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"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."
3-note mandolin chords. Better range and timbre, more versatility in transposing up and down the fingerboard, and of course, a more pragmatic base for chord melody playing. Terrific for other 5th tuned instruments including mandola, mandocello, and 5-string mandolins, too.
Not only for great for sipping you coffee in the morning, our best-selling chord mug is a chance to learn our favorite sets of 3-note chord grips. Stick to the lower three strings and build your comping vocabulary of them leaving your E strings for melody and the "color commentary" of chord extensions, #9, b13, #11, etc.
June 26, 2014 | Caffeinated Swing from Colorado's "Espresso!"
There's just something happy about the sound of clarinet in an acoustic swing band. It also complements the sound of the mandolin, aptly demonstrated in the new release from the Boulder, CO based quartet, Espresso. The self-titled project varies from the mournful cry in Minor Swing to the restless abandon of 'Deed I Do. Solid le pompe guitar and driving bass, this is not only a fun CD, it's a great study in the potential of mandolin in a great acoustic swing band.
Members include Bill Pontarelli, clarinet; Jordan Ramsey, mandolin; Emily Reynolds, rhythm guitar; Ben Berry, bass.
Facebook Page: Espresso
We posted mandolinist Jordan Ramsey's YouTube performance of the bop classic "Au Privave" last week. If you enjoyed that as much as us, you'll want to check out his TAB transcription in our recent Tips and Tricks column.
We first caught these at Summer NAMM last year. The new D'Addario Planet Waves NS Micro headstock tuner has been out since, and we have one pictured below mounted one on one of our favorite instruments, the Clark JM-5 Signature 5-string.
As we reported last fall, the headstock on this instrument was a challenge for the older NS Mini in placement. We were able to make it work well, but it took some mental energy to get it just so. However, once there, there is no need to move it. The NS Mini became a virtual part of the instruments.
The newer slightly smaller Micro is even more flexible. What we enjoyed is the new reversible "flip button" that allows you to place it on the headstock upside down with out having to physically change the display. New to this is a center that changes the orientation with software. Instantaneous.
NS MIcro size comparison with previous gen NS Mini. Even smaller footprint.
The 2nd generation of the NS Mini offered a three color approach to tuning, not only the green "you're there" and red "you're not there," it added a yellow "almost there." This newer offers the same but we felt the responsiveness was even better on this newer NS Micro. The power automatically shuts off in 10 minutes, but you'd still want to manually turn it off to save battery. We never had problems finding CR2032 replacement batteries for our old ones, though.
An added bonus is the unit's metronome. It's flash only so it's handy for silent tempo starts (no sound), not so much as a pedagogical tool.
With a street price barely $15, you can't go wrong.
This custom mandola was finished in 2008 by California player and hobbyist builder Ed Hume. It was recently listed, and too late for us to pick up, already has a sale pending. It was based on our favorite, the iconic L-5 arch top guitar.
Ed tells us interest in the instrument has been good, and he's considering producing more.
We certainly hope so!
*Black sitka spruce carved top, traditional bracing
*Legacy walnut back and sides - from a walnut slab that was originally part of master woodworker Sam Maloof's wood stocks. At one point it was used as a table top in the rustic style. Nice vertical grain, sapwood center.
*Top and fretboard bound with ivaroid binding
*Adjustable truss rod
*17-3/4" scale length - play it with same fingering as a mando but tuned CGDA - a fifth lower
*Mahogany three-piece neck with ebony center.
*Ebony headstock veneer with MOP torch inlay
*Grover tuners with pearloid buttons
*Ebony fretboard radiused to 12'
*Ebony adjustable bridge
*Bound walnut finger rest
*Artec internal mic pickup, strap-button jack. Hinged battery door in lower bout.
*Great deep mellow tone.
We offered this last week, a chance to try the new Dunlop PrimeTone1.3 Semi-round pick. You have the choice of purchasing one in a trial pack along with our JazzMando V-pick and the JazzMando Proplec.
Cut from the same material as their Ultex series (this incarnation a more traditional brown instead of yellow), the pick has plenty of rigidity without being overwhelmingly heavy. Not quite as thick as our 1.5mm JazzMando V-pick or Proplec, it still carves a lovely tone out of a double course instrument, rich with fundamental. The no-slip texture also feels great in the fingers, but the tone sculpting magic is in the pick's custom bevel. There are other sizes available elsewhere, this is the one we latched on to
We always enjoy catching up with the latest from our favorite builders. Back fresh from the Grass Valley festival, Austin Clark with a picture of a delicious Cherry Cola-burst octave mandolin. Of course we're biased because both our Clark mandos are the same finish.
You'd struggle to find a better textbook mandolin solo transcription of the jazz classic "Au Privave" than Dave Peters' interpretation. Colorado fret master Jordan Ramsey demonstrates admirably in the following YouTube recording.
June 14, 2014 | Avoid the treacherous "Third Rail" playing mandolin
We've mentioned in several articles the hazards of playing mandolin like a guitar. We've also recommended you be careful of some things when playing WITH a guitar. This week's Tips and Tricks column is exactly that, the critical things you need to avoid in this kind of ensemble situation while playing an accompaniment role.
In April of 2010, we had the rare opportunity of three different 10-string instruments under the same roof. Each builder had a unique approach to them.
The first two regular mandolin scale, recently deceased Brazilian luthier JP Charles's archtop bandolim, with more of the characteristic Brazilian brilliance (tempered by our use of D'addario Chrome Flatwound strings), the second was the recently reviewed Gypsy's Music nylon string with its warmer, richly round tonal character.
Walt has since moved from Arizona to Maryland and has a new website.
Click for close-up
The third was fresh off the bench of New England Luthier Pete Langdell of Rigel Instruments, this R-200 started its life off as an 8-string mandola, and with a new neck, bridge, tailpiece, tuners, K&K pickup, and the revolutionary fanned fret system, the instrument is now a 10-string. We're asked frequently about the adjustment in playing this system, but really, it only takes a few minutes to adjust. Since you have mandolin scale (14-1/2") on the E-strings and mandola scale (16") on the C-strings with a the inside strings graduated between, it isn't any different than the natural adjustment one might make playing the two different instruments in one setting. If you want access to the best in both ranges, you have to make the acclimation one way or the other.
A graphic of the Rigel 10-string is available on a shirt and several other accessories in our CafePress Logo Store.
We were excited to see the Mandolin Cafe interview with Collings Guitar manager and industry veteran Steve McCreary on their journey into the new line of tenor guitars. Other than the overpriced vintage Martin market and the entry level import guitars, there really hasn't been much out there to acquire, and of course virtually zero middle ground.
The 1G appears to be on the high end, so we're not seeing an intermediate instrument, but we're just glad to see some attention paid to this. Tuned CGDA like a mandola (sometimes string with lighter strings for octave tuning), the tenor guitar offers the volume of the traditional arch and flat-top guitar with the 5ths tuning, making it an ideal accompaniment instrument.
We had the privilege of a private tour of the Collings factory in 2006 during the Summer NAMM show in Austin, Texas. Needless-to-say, we were pretty blown away by the operation.
June 8, 2014 | Limited Primetone Semi-Round pick trial special
One of the highlights of the Winter NAMM show earlier this year was our introduction to the new Dunlop PrimeTone series picks. In particular, we found the 1.3 Semi-round compelling, and have used it the last five months. We still alternate with the the JazzMando V-pick and the JazzMando Proplec depending on the instrument, but this Primetone is one of the best mass machined picks we've ever found.
Cut from the same material as their Ultex series (this incarnation a more traditional brown instead of yellow), the pick has plenty of rigidity without being overwhelmingly heavy. Not quite as thick as our 1.5mm JazzMando V-pick or Proplec, it still carves a lovely tone out of a double course instrument, rich with fundamental. The no-slip texture also feels great in the fingers, but the tone sculpting magic is in the pick's custom bevel.
There are three different shapes, the standard 351 shape guitar pick, the large triangle, and our preferred semi-round. Some are available in a low profile "grip" texture, but we like the traditional smooth surface, which already has its own moderate tackiness. Most are 1.3 mm, although the guitar size also comes in a .88, and the large triangle a 1.4 or 1.5mm.
Hand-burnished sculpted edges
Made from Ultex material
Available in three different shapes with a low-profile grip or a smooth traditional surface
Want to compare our three favorite picks?
We want to give you the chance to compare all three, so we're offering a VERY LIMITED "Tri-Try Pack" of the there rounded triangle picks for you to compare. You get a clear JazzMando V-pick, JazzMando Proplec, and one of the new traditional grip Dunlop 515 in the 1.3 gg. Be advised it took us nearly five months to get the Primetones, so these will be limited to first come, first serve.
Click to order: NOTE: QUANTITIES LIMITED!
JazzMando Tri-Try Pack, US
Clear JazzMando V-pick, JazzMando Proplec, Primetone 515-1.3mm for $13.95 (including US shipping and handling)
JazzMando Tri-Try Pack International
Clear JazzMando V-pick, JazzMando Proplec, Primetone 515-1.3mm for $15.95 (Canadian/International shipping and handling)
Just want a couple new Primetones? Buy two for $7.95 US (add $2.00 Canadian/International)
JazzMando Tri-Try Pack, US
Two Primetone 515-1.3mm for $6.95 (including US shipping and handling)
JazzMando Tri-Try Pack International
Two Primetone 515-1.3mm for $9.95 (Canadian/International shipping and handling)
Orders must be placed through online shopping cart.
June 6, 2014 | Dorian/Minor in Reverse: New free PDF
If you missed yesterday's Tips and Tricks column, you'll want to be sure to check out the latest in our FFcP exercises, the reverse version of our Dorian/Minor FFcP Studies. Rather than start from the bottom, we go top down and back. It gets interesting especially when you start adding some of the melodic minor variations of the 6th and 7th scale degrees when thinking broken chords (arpeggios).
We continue to expand on these individual exercises with the goal of publishing a supplementary book.
June 4, 2014 | Siminoff string tension report on Mandolin Cafe
Most mandolinists are oblivious to the tension demands of the string sets they settle into. A lot of attention is paid to gauge, light, medium, medium light, etc., but the real story is in the individual tension of stings on bridge and string balance. Roger Siminoff, one of the world's foremost authorities on string instrument repair and building science was at the heart of understanding and publishing how tension impacts tone and playability. His efforts to coordinate and document string manufacturer specs reads like a novel in a reprint of an intriguing article posted on the Mandolin Cafe.
We became aware of the importance of tension in developing (and personally using) flatwound string marketability. The gauging on flatwounds is often misleading as the string core and winding produce more downward pull the players realize. In other words lighter flatwounds can still lend the same tension as heavier roundwound. This article helps to understand why.
Siminoff writes, "In the early 1970s, I performed some tests to measure string tensions at the bridge of fixed-bridge instruments, and the associated lateral down-pressure loads on those instruments with movable bridges and tailpieces. What I found was that the relative tension of each string in a set of strings was critically important to the timbre; amplitude, sustain, clarity, and most importantly, the string-to-string balance."
June 2, 2014 | Better tone with a JazzMando V-pick
Vinni Smith, founder V-picks, Summer NAMM 2011
Back in 2011, we were proud to introduce another JazzMando innovation in the pursuit of maximum mandolin tone, the JazzMando Signature V-pick. The start of every good note on a fretted string instrument begins with a controlled, clean pick stroke. That can only happen with a good stroke and a quality pick.
Players have been known to spend up to $40 on a boutique pick. That's not unreasonably expensive when you consider what a good instrument can cost, but if you could spend less and accomplish the same tone and control, you would, wouldn't you? At least you'd give it a try.
We worked with Vinni Smith at V-picks in 2011 to come up with what we consider one of the better premium picks on the market. We took the proven success of the widely popular JazzMando 346 ProPlec (over 8,000 sold),with its acetate construction, large rounded triangle shape, and smooth bevel and worked it into the acrylic science of the V-pick. What we added though, was unique--a 3-point backside strategic etching.
What made the JazzMando ProPlec better than the standard 346 ProPlec was simple. The gold-stamped etching gave an additional grip on a smooth, large surface, both sides. The V-pick is already known for its playing tack, but we went the next step adding a slight backside etching to give the player an intuitive "reference" on the fleshy part of the thumb. Face it, compared to a guitar pick, there's a lot of real estate there, and having that locating mark is like building a GPS into your pick. Many players like the speed holes, some for lightness, but more often for pick reference. Holes are also known to weaken pick integrity (we know after breaking prototypes, ourselves), so the etching is the best compromise.
If you haven't already, try these for yourself. We're shipping them out $9.95 each, or two for $14.95 (Domestic shipping included.) Since the introduction of the clear, we've added a blue pick for $14.95, and if you check in with us directly, we have a handful or red ones, too (same price as the blue).