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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."



Steve Sorensen
SXS mandolin

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We've had the pleasure of spending some intimate moments with the new prototype SXS mandolin from southern California builder, Steve Sorensen, and are very optimistic this new design will be a great success story for the first half of the 21st century. Our third review of his craft, it seems his building only gets better.

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The immediate striking difference is the unique scroll. A non-traditional take on the Florentine, more of a shepherd's crook, and a daring aesthetic statement for a high-end instrument. More accurately though, he credits hot rod lines of the scroll to the inspiration from curves of a Bumblebee Trans Am. Not only pleasing to the eye, it balances the weight of the instrument for the player arguably better.

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If we had any nits to pick on this, there could have been another 1/8" separation from the body to allow a thicker strap to be squeezed in for hanging. (We had trouble getting our favorite Long Hollow Leather Softie in the gap without disassembling it, and we'd rather not leave the strap on the instrument in its case.) Still, we like the asymmetry with the absence of bottom horn, and with this wide open left hand real estate there is optimum access to the upper range of the instrument for the player with a developed high register prowess. The instrument is satisfyingly solid in its low range but absolutely dances in the upper frets.

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Strung with D'Addario FW74 flatwound strings, the tone is extremely balanced with strong and even string fundamental up, down and across the fretboard. The neck is very comfortable, a sort of hybrid round/V profile in back, round enough to feel solid, but an ever so slight ridge more to aid proximity awareness than grip.

These are what we've come to expect from a Sorensen mandolin--sensuous cosmetic touches, like the matching pickguard and in this case, a modern aesthetic to which he openly attributes to contemporaries John Monteleone and Hans Brentrup. Beautiful flame back, the white/tortoise/white body and neck binding bulls the auburn out of the outer end of the sunburst in harmony on both top and back. We like the way the gold hardware complements the interior of the burst.

The Shepherds Crook scroll silhouette is mirrored in the headstock and the natural grain of the wood overlay back is almost as compelling as the presentation of the front. We haven't found too many pearl inlay designs more attractive Steve's, and the unique incarnation of his Sprite signature is gripping. He tells the variation, part of a new series "references the classic 'reclining beauty' painting tradition of artists from Rembrandt to Picasso," and is unique to the new SXS line.

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We are partial to block inlay on the fingerboard, not just for aesthetics but the kind of subliminal GPS location it offers the fingertips. This is an expense on a custom build well worth the attention and extra price. Again, check out the way the pickguard burst mirrors the body.

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A year after commissioning the blueburst Sprite JM mandolin in 2012, we are even more convinced Sorensen's work is deserving of global attention. His instruments are not only visually stunning, the impeccable craftsmanship make them a true players instrument. Solid, consistent tone from an instrument that inspires fingers and ear.

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Builder's Website: Sorensen Strings
Review: Sorensen "Sprite" Asymmetrical 2-point mandolin
Review: Sorensen "Sprite" JM

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Contact: steve@sorensenstrings.com
Phone: 661-345-6684


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