Clark JM Jazz Mandolin
Tips & Tricks Mel Bay Mandolin Sessions

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Sage Wisdom

"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."

New Millennium Acoustic Design (NewMAD)
Mix A5 Mandolin
Listen to brief sound demo Mix A5 Audio

(click pictures for close-up)

NewMAD_Peter.jpgWhen Peter Mix first introduced the idea to us of exploiting the latest Carbon Fibre technology in the summer of 2006, and expanding them past the established and already widely accepted realm of violins, cellos, and basses on into mandolins, we were immediately sold. It seemed the right mix (pun intended); Peter's multi-decade savvy and understanding into what drives the current mandolin market in regards to tone, playability, and cosmetic panache, his broad marketing skills as the driving force and arguable "face" of Rigel Instruments, and the already existing credibility of CF in the production of high profile professional orchestral instruments. The components were there, it just needed the right imagination (and capital) to connect the dots.


Peter and his shareholders' major obstacle would of course be the suffocatingly "purist" narrow-mindedness of a majority contingent of the US market, the tobacco-burst F-5 dominating grip and popularity upon the mass market collective conscious.

(click pictures for close-up)

Technology blinders certainly aren't unique to the mandolin or the music industry. Even in sports, one ponders the nostalgic hold of the signature aural "crack" of a swamp ash bat over the aluminum "poing" in high school and collegiate sports. (Sounds great in a Telecaster, too.) Yet fishing rods, golf clubs, let alone high tech racing bike and car parts have fully embraced the benefits of CF advancements and achievements.


Back to mandolins, though, how often the traveling professional or the prudent elite hobbyist fears packing his/her $20K professional wood instrument for the stage and festival circuit, let alone the uncertainties of post 9-11 airline travel. Those of us who live in the harsher climatic extremes of temperature and humidity also know all too well the potential ravages intrinsic in the vulnerabilities of hand-carved and finely shaped wood.


Though durability is rarely a predominate purchase factor in all but elementary school band instruments, one has to consider the logic of dragging an irreplaceable heirloom into harsh climatic environments. It's no secret that many pros save their best axes for recording and local performance, preferring to pack a second, philosophical "travel" ax. We build a case for a purposeful safety net in acquiring the NewMAD for this reason alone, but let's not stop there and point out the significant benefits and enhancements privy to this amazing instrument.


We've always had better personal success amplifying mandolins that are designed around a pick-up, versus a great instrument with a pick-up designed around the instrument. This was a perceptive strength in the Rigel line, Ovation guitars and mandolins, and of course our own Phoenix "Jazz" which all have amplification as a centerpiece in its origins rather than afterthought.


Let's talk about the pick-up in ensemble context. The Schertler system in this A5 makes this instrument a "Plug and Play" dream come true. Authentic acoustic mandolin tone without the coloring or harmonic distortion is immediate. The unit was tested in performance in a high decibel environment, along with electric & acoustic guitars, bass, drums, and three singers. Initially, the ambitious mid-highs gave it a dreaded "artificial" sound but this was easily remedied with the 4-band EQ built into the amp it was tested in. Once that was remedied notching this out with one dial, it really strutted its stuff and sounding vibrant and genuine, truly admirable acoustic tone. (The rest of the band joked, "Doesn't sound like a 'plastic' mandolin!") Of course there was instant and monstrous feedback when the A5 was place 12" directly in front of the speaker face forward, but as long as it was kept farther, and NOT aimed that direction it behaved nicely. The band members heard it plugged in first; later playing acoustically they were impressed with how great the unplugged tone was.

A modicum of outboard EQ control is recommended, whether a separate box or a small variety of settings on the amp it plugs into. Other than the abundant mid-high frequencies, the instrument seemed ready for stage performance. Again, it's a treat to sling a trouble-free instrument that sounds this good amplified. As much as we treasured the Rigels, they did not plug in this effectively.


With the partnership and design prowess of world-class builder Will Kimble, it's no surprise this instrument plays superbly and sounds equally well. The ergonomics and comfort are there, a compromise 12" fingerboard radius is good middle ground for a large cross-section of players, even those of us who prefer something more radical in fretboard curve.

It's hard to put in words but there is a transparent yet instinctive sense of stability inherent engaging this A5. Hands and fingers grasp notes smoothly and intuitively on a dexterously adjusted and rock stable fretboard. One might miss the appreciably organic interaction with wood, but we contend the mandolin is both lively and responsive to touch. Not surprisingly, naysayers will struggle (and lose!) in disrespecting this as a "sterile" instrument.

NewMAD_Stand.jpg It doesn't have the piano-like high "ting" characteristic of an instrument three times the price, but the highs are clear and bell-like, convincingly pure and powerful. Midrange, however is where it really shines, although we suspected its lows would be richer strung with something other than the Stainless Steel it came with. Suspicions confirmed, and always ready to exploit the merits of our JazzMando JM11 flatwound strings, after a quick change to the JMs the A5 took on a surprising dimension of warm, verdant lows. All in all, it packs an evenness throughout the entire range of the fretboard, everything you'd expect of a world-class mandolin.

One might argue the case for comparable and abundant "A body" vintage or quality cottage builders' custom-built instruments holding a competitive price advantage over the mid $3K base price, but when you factor years of maintenance costs inherent in shifting wood and steel, this price difference would be diluted considerably. Like buying a later model car, one can count on significantly fewer repair and minor adjustment expenses. (Not to sound too much like a sales pitch, but carefully consider this when confronting the initial sticker shock of the NewMAD pricing.) Consensus: you'll get what you pay for, superlative design, sound, and undeniable, impregnable solidity.

Cosmetics? Certainly beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A player in the hunt for the organic familiarity of carefully aged wood and its intimate grain will no doubt be disappointed. Quite frankly, this is not the market New Millennium Acoustic Design is chartered to serve. This isn't to say a card-carrying "Loar Nazi" is immune to the comfort and solace owning one of these as an auxiliary. As mentioned, it wields distinct functional advantages. Sunbursts and poly-urethane finishes are available as an option (you can paint a car body, after all), but our consensus is the stock Carbon Fibre weave harbors its own hypnotic beauty. We would wear this proudly simply as is.


Currently the A5 (F-hole) and A4 (oval) are in production and available on a custom order basis. An F5 design is in the works, as well as talk of future expansions into Dolas, Octaves, and no doubt with Peter's own personal penchant for Tenor Guitars, this would likely be high up the list as well. It sounds like with enough market interest (and a critical mass of advance deposits) anything is possible. We discussed with Peter possiblities of a Two-point could be moved up in schedule; symmetrical seemingly more popular though our own tastes lean fondly toward an asymmetrical, for the jazz realm.


NewMAD is a fledgling company born out of a single vision and into a fickle but niche market. Truly "measure twice, cut once" in philosophy and market strategy, instrument selection must grow slowly and smartly, based on the "democratic" process of pre-ordered supply and demand. Ordered in advance of production, in the beginning they will be built as sold, and it will be interesting to see which models are embraced over the coming years.

Those who are impatient to immediately get their hands on a NewMAD must understand this is the strategy of 21st manufacturing and the New Retail. The only way a builder can survive in today's harsh global competitive market environment is to create products that serve the needs of the market, rather than make an instrument and merely wish for customers to meander over to the need. From where we sit, this crew seems to be making very smart decisions.

This instrument was done well, and we anticipate many more will follow. Kudos to Peter, Will, and company.

Website: New Millennium Acoustic Design

Purchase information: email or Phone 802-644-5607

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