." He was formally trained.... Still, he had quite a background in the traditional music of Scotland. By the time he was playing, Scottish traditional music had been formalized somewhat in elite circles (think of contemporary "Scottish Country Dancing"; this wasn't how the crofters and bothy workers danced).
    Skinner certainly had what Scots call 'A guid conceit of himself'. Nobody else had the temerity to produce a book of fiddles tunes with this printed on the title page:

    ' Talent does what it can, genius does what it must.'

    I played for years for Scottish dancing in the South of England - for Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (formal and serious - tartan jacket bands), 'Reeling' (Highland Ball style, formal but fun), and Ceilidh dances (fun fun fun). All the bands in that area but one were dominated and led by by piano accordion, a instrument that only gained great popularity in about 1900-1930. Before that, as you say, it was mostly 'bothy bands' (with whatever instrument the members played), or for more formal dances. 'string bands', often with cello playing the bass line. In Scotland, there's been a move back towards folk lineup bands with 'anything goes' instrumentation playing for dancing, rather than the formalised Scottish Country Dance Band lineup of some combination of one or two piano accordions (usually with MIDI or piano bass), fiddle, and piano. Personally I love the modern double lead fiddle Celtic sound, and I think mandolin would fit well with that, but it's all good

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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    Skinner certainly had what Scots call 'A guid conceit of himself'. Nobody else had the temerity to produce a book of fiddles tunes with this printed on the title page:

    ' Talent does what it can, genius does what it must.'
    I pondered that quote many years ago, then decided to do what I can.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  18. #36
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    Up to a certain point this is true. The problem though, is that there is a ceiling for mandolin quality and price that doesn't exist for fiddles.

    Leaving aside vintage Loars, you're very near the top end of quality for mandolins by the time you spend $10,000 USD. You can spend up to $20,000 for the most desirable luthier names, but that's about it, unless you go on to collect signed Lloyd Loar F5's.

    Fiddle prices just keep going up from there. I play a pretty good mandolin that I paid almost $5,000 for, but my Significant Other paid twice that much for her fiddle, custom made by a local luthier. You don't have to spend that much on a fiddle, but many do, after getting involved in that scene for long enough. A $10,000 fiddle isn't that unusual even in the local amateur Irish/Scottish trad scene we're both involved in.

    And it doesn't end there! It's recommended to spend around half the value of your fiddle on your bow. Our picks cost bupkis by comparison.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mainer73 View Post
    My point was that in equivalent quality points, you get a lot more bang for your buck with fiddles. One can obtain a fiddle of equivalent quality to the higher-end mandolins, without spending close to the same amount of money.

    The half the value rule for bows only is really relevant up to a certain price point, and has many qualifiers.

    Hmmm. My experience is quite the opposite. I have found that a violin costs about twice a mandolin of comparable quality.

    Now I haven't checked the market recently, but back when i was taking violin lessons this was the case. there were a lot of bargain fiddles around of horrible to repairable to ok enough, at very low prices. But when I compared quality for quality, fiddles came in about twice comparable mandolins. (And mandolins twice comparable guitars.) Specifically I recall that a fiddle of comparable quality to a $2,500 mandolin could not be gotten for less than $5,000.

    Things certainly could have changed a bit, I don't know. This would have been more than 10 years ago. Also might be regional. Not many places sold good fiddles within a couple of hour drive from here.
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post

    Things certainly could have changed a bit, I don't know. This would have been more than 10 years ago. Also might be regional. Not many places sold good fiddles within a couple of hour drive from here.
    I think the Chinese workshops have changed that now, Jeff - IF you know what you're looking for, you can buy a good quality Chinese workshop violin on Ebay (from a Chinese dealer in workshop violins) for maybe $500-$600, spend $300 on a first class setup, plus good strings, and you'll probably have something that sounds as good or better than a late 19thC French factory fiddle priced at $5000 or more hanging on a violin store wall. It's a bit of a gamble, but I've done this 6 times so far with violins and violas (for myself anf my son), and only been disappointed once -not bad odds. Some US and European violins dealers buy these instruments, set them up well, and sell them for maybe $1000-$1500, and they're still good value as 'players'. These fiddles I've bought have no 'name' value (although there are Chinese 'name' makers doing first class work), and certainly no historic/antique value, so this is a playing decision, not an investment of any kind - that's the province of the specialist violin dealer selling antique and 'name' new instruments with certificates. I read an article on current US violin makers recently. Most in that article charged $10,000 - $15,000 for a new violin, although the top price there was $47,000.

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  21. #38

    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    I had a shop in a well-known fretted instrument shop, many years ago. What I would tell the staff is that when someone calls on the phone and says, "I have a 1955 Martin D-18...", you know what it is, and have a range of what it will be provided it hadn't been abused. If a customer calls on the phone and says, "I have a German fiddle...". it could be anything from not German, not worth repairing, 100 to 10k+, and you can't tell without some significant time and training invested to be able to separate a Mittenwalder from Viennese and differentiate a American instrument made by a European immigrant from something made in Europe.

    Maxr, you are incorrect regarding the top prices asked, and paid, for living American makers. You can double that 47k number...

    Also, not a month passes that I end up having to tell someone that the violin that their ancestor brought over from the old country is not something that can be sold to finance their retirement. Labels are portable, brands can be copied, and you eventually learn to look at the instrument and identify it as a whole. Or not! Most instruments don't have and will never have identifiable makers. Sometimes the best that can be done is a country, then a city, and a part of a century-early, mid, late -19th c, for example.

    In the violin world, sound/tone has no real bearing on price/value. Value is determined by who made it and what condition it is in. I have a few ugly instruments that have no name, no provenance, and sound great. I know more than one Stradivari that would not impress you upon hearing.

    Oh, and don't forget the bows. I once purchased a fiddle at a junk shop for $250. I threw the fiddle in the trash and sold the bow for more than you would probably like to know. They are still out there.

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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    I think the Chinese workshops have changed that now, Jeff - IF you know what you're looking for, you can buy a good quality Chinese workshop violin on Ebay (from a Chinese dealer in workshop violins) for maybe $500-$600,
    How would such a violin compare, quality wise, with the expectations of a $500-$600 mandolin. $600 buys a lot of mandolin, and one need not spend more to have a forever mandolin.
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  24. #40

    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    ... $600 buys a lot of mandolin, and one need not spend more to have a forever mandolin.
    While this is subjective of course, I would disagree here. I don't think you get much of an instrument at all at that price point. You certainly get a very playable instrument generally - that is, a serviceable instrument capable of a good set-up - and this makes a decent learner instrument. But sound quality is a different aspect altogether. Those inexpensive flat-tops are thin and brittle sounding to my ear.

    That certainly could be sufficient for many folks. I don't dispute this. But there's a world of sound out there that you're not getting at $600. Same with guitars, btw

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  26. #41
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    While this is subjective of course, I would disagree here. I don't think you get much of an instrument at all at that price point. You certainly get a very playable instrument generally - that is, a serviceable instrument capable of a good set-up - and this makes a decent learner instrument. But I think you need a flatiron at least to get into a flat top without terribly brittle and thin sound.
    We are just going to have to disagree. One probably can't get anything to make others quake their boots. But to play well, sound good, and survive the slings and arrows of normal use, I don't think one NEEDS to spend more.

    I'll go one further. At $600 the mandolin could be such as to never limit our playing, i.e. there would be no excuse for lack of progress. The mandolin will do what needs doing. Certainly one can upgrade from there, but one does not NEED an upgrade to play better.
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  28. #42

    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    We are just going to have to disagree. One probably can't get anything to make others quake their boots. But to play well, sound good, and survive the slings and arrows of normal use, I don't think one NEEDS to spend more.

    I'll go one further. At $600 the mandolin could be such as to never limit our playing, i.e. there would be no excuse for lack of progress. The mandolin will do what needs doing. Certainly one can upgrade from there, but one does not NEED an upgrade to play better.
    Ya, one doesn't need to play anything at all.

    I think one can certainly expand one's range of expression with an instrument capable of greater subtleties. This is why we recommend a certain level of instrument for all students - because the instrument can elicit greater range of expression (sonic dynamism, etc) from the player. Now, if one is playing fiddle tunes, it may not be something particularly important. Additionally, I think mandolins are an instrument that present a bit of a challenge for this subtlety.

    A literary analog: one can functionally operate with a basic vocabulary, but there are rewards to experience with greater range of expression and understanding.

    I am not saying this is a given, with a better instrument. It is antecedent, precursor, potential..

  29. #43
    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    How would such a violin compare, quality wise, with the expectations of a $500-$600 mandolin.
    Jeff, back in the olden days when we could go places and do things with other people I was in need of a baroque viola. I couldn't find anything in the US, at any price. I summoned my courage and ordered one directly from China for about $600. All in all, the viola itself is put together well and is a faithful replica of a Baroque-era instrument. However, the case is a small step above a gig bag, the rosin was useless, the strings were not gut (and were crap for what they were), the sound-post was suboptimal, and the bridge was a travesty. Fairly typical from what I hear. A set of gut strings runs about $150, $250 if you like the Olivs. It was at least another $600 to make it playable, and we're not including bows or an upgrade on the case. I'm very lucky to have a luthier who is experienced with period instruments, and he cut and fit a new bridge and sound-post and dressed the pegs. I ended up with an entirely serviceable instrument with a nice sound, and all told it was half the price or less of similar baroque violins available in the States.

    To compare, I bought a Kentucky 272 mandolin (from one of the Cafe sponsors) at around the same time for about $500. It was completely playable right out of the box, although my luthier-for-fretted-things made a few minor tweaks. I would say the viola is a better instrument than the Kentucky, although the Kentucky is perfectly fine for what it is and the fit and finish are remarkable for the price. It's not a straight-across comparison, as mandolins don't need sound-posts, the bridges are less complicated, and a set of strings is closer to $6.

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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    In response to Doug's very first point, a hearty agreement. The Mandolin Cafe is pretty unique. I will spend way too much time on the Mandolin Cafe when stopping by, but I generally go to a fiddle site specifically looking for some certain thing, find it, and leave. I generally go through 80% of the forums here every time through. There's quite an interesting array of mandolin (and fiddle, and banjo, and guitar) players here and the depth of knowledge and experience is amazing. I've learned so much here over the years. Other sites, not so much.
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    What Max said about Helicore strings. I prefer the set with the wound Aís.
    J.Lane Pryce

  33. #46
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by Lane Pryce View Post
    What Max said about Helicore strings. I prefer the set with the wound Aís.
    I tried Helicore on the Glasser and to me it was a definite step in the wrong direction. More boxiness. I have generally liked Helicore strings. I thought the Evah Pirazzi Green sounded much better than the Helicores on the Glasser. (Still canít compete soundwise with a decent wooden violin, but when you need a violin for adverse conditions...)
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    I think one can certainly expand one's range of expression with an instrument capable of greater subtleties. ..
    I totally agree with that statement. It is true at every price point.
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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by luthier88 View Post
    If a customer calls on the phone and says, "I have a German fiddle...". it could be anything from not German, not worth repairing, 100 to 10k+, and you can't tell...Maxr, you are incorrect regarding the top prices asked, and paid, for living American makers. You can double that 47k number...
    I have a few ugly instruments that have no name, no provenance, and sound great. I know more than one Stradivari that would not impress you upon hearing.
    Oh, and don't forget the bows. I once purchased a fiddle at a junk shop for $250. I threw the fiddle in the trash and sold the bow for more than you would probably like to know. They are still out there.
    I was told there used to be a saying among violin dealers - "Buy German, sell Italian" Here in UK, most violin shops now have players working there, but in the late 1960s/early 70s it wasn't unusual to walk into a violin shop here and find nobody who could demonstrate a violin, even the techs often didn't play much. Maybe that's why violin values are still antique focused? BTW, I wasn't suggesting $47K was the top US luthier price btw, just quoting an article I saw which picked ten makers more or less at random - but thanks for the info, that's interesting.

    I've never been that lucky with bows, well done - in UK, there is at least a part time fiddle dealer in touch with every antique shop, collectibles market, and house clearance business in the country, and I'm told you'll find dealers at all the car boot sales. Good luck to them, but it means the chances of a player just walking into a bargain here are minimal. I think 'ugly but great sounding' is still a possible find even in a specialist shop, because violin students get steered towards the 'safe' buys by both the store staff and their teachers. I have an unconverted (neck parallel with the ribs) 18thC Baroque setup fiddle that came from a big city dealer at a very reasonable cost as a 'player' because it's anonymous, never was anything fancy, and it's not the most beautiful fiddle ever...

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    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I totally agree with that statement. It is true at every price point.
    It's a side discussion that diffuses the topic at hand, but it's fun.

    Of course it totally depends on what one wishes to derive from the experience of, or engagement with, music/sound. Certainly, for the purpose of executing the notes of a tune an entry-level instrument (assuming it intonates correctly and plays easily) will be sufficient for many folks. Perhaps for a lifetime, as you indicated. The sonic colors accessible with upgrades are possibly irrelevant to many.

    As with array of visual color, lexiconic capacity, or other aesthetic sensory activity - the experience lies within the beholder.

    I'm simply an advocate for seeing what's to be seen, hearing what's to be heard, experiencing what there is. As an art educator, it's in my blood.

    My critique of the $600 instrument is not that it doesn't allow for ease of playability or correct intonation - for these are generally provided for very adequately with the modern entry-level mndln, guitar, etc - but that it will not provide the same sonic qualities that tend to inspire more from the beholder. Personally, I find this even with quality mandolins (something I don't like to advertise here for obvious reasons): the sound of the instrument in general is not as inspiring, most of the time, as other instruments. I like it in bluegrass, country blues, etc for sure. But I'm into a lot of other types of music and sound where mndln isn't particularly pleasing for me. MV

  38. #50

    Default Re: Mandolin world vs fiddle world

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    ... for the purpose of executing the notes of a tune an entry-level instrument...will be sufficient for many folks.
    It just occurred to me we had a very similar discussion a few weeks ago - https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...g-Chords/page3

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