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Old 10-29-2020, 03:37 PM
Br1ck Br1ck is offline
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A word on mandolin cost, particularly F style mandolin cost. I bought a really cheap F style mandolin on closeout. It was probably $600 list and Michael Kelly was blowing out a discontinued model. It was an OK mandolin I could work on stress free. Well, I put a ton of work into it. Redid the nut, fit the saddle and leveled the frets. Got it to be easy to play. Not even close to my Silverangel A style, but I found myself playing it all the time. Oh no, I had the F style bug. But $5000 for a mandolin, or even $3k for a Northfield? No way. So I bought some CNC parts from a luthier, you could call it a kit, but nothing was done beyond the plates, and that was rough. After a year, I had a mandolin. I would do something, then I'd wait a month to get up nerve to continue. What I learned was $5000 is very reasonable. I had a great if angst filled time and have an appreciation I never had before. A fully bound F style with some headstock inlay is a steal for $7500. The mandolin I built is close enough to the $5000 mandolins (sound only) that I've had to up my budget and hope I get a well played mandolin with cosmetic issues for four to five grand. I'd be thrilled. They really take as much time as an archtop guitar. You can spend $500 on the wood alone.
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Old 10-30-2020, 05:49 PM
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BoneDigger BoneDigger is offline
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Recently I have gotten into octave mandolin and Bouzouki because I find the fretboard less intimidating and it's easier for me to sing with. I have a Pono guitar bodied OM coming tomorrow. Pretty exciting!

I own a Kentucky KM272 and have been pretty happy with it. I don't really try to play bluegrass so the round hole works better for my needs. I just wish it had a wider nut!
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Old 11-03-2020, 04:35 PM
Slim Zooms Slim Zooms is offline
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Originally Posted by Wade Hampton View Post
Br1ck wrote:

I agree, even though I feel that any prior stringed instrument experience makes learning other stringed instruments easier.

But, yes, because everything on a mandolin is so small, any slight change in the string height and bridge placement has an outsized effect on the instrument's tone and playability. When I was using my "Sumi-era" Kentucky KM-604 A model mandolin onstage, I used to get it dialed in and re-intonated every six months: when the snow came to stay here up in Alaska, then six months later when the snow was gone to stay.

It makes a big difference, because the crown of an arched top mandolin will get higher when the wood swells a little bit from the humidity of spring and summer, and lower when the humidity of winter dries things out a little bit.

That not only affects the playing action, but it also changes the tone to a remarkable degree.

LJ, I actually starting learning mandolin considerably earlier than I did guitar. My first instrument was mountain dulcimer, and once I started getting good on that I took up mandolin, with a crappy all-plywood Harmony mandolin factory reject that I put some hardware on and strung up. Then my godmother gave me the Larson Brothers mandolin she had bought new as a teenager in Joliet, Illinois in the late 1920's, and that was a much more rewarding instrument to learn on, as you might imagine.

I was starting to get fairly good on mandolin when I went to see an outdoor concert put on by the Kansas City Parks & Recreation department, in my hometown of KC. It was the Lester Flatt bluegrass band, with a juvenile Marty Stuart playing mandolin:

Marty Stuart playing with Lester Flatt

He was twelve but he's so small (and still is small) that he looked like he was about seven. And he totally tore up that mandolin fretboard.

I saw that and saw no hope that I could ever be even as remotely as good as he was, and that was so discouraging that I put the mandolin away and didn't touch it again for three or four years.

Which was stupid of me, but budding musicians can easily get discouraged at times.

But because my godmother had given me the mandolin and it was, in that sense, a family heirloom, I held onto it and eventually returned to playing it. Thank goodness I held onto it, because when I was ready to return to mandolin it was ready and waiting.

I won't bore you with my further mandolin acquisitions, but around the year 2000 or 2001 I was given another mandolin that proved to be life-changing - it turned out to be an extremely rare National wood-bodied resonator mandolin made a year or two before WWII.

It didn't have any brand name on the headstock, but it clearly had National hardware on it. When I talked to Don Young, the then-president and co-owner of National Reso-Phonic Guitars, he got very excited and told me that the mandolin I was having restored was an extremely rare model, one of only about a dozen ever made.

He then asked me that once the restoration was finished whether I'd be willing to send it down to them at the National factory so they could study it, because they had been wanting to market a mandolin. "We'll give you one of the new ones if we end up yours as the basis for the new model," he said.

So to make a long story short, I became the primary consultant on their mandolin development process, and a convert to playing resonator mandolins instead of the wooden archtop mandolins I used to use onstage and still own and play at home.

Here's the mandolin that National and I came up with:

National Reso-Phonic RM-1 Mandolin

I'm the primary reason that it has a strong Art Deco aesthetic to it. Don and Mac, the two owners of the company, were going another direction with its appearance when I said: "National was making all these great Art Deco-inspired instruments, especially in the 1930's. That's the look you should be using." They realized that I'd made a good point, and that's why the RM-1 looks the way it does.

These current resonator mandolins are not only loud, but have a beautiful tone when they're in a wooden body (as opposed to the metal body resonator mandolins, which in my opinion sound like a galvanized steel trashcan being kicked down six flights of stairs...)

The coolest thing about my National mandolins, I feel, is the slight reverb effect and the sustain on them, which lasts far longer than it can on archtop mandolins. Since I lead a church music group, this gives me the ability to phrase the melodies of the songs we sing in a very vocal-like way.

So that's the road less traveled, but it's a useful one for those of us who aren't strictly playing bluegrass music and need those qualities I've just described.

Hope that makes sense.

Wade Hampton Miller
Hi Wade
Crikey, what a great & informative post! I love those resonator mandolins & the ones you consulted on look brilliant!
You need to write a book on your experiences your posts are always a great read.


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Old 11-08-2020, 02:11 PM
varmonter varmonter is offline
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I've been playing mandolin since
the 70's. Started with cheap bowl back
In college. Played in a BG band
Back then. Owned an alverez for about 10
Years ..then bought a rigel.
When vw was buying back
their diesel cars I was lucky enough
To have one and they gave me
Almost 3 times what it was worth.
I had this windfall and bought an
Ellis mandolin (austin) . The Ellis A5 special.
A5 mandolins sound just like
F styles but without all the horns
And less labor involved in building
More bang for your buck. This is a very
Nice mandolin and not something I would
Buy if I hadn't had that windfall.
But I love it and play it often.
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