The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #124817   Message #2758916
Posted By: Mark Clark
03-Nov-09 - 04:36 PM
Thread Name: F-style or A-style mandolin?
Subject: RE: F-style or A-style mandolin?
Bob's analysis is right on the money. Since both “A” and “F” were Gibson model designations, there were major differences in construction, specifications and tone. The scrolls were only decorative since they are solid blocks, not hollow. The scrolls and points don't change the shape of the acoustic chamber inside the body of the instrument. The shape and trim differences were to visually announce the high-end nature of the instrument in a time when lavish carving and decoration were applied to the top models by most instrument manufacturers. But the acoustic engineering was vastly different between those Gibson models. It was a time when mandolin orchestras were popular and lots of people played mandolins of al sizes and shapes.

Today the “A” models are still preferred by classical mandolinists while the F-5 (not so much the F-4) is preferred by bluegrass musicians. The reasons as outlined by Bob are because the F-5 will cut through an ensemble and provide a percussive pulse much the way an archtop jazz guitar (also a Gibson/Loar innovation) cuts through the sound of a big band to provide the rhythmic pulse.

But modern makers often copy only the general outward appearance of Gibson's “A” and “F” model mandolins without necessarily reproducing the features that really distinguish one from the other. That's why you need play a lot of mandolin models from different manufacturers to make an informed purchase choice.

I know quite a few bluegrass mandolinists who play “A” style instruments but they universally have F holes, not round or oval ones. I also think modern music is better approached using a mandolin with fifteen frets to the body, not twelve as in the old “A” styles. But those players wishing to reproduce older music may prefer ths short necked “A” models.

Suffice it to say that for the most part we still get what we pay for. Like many others, I chose a Chinese made instrument in part because it cost less than an equivalent U.S., Czech or Australian made instrument but I only bought my Eastman because it played and sounded the way I wanted a mandolin to play and sound. And I bought on the high end, not the low. I probably saved a couple of thousand over non Pac-rim hand carved instruments but there are many U.S., Czech and Australian hand made instruments that will blow my Eastman away... starting around $US12,000.

      - Mark