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Thread: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mandolin

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    Default Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mandolin

    Hey everyone,

    I have been playing on a Kentucky A-style for a few years now and am now wanting to upgrade to something more suitable for my preferred music style.

    I primarily play classical and Italian tunes and would like to find a mandolin that fits more with this genre. Problem is, I would like to find something that is not a bowlback (Neapolitan) and isn't vintage.

    I feel like this may be asking a lot, but hopefully someone here has a few suggestions on mandolins that offer that more traditional and warm sound.

    It would be great to stay under the 1,500 USD as well! Cheaper the better (new or used)

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Any particular reason not to consider a bowlback? Just curious, since a bowlback would be appropriate.

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    I'm also mainly a classical player. I got an Eastman MD504 last September, and it works great for that repertoire. It has plenty of sustain and oval hole gives it a nice, deep sound. Also, it's well under $1,500!
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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Any particular reason not to consider a bowlback? Just curious, since a bowlback would be appropriate.
    They seem to be difficult to find new (or recently built) and of decent quality, at least here in America. Though I am open to bowlbacks if someone has recommendations.

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    If I played classical music frequent enough to justify the expense I would be on the hunt for a Phoenix Neo-Classical. Sweet sounding mandolins that fit the bill and it is not a bowl back.
    Stiver A style (MAS has stopped here)
    Kentucky KM-950
    Keith Edward Coleman A style, oval hole Mandola
    Weber Gallatin A Mandola "D hole"
    Rogue 100A (current campfire tool)
    Harley Benton A style (grandchildren's learner)

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    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Maybe try a flattop or a Gibson oval hole.

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Quote Originally Posted by Murgledoo View Post
    They seem to be difficult to find new (or recently built) and of decent quality, at least here in America. Though I am open to bowlbacks if someone has recommendations.
    You might try to find the Eastman MDB102-MS, which is a bowlback model. There's one listed here in the classifieds right now, within your price limit.

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    It might be good to remember that in and before 1924 when Lloyd Loar re-designed the F-style mandolins, they were for classical players. Bluegrass as a genre and bluegrass mandolin as a playing style was not well known then.

    So to the OP, if for whatever reason you're specifically avoiding a bowl-back mandolin for now, F-style mandolins could very well be an answer. A little YouTube searching reveals a lot of good classical music performed on them.
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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Some of my other favorite players on the SF mandolin scene (besides David, of course) who were / are dedicated to Italian music:
    Matteo Casserino, Tony Flores and Gus Garelick all played arch top mandolins.

    Matteo and Gus played Gibson A50s (among other mandolins.)

    Tony and Gus's tremolo are still the benchmarks for me.

    The shorter scale of bowlbacks and other flatback mandolins from the era obviously make a difference in how one approaches playing the music as well.

    To my ear the US made rosewood back / spruce top flatback mandolins from the '10s and '20s sound wonderful when playing the classic Italian tunes.
    Great crisp projection with good (but not booming) bass and mid range.

    I have a few Vega / Leland mandolins from this era which combined with Dogal strings help me really enjoy discovering something new each time I play.

    Thanks, and tip o' the hat to our friend Sheri for being such a fontana profunda of the original sheets for so much of this timeless music.

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    If you want a mandolin that sounds pretty close to a bowl-back, but is easier to hold and perhaps a bit less fragile, I'd look for a Martin Style A, which has a canted top like a bowl-back, similar scale length, and an oval soundhole, but has mahogany "flat-back" construction.

    All Martin mandolins are used, since C F Martin's stopped building them, but there are quite a few around. Another consideration is that you can string the Martin with light-gauge strings, rather than the X-lights that bowl-backs require. The voice of the Martin's not identical –– more throaty than a bowl-back, at least the ones I own -- but IMHO it should suit you.
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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    If you want a mandolin that sounds pretty close to a bowl-back, but is easier to hold and perhaps a bit less fragile, I'd look for a Martin Style A, which has a canted top like a bowl-back, similar scale length, and an oval soundhole, but has mahogany "flat-back" construction.

    All Martin mandolins are used, since C F Martin's stopped building them, but there are quite a few around. Another consideration is that you can string the Martin with light-gauge strings, rather than the X-lights that bowl-backs require. The voice of the Martin's not identical –– more throaty than a bowl-back, at least the ones I own -- but IMHO it should suit you.
    Good call, Allen. I had a Martin B with rosewood back that they had made the Ditson label, iirc. It was pretty ideal.
    I unfortunately sold it for some reason I don't recall. I've been wanting to replace it for some time now.
    The slightly wider Martin fretboard and comfortable next profile also suits my large hands.

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    I’m with Allen & Mick with suggesting Martin Mandolins. They do have a range of models, but a simple A or B will do nicely. & an A is relatively inexpensive. They are under appreciated because they aren’t a Bluegrass Mandolin. I think they are terrific, simple, conservative, & Martin quality. I have a Martin A & a Martin A Mandola. Great axes.
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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    I notice classical players like the Lyon & Healy style A''s alot...

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Quote Originally Posted by mandopops View Post
    I’m with Allen & Mick with suggesting Martin Mandolins.....
    Joe B
    Quote Originally Posted by T.D.Nydn View Post
    I notice classical players like the Lyon & Healy style A''s alot...
    Two fine suggestions!

    And yes, the typical "Bluegrass" f mandolin was designed as a classical instrument...hence the "Florida".

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Quote Originally Posted by mandopops View Post
    ......They are under appreciated because they aren’t a Bluegrass Mandolin....
    Whether they are usable for BG may be an open question, Joe, but they have proven adaptable to various other musical situations.

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    The longest-time folks in the Bloomfield (NJ) Mandolin Orchestra recall three or four conductors ago (guessing 1950's / '60s) when Martin mandolins were basically required for participation. Don't know how or how well that was enforced. Mostly traditional Italian music, still core repertoire.
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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    If you want a mandolin that sounds pretty close to a bowl-back, but is easier to hold and perhaps a bit less fragile, I'd look for a Martin Style A, which has a canted top like a bowl-back, similar scale length, and an oval soundhole, but has mahogany "flat-back" construction.

    All Martin mandolins are used, since C F Martin's stopped building them, but there are quite a few around. Another consideration is that you can string the Martin with light-gauge strings, rather than the X-lights that bowl-backs require. The voice of the Martin's not identical –– more throaty than a bowl-back, at least the ones I own -- but IMHO it should suit you.
    It's interesting that you mention Martin! I was looking at Northfield's Calhoun mandolins last night and they appear to be cut from a similar cloth (to my untrained armature eye ). The one thing that stands out to me is the scale length, Martin is a traditional 13" while the Calhoun uses a 13.9". I wonder how much this matters, I could see it being a large enough point to push me further towards a Martin after all. Would these Calhoun's be a decent replacement for a Martin if I can not find one for sale?
    Last edited by Murgledoo; Mar-23-2021 at 10:45am.

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    I spoke too soon! There seems to be plenty of Martin A Style mandolin's for sale on the web. Now is the question, do these Northfield Calhoun's hold a candle to a Martin?

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Quote Originally Posted by Murgledoo View Post
    <snip> Problem is, I would like to find something that is not a bowlback (Neapolitan) and isn't vintage.<snip>

    It would be great to stay under the 1,500 USD as well! Cheaper the better (new or used)
    Quote Originally Posted by T.D.Nydn View Post
    I notice classical players like the Lyon & Healy style A''s alot...
    NOTE: OP says upper end of budget is $1500 and no vintage. Of course if he would accept a style C... it might be possible to find one for that money.

    Unless you require a short scale mandolin which later Lyon & Healy's and all Martin flattops were, almost any mandolin will work for classical. And the suggestion of the Eastman bowlback is a good one, too. I have played those and they are very good and I believe you can put medium strings on them as well.
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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    , almost any mandolin will work for classical. And the suggestion of the Eastman bowlback is a good one, too. I have played those and they are very good and I believe you can put medium strings on them as well.
    Frankly it's more about the player and his ability to play classical music on any decent well set-up mandolin than the instrument itself.

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    I’m surprise no one mentioned Avi Avital’s Kerman mandolin. I think it’s a flat back. Unfortunately I don’t think you can get a new Kerman anymore.
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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    I’m surprise no one mentioned Avi Avital’s Kerman mandolin. I think it’s a flat back. Unfortunately I don’t think you can get a new Kerman anymore.
    I think you may still be able to buy one in Israel—I believe that Arik's son has been building them but they are over $7000USD, considerably more than the $1500 OP is willing to spend.
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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    I think people make too much of matching an instrument to a style. If you are playing solo or duo, maybe that's important. Also, if you are playing bluegrass, I guess you need a chop. But I tried my hand at classical with the Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra, one of the premier mandolin orchestras at the time. I took lessons from the conductor and he didn't have a thing about any particular kind of mandolin.I played a Rigel and I was not the only one. I would say only about half the orchestra had "classical-style" mandolins. The main soloist and first chair, who was excellent,played a Stiver F.

    If you are playing with a big group, your main concern sound-wise, is being able to be heard when you want to. The fine points of tone get lost in a big ensemble. If you are playing complicated music from notation, your main concern is an instrument your feel comfortable with and can easily find the notes on without looking. Looking the part is not important.

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Any where Mandolins are sold , I'd say.. that's where..

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    Default Re: Where can a classical/Italian player find a non-bowlback mand

    Quote Originally Posted by Murgledoo View Post
    I spoke too soon! There seems to be plenty of Martin A Style mandolin's for sale on the web. Now is the question, do these Northfield Calhoun's hold a candle to a Martin?
    Can't help you there; never played the Northfield. Their mandolins have an excellent reputation on the Cafe, though.
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