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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
Choosing a violin case is an important decision. While everyone is looking for something different when it comes to cases, there is one commonality everyone is looking for: a product that will protect their investment. How this can best be accomplished is an individual decision, but here are some factors to consider:
What To Look For In A Violin Case
Instrument. We’ll start with the obvious: Does your instrument fit in the case? Is it secure, or does it slide around? When you close the case, does it look like nothing hits the top of the instrument? Again, you want the case to protect your investment and the less your instrument slides around, the safer it will be.
Bow. Do all of your bows fit inside the case? Do you want them to? Violin cases usually have between two and four bow spinners, which is enough for most players.
Accessories. How much extra stuff do you want to keep inside your case? Some cases have more room for things like accessories or music than others.
This means different things to different people. Think about the type of travelling and commuting you typically do with your instrument. Then, consider the following factors:
Weight. Some cases are lighter than others. If you are doing a lot of walking or get around using public transportation, you may want a lighter case since you will be carrying it on your person more frequently. If you typically drive to your gigs, weight may be lower on your list of priorities.
Straps. How to do you like to carry your case? Check for strap configuration options–most cases allow for different variations. Also take into consideration what kinds of straps come with the case. Brands like Galaxy and BAM come with two padded backpack straps, while Bobelock comes with only one strap. (You can also purchase individual straps depending on your needs.) One more useful kind of strap to look for: the subway strap. This is the one that is attached to the scroll end of the case that allows you to hold it vertically, and can be a lifesaver on the (of course) crowded subway.
Shape/Style. Shaped cases tend to be more compact but fit less things, while oblong (rectangular) cases fit more things but take up more space. Half-moon cases fall somewhere in the middle.
We’re referring to two specific things when we say protection:
Suspension. Get a case that has suspension. Period. This means that the instrument is not touching the back or front of the case and will not absorb all of the impact if something happens. 99% of cases you look at will have suspension, but double check.
Climate. Do you live somewhere hot and humid? Dry and cold? Both and everything in between? Most cases on the market are at the the very least water resistant, but you may need something more waterproof or insulated depending on where you live. Most cases can be customized to accommodate the climate you live in (in-case humidifiers and case covers are two popular examples), but this is still something to keep in mind when shopping.
Still unsure what to get? Here’s a quick breakdown of the most popular brands we carry:
It’s time for another installment of Departments of JSI ! This is a series that highlights the different people that work within our company. We’re able to run such a large business through the expertise of and collaboration between our different departments. Everyone has a skill that they utilize to accomplish everything from coordinating rental trips to selling instruments to repairing instruments to shipping things on time and safely. This series will help you get to know the variety of people and jobs that are done here at JSI.
Our Sales Department consists of our sales consultants and director of sales and acquisitions. These are who you talk to when you are looking to purchase an instrument, be it by phone, email, or in person. We asked them to answer a few questions about themselves:
What is your position at JSI?
Allan Espinosa: My position at Carriage House Violins of Johnson String Instrument is Senior Sales Consultant.
Matthew Fritz: Director of Sales and Acquisitions
Armenuhi Hovakimian: My position is a Violin Sales Consultant.
Robert Mayes: Cello Consultant
Phil Rush: Viola Sales Consultant
Lucy Turner: Assistant Sales Manager
Where did you study your main instrument?
Allan: I spent three years of study at the University of North Texas. I then moved to New England and completed my studies at the Boston Conservatory where I completed my BM and MM in violin performance.
Matthew: Bachelors in violin performance from Arizona State University. Masters in Orchestral Conducting from The Eastman School of Music.
Armenuhi: My education started in Armenia and then in Rochester, NY at the Eastman School of Music Prep Department. I received my Bachelors at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and my Masters in violin performance at Western Michigan University.
Robert: Walnut Hill, New England Conservatory, Julliard, Boston University
Phil: UC Riverside (composition/theory) B.A.; California Institute of the Arts, Viola Performance M.F.A.; Florida State University, Viola Performance D.M.
Lucy: I have a BMus degree in violin performance from Vanderbilt University and an MMus from Boston University.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Allan: My typical day at CHV revolves around my clients. This would include speaking with my clients to gain a better understanding of what they are looking for in an instrument, hunting down those instruments within our inventory and spending one on one time to help select a particular instrument with the player. When I am not working directly with clients, I spend time with the luthiers of the workshop, fine tuning instruments and making sure our instruments are in top condition. They day is full of communication be it face to face, on the phone or via email.
Matthew: My days are varied. Much of my time is spent evaluating instruments as potential appraisals, consignments or acquisitions and advising clients about buying and selling instruments and bows. Additionally, I oversee the sales staff and support them as they endeavor to match clients with the perfect instrument and bow. On any given day, I can be found at my desk, attending trade events, traveling for sales and acquisitions opportunities or meeting with my staff.
Armenuhi: My day begins with emails and phone calls to my clients. Then I work with our highly qualified luthiers and bow makers to adjust instruments and bows to reach the goals and needs of my clients.
Robert: I begin by practicing for 2 hours on 2-3 different cellos and 3-4 different bows. I find it important to be as familiar with the instruments as possible. When I work with my clients I want to provide them with my honest opinion of the instrument or bow. Every day at the shop is different because we work with a wide range of musicians. At the beginning of this week I was in Los Angeles with members of the LA Philharmonic and on Friday I will be working with one of the cello professors at the New England Conservatory.
Phil: My day begins with correspondence via email and phone in response to customer queries. After that I set up for any appointments I have, work with our luthiers and bow technicians on adjusting instruments and bows that need it, and reach out to my sales contacts who are looking regarding our latest acquisitions.
Lucy: The first thing I usually do in the morning is respond to client emails and return calls. Once I’m caught up there, I work with clients who have in-store appointments or I play instruments in preparation for shipping trials. A lot of my managerial duties involve inventory and getting new instruments and bows ready to trial and sell, so I take care of tasks related to that throughout the day as needed.
Do you play any secondary instruments?
Allan: I do not claim to play a secondary instrument very well but I did spend time studying piano and clarinet and have sung in choirs.
Matthew: I do not make music other than playing the violin and conducting.
Armenuhi: I played piano for 20 years.
Phil: I also play piano and guitar. I guess you could say that as a violist, the violin is also a very important secondary instrument….
What is your favorite part of your job?
Allan: My favorite part of my job is the moment when a young musician has found the instrument that inspires creativity and pursuit of creativity in music. I also enjoy the vast array of instruments and the opportunity to work with contemporary luthiers hand in hand with the sales staff and clients.
Matthew: I enjoy many aspects of my job. The instruments are fascinating, especially then it comes to the craft and history of the violin. There is so much to learn, and even the internationally-recognized experts are constantly adding to their knowledge on a daily basis. I also enjoy traveling and meeting a variety of people from players to makers and collectors. In my position, there is never a dull moment, and you never know what a day will bring.
Armenuhi: Seeing my clients smile and working with my clients to find a great tool and the right instrument to carry their passion for music.
Robert: I enjoy being able to interact with so many musicians of all levels. Finding the right instrument or bow is crucial and I am thrilled to help people find their voice.
Phil: My greatest satisfaction comes from helping our clients find the instruments that inspire them and take them further toward their goals, whatever they may be.
Lucy: I love working with a client to figure out exactly the sound they’re looking for in an instrument or a bow. It’s really satisfying to find an instrument for a client that’s a perfect match and that they’re excited about playing.