Road Trip III

Mandolin Road Trip

 

In May to October 2013 I organised a Road Trip of one of my mandolins for members of The Acoustic Soundboard Forum. The mandolin, "Ceol Binn Taistealaí" or "Sweet Music Traveller" has a European spruce top with Bubinga back and sides and Maccassar ebony bindings and spends three weeks or so with each participant.

 

 

With the strings on for just an hour or so I did some quick recordings with my Zoom H4N (No effects and flat EQ). First the strings played individually and strummed in my usual GDAD tuning followed by a stumble through the four part jig "The Maid at the Spinning Wheel". Then some "strummage".

 

May 2013: Joe, London

 

Here's some videos Joe made with "Ceol Binn Taistealaí" introduced by him.

 

Here's the first video, a compliation of Dave's build photos, which I have taken the not inconsiderable liberty of setting to some music played by me - the traditional tune "Drowsy Maggie":

 

 

Here's another video of CBT music I've stitched together in Windows Movie Maker with some old photos. CBT is capoed at the first fret and the tune is Gordon Duncan's "Sleeping Tune". That's an unusual thing to do on a mandolin but not an issue with CBT owing to the longer-than-normal scale length, it also means that you can play along on your Highland Bagpipes!

 

 

Here's my first video of the CBT being played , the traditional tune "Maid Behind the Bar". I took a chance playing this reel three times through and it very nearly paid off!

 

 

Here's "The Glasgow Reel":

 

And for my grand finale (for now at least), feel free to dance along with this one "The Can-can":

 

 

Here's one more video, the tune is O'Carolan's Concerto and was recorded shortly after the Sleeping Tune so the capo is still on the first fret. The video is a compilation of photos of CBT next to my own Ceol Binn II, photos were taken in a bit of a hurry with a Blackberry on the morning I set off to take CBT to Keith's, so not the greatest quality! "Carolan's Concerto":

 

 

Here's Joe's review of CBT:

 

Background: I already own a Ceol Binn mandolin, which I commissioned from Dave last year. Mine has a cedar top and cuban mahogany back and sides so I was looking forward to being able to "compare and contrast" the two instruments for three weeks! CBT has a slightly deeper body, which I didn't notice while playing but appearance-wise I think I prefer the thinner version. CBT felt like it had a slightly thicker neck too, and also a wider tailpiece - again on both counts I prefer my own instrument's dimensions. The tuners are both gold hardware and ebony buttons but of different manufacture, but both good quality and I didn't notice any difference in use. Other than that, my CBII and CBT are more or less the same - same body shape, scale length, nut width and string spacing. The nut width and scale length in particular are fairly unique attributes of the Ceol Binn model, being a little wider and longer respectively than other mandolins on the market, and likely to appeal to guitarists like myself who often find the standard mandolin dimensions too cramped for comfort.

 

Appearance: Pale spruce top which as we know will darken nicely with age and exposure to light. There are one or two areas of figuring - I think known as "bearclaw" - which some people may like, though I suspect over time on a mandolin it may start to blend in with pick marks and become less of a "feature". Back and sides (plus the soundhole rosette) is Bubinga, I haven't had the good fortune of examining this wood up close before now but it has a very attractive "3D" quality to it when you tilt and turn it at different angles to the light. This makes it very difficult to photograph - dark stripes appear on one side or the other depending on where the light hits it, which can make the two sides look less "bookmatched" than they actually are. In the flesh though, it is a real pleasure to behold! The neck is mahogany and the front and back headstock overlays and tuner buttons are both ebony, matching the fingerboard and bridge, and the tuner hardware, frets and tailpiece are all gold, so there is an aesthetic unity to the head, neck and body of the instrument. The overall appearance then is quite simple, but with well-chosen details (like the black/pear/black purflings on the soundhole and ebony-bound fingerboard, back and sides).

 

Sound: Unfortunately the instrument suffered from a few buzzes during its 3 weeks here, this is the downside of being first on the roadtrip as any new instrument inevitably has a period of "settling in" under the tension of strings. I had a go at shimming the saddle myself and also, as Dave doesn't live too far from me, took the instrument for a more expert diagnosis - Dave raised the nut a little. I suspect the buzzes may not yet be completely cured, but we know they can be fixed fairly easily if they resurface. I certainly didn't get the feeling that there is anything fundamentally at fault with the sound - just the opposite in fact. The mandolin has a good amount of sustain and I found it surprisingly "warm" for a new spruce-topped instrument. Maybe psychological but I thought there was something "guitar-like" about the tone, whatever the case I enjoyed playing it and it's very exciting to think there should be even better sounds to come!

 

Conclusion: The buzzing problems were somewhat frustrating as I lack the skill to diagnose and fix these myself, but overall I'm very impressed. The Ceol Binn model deserves success and I think CBT in particular has a very promising future ahead.

 

May-June 2013: Keith, Somerset

 

Here's a picture of the handover:

 

 

Here's recordings and videos Keith made with "Ceol Binn Taistealaí" introduced by him.

 

I did manage a couple of quick recordings this morning - both are using previously recorded guitar/mandolin multitrack efforts - I just played the main melody on CBT in each case and substituted it for the pre-existing Fylde mandomelody in a remix. "Calum's Road" (written Donald Shaw) with CBT backed by my Fylde Alex. Allso one of my own tunes, "Elenor's" which has CBT playing the main melody throughout, plus two backing guitar tracks (Fylde Orsino) and a harmony part (Fylde Walnut Touchstone mandolin).

 

.Here is a chirpy tune - " Dill Pickle Rag" - a bit too chirpy for me really, hence the timing is a bit unintentionally ragged in places, and there are several goofs which at this speed fortunately don't last for long! This is another old recording with the Davidson mandolin that was there with my Fylde Alex muted to make way for CBTs morning run!

 

Here's a tune recorded on CBT to a pre-existing guitar track on Fylde Alex from a while back. I only know the tune as Hambo, which is a Swedish dance, so I suppose it has a more specific name somewhere or other, but anyway, here is Hambo!

 

Here's a simple but quirky waltz - "Chinese Waltz". CBT takes the melody and an overdubbed harmony, whilst FT (Sapele Butterfly Road Trip guitar) with capo at fret 7 tinkers away in the background. Usual Zoom H2 as USB mic, flat eq, minimal room reverb. Don't know who wrote this one, (it came from a friend's book for whistle I think) but the harmony part is home-grown. (And, misplayed for a couple of notes near the end, resulting in unwanted unison that I didn't notice till it was all mixed and uploaded etc.)

 

So, a video of CBT at last! My arrangements of two traditional airs "The Lark In the Clear Air and Singing Bird," (subtitled "Killing Two Birds with one Tune") :

 

 

Here's a video with some hornpipes. The tunes are "Harvest Home" (trad), "The Boys of Bluehill" (trad), and "The Black Pig" (one of mine):

 

 

Here's a comparison between CBT and my Fylde Walnut Touchstone mandolin. After the 4-bar intro, and beginning with CBT, CBT and FWT take 8 bars each alternating throughout. The tune is in AABB format, so CBT has A-B-A-B- (twice) and FWT has -A-B-A-B (twice). Hope that makes sense. FT strummage throughout, recorded using a Zoom H2 as USB mic, flat eq, tiny bit of room reverb on final mix. Both mandolins were recorded at same distance from Zoom and no adjustment to their relative volumes. The tune is "Balquhidder Lasses" - a tune claimed by the English and also by the Scots, so it's not only a mando shoot-out!! Had a bit of fun with some pics as well, so here's a video which shows which instruments are playing - the change-overs are almost in the right places!

 

 

Here's CBT and FT with three tunes, "Gypsy Lullaby" (by piper Billy Pigg) and two well known session tunes, "Chief O'Neill's Favourite" (trad hornpipe) and "The Merry Blacksmith" (trad reel). No joins this time, but only once through each tune - daren't try to be too clever and do twice!

 

 

Here's a new tune of mine , a piece for solo mandolin. Had to do it in sections and edit them together as I still haven't quite cracked it. Thanks Dave - this one is for you and CBT - it's been great fun!

 

 

Finally here's the CBTx3 multitrack version of Tanya's, a tune I wrote (with obvious influences) some years ago for fiddle and guitar, using a load of pics I took last week for a backdrop in the video:

 

 

Here's Keith's review of CBT:

 

Appearamce: beautifully chosen and assembled woods - no unnecessary flash, just luscious woodiness. The bubinga back is very 3-D looking in the right light and at the right angles. A very elegant looking instrument I think. All the wood colours complement each other perfectly. The "anterior" strap button isn't where I'd put it from the aesthetic point of view, but works well functionally.

 

Playing Comfort: the brief was to produce a "guitarist friendly" mandolin - result - success! The longer than most scale length helps to some degree, but the wider string spacing based around a 34mm f/b width at nut is the real winner for me. Some mandolins are 28mm which I find very cramped; my Fylde is 30mm which is much better, but the 34mm of CBT gives a much airier feel and allows me to finger very easily and successfully some chord shapes that I find tricky on my Fylde. The spacing didn't seem to hinder my tune playing, though admittedly that isn't as fast as I would like to begin with. The guitar sized fretwork is very neat, and allows an easy playing feel and a low action with no untoward noises - this could well still be a work in progress as CBT settles down. Dave was kind enough to put a new nut and saddle on CBT after Joe had passed it on. I subsequently shimmed the saddle a tiny bit to elimimate a couple of slight buzzes on the D and A pairs. When I passed it on to Ben I thought I should maybe have gone a little higher at the saddle, but when CBT returned a few weeks later it felt and sounded just fine. As the f/b is curved, maybe it might help to have the A and D pairs set slightly higher at the saddle than the G and E pairs? The binding around the top is a little sharp, and can cause some forearm discomfort - a minor point and one which could easily be remedied.The tailpiece is the only problem really, and that was due to suppliers changing their spec. The G and E string pairs are forced to take a fairly sideways angled path over the saddle which looks odd, but also makes it difficult to get a properly notched saddle to reroute the string well, and hold it laterally and give a clean exit from the saddle. I believe Dave is looking to change the tailpiece, having sourced some which will allow a more suitable string spacing. The wound strings are lightish for a mando, (intentionally so) and I tended to find them feeling slightly loose compared to the unwound strings. Maybe I'd have done a little experimentation (Dave did supply some slightly heavier Gs) given longer. I'd especially like to try a slightly lighter A pair to even out the transition from wound to unwound.

 

Sound: full of character - loud, sustaining, chiming, rich. Well, you've heard it, at least in the recordings. The deeper than usual body adds richness I'm sure. The resulting sound, especially strummed on not new strings has an almost guitar-like quality to it somehow thanks to the sustain - I liked that. With new strings the sound is very clear and crisp yet still richer than you'd expect. Very much liked the sounds this instrument is capable of producing! The soundport helps the player to appreciate the sound all the more. Very responsive instrument, as you'd expect from Mr White.

 

Other stuff: CBT comes in a rectangular Hiscox mandolin case - light and strong, with a huge amount of storage space for straps and strings, sandwiches, underwear etc. plus Dave's usual "case candy" - build CD and instrument leaflet.

 

I really enjoyed my time with CBT - a characterful, easy to play and great sounding instrument. In fact, as I said before, I like it a lot, and it's good as well! Thanks again for the chance of experiencing CBT Dave!

 

June-July 2013: Ben, Devon

 

Here's a picture of the handover:

 

 

 

Here's Ben's review of CBT:

 

I was keen to get involved in the roadtrip more as a way of being involved in the forum and experiencing another builder's instruments rather than as a keen mandolin player - although, having played a little mandolin in the past, I was intrigued by Dave's wider spacing and ideas about construction. After receiving the Mando from Keith I spent a good time just looking it over to be honest - the bubinga looked lovely and Dave's 'semi matt' finish works really well. The soundport was neat and the insides looked well built (if a little more 'handmade' than some other instruments I've seen!). Apart from the slightly off tailpiece, aesthetically everything worked really well and I strummed the first chord. What a big sound from such a small instrument! Every other mando I've played seems to put the sound out quickly then cut it off, but Dave's had tons of sustain and a guitar-like voice which I found worked great for chord work and for my limited melody playing as well - the wider string spacing really helped with this. Now my custom Fylde arrived a few days after receiving the mandolin so I have to admit to have not put it completely through the wringer, but I probably played for a good 15 minutes everyday and enjoyed every minute of it.

 

I just wanted to come on here and say thanks to Dave for letting the mando go out on this trip - not only for allowing me to have it but for giving me the oppotunity to meet up with Keith as well (we'd been talking about meeting so I could play his Alex since before I ordered mine and it was good to finally spend a couple of hours together earlier today!).

 

July 2013: Pit Stop

 

"Ceol Binn Taistealaí" spent a few days back at base sorting out a few issues including re-gluing a K&K transducer that had come loose. The main fix was to replace the tail-piece which has been a whole Saga of its own. I ordered the same tail-piece I'd used on my first three mandolins for CBT and didn't notice any difference (if I made lots more mandolins it would have been more apparent) until Joe pointed out at the East Anglia Guitar Festival that it was a bigger tailpiece than on his CB II. I had a chat with David Dyke and it seems that the German supplier had changed the design so that the same overall shape could be used for the 8, 10 and 12 string options that they made and didn't tell him. The 8 string new one was a lot bigger. I bought some of the old style 12 string tailpieces from David and when they arrived they were only a fraction larger than the old 8 string ones but more interestingly were slightly lighter in weight and by leaving gaps the 12 string setting could be used to give a much straighter string path across the saddle. I used one of these on your CBM, fitted one to my CB III where it worked well and today I changed out the tailpiece on CBT for one of these. Here's CBT with it's new slimline and straight string path tailpiece ready to go on the Road Trip once again:

 

 

July -August 2013: Paul, Dorset

 

Here's a picture of the handover:

 

 

August - September 2013: Leo, Manchester

 

Here's a picture of the handover:

 

 

"I have the pleasure of being the custodian of the Roadtrip Mandolin for a few weeks and have much enjoyed noodling on it. Now, I'm no mandolin player but it is significantly more roomy (and therefore easier for me to play) than my other mandolins and I love the bright sound it gives. There's little point in me doing a proper review, I'll leave that to thems as know what they're talking about, but I though you might like to hear something played on it; just to give you an idea ... "A Traditional Song".

 

September 2013: Lynn, Lincolnshire

 

Here's a picture of the handover:

 

 

September 2013: Bernd, Germany

 

At the Acoustic Soundboard meeting at Halifax there were two handovers, one from Lynn to Bernd who had CBT for the weekend:

 

 

October 2013: Martin, Scotland

 

Then Bernd handed it on to Martin:

 

 

Here's a couple of videos of Martin playing Donal Shaw's "Callum's Road" and the reel "Jenny Dang the Weaver":

 

 

 

The final three videos from Martin playing the Alan MacDonald hornpipe "Leave the Poor Pipes Alone", the jig "The Price of a Pig" and the Shetland reel by Ian Burns "Spootiskerry":

 

 

 

 

"I don't feel like doing a review as such, as I'm not all that qualified to do so, but I am happy to scribble my personal impressions of the instrument here.

 

From the first look at the mandolin, it was impressive. Lovely looking woods, with a subtle finish made it instantly classy in my eyes. Lifting it from its Hiscox case, I was surprised at its weight - heavier than I expected, but I guess that's mainly down to the woods used as well as the dimensions of the mandolin - it's deeper than my Moon for example, and has a far more substantial neck. The attention to detail is very good, with very attractive bindings and wood combinations. Yes, it has a 'hand-made' look, but that's because it's made by hand! The mandolin felt solid and of a very high quality.

 

The side soundport makes a discernable difference - it really helps to make the mandolin sound better to the player, and I think I'm becoming converted to these as well, particularly as Dave implements them so well, with really nice binding and purfling. The sound from the mandolin was very full and very resonant. Compared to my Moon for example, the notes rung out longer and were more 'jangly'. Playing chords on it was a lush experience, although I did find on occasion that some of the notes I was playing sounded slightly 'metallic'. I'm not sure if this was a remnant of the mandolin's early teething problems or a characteristic of the finished sound.

 

Comfort of playing was excellent - the neck is beautifully finished and is smooth and even, the the fretboard is a fair bit wider than my Moon and Eastman making fingerings very easy. I do have smallish hands though, so this isn't something that usually concerns me, and if anything I had to adjust my playing a bit to accommodate the slightly wider spacing.

 

Overall, this is an extremely well designed and beautifully made instrument, that sounds huge and plays easily. What more can you ask? Thanks very much Dave for the chance to play this excellent mandolin."