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October 13, 2006 | Back to the Wall?
The perpetual search for rich, resonant tone can be a daunting one. Sometimes it's the simple things we change, not just in string gauges or construction, pick shape, or adjusting the action and frets on the instrument, but in the way we hold the instrument.
Some instruments with vibrant backs can be opened up merely by being aware of how much they are touched as we play. If you've ever tapped on a drum head, you've discovered that vibrations are strongest in a circle between dead center and the edge of the drum. Middle of the drum isn't particularly hot, and the closer you get to the edge isn't live either, but inches away from either can be affected by putting your finger on the head.
Drummers have all kinds of ways of addressing this. Usually, they WANT to deaden some ring, some of the high, obnoxious overtones. They will used anything from expensive high-tech accessories to duct tape and newspapers, but its usually a science that is inexact and personal.
Mandolinists, however, want maximum vibration and need to be conscious of contact with the abdomen while playing. Bear in mind we are all different in size and shape, and this will vary with the degree of resonance of the wood in the back, where (and if) contact is made, and how close to the edge the instrument rests. There is no single, one-size-fits-all solution, simply an awareness that the one of the two biggest hunks of wood on your ax needs space to breathe.
Adjustments you can make include how far from the side the instrument rests and the angle from which it juts from your chest or stomach. You can rest this on the deader outer circle of the back and move the mandolin at a greater angle, headstock forward. This may not be comfortable to you. Strap height is another variable, but you also want your hands and wrists to remain unrestricted.
Lap playing works, too. Some of us still need the strap to assist in monitoring the distance, but many classical players will rest the instrument on a tacky cloth on their leg while they play. Again, you'll want to experiment, as the solutions out there are as individual and different as the variety of player sizes and instruments.
There's always the Tone-gard. We use this on several of our more resonant back instruments, and it not only breathes a new dimension of no-fuss richness, it keeps the back from getting scratched or marked. In our opinion, these are not expensive when you consider they preserve the value of your instrument AND open up your tone.
Check out the website: Tone-gard
Posted by Ted at October 13, 2006 6:28 AM
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