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Thread: Allen vs. james tailpiece

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    Registered User pickloser's Avatar
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    When I play loudly, my Eastman 915 F-style mandolin has a bad overtone that is hard to ignore. My teacher suggested the tone suppressor grommet things, because the overtone is definitely coming from a string between the tailpiece and the bridge. He also noted that if he were to make one upgrade to my mandolin, it would be a new tailpiece. He didn't think Eastman tailpieces were all that great, not only because of the overtone situation, but also because of how hard it is to change strings on the Eastman.

    I know you guys are keen on the James, but $150 plus is a bit steep for me, especially since I overshot my budget when I bought this mandolin in late November. I had settled on an Allen AR 2 as a replacement for my Eastman tailpiece. It seems fairly priced, and it seems that string changes would be easier.

    At least one poster on the "tailpiece" thread noted, however, that he thought the Weber, Allen, and Eastman tailpieces are "basically the same." Until I saw that comment, when I came back to the Cafe to re-read posts on tailpieces, I was pretty sold on the Allen.

    Is it generally agreed that the Allen tailpiece is not a step up from the Eastman tailpiece? Or is this an isolated opinion? (I have talked already to Mr. Allen, who was very helpful and considerate. I had not seen this comment before I talked to him, but I don't think I would have had the nerve to ask if his tailpiece was no better than the one that came with my Eastman anyway.)

    Also, is the apparent general preference for the James tailpiece mostly because of its appearance? Or is it lack of buzz/rattle and string changing ease?

    I know there's a lot here on tailpieces. I think I have read much of it, but I'd appreciate any additional ideas or comments you might have--especially if you have had experience with the Allen tailpiece versus the Eastman. If you have James tailpiece experience, I'd like to know if you think it is really worth it to suck it up and spend the extra money.

    It's not that the extra $50 to $75 will break me. Its just that I have a real Scottish streak that makes me reluctant to spend roughly ten percent of the cost of the mando on a tailpiece that will cost also to get put on. Also, my birthday is Jan.2, and my brother wants to get me a new tailpiece (the joke possibilities are endless), and I would rather not ask for the most expensive one, unless it really is more than an appearance issue.

    While I'm at it, if you have experience with changing out a tailpiece, would you consider it important to try and find a replacement that exactly fit the "footprint" of the previous tailpiece? In other words, is it a big deal to need new holes?

    I'd appreciate your help with this decision. When it comes to spending $, I tend to be a bit of a hand wringer, and your tolerance is appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Laura

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    I'd try a little strip of leather or something to solve the overtone issue first, but if you're set on a new tailpiece I think Allen or Weber would be pretty similar to the cast Eastman. I have a James and string changes are much easier, since you can close the cover and fix the string end in place - it seemed ridiculously expensive to me too but I'm very happy with it (keep in mind the silver plating will tarnish, though, if appearance is important to you). New holes are not a big deal, assuming the installer knows what they're doing.

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    Save the extra money and go with a Weber universal (no "W") stainless steel tailpiece. The stainless steel will never tarnish, ever. There's no plating to wear off, ever. There's no moving parts that could break, ever. Loops stay on the posts quite well during string changes.
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    How is the Weber different from the Eastman? If I recall you thread the string almost the same way.

    Keep in mind when you change out your Eastman tailpiece that you will need to plug the end pin hole and redrill it. The "standard" tailpieces have a different hole pattern for the screws and the end pin. It's not a simple swap.

    I'd simply wind some leather through the strings (or a hundred dollar bill, your choice) as well to tame the overtones.

    By the way, when changing strings on your Eastman or Weber slide the string envelope down between the top and the tailpiece and slide the string in without scratching the mandolin.



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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    The Allen models that let you use either loop or ball end,
    [8 little holes stop the balls ]
    strings,
    are an advantage because of that option.
    [borrow strings from the guitar guy]


    I replaced the Lebeda's cast tailpiece with a James.

    with a pegwinder It's just a minute or 2 to replace a broken string.




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    Registered User pickloser's Avatar
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    Thanks for the help. And thanks Mike for the string changing tip.

    As I recall from searching the archives, the consensus seems to be that the changing the tailpiece is not as likely to improve tone as changes in strings and picks. I'm hearing no rattles from the Eastman tailpiece, which doesn't appear to be "cheap," as far as my eye can tell, although metallurgy and the physics of sound are not areas of expertise for me. So perhaps my best course, given my general tendency to pinch pennies, may be to get rid of the overtone with a dampening device and live with the string changing difficulty. At least until I feel comfortable plunking down the money for the James. (Which could easily be never.) Perhaps I'll be getting that Tone-gard sooner than I had hoped.

    Any other opinions or comments would be very welcome.

    I haven't been playing long, but I'm loving this instrument!
    Thanks again,
    Laura

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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    It sounds to me like your teacher is venting some personal preferences, rather than advising you on what is right for you. Changing the tailpiece will not likely help you with your overtones, or help you in any other meaningful way. Using the grommets or laces might help. You can get a whole bag full of grommets at Radio Shack for $1.50. There will be seven or eight in the bag that are the size you need. Boot laces are easy to come by also. Unless you personally hate the look of the Eastman TP, and I can't see why anyone would, I would leave it alone.

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    Registered User steve V. johnson's Avatar
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    Yes, try further strategies to damp the strings aft of the bridge first. The leather strips are popular, and for test purposes and to make absolutely certain that the strings are dead as can be, I use black duct tape.

    If/when you're certain that those damping techniques don't work, and you are going to change the tailpiece, I vote on Allens.
    I've done a number of changes from stamped originals to cast Allens, and it's not hard to do at all. I find Allens much better looking than the Webers, and they're available in a wide range of finishes and colors. http://www.allenguitar.com/tpcs.htm

    As for cost and color/finish options, Randy Allen and the folks who work for him are all wonderfully helpful, and Randy puts some discounted tailpieces on auction, so look there, too.

    I was looking for a particular finish and in an email Randy told me that he had one of those that he was about to put on auction.
    Most helpful, and the tailpiece was just perfect for the instrument.

    I'm not sure if a different tailpiece is the fix for your overtones, but I hope this helps.

    stv
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    Registered User bradeinhorn's Avatar
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    as to allen vs. james-

    go james.

    also -you might consider the hamlett tailpiece.
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    A change of tailpiece is for aesthetic and functional reasons, not for sound. You'll have to damp the strings to get rid of the "overtones" with any tailpiece, with the possible exception of the James tailpiece. If the tailpiece you have looks fine to you, then you are only spending money on easier string changes if you change tailpieces. Only you can decide how much is is worth to you to have easier string changes.

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    Registered User pickloser's Avatar
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    You know, I did consider the Hamlett, but it's hard to even get a good look at it on his web site. From what I could see, it looked to be along the same lines of the Webers and Allens.

    Also, I don't think my teacher has anything against Eastman's. He actually steered me toward the Eastman, saying it really was a lot of mandolin for the money. He recommended the grommets as a fix for the overtones. His tailpiece recommendation was more, "if I was going to change one thing out on your mandolin, it would be the tailpiece." And now that I've gotten some opionions here, I'm beginning to think his changeout recommendation was as much about the string changing difficulty as it was about the overtones.

    You all are a lot of help. I appreciate it.
    Laura

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    Registered User bradeinhorn's Avatar
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    i agree it is all about functionality - ease of string change. i've owned collings, allen, james, trad gibson, and hamlett tps and i think overall, the easiest is the james. if you want a more modern look, the hamlett, comes in a close second.
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    Easy string changes even with obstinate tailpieces. Use your capo to hold the string under just enough tension to avoid its loop sliding off the pin. then do your business at the headstock until all of the slack is gone. Proceed in similar fashion with the rest of the strings and then commence tuning. Piece of cake.

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    Quote Originally Posted by
    I've done a number of changes from stamped originals to cast Allens, and it's not hard to do at all.
    Have you ever changed an Eastman? If you had you'd know the peg hole doesn't match up. That might cause some difficulties for a novice in the field don't you think?
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Quote Originally Posted by (Gerrymando @ Dec. 27 2007, 15:31)
    Easy string changes even with obstinate tailpieces. Use your capo to hold the string under just enough tension to avoid its loop sliding off the pin. then do your business at the headstock until all of the slack is gone. Proceed in similar fashion with the rest of the strings and then commence tuning. Piece of cake.
    If your tailpiece is steel try a rare earth magnet (available at craft stores cheap and at Stewmac for more money) to hold the string.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Registered User steve V. johnson's Avatar
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    Mike sez, "Quote - I've done a number of changes from stamped originals to cast Allens, and it's not hard to do at all.

    Have you ever changed an Eastman? If you had you'd know the peg hole doesn't match up. That might cause some difficulties for a novice in the field don't you think? "

    No, I haven't, thus I didn't. Yes, I do.

    Thanks,

    stv
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    Registered User Glassweb's Avatar
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    I love the James tailpiece, but I sure wish he' find a way to keep the rubber rings from popping out. Can anybody relate to this?

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    Quote Originally Posted by (Glassweb @ Dec. 27 2007, 17:53)
    I love the James tailpiece, but I sure wish he' find a way to keep the rubber rings from popping out. Can anybody relate to this?
    Change the strings one at a time. You shouldn't be removing all the strings when you change.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    I usually don't get the chance to do that, Hans. If I have a mandolin around here with a James tailpiece on it, it's usually here for set up/fret/etc. work, and I usually have all the strings off, and yes, I can relate to the difficulty of keeping the O-rings in place. It's not a big deal, but it would be a nice subtle improvement if they stayed put a little easier.

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    Registered User northfolk's Avatar
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    I have used or tried Allen, Weber, Eastman and James tailpieces. In my opinion there is not a noticeable difference in the sound. The James, however is very nice for changing strings. I really like mine alot; but I also picked mine up used (a very slight scratch near the strap button); for $75. Well worth that for sure.
    Thanks for your support?

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    Moderator JEStanek's Avatar
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    Spend the $150 you would have spent on the James on a better bridge and proper fitting and maybe a new bone nut. Then take your pocket change and buy a leather shoe lace and weave that between the strings. You'll get more tonal improvement that way than by changing one tp for another.

    If you feel really rich buy a Weber wood nymph (very classy looking by the way). The Eastman TP and the Weber one are essentially identical. I've had Eastman and Weber tail pieces and the hooky-stamped ones. Any of them are more fun to deal with than the hooky stamped ones! I've not had a James.

    I also use the paper under the TP for string changes my self. I have a Hamlett TP and it is easy for string changes too. It has hooks for the ends (maybe even ball ends) and little "telephone poles" on the base that the strings thread under.

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    John, I usually put on a G and an E, tighten 'em up just taught and then the O ring slips under each. Just add the rest and tune 'em up.

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    Registered User Glassweb's Avatar
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    Point taken Hans, but I still feel it's a bit of a design flaw that could/should be corrected. And let's not forget the Gilchrist tailpiece, which is really a pretty sweet design! Maybe Steve should get those out in the field... well, I mean other than on his mandolins...

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    It seems ,mechanically,'O' ring would have to be buried
    below the surface to hook under anything,
    to be retained,
    defeating one of it's (the string dampening)
    functions,
    would still hold the lid shut though.

    groove depth, machined at half the o ring's thickness,
    makes perfect sense in that regard.
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (mandroid @ Dec. 27 2007, 20:50)
    It seems ,mechanically,'O' ring would have to be buried
    below the surface to hook under anything,
    to be retained,
    defeating one of it's (the string dampening)
    functions,
    would still hold the lid shut though.

    groove depth, machined at half the o ring's thickness,
    makes perfect sense in that regard.
    We only need a little over half depth to hold an O-ring in place. The O-ring is round, so halfway up is the biggest part.

    Also, the strings only cross in 8 narrow places. Anywhere else, the groove could be nearly full depth, hold the O-ring in place and it would still damp the strings.

    I know Bill James to be a responsive guy, (he corrected a problem with his laminated bindings promptly) and if he hears us here, he might make the small change.

    BTW, it's my opinion that the James tailpiece is the best of the square tailpieces, functionally. If it's the trad look you want, it's a good product.

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