As a maker I have found discussions with other makers extremely useful. The exchange of ideas, philosophies and techniques is a big part of keeping the learning curve steep. Also feedback from players is vital. With this in mind I have a question to anyone who reads this “blog”and happens to play in a mandolin orchestra.
To explain: I have listened to a number of mandolin orchestras on line and when listening to the orchestra that Chris is in I was struck with the beautiful “crystalline” tone the mandolin section has especially when they played in the tremolo style.
The question is this: How much is the sound influenced by the fact that all the mandolins in Chris’s orchestra are the classic bowl back variety? Does this help give the mandolin section one voice? I have heard that in orchestras it is common to have the violins from the same maker.
My guess is the answer to this question will come from individuals who have experienced both mixed mandolins and exclusively classic mandolins. Any comments will be gratefully accepted. They will help me craft my instruments towards a suitable tone that will fit in orchestras. When I listen to a classic mandolin I hear an instrument with strong ” attack”,great power in the top end and reasonably short sustain. Also few sympathetic harmonics and of-course the crystalline tone……. For me “crystalline tone” is one that is clear or uncomplicated with few overtones. This sound makes it easier to hear the actual notes and their harmonics. Conversely an instrument with lots of overtones may have a pleasing overall sound however the overtones will reduce its power and clarity. The dreadnaught guitar is an example of this. I have found instruments with clear tone sound terrible if they are even a tiny bit out of tune but very rewarding when spot on.
Breaking down the sound.
To understand the sound a plucked string instrument makes I have broken it down into a few categories. There are probably others that I have, as yet,not considered. Anyway this is my way of understanding the sound and I hope it is of some help.
It has 2 parts…..attack and sustain. These 2 parts do not need any explanation.I have concluded that the greater the attack the less the sustain and visa verse.
About the Luthiers Journey article series
Richard Morgan is a maker (luthier) from Australia and a member of theMandolinTuner community. From the moment that Richard joined theMandolinTuner we started exchanging e-mails and I was very happy to read about his work, especially as Richard mandolins (and mandolas, mandocellos, etc.) are truly innovative, featuring a unique sound-board design and lots of other innovations as well.
Soon, I start thinking of Richard as a friend of mine and I shared with him my vision of creating a section for luthiers within theMandolinTuner, something I believe would be very interesting for theMandolinTuner community. I am happy to say that Richard liked my idea and what you read now is a series of articles we have planned as the first step towards realizing this vision. I named this article series “A Luthiers Journey”.
So, enjoy Richard describing his journey as an instrument maker.
– Chris Rizos
Instruments by Richard Morgan
Instruments by Richard Morgan are featured at www.extraordinaryinstruments.com
Thank you very much for such an insightful article. As a classical mandolin player, I have always been fascinated by this “mystic” world of the Luthiers. A lot of time I feel like I am sitting on the driving seat of a very expensive and complicated machine that I have no idea of how it works and what makes it tick.
I found the description of the main elements of the sound of the instrument, the attack and the sustain, extremely interesting. It is however the key question you raised, what would a classical player, like the one in Christos’s orchestra, pick as an instrument of preference.
It is an interesting question that unfortunately, as everything in this complicated life, does not have a straight answer. From my own experience, key element in a traditional mandolin orchestra is sound uniformity. Instruments should blend with no single instrument standing up, thus separating itself from the totality of the produced sound. Orchestra music should flow, ideally one should just close the eyes and listen to the music produced as it is played by one hand, smooth, ethereal and harmonic.
Those instruments in that specific orchestra would however, when played out of that context, sound dull and boring.
In my own humble opinion – and I am in no way an expert, just a decent player with enough experience to have formulated a preference- one needs therefore to have more than one instrument.
I am the owner of a traditional old-fashioned bowl back Italian style mandolin with a flat sound that sounds boring most of the times, but fits like a glove when playing an Italian serenade or a classical Vivaldi piece within a well-tuned team.
But, when alone, do I pick that mandolin to play and enjoy a bright full sound that makes my day brighter? No. I pick instead a lovely and extremely well crafted Weber A-style mandolin, where the lows are loud, clean and full and the highs are bright and extremely melodic.
Reading your article, you just triggered my curiosity to learn more about your art and magic. And made me also to want to experiment more with different sounding instruments and see how they perform and adjust within a group where, against bluegrass practice for example, the instrument should sound melodic and clear without making a fool of itself.
I hope that this long comment was helpful and made sense. Thank you so much for passing some of your wisdom and experience to us- curious drivers of your wonderful pieces of art.
And I do hope that one day I will be as to play and listen to one of your instruments. They look very intriguing, taking into account the amount of time and brain power that has gone into their creation
I think that it is important the musicians of the orchestra to have common approach and techniques, but it is interesting the instruments to have different sonic properties (timbre, color etc.). Different instruments add harmonics to the performance – on the other hand, playing technique differences may destroy the homogeneity.
These comments are valid, or even more important, in a unisono.
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