Mandolin Line Based On Popular Classic Models

8.22.16 Mandolin Blog Header

The mandolin has a rich historical history. While we associate mandolin primarily with folk music these days, the instrument is more versatile that you may expect.

The Mandolin Family Is Based On Classic Instruments

The mandolin family is based on classic instruments from the baroque period. The mandolin started its life in classical music. In fact, many famous composers wrote mandolin concertos including Antonio Vivaldi. This instrument family itself is a lot like a traditional string trio. The mandolin is the treble voice, the mandola the inner harmony, and the mandocello bass support. Mandolin orchestras, as they are commonly called, are still around today.

Because the mandolin has the same tuning as a violin, it is a reasonable transition for any violinist looking for a new challenge. It means using a pick rather than a bow, but since the fingerings are the same between the two instruments many players can make the transition with a little practice.

Over time, the mandolin evolved from a small bowl-backed instrument meant for ensemble playing to a solo instrument mostly used in bluegrass and country music. The Gibson Company and their sound engineer Lloyd Loar are credited with modernizing the “bluegrass” (F-style) mandolin. With a powerful, clear treble voice and a decorative curling scroll, the F-style mandolin is an instantly recognizable instrument by sound and appearance.

Mandolin Eastman

The Eastman Music Company still follows many of the classic designs developed in the late 1920s through the mid-1930s (known as the golden age of mandolin building). Along with the F-style, the teardrop-shaped A-style mandolin is a popular choice for players who tend to play more chords than leading lines.

Mandolin Styles Graphic

Eastman offers a great selection of both A and F style mandolins in a variety of price ranges. Featuring all solid woods and hand-crafted precision, Eastman mandolins are terrific instruments for everyone from the new player to the veteran picker.

The Guitar Shop of Johnson String Instrument offers many of Eastman’s best mandolins, all of which are set up in house to ensure proper playability, tone, and intonation. Though we may be best known as a violin and guitar ship we are a mandolin store as well. Visit us in store or online to see our full selection of Eastman mandolins.

Back to School 2016: First-Time Players

8.15.16 Back to School Blog Title Header

It’s that time of year again, though with our recent heat wave here in Boston, it may not feel like it yet!

Is your child starting an instrument this school year? Not sure what they need? Whether they are taking lessons through their school or elsewhere, their teacher will have a list of what they require for their students. However, we can also give you a basic list of what your child will need to succeed:

Back to School Blog Instruments Subheader

Where are you getting your instrument? For a child just starting lessons, many families choose to rent. This is a great way to have access to a high-quality instrument without the financial commitment of purchasing one. All of our rental outfits come with an instrument, bow, case, and rosin. They also come with insurance, which includes things like broken strings, accidental damage, and size exchanges. Check out the video below to learn more about our well-respected rental program:

Not interested in renting? Buying is also a great option! When shopping, make sure that the shop you buy your instrument at has a trade-in program. Keep in mind that most children are not going to start out in a full size instrument; they will need something smaller and will change sizes as they grow. Our sales department at Carriage House Violins has a trade-up program that allows you to trade any instrument or bow purchased with us for another of equal or greater value. Keep in mind that if you buy an instrument, you will be responsible for the cost of repairs and strings.

**A note about instrument shopping and rentals: Always work with a reputable shop. You may notice lower prices on sites like Amazon or eBay. To learn an instrument, you need something that is high enough quality that it works with your child, not against them. Quality can’t be guaranteed on sites like these, but it can at shops like Johnson String Instrument whether you choose rent or buy. 

Back to School Blog Books Subheader

Almost all programs require a beginning method book. Your child’s teacher will tell you which one they use. Make sure to pay attention to the edition they ask for; a lot of publishers make significant changes between editions and group classes all use the same book. You can find our full selection of method books here.

Back to School Blog Shoulder Rest & Endpin Anchors Subheader

No matter which instrument your child chooses, you’ll need something to help stabilize it. For violin and viola, this is a shoulder rest. For cello and bass, it’s an endpin rest. Both help the player hold the instrument and promote good technique. Talk to your child’s teacher about their preference.

Back to School Blog Music Stands Subheader

Some teachers list music stands as optional, but they are important. Like a podium for a public speaker, it puts the music at a comfortable level and angle. You don’t need anything fancy – our JSI folding stand will do the trick! It comes in a wide variety of colors and is easily carried and stored. We also carry other models and non-folding stands here.

Back to School Blog Extras Subheader

These things required but highly recommended for players of any age:

  1. Metronome/Tuner: You can find some great apps that do the same thing, but sometimes a dedicated device just works better. Available as individual products or combos, we carry all major brands and models.
  2. Practice Planner: These are great for tracking practicing, recording assignments, assessing progress, and all-around organization.
  3. Flashcards: These are a great tool for beginners. They are available for all instruments in different positions as well as for general music.

Don’t forget: Your child’s teacher is your greatest resource! They will tell you exactly what they want their students to have. If your child is taking lessons locally, many school districts and teachers have arrangements with us to have a rental night where you can pick up all of these supplies at school in your area.

We hope everyone has a great start to the school year!

Don’t miss a post: subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Electric Instruments: Pickups

Electric Instrument.Pickups.Blog Header

This post is part of our ongoing Electric Instruments series. Check out our previous posts on finding an electric violin, getting started with your new electric instrument, and choosing an amp

You want to start experimenting with electric violin, but you either don’t want a second instrument or need something budget-friendly. What’s your best option? Electrify your acoustic by installing a pickup! Now for the harder question: which pickup should you choose? Like finding the right electric violin or amplifier, there are different factors to consider. First let’s take a look at different pickups options that are available:

The Realist

This is one of our favorite pickups at Johnson String. Designed by Ned Steinberger of NS Design fame in collaboration with David Gage, the sound quality is fantastic. Even though the pickup element sits under the bridge, your instrument’s acoustic tone will not be affected. However it can only be installed by a luthier, so it is not easy to remove.

The Band by Headway

Players looking for a pickup that is easily installed and removed don’t need to look any further than The Band. This instant-fit pickup wraps around the body of your instrument using Velcro, making it easy to take off when you don’t need it. The Band produces a strong, lively tone suitable for a variety of styles from fiddle to classical.

LR Baggs Violin Pickup

If you are looking to transform your violin into an “electric-acoustic,” then a replacement bridge like the LR Baggs violin pickup is a great option. Featuring a transducer embedded in a Despiau Superior bridge blank, this pickup will effortlessly capture your instrument’s inherent dynamics. However, this also means the pickup requires professional installation to fit your instrument. The LR Baggs was our pickup of choice when creating our JSI Performer-Acoustic Violin.

The next step in selecting a pickup is to consider your needs. If you need to be amplified on a regular basis and do not mind leaving a pickup on your violin, the Realist or LR Baggs are great options. If you need a little more flexibility or only need to amplify your violin once in a while, the Band may be the one for you. It is difficult to make a wrong choice with any of these options as each produces a great sound that can always be tailored with a little EQ.

Finally, all of the pickups mentioned in this post are “plug and play.” This means that once installed, you can plug straight into an amp or PA system and start rocking and rolling. While preamps are not required with any of these pickups, they are highly recommended. Look for my next post to find out why!

Don’t miss a post: subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Alex Wagner

The Bow Series: Selecting A Bow

Bow Series Blog Header

Are you or one of your students shopping for a new bow? Finding the right bow can be harder than choosing your instrument, but don’t worry! While we can’t match a bow to you like Mr. Ollivander would a wand, our knowledgeable sales staff are the next best thing and our latest video is here to help.

In “Selecting a Bow”, we teamed up with violinist Eric Silberger to show you what to look for in a bow. With the help of our Director of Sales and Acquisitions Matthew Fritz, we explore the different factors to consider and how to approach what can feel like a daunting process. You’ll find tips and tricks for players of all levels and bows in all price ranges. Check out the video here:

This video is part of a larger collaboration between Carriage House Violins and Four String Films: The Bow Series. This collection of videos is dedicated to exploring different topics relating to the bow. Our first video, An Introduction to Bow Strokes, features Eric Silberger demonstrating common bow strokes on violin. Missed it? Check out his incredible technique here:

Like what you see? Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great videos!

Don’t miss a post: subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

What is Instrument Insurance?

Insurance Title Header

Instrument insurance is an important part of caring for your instrument. Professionals use it regardless of their genre and music shops have it to protect their inventory. Whether you recently bought an instrument or own one that isn’t already insured, we highly recommend purchasing a policy to help protect your investment.

Insurance What Is Subheader

It’s exactly what it sounds like: an insurance policy with specific coverage for your instrument(s). It usually takes the form of either:

  1. A rider on your current renter’s or homeowner’s policy, or
  2. A separate policy through a company that specializes in insuring musical instruments

Insurance Why Should Subheader

Any insurance policy is about financial protection should damage or theft occur in the future and instrument insurance is no different. It is designed to protect you against things like theft, accidental damage, and devaluation. Always check with the insurance provider about specific coverage questions, but most companies will cover common problems that can happen with musical instruments.

Insurance Options Subheader

Rider: This something you can add to a preexisting renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy. This is a great option if you are not a professional musician but still want protection for your instrument. Be sure to ask about the kind of coverage a rider has with your current insurance company before adding anything.

Separate Policy: If you use your instrument professionally, this is what you will need. The main companies used by most musicians and shops in no particular order are:

  1. Heritage Insurance Services, Inc. 
  2. Clarion Associates, Inc.
  3. Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency, Inc. (formerly known as Merz-Huber)
  4. Traveler’s Insurance (they have a valuable items policy that includes musical instruments)
  5. Total Dollar Insurance

The benefit of these companies is that they understand the specific nuances of musical instruments and their value. It’s also a good option if you have multiple instruments, a lot of equipment, or travel frequently.

Insurance Policy Subheader

You will need a couple of things before you start looking:

  1. A list of items you need to insure. Many companies will insure everything from instruments to electrical and recording equipment, sheet music, and cases but always ask the company what is and is not covered first.
  2. Up-to-date appraisals for all of your instruments and bows.

Once you have this information, start shopping! Talk to the companies you are considering about any concerns and ask what they specifically cover in their policies. Make sure to compare deductibles as well as rates. For example, if you have a $1,500 instrument and the deductible is $1,000, that policy may not be your best option. Get quotes from everyone you are thinking of using, decide what will work best for you, and enjoy the piece of mind that comes with knowing your instruments are protected.

Don’t miss a post: subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Ukulele Line Modeled On Prized Classic Instruments

Ukulele Model Header

While their name may suggest a focus on other fretted instruments, Cordoba Guitars makes exceptional ukuleles in a wide range of sizes and prices.

The ukulele first appeared in the Americas (most notably in Hawaii) by way of Portuguese immigrants during the 19th century. Having evolved from the Portuguese braguinha, a small strummed instrument commonly used to accompany a folk singer, the uke continues to be a popular instrument for musicians of all ages.

These Ukuleles Recreate Some Coveted Models

Cordoba Guitars designs their instruments based on time-tested building techniques and aesthetic features such as hand-inlaid wooden rope-style rosettes and bindings. When Cordoba began expanding their ukulele line, they sought to honor the rich tradition of the instrument while still making efforts to innovate and carry it into the 21st century. Using patterns established two hundred years ago, many ukuleles in the Cordoba line are available in a number of different sizes such as soprano ukulele, concert ukulele, tenor ukulele, and baritone ukulele. Having such a wide variety of sizes allows the player to find the perfect instrument for their hand size and tone preferences.

Starting at only $89, ukes made by Cordoba Guitars are sure to provide you with years of enjoyment strumming ukulele chords. Whether that be on your couch, by a campfire, or in the park, the ukulele has an amazing ability to evoke a sense of calm and transport you to an idyllic island in the Pacific.

For more information on the Cordoba Ukuleles carried by Johnson String Instrument, please visit our website.

Don’t miss a post: subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Justin Davis

Fiddles and Violins: What’s the Difference?

Violins vs Fiddles Blog Header

We’ve all heard the terms “fiddler” and “violinist” used interchangeably. Maybe you associate one term with specific genres or prefer to be called one over the other. You may also be confused as to why we’re quibbling over labels.

A Fiddle is Just a Violin–isn’t it?

Yes. A fiddle is a violin and vice versa. Fiddle refers to a style of playing rather than a completely different instrument.  However, the specifics are not that simple. Fiddle can refer to a number of different genres including country, jazz, rock, bluegrass, old time, and so many more. It can be a traditional acoustic instrument or an electric fiddle.

But what’s the difference???

“Fiddle” and “violin” are used to describe the same instrument in different genres of music. What most people call fiddling consists of traditional styles that were historically taught by ear and passed down between generations. This was music you would hear at a community dance, at house parties, or on the back porch. It was meant to be heard over a band before amplification and in some cases to simulate multiple instruments at once, so many techniques were originally intended to help the sound carry over a band or in a large space. For the purposes of this post, when we say “fiddle,” we’re referring to old-time, bluegrass, and similar styles.

When people talk specifically about the violin, they tend to be referring to classical players who were trained by teachers over an extended period of time. Classical music incorporates written music and was historically heard in churches, concert halls, small salons, and similar venues.

There are some additional differences as well:

Physical

While none of these adaptations are required to play one style or another, many fiddlers make some changes to their instrument:

  • Flatter bridge. Some players request their bridges to be less rounded to make string crossings and double stops easier to play.
  • Different bow hair. Many fiddlers (or players of other alternative styles) will use a combination of or completely coarser hair. Since these styles are more percussive and require more aggressive bow techniques, this helps keep the bow hair from breaking.
  • Flatter profile. This brings the strings closer together, again making string crossings and double stops easier.

Technical

Since these styles are different, the techniques vary too:

  • Positions. Classical violinists are all over the fingerboard while traditional styles require less shifting, almost never going higher than third position.
  • Alternative Bowing Styles. Fiddlers use percussive techniques such as chopping, while classical players have a less percussive type of bowing style.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about these genres in the broadest of terms. Some prefer to play more within one or the other, and many fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless of what genre(s) you prefer to play, we have everything you need to make playing your instrument enjoyable!

Don’t miss a post: subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Summer Program Necessities

Summer Program Blog Header

Summer has finally arrived!

Excited yet?

In addition to the school year being done and the promise of warm, hopefully beach-filled days, many of you are getting ready for summer programs. Not sure what to bring? We have a few suggestions:

THE BASICS

  • Extra Strings. This may be the single most important item to bring excluding your instrument. In most cases you won’t be near a shop and you do not want to be in a bind because you didn’t have an extra A string. Bring at least a full set of new strings, and hang on to those old ones that may be less than ideal but better than nothing in a pinch.
  • An organized way to carry your music. Maybe you have a music pocket in your case that works just fine. If not, a messy pile on the floor you grab before running to rehearsal is not gonna cut it. Whether it’s a backpack, tote bag or something else entirely, make sure it safely fits those original parts.
  • Tuner/Metronome. Yes, many of you have an app on your phone. However, it is nice not to have to drain your phone battery. Plus, these metronomes and tuners can be much louder and more versatile. Go for a combo to take up even less space.
  • Peg Compound. This product is small but useful. It’s helpful in both summer and winter to help pegs grip and to lubricate them. When you are far away from a workshop, this can be an invaluable product.

THINGS THAT GET LEFT BEHIND

  • Water Bottle. Hydration is the key to success. You may not be rehearsing in the AC, and these programs, while rewarding, are also tiring and can take a lot out of you. Stay healthy and hydrated.
  • Sunblock. This is an important and easily forgotten item. You’ll be spending a lot of time outside. Stay protected! Playing a violin with a severely sunburned shoulder is not fun.
  • A Fan. AC is not a given in the dorms you are most likely staying it. Even a small box fan in a window can do wonders for air circulation.
  • Pencils. This is a no-brainer. You are a musician and need a pencil in rehearsal. Grab a package of them before you leave (and a sharpener if you prefer non-mechanical ones) so you’re not caught without one.

ONE LAST THING!

Before you leave, visit a luthier. Get your instrument and bow looked over. Be sure to let your luthier know if you will be going somewhere with a drastically different climate so they can prepare your instrument accordingly.

Have fun and work hard!

Don’t miss a post: subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Non-Classical Careers: Booking Gigs

Non-Classical Gigs Header

Are you interested in breaking into a new genre of local music but don’t know where to start? Do you want to play indie rock, country, punk, metal, blues, ska, rockabilly, folk, zydeco, Celtic, funk, bluegrass or create something new? Have you been mainly a classical player or perhaps even jazz player and want to expand? Here is a short list of ways to get started in your local scene:

1. To play shows or find band mates, you have to go to shows. 

Don’t expect good results just from answering an ad on Craigslist. You have to put yourself out there and be part of the community. You need to meet people who already play the genre you are interested in. Don’t be a wallflower! Join a jam session, talk to the bands, compliment something about their set, and casually drop into conversation that you play an instrument and what it is. You never know; one of these bands might be looking for a violin, cello or upright bass player to flush out their sound.

2.  You will not be booked just because you can play. You will be booked based on what you know, or rather who knows you. 

Even after you have people to play with, you need to continue networking within the community. Talent helps but it’s not the determining factor. Actually, I think that’s a rule for life. Make sure that you are going to at least one show a week and that you are sticking to a genre and not just going to random shows that don’t connect with your vision. If you want people to invest in you, you first have to invest in them and the community. Have a good time, make some friends, connect on social media, and don’t give up.

3. Not every non-classical musician reads music. Get comfortable with improvising.  

A lot of genres outside of classical are about improvising around the skeleton of a song idea instead of playing a part that is written down. There are other kinds of music notation; in country they have the Nashville number system, in jazz they sometimes have chord charts, and rock songs can be created in a group setting and then performed immediately. Those systems provide a guide but it is up to the players to get creative. Remember that a lot of musical styles outside of classical were created by the working class who couldn’t afford an education in classical music and theory. That folk spirit is still very much alive in these genres and you must learn to play with your ears by both listening to the music and listening to your band mates.

4. You are going to go further if you can play both acoustic and electric. 

Sure, in traditional bluegrass and Celtic music it is generally frowned up on to use an electric instrument. However, many of these traditional genres are becoming more progressive by adding electric instruments and many other genres (such as rock) almost always require electric instruments. If you have the ability to play acoustically and electrically you will have more options, especially if you want to join an indie rock band or play in a band with drums and other electric instruments.

5. When you go to shows, BRING EARPLUGS. 

I can hear you say, “But it’s a solo acoustic guitar act. It can’t be that loud.” Then you get to the show and they run that acoustic guitar through a distortion pedal with 12 loop pedals that spiral out into a deafening wash of noise that will follow you to sleep that night. If you see a drum kit or a guitar, put the earplugs in.

6. When you didn’t pay a cover fee and someone says “We are taking donations for the bands….”

Put at least $5 in. A “cover” is what a bar would charge for admittance. When you go to an independent show, there may not be a “cover” but instead a “donation.” This isn’t considered an option–this is often the only compensation a musician might receive for their performance! You could be in their shoes one day, so pay it forward.

7. Are you at least 21 years old?

This can make a big difference as a lot of places, especially in the city, only allow people over 21. If you are under 21, you will have to get creative. Trust me, there is an all-ages show somewhere out there and, more often then not, it’s happening in the basement of a church, apartment, art gallery or VFW hall. Most of these shows will not be clearly posted , so you are going to need to do some sleuthing.

If you are in a city the answer is easy: Find places where the art kids hang out and make friends. Go to an independent record store, bookstore, or coffee shop and get a job there if you can. If you can’t, then become a frequent customer. Once there, you will be able to immerse yourself in new information.

Don’t miss a post: subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Amer Koudsi

Teaching Alternative Styles: An Interview With MYRO Director Kevin Oates

MYRO Alternative Style Header

In this blog, we would like to introduce you to Kevin Oates. Kevin is the founder/director of the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra (MYRO) based in Portland, Maine. While some people might think that this is an oxymoron, MYRO (a 501(c)3 non-profit organization) is an ensemble that focuses on the same classical string techniques as a “traditional” orchestra but in an alternative music environment. Founded in December of 2013, MYRO has grown from 12 students to 25 in the top touring ensemble and has recently formed MYROCK (Maine Youth Rock Orchestra Classics for Kids) for its younger students. Since its formation, MYRO has performed with 25 local and national musicians and bands with styles including rap, metal, folk and soul. This past April, MYRO became the first youth orchestra in the country to tour with a nationally signed band, performing nine shows on the East Coast with folk rock band The Ballroom Thieves.

Kevin was clear to state that because his ensemble is performs alternative styles, this does not mean that the students are not required to demonstrate a high level of technical proficiency on their instrument. The ensemble holds auditions similar to any district or all-state ensemble, requiring students to demonstrate three octave scales, two excerpts in contrasting styles (classical repertoire only) and a sight-reading example. Kevin focuses on the development of tone and intonation while maintaining consistent bowings, advanced techniques such as ponticello and glissandos and even encourages his students to improvise. He has found that his students are gaining confidence and musicianship skills while having the opportunity to perform for sold-out crowds. He has also noticed that these skills are translating into the students’ traditional orchestras. After recording an EP and debuting a video on NPR, it’s not hard to see why the students love what they do.

When asked how a classroom teacher can try to replicate MYRO’s results in a school setting, Oates encourages other teachers to use alternative styles within their ensembles. By using either pre-existing arrangements of popular tunes or arranging the song yourself, the benefits of modern music with your students can be substantial. Oates points out that many popular songs are in “difficult” keys for string players; use this as a teachable moment. Chances are that many students know the melody and with careful listening will naturally make adjustments to their intonation. Using original keys also provides your students the option to use the artist’s original track as a play-along, tuning their ear and training their aural skills while listening to the music they are most familiar with.

If you want to arrange the music yourself, Oates suggests taking the following steps:

  1. Transcribe the melody
  2. Find your chordal bass
  3. Add harmonic support and experiment with switching the melody between different voices
  4. Selectively add expressive techniques to heighten the natural emotion within the song

While this is certainly a lot of work, Oates says the reward of seeing your hard work translated by your students is well worth the effort. If this seems daunting, Oates suggests trying arrangements done by Larry Moore (which can be ordered at Johnson String). Varying in difficulty, these arrangements are true to the original piece and still include the technique that you, as a teacher, are trying to instill in your students.

Utilizing alternative styles with your students is a great way to connect the classical musicianship of a trained player to the music they love and already listen to on a daily basis, and your students will have fun while they do it. Isn’t that what music is all about?

Click here to learn more about Kevin Oates and the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra. Also be on the lookout for his latest projects:

American Youth Rock Orchestra, a nationwide YouTube-auditioned orchestra set to launch in 2017.

Empire Youth Rock Orchestra, a youth rock orchestra to be based in New York City starting in September, 2017.

Don’t miss a post: subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Justin Davis