The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #115668   Message #2478370
Posted By: JohnInKansas
28-Oct-08 - 02:50 PM
Thread Name: Tech: Mandolin-Oval vs. F-hole?
Subject: RE: Tech: Mandolin-Oval vs. F-hole?
Most of the "characteristics" claimed here are more the differences between how individual luthiers make their mandolins.

Generalizing, F-style mandolins do generally have a more "punchy" sound, because people who make F-style mandolins largely have bluegrass in mind, and that's what bluegrassers want.

Generalizing further, F-style mandolins are somewhat more likely to be disigned for heavier strings, and fairly frequently have a higher (and "stiffer") action because bluegrass players like/need to "cut through" with the "chops" needed to simulate a snare drum. To accommodate heavier strings, the neck on F-style mandos often is slightly "heavier" (fatter) than on A-style mandos, and the top may be, for some luthiers, a little thicker.

All of these differences are due to choices made by the luthier, based on the intended/expected use, and the tried and true methods of getting the most marketable product for the intended sucker customer.

Since the prevailing kinds of customers for A-style mandos don't particularly need the loud chops enough to sacrifice as much tonal quality, it's common for A-style mandos to be built to use lighter strings, and to be set up with less clearance between strings and fretboard and hence to have a "lighter" action. Thinner "box" plates commonly are used in A-Styles since players aren't expected to do a lot of the bluegrass "whanging chops."

You can find "crossover" instruments, in which a luthier made the choice to build a "bluegrass sturdy" A-Style, and/or a "sweet sounding F-style." The choice must be made based on the specific instrument and the luthier whose scam idea has been "put into the wood."

The "classic" difference between using a single hole and f-holes (always paired?) is based on the "need" to adjust the "box resonance" as the instrument is assembled. With a round or oval hole, trimming the hole size while keeping the hole round/oval can be somewhat difficult. With f-holes, only the "local sweep" of the hole edges has to be kept "pretty," so it's easier to make small changes in total hole area.

Not all luthiers consider "precise tuning" of the "Helmholtz resonance" to be a critical factor (especially for mandos) and quite a few use "whichever" depending on what they think looks cute, or what they think will sell best.

The "box resonance" depends only on the volume of air inside the box, and the total area of all the holes. The shape of the holes has no effect.

Other "features" are commonly associated with one or the other kinds of holes (in the minds of luthiers and of gullible informed buyers). It's not the holes that make the difference. The luthier who built the individual instrument must have "made the right associations" and then must have "successfully integrated" all the features (s)he wants the instrument to have. The builder can make 'em any way you want 'em, with either style of holes.