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Thread: Problems with playability. Help!

  1. #1

    Default Problems with playability. Help!

    Hello folks,

    I am wondering if some would know what's going on with my mandolin and have an idea on how to make things better.

    Around four months ago, I moved to a new country and brought my Collings MT2O with me. I had been playing this mandolin for around 4 years, and it always had superb playability.

    Lately, I've noticed that it's become difficult to play with the bridge set at the same height as I had it set to before the move. I thought this was due to the changing weather. Where I currently live is considerably colder than where I used to be, and very humid (92% humidity today). I lowered the bridge to the minimum height and the strings still felt a bit too stiff. Furthermore, sliding has become a nightmare as I can feel the frets under my fingertips. Sometimes when I slide, my fingertips "bump" against the frets which makes sliding difficult and unpleasant. I put on new strings 2 days ago and they already feel used (non-slippery, the part where I rest my palm turning black).

    Has anyone else experienced this in high humidity climates? Is there anything I can do to improve playability?

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    Cheers

  2. #2
    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    You sure got me baffled. I hope someone has something for you.

  3. #3
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Can you slip a quarter or two dimes under the fourth string at the twelfth fret?
    Do you remember what string height you were comfortable with before?
    A quarter is 1.75 mm.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quar...d_States_coin)

    The strings may also be sticky which will increase friction as you try to slide, try a new set of strings?

    Another is the curve of the neck.
    There is a really great free setup pdf here on MandolinCafe with brilliant advice... cant remember the name now, is it Robert Meldrom or something? (apologies )

    Good luck!

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Sounds like a humidity issue to me - just the sort of thing I’d expect goung from a low humidity climate to a high one. Once things have settled down, get thee to a luthier if you’re not happy to set things up yourself. As for the strings, you might like to consider coated strings (Elixir?) which shouldn’t suffer the same corrosion issues.

  5. #5
    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    The combination of temperature change and very much higher humidity can have caused the wood of your instrument to swell or distort as it settles in to its new environment. Different woods react in different ways and to different degrees, so soundboard, neck, fingerboard, bracing will all have to adjust. This can play havoc with your set-up. You said you had already fitted new strings and they are reacting and corroding already. Feeling the frets much more than previously suggests to me that the fingerboard may have shrunk so making the frets more prominent, or the fret slots have opened slightly allowing the frets to rise (?) but your best option is to find a good mandolin repairer who can actually look at the instrument and make an informed diagnosis.
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  6. #6
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Let's start here, fret your G string at the 12th fret and the 1st fret at the same time. Now look under a good light and see if you see space between the 6th or 7th fret and the bottom of the string. If you do you will most likely need to adjust the truss rod. The truss rod does NOT ADJUST ACTION, but neck relief. Now that being said, too much relief will make your mandolin play harder. If adjusting the rod is something you don't feel comfortable doing yourself, as said above find someone who knows mandolins, a lot of guitar techs don't.
    Last edited by pops1; Jul-06-2021 at 10:36am.
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Hmmmm ..... a pro setup if you aren't a handy person. Rob Meldrum's free setup guide here on The Cafe` if you are a do it yourself type. A neck adjustment, complete cleaning, perhaps a desiccant bag in the case. Too much moisture is indeed the likely culprit ....... R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  8. #8

    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    92% is terribly high. I live in Florida and the air conditioning keeps the humidity around 45-50% and my instruments love it. A few times I've gone to jams where the RH was over 70% and the instruments sounded really mushy. If you can't control the humidity in your environment, I don't know what to tell you- maybe take up harmonica.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Buy a dehumidifier and set it to 50% relative humidity.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    It helps to elicit responses from others if you tell us WHERE you're located. A great luthier could be within walking distance, but won't be suggested if you might live ... anywhere! Plus, there might be local weather oddities that would be known only by folks familiar with your specific location, altitude, etc.

    I'm not generally one for lubricating fretboards and strings so won't make any suggestions, but that sounds like it might be one aspect of the issue. Keep in mind that a high "relative" humidity in a colder (dryer) environment is still dryer than a lower stated humidity in a warmer environment. (Warm air is capable of holding more moisture than cold air, so cold outside air, after warming to indoor levels [without humidifying], is even drier than the weather reports states.)

    Maybe also some moisturizing of newly-dry fingertips? Even here in the not-very-extreme NYC suburbs, I need to do that in winter.

    Regardless, Rob Meldrum's (free!) set-up manual is highly educational.
    Last edited by EdHanrahan; Jul-06-2021 at 9:42am.
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  11. #11
    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Quote Originally Posted by SRNassif View Post
    Hello folks,

    I am wondering if some would know what's going on with my mandolin and have an idea on how to make things better.

    Around four months ago, I moved to a new country and brought my Collings MT2O with me. I had been playing this mandolin for around 4 years, and it always had superb playability.

    Lately, I've noticed that it's become difficult to play with the bridge set at the same height as I had it set to before the move. I thought this was due to the changing weather. Where I currently live is considerably colder than where I used to be, and very humid (92% humidity today). I lowered the bridge to the minimum height and the strings still felt a bit too stiff. Furthermore, sliding has become a nightmare as I can feel the frets under my fingertips. Sometimes when I slide, my fingertips "bump" against the frets which makes sliding difficult and unpleasant. I put on new strings 2 days ago and they already feel used (non-slippery, the part where I rest my palm turning black).

    Has anyone else experienced this in high humidity climates? Is there anything I can do to improve playability?

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    Cheers
    From your post I guess that you assumed that humidity caused the reduced playability and you made changes, that made things worse.

    I do think that having a good setup is necessary. Brad Laird (who also contributes here) has setup tips on his youtube chanel (that I used with great results to change the setup on my expensive mandolin after years and years of not having done anything): https://www.youtube.com/user/bradley...ch?query=setup

    We also have Rob Meldrum, who contributes here, and has an e-book out for free where he explains setup. I have not read it but by the remarks of members here it must be good: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...by-Rob-Meldrum

    If a proper setup does not help, the problem lies somewhere else (neck angle etc.).

    If nothing helps, youŽll have to find a good (mandolin) luthier/setup-person.
    Olaf

  12. #12
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    High humidity makes wood fibers take on moisture, and as a result, expand. The top arch of your Collings has probably increased, which forces the action higher. You may also have had the neck/body joint alignment change slightly, which means that lowering the bridge, while improving the "action," brought the strings so close to the fingerboard that you're feeling the frets more, especially when you slide between notes.

    Think about the fact that, under high humidity, your entire mandolin is slightly bigger than it used to be. The scale may be a tiny fraction longer, so that you need to have the strings stretched slightly tighter to be in concert pitch. Therefore, they feel "stiff." High humidity also encourages metal corrosion, so your strings may oxidize more than they did; hence the "blackening" you're noticing.

    You can try to dehumidify the instrument's environment with a room dehumidifier. I second the advice to get a professional set-up. There are guitarists who have a "summer bridge saddle" and a "winter bridge saddle," to adapt their instrument's action to different seasonal temperature and humidity. You could try one of the plastic-coated brands of strings, to protect against oxidation.

    The goal is to get the mandolin adjusted to function to your satisfaction in a new colder, damper environment. I'd experiment with different string gauges, and I'd try to find a technician who's used to setting up instruments in your new location. Good luck!
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  13. #13

    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Thank you everyone for the comments and suggestions. I live in the UK (southwest) and was lucky to find someone with experience in repairing mandolins. I will see him in a couple of days.
    Humidity today is 70%

  14. #14
    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Quote Originally Posted by SRNassif View Post
    I live in the UK (southwest) and was lucky to find someone with experience in repairing mandolins.
    The humidity is certainly not a problem in the UK (or other parts of Europe like Germany etc.). So I would guess that you have to look somewhere else.

    IŽd be interested who the mando-luthier is. IŽve been in Brighton at TAMCO. The mandolin selection was exquisit. The setup on some mandolins not so... (probably mandolins new to the shop that had not been looked over ...). You could of course check for a luthier with the BBMA: https://britishbluegrass.org/bbma-advertisers/. Or maybe check with Sim Daley (formerly at Gibson and of course with his respected Daley mandolins) if he is back in the UK (https://bluegrasstoday.com/sim-daley...k-in-cornwall/).

    I had the pleasure to participate in a jam session at the Church House Inn in Linkinhorne (which has a new proprietor...). So where in the SW of the UK are you located?
    Olaf

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    70%. I don’t think that’s particularly high - it’s 73% on the edge of the Peak District at the moment. It was down in the low 30%s a couple of months ago, which played havoc with one of my Kimbles, so, if you’ve come from somewhere dry, it could be the difference in humidity causing the problems you’re experiencing.

  16. #16

    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Humidity was up in the 90's these past few days, but it does fluctuate quite a bit, which does not help the instruments. Also, most homes around here don't have air conditioning. Will see what the repair guy has to say.

    Cheers.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Do y'all think that the radical shift in humidity is an ongoing drama? I know humidity wildly fluctuates day to day, but I remember bringing my my Mando from LA to Scotland and it seemed to me like the first 5 or 6 months the instrument was extremely confused about the humidity. Eventually, either I got used to it or the Mando got used to it. It seemed like the initial shock required the instrument to adjust, but then it was alright? I did end up tinkering on the setup once it calmed down, and then it felt like home again from then on, even when Edinburgh humidity was wildly variable.

    Ooh. Another followup question? Are different mando finishes more/less susceptible to humidity changes? Seems like they would be?

  18. #18

    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Another followup question? Are different mando finishes more/less susceptible to humidity changes?
    There may be some slight differences. But the entire interior is unfinished so it really does not matter much.

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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Great point, Carl! Thanks.

  21. #20
    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Problems with playability. Help!

    Quote Originally Posted by thievingseas View Post
    Do y'all think that the radical shift in humidity is an ongoing drama? I know humidity wildly fluctuates day to day, but I remember bringing my my Mando from LA to Scotland and it seemed to me like the first 5 or 6 months the instrument was extremely confused about the humidity. Eventually, either I got used to it or the Mando got used to it. It seemed like the initial shock required the instrument to adjust, but then it was alright? I did end up tinkering on the setup once it calmed down, and then it felt like home again from then on, even when Edinburgh humidity was wildly variable.

    Ooh. Another followup question? Are different mando finishes more/less susceptible to humidity changes? Seems like they would be?
    I imagine that the humidty and climate in general is much different to southern alabama.

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