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Thread: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

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    Default F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Hello! First of all, thank you to everyone for the tremendous wealth of information that you all provide here! I am considering upgrading from my Kentucky KM-1050 and believe the three candidates below are the ones that are most appealing to me. I'd like a fully bound, reasonably figured, not overly-ornamented mandolin with a traditional bluegrass sound and good low end. I am really attracted to the Gibson F5 Customs specified by The Mandolin Store, but the Collings MF5 and Northfield F5-4 appear to be good comparable options both in price, quality, appointments, and reviews. Any feedback on comparing these models is greatly appreciated!

    Gibson:
    https://themandolinstore.com/product...ore-exclusive/

    Collings:
    https://www.collingsguitars.com/mandolins/mf5/

    Northfield:
    https://www.northfieldinstruments.com/f5-4

    Thank you!

  2. #2
    Registered User Glassweb's Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    The Gibson cannot match the build quality and feel of either the Collings or the Northfield. The Northfield 4th Gen is an amazing instrument for the money. But in the end it all comes down to tone and playability. Unfortunately given the astronomical increases in shipping costs it has become quite challenging to "test drive" mandolins. That and a general shortage of mandolin production make things even more challenging. If I had to choose a couple of test drives it would be the Northfield and the Collings. Why anyone is still making mandolins with "the dreaded black tongue" (in this case Gibson (!)) is beyond me...

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    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Iíve owned a few Collings and one Northfield. No Gibson(s) though.

    Of the two brands Iíve owned, itís important to say you canít go wrong. Itís splitting hairs. Theyíre both excellent brands that are capable of making MAS-satiating instruments.

    With that said, the order I liked mine in is as follows:
    1. Collings MT
    2. Northfield F5-S
    3. Collings MT2

    The MT is the least expensive of the bunch and it was easily my favorite. It just speaks to the variability of the instruments and, yes, to the importance of playing them first.

    If I had to buy one sight unseen, based strictly on lust, Iíd choose the MF5, but Iíd probably seek one out from the Bill Collingsí days. My MT was a Bill Collings instrument. My MT2 wasnít, and there was a quite noticeable difference in terms of tone. It could be normal differences between two instruments.

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    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    All three solid instruments. I'm not a big Northfield fan but I haven't played their latest high end stuff. There's a Collings MF5 in the classifieds for $5,900. They're always easy to move if you decide you don't like it. Best advice is to try and play some of what you're interested in. The Harvey era Gibsons seem to get positive reviews and the ones I've played have been nice.

    If your budget is $7,500 that opens a lot of options. Watch the classifieds here for awhile. You can get a used Duff or Kimble in that range and they're "better" than the three you posted IMHO.

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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    If you're in the Central Texas area, Fiddler's Green stocks both Northfield and Collings so you could test drive them in person.

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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Quote Originally Posted by sgarrity View Post
    If your budget is $7,500 that opens a lot of options. Watch the classifieds here for awhile. You can get a used Duff or Kimble in that range and they're "better" than the three you posted IMHO.
    While we are moving into ham sandwich territory, I had similar thoughts about a Kimble for an F5 with a bluegrass tone in the $7500 price range (though I couldnít find one offered). Another alternative would be a Stanley V5:

    https://cartervintage.com/collection...ts/stanley-v-5
    1924 Gibson A Snakehead
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    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    I'm not aware of a Kimble F5 currently on the market but they have shown up in that range. There were recently 2 Duffs for sale at $6,800 and $7,500

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    Registered User Jeff Budz's Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Only a Gibson is good enough! Seriously, I have a Gildrush and it’s something special.

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Gibson Goldrush in the classifieds today.....

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/178300#178300

    NFI
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Always good to check the classifieds.
    Life is short, play hard. Life is really really short, play really really hard.

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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    If you can get $8500 together, I would call Paul Newson. He makes the best mandolins Iíve played. He has them selling through Gruhnís as well.

    If your in the denver area you can play mine to check it out.

    Aaron

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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    I traded for a used Northfield 4th Gen a few months ago. After taking it to Nashville twice and comparing it to everything I could find, I've decided that I'm happy with it. I left thinking I'd have to spend at least $12k to clearly best it, at least at Nashville retail prices.

    What I learned (re-learned, really) is that there is not enough consistency between examples of any brand or make of mandolin to buy on name alone. I'm pretty confident that any Gilchrist or Dude would scare my NF back to its case, but I've played some Kimbles, Duffs, Heidens, a whole lotta Gibsons, and even an Ellis F5 that I wouldn't trade for.

    Another big factor is the qualities you value in a mandolin. I used to love a big fat round tubby tone, but now I crave a strong, dry midrange with crisp highs like I hear in CJ Lewandowski's McClanahan (no...my NF don't sound like that).

    If there's any way you can, grab a cheap ticket to Nashville and hit the music shops before you spend $7500. At the very least you'll have a ton of fun!
    Barry

    2020 Northfield 4th Gen #14
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    I will add that in your price range Collings F-5s seem to be really strong and consistent if you like their sound. I hear some distinctive Collings tonality that doesn't really appeal to my ear, but their projection, playability, and build quality is outstanding.
    Barry

    2020 Northfield 4th Gen #14
    Pavel Sucek F-5 w/Skip Kelly top
    A bunch of fiddles and a couple D-28s

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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    I can only find 3 standard Collings MF-5's on the market-- 2 new, and one used. I do see at least 4 used varnished models. And only one Northfield F5-4.
    The pictures of the Gibson you linked to lack clarity, but to me, the fret job does not look up to the quality that I would think appropriate for that price range.

    There are not many new upper line mandolins on the market right now. Collings appears to have shipped a few MF's recently, but most of them are the plainer models with no back binding and satin finish. Right now, your choices will be limited to what is currently available. You may want to increase your choices to include used mandolins by other makers.

    I second the recommendation for Paul Newson's mandolins. Gruhn gets a new one in stock every 2 or 3 months or so. They tend to sell quickly. But you would have to play one to decide whether or not it has the type of bass response that you are looking for.
    Last edited by rcc56; Nov-02-2021 at 3:14am.

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    First off, I'm not a bluegrass player and haven't owned a Collings F style. But from your description wanting a traditional bluegrass sound, would steer you towards a recent Gibson. You might find the Collings and Northfield each have too modern of a sound. With the Northfield maybe being closer to what you want.

    Again, though, I don't play bluegrass and what I want to hear in an instrument is probably not what you want.
    Peter Coombe #248, Strad-O-Lin, Northfield F5SA, Gibson A Jr., Mid-Mo M1, Eastman MDO-305
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    I was going to point out the tone difference too, but I recognize that I've got a strong Gibson bias. People do talk about Gibson tone like it doesn't come from other modern manufacturers -- I honestly can't confirm that, but I have recognized that a number of well made high end modern mandolin builds do seem to have what I'd categorize as a stronger focus on volume and less on the muted resonance that Gibsons tend to have. Part of that could easily be break-in, setup and strings, but it could also be different approaches to internal builds.

    The only way you can really find that out is testing them together somewhere where there are more than one sampling of each company's models to compare, hopefully all with setups done -- or at least reviewed -- by the same person. And then buy the one that you like best. As has been suggested, probably the only place you can test like that today is in Nashville.
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Thank you everyone for the thoughtful responses! As has been pointed out, these models can all be very difficult to find in stock, much less all together - no one that I have found has even 2 of these for comparison, hence my inquiry for any feedback folks can provide that actually have owned/played these models. I do also appreciate the other model suggestions. I should have mentioned I'd like a vintage sunburst/cremona finish. This is meant to be a lifetime purchase, and aesthetics are important to me - I am seeking a traditional appearance and sound, very high quality but not too flashy, with modern playability. I've read enough to gather that a Collings is likely to be the most modern sounding, so maybe the least to my liking in tone, but without a direct comparison of the exact model that's hard to really evaluate. The Gibson seems to be the safest bet, but it's hard to ignore a lot of what I've read about potentially superior qualities of the Collings and Northfield at the same price point. Thanks again all!

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    Registered User Glassweb's Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Will Kimble has three of his famed 2-point mandolins in progress on the workbench as we speak. As an owner/player of both a Kimble 2-point mandolin and mandola all I can say is (as Shaun stated above) do consider one of Will's superb instruments. Give him a holler...

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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    There are many out there who consider the newer Gibsons to be some of the best mandolins the company has every produced. If you haven't played one, you owe it to yourself to give it a try, especially since you say you're looking for a traditional bluegrass sound.

    Personally, I think both Collins and Northfield make great mandolins, but they have a different tone, at least to my aging ears.
    A quarter tone flat and a half a beat behind.

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    NY Naturalist BradKlein's Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    I have to agree with the post above. I've owned or played at least half a dozen Collings mandolin. Amazingly consistent in their sound. If you like the Collings sound you can, or at least could, confidently buy one without playing it first and probably get what you expect.

    It is, or was, NOT the classic Gibson F-5 sound that bluegrass folks hear in their head.

    That said, I've played over a dozen contemporary Gibsons, and they had MUCH more variation in tone. Not all had that classic (Loar F-5) Gibson sound. So with Gibson, I was reluctant to buy without playing first. Exceptions at the very top of the line. I've never heard a modern Skaggs or DMM that didn't have that Loar F-5 family sound. I might like one more than another, but none sounded like a Collings. Same with actual Loar era F-5s in my experience.

    I've never played a Northfield.
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Lou Stiver in the classifieds, highly respected small shop maker...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/177420#177420

    NFI
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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  27. #22

    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Quote Originally Posted by Rantz22 View Post
    If you can get $8500 together, I would call Paul Newson. He makes the best mandolins Iíve played. He has them selling through Gruhnís as well.

    If your in the denver area you can play mine to check it out.

    Aaron
    Where can I find his info? I played one at Gruhn that was incredible

  28. #23
    Registered User Russ Jordan's Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    It sounds like new Newson mandolins are only available through Gruhn’s:
    https://guitars.com/newson-mandolins
    Russ Jordan

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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Gruhn Guitars is the exclusive distributor for Newson mandolins. Keep an eye on Gruhn's website. They usually sell within a week or two of when they are delivered and listed, so you have to be quick if you want to buy. Gruhn keeps a want file for those who are seriously interested.

    There's a used A model at Carter Vintage. There's also a used F model on reverb, but it's priced at $8900, which is $400 more than the cost of a new one, and listed with a "no return" policy, which is a deal killer for me. There's another on reverb for $5500, but the ad is inactive-- "seller on vacation."

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    As a fellow who has been playing mandolin for over 40 years, I find the current use of the terms "traditional sound" and "modern sound" to be confusing. That's because when I started playing, few good new mandolins were being made. At that time, "traditional" meant the 20's Gibson sound, but few of us had any opportunities to play an old Gibson.

    Then, when good new mandolins started to become available in the 1990's, most of them were built to deliver a "thick" sound with a lot of low end. At that time, we called that the "modern sound," and it was very different than the sound of an early Gibson. A large number of performances and records were made with that sound. And some people are now calling that sound "traditional."

    Now, the current building trend is mostly towards a brighter sound with a less prominent bass, and now that is being called the "modern sound." It's still different from that of the old Gibsons, and very different from mandolins built in the 1990's and early 2000's.

    As a result, when someone says "modern" or "traditional", I don't know what they mean, because the application of those terms keeps changing.
    Last edited by rcc56; Nov-02-2021 at 7:09pm.

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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: F5 Upgrade Guidance - Gibson, Collings, Northfield

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    Lou Stiver in the classifieds, highly respected small shop maker...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/177420#177420

    NFI
    Stiver has the bluegrass tone for sure. I have had a gibson and currently have 2 collings and a weber, but gig with my Stiver. It cuts through the mix and feels like it is made to be played in a bluegrass band. I would describe the tone as dry and percussive compared to my other mandolins, but that is totally subjectiveÖ NFI
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

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