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Thread: Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

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    Registered User dwc's Avatar
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    Default Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

    I have wondered this for a very long time, how well do Loar era Gibson F5s serve their original, intended purpose as classical mandolins? I understand all the usual caveats apply, “Each mandolin is different;” “I depends on the player more than the instrument;” etc.

    But I was watching a clip of Chris Thile playing a couple of Feb. 18, 1924 LL F5s and he said something to the effect of, “This is why you play a mandolin instead of a guitar. It doesn’t tear your head off. If you want that, just play a guitar.” And so I started thinking about what attributes a typical to good/great Loar era Gibson F5 has, and would those attributes suit a classical performer playing in a mandolin orchestra or giving a solo concert?

    It also got me thinking about my own mandolin. I play a Northfield 2 bar Artist model with an Adirondack top. It’s pretty much optimized for bluegrass. It’s kind of assumed that the 5 bar version with say, and englemann top, is better for solo playing; it has a better low end and a “fuller” sound. But again, I wonder, is that accurate? Is more low end and a fuller sound “better” for solo playing, and in particular, solo classical playing? It seems like bowlbacks excel at being, bright, articulate, responsive and loud. Those are the traits I associate with a great bluegrass mandolin.

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    Default Re: Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

    Well . . . .

    Some classical players like cant-top mandolins, some insist on Venetian style instruments, some favor carved Lyon & Healys, and some are indeed playing carved Gibsons, both with f holes and with oval holes. And then, there's a group of musicians who favor Arik Kerman's instruments.

    I would say that for me, the biggest requisites for a classical mandolin would be clarity and sustain, followed by projection.
    Signed Loars tend to score well on clarity, and the good ones project well. A good oval hole instrument might score better on sustain.

    So, like the answer to so many other questions about the most suitable type of instrument for a given style, the final answer depends on the preferences of the individual player.

    If you're speaking about the use of Gibsons for classical music, some might prefer the prominent treble and strong projection of a Loar. Others might prefer the warmer tone and more lingering sustain of a really good F-4.

    For solo work, I would probably prefer an oval hole cant top instrument. For ensemble work, I might [or might not] choose a carved instrument instead.

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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

    I heard John Reischman with the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra a few years ago. Classical, choro , swing , old time. Each genre sounded really fine to me on his Loar.

    I think in that case, the player and instrument compliment each other to the fullest.
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    Default Re: Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

    Not to be snooty, but 'classical music' covers a huge range of styles. In addition to all the different forms that classical music can take, there are infinite interpretive possibilities within each composition. To say that one particular mandolin suits all of those variables better than any other would be extremely presumptuous.
    If a musician has acquired skills and tastes with a particular age and instrument manufacurer, then that talent will likely translate to a wide variety of classical forms. To be sure, a musician with great talent and experience may develop a certain comfort with a particular 'axe'; but in the end the mando is just a tool.

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    Registered User dwc's Avatar
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    Default Re: Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

    Quote Originally Posted by eightmoremiles View Post
    Not to be snooty, but 'classical music' covers a huge range of styles. In addition to all the different forms that classical music can take, there are infinite interpretive possibilities within each composition. To say that one particular mandolin suits all of those variables better than any other would be extremely presumptuous.
    If a musician has acquired skills and tastes with a particular age and instrument manufacurer, then that talent will likely translate to a wide variety of classical forms. To be sure, a musician with great talent and experience may develop a certain comfort with a particular 'axe'; but in the end the mando is just a tool.
    When I posed the original question, I was actually thinking about Baroque music, but I don’t think LL had Baroque in mind when he designed the F5. I think he was thinking about late 19th, early 20th century romantic era music.

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    Default Re: Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

    We really don't know as much as we'd like to about what music really sounded like during the baroque period. There are a limited number of survivng articles and treatises about performance practice, and a only handful of ancient instruments that survive in their original form that are still playable. Interpretation of baroque music has changed considerably during my lifetime.

    In the classical world at large, the current tendencies are for a lighter touch to tone and general performance than was common when I was a youngster, except perhaps for the rather wonderful unbridled sound of the natural horns.

    I would probably choose a cant top instrument for Vivaldi or a rendering of Bach's E major violin partita. But some folks might prefer a Loar for its greater ability to project unamplified in a concert hall.

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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

    May i ask what a cant-top is?
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    Default Re: Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

    A cant top is like a flat top, but with a crease or "cant" at the bridge area, such as the top on Martin style A through E mandolins, Larson mandolins, and most of the other better grade flat back and bowl back mandolins.

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    Registered User dwc's Avatar
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    Default Re: Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Well . . . .

    Some classical players like cant-top mandolins, some insist on Venetian style instruments, some favor carved Lyon & Healys, and some are indeed playing carved Gibsons, both with f holes and with oval holes. And then, there's a group of musicians who favor Arik Kerman's instruments.

    I would say that for me, the biggest requisites for a classical mandolin would be clarity and sustain, followed by projection.
    Signed Loars tend to score well on clarity, and the good ones project well. A good oval hole instrument might score better on sustain.

    So, like the answer to so many other questions about the most suitable type of instrument for a given style, the final answer depends on the preferences of the individual player.

    If you're speaking about the use of Gibsons for classical music, some might prefer the prominent treble and strong projection of a Loar. Others might prefer the warmer tone and more lingering sustain of a really good F-4.

    For solo work, I would probably prefer an oval hole cant top instrument. For ensemble work, I might [or might not] choose a carved instrument instead.
    I find it very interesting that sustain is so high on your list of priorities for an instrument; because, it’s something I have been thinking about a lot. If we look to other instruments, particularly the lower register instruments like a double bass or a cello, those instruments have have tremendous sustain as the notes unfold and bloom over time (I am not sure that is the best way to describe the sound, but it makes sense tome, at least).

    On the other hand, a mandolin has an immediacy to its attack. You hit a string and the instrument responds immediately followed by a relatively rapid decay. The best F5 mandolins I have played accentuate this property, and I think of it as the opposite of sustain. In fact, I tend to think think of sustain and clarity as being fundamentally at odds with one another, but I may be misunderstanding the terms.

    It’s really hard to talk about sound, but I am trying to wrap my brain around what musicians look for in a classical mandolin, understanding, of course, that different musicians will prioritize different attributes, depending on the music played and the venue where they are performing.

    But most classical musicians I have met have a favorite instrument they play the majority of the time (or even exclusively), so I am assuming that holds true for mandolinists as well. But, as I think about it, perhaps mandolins are so inexpensive when compared to the finest classical stringed instruments that a performing mandolinist could have more than one instrument.

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    Default Re: Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

    Quote Originally Posted by David Lewis View Post
    May i ask what a cant-top is?
    To augment the definition, the cant, or bend, in the top is constructed by removing a wedge of the top (belly) wood, with the point of the wedge at the cant/bridge area, widening toward the tailpiece. This enables the luthier to create an arch to the belly of the mandolin. This arch serves to add considerable strength to the mandolin's structure, while at the same time allows a greater tension to be exerted by the strings at the bridge, because the bend facilitates an increased angle that the strings create from the tailpiece to the bridge.

    Essentially, the cant creates a state where the downward force of the strings is carried not only by the top, but also directs the strain onto the sides and back of the instrument. It's essentially monocoque construction, with the wooden "skin" of the instrument bearing the stresses of the strings.

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    Default Re: Loar era Gibson F5 mandolins as classical instruments

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob A View Post
    To augment the definition, the cant, or bend, in the top is constructed by removing a wedge of the top (belly) wood, with the point of the wedge at the cant/bridge area, widening toward the tailpiece. This enables the luthier to create an arch to the belly of the mandolin. This arch serves to add considerable strength to the mandolin's structure, while at the same time allows a greater tension to be exerted by the strings at the bridge, because the bend facilitates an increased angle that the strings create from the tailpiece to the bridge.

    Essentially, the cant creates a state where the downward force of the strings is carried not only by the top, but also directs the strain onto the sides and back of the instrument. It's essentially monocoque construction, with the wooden "skin" of the instrument bearing the stresses of the strings.

    Very good description, Bob!

    As an architect, I enjoy the structural / construction focus of your simple and clear explanation.

    I think we see this cross top curvature more distinctly on good quality bowlback mandolins.

    On some of mine Italian bowls is quite dramatic. Almost like a pretensioned shell.

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