Does Tank Size Really Matter?

We are going to switch gears a bit with this post, and talk briefly about vaping as opposed to "smoke"
Although this site is called "Smoke" "Music", it is not necessarily all about smoking, but we figured we throw in at least one post.

Does Tank Size Really Matter?

A great vaping experience is crucial for one to quit tobacco smoking completely. Furthermore, if one cannot get satisfaction from vaping, they will end up backsliding. Therefore, it is always important to understand the components of a satisfactory vaping experience- with one of the most important being the tank size. There are many tank sizes available here at Vape Craft, Inc- from those that can only hold 1 ml of e-juice to those that hold up to 4 ml. Tank size certainly matters. Different sizes will bring different levels of satisfaction depending on several factors.

Below are the three major factors that affect your tank's size.


First, is the e-juice being used. If you have settled for one, then you can choose a larger tank. However, if you would like to experiment with a variety of e-juices, a smaller tank is the cost-effective way to do so, since, you will exhaust one flavor faster, without necessarily having to waste e-juice.

Type of Vaper

Different types of vapers will have different tank size preferences. If you vape regularly, a larger tank is ideal. If you were a heavy smoker, you will probably need to vape more times to get the desired amount of nicotine. A larger tank significantly reduces the number of times you should refill your tank. Also, it allows you to travel with fewer supplies. Once you have filled your tank, carrying your e-juice bottle might not even be necessary.

Vaping Device Being Used

Your vaping device is also crucial when you are choosing a tank size. If you own a MOD or any Sub-Ohm vaping devices, then you will need a larger tank. This is because Sub-Ohm vaping involves the production of massive vape clouds. Consequently, you will use more e-juice. Therefore, if you don't have a larger tank, you should expect to refill it every now and then. However, if you are using a regular vaping device, a regular tank size will do. Regular devices don't drain your e-juice as fast. So, the refilling intervals are fewer.

If you are new to vaping and aren't sure of the tank size that is most suitable for you, I would suggest that you purchase a clearomizer or cartomizer, instead of an atomizer. Clearomizers and Cartomizers allow you to experiment with a variety of tank sizes, while atomizers don't allow you that much flexibility.

A larger tank doesn't also mean that you need bigger vape batteries either. Use what is intended for the device 18650 vape batteries like these, are usually more than enough.

Remember, vaping gives the freedom to customize your vaping experience to match your preferences. And, to do so, the setup must be right. Your tank's size must match your device, you e-liquid, and most of all, your vaping needs.

Sydney Wayser’s Secondary Colors

This is a recovered version from the original website. All credit goes to Bob Moses. Bob,if you are reading this and would like me to remove this awesome resource you've written, just get in touch with me). This article has been linked to by some great sites(i.e Huffingtonpost), so we had to restore it on the old site.

Sydney Wayser’s Secondary Colors

by Bob Moses

Sydney Wayser has added some brighter, more vivid hues to the many colors on her musical palette. A new recording released today expands the musical territory covered on her debut, Silent Parade. The Colorful moves beyond the cosmopolitan tristesse of a younger artist, and finds a broader canvas for her expressive vocals and sophisticated songcraft.

Sydney comes by the cosmopolitan point of view honestly. The daughter of a French songwriter, she tells us in an interview videotaped before a recent show at "The Living Room" that listening to her father play and compose, and spending time in the French capital formed strong impressions. The music on Silent Parade, recorded just after she moved on from Boston’s Berklee School of Music, demonstrates the influences. An impressionist collage in shades of blue, Silent Parade set Sydney’s intimate vocals and piano among accordions, string ensembles, 3/4 time and a smattering of French.

The Colorful picks up the sunny California side of her family story. More importantly, the recordings present a band at work in one space rather than an assemblage of various collaborators, with Sydney’s singing finding a comfortable space in more percussive, assertive arrangements. The accent on the rhythm section highlights the work of her articulate drummer Zach Mangan and fluid upright bass player, Rob Lundberg. The addition of Blaze McKenzie on guitar (he also co-produced the recording at Boston’s new Squid Hell studio) brings a welcome grit and attack to the material. While still occasionally written in minor modes, songs such as “Moonbowl” swell to a satisfyingly rocking coda featuring McKenzie’s electric guitar – and he gave a good account of himself at The Living Room show, taking the solos even further than his work on the record. In Part 2 of our interview, though, Sydney points to the arrival of Pat Spadine as a catalyst for many of the new songs. Now instead of the timbres of strings and woodwinds, Spadine’s collection of toy instruments and noisemakers provide the distinctive counterpoint to Sydney’s vocals and piano. (You’ll find a free download of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” here.)

The show at The Living Room (see the clip of "Bells" in the sidebar) was being taped for From The Living Room to The Loft on XMSirius radio, so there was intermittent fussing with microphones to get the best possible sound. Far from being thrown by the stop and start, Sydney altered the set, and picked up an autoharp — for the first time in public — and gave a heartfelt rendition of “Lilac Wine,” a song made indelible by Jeff Buckley. The choice was bold as Buckley’s spirit hovers as paterfamilias to many of The Living Room artists. Sydney’s soft strumming and hushed vocal stilled the crowd and drew them to her. And there they stayed for the night.

While she sang, at the piano, cradling the autoharp, with long, blonde hair flowing over high-cheekboned, angular beauty, it was hard not to picture a young Joni Mitchell. While Mitchell’s voice and songs are truly singular, we can hope Sydney’s inspiration and creative ambition put her on a similar path, challenging and rewarding listeners with sophisticated music of many colors.

The Colorful

Track list
Banjo Bayou
La Di Da
Wrap Me In A Blanket
Song For A Painter
Comfortable Here
Oh The Places You'll Go
Whistles And Kazoos
Drive-In Not Drive-Through

Sydney Wayser: piano/vocals
Blaze McKenzie: guitar
Pat Spadine: toys and randomness
Rob Lundberg: upright bass
Zach Mangan: hittables

Photos: Emily Berl Photography

Sing Murder

This is a recovered version from the original website. All credit goes to Nathan Salsburg. Nathan,if you are reading this and would like me to remove this content you've written, just get in touch with me). This article has been linked to by some great sites(i.e Huffingtonpost), so we had to restore it from the old site.

Sing Murder

by: Nathan Salsburg

Long before cable news, supermarket tabloids, and O.J. Simpson’s imaginary memoir stepped forward to sate our voracious and voyeuristic appetite for stories of jilted lovers and bloody retribution, Renaissance England teemed with broadsheet hawkers selling sex, death, and damnation for a shilling a page. Following a rarely deviating story line — from rendezvous to murder to cover-up to punishment (corporeal and/or divine) — many of these ballads were born of real events and were hurriedly composed (by hacks), printed (by third-rate printers), and rushed out into the cobble-stoned streets (by “patterers”) for rapid consumption by the citizenry. And that citizenry could sing them on the spot, provided it was familiar with the popular tune the ballad’s composer assigned it, or was able to pick it up from the singing of the patterer. Stabbings, bludgeonings, stranglings, drownings, victims stuffed with stones and pieces of iron — the ingenuity of the murderers put many of their contemporary counterparts to shame, and the high melodramatic syrup dripping from the broadsheets remains untouchable even by the most craven tabloid journalism.

But no matter how shocking the crime and its accompanying blood and gore, the ballads (written primarily in the first person — that is, from the perspective of the perp) never forsook the opportunity to conclude the story with an adult-sized cocktail of pious regret, gallows moralizing, and an entreaty to get right with God: “people take warning, not to do as I have done.” The Renaissance murder ballad gave the people the lowbrow sensationalism they craved — as we crave — with one God-fearing eye fixed on Hellfire. They were temporal and timeless, and they remain timeless today.

Charlie Louvin, in our video interview, gives the birth-date of “The Knoxville Girl” as 1723. There is some dispute as to when it first appeared in broadside form, which it did as, alternately, “The Bloody Miller” or “The Berkshire Tragedy; Or, The Wittam Miller. With an Account of his Murdering his Sweetheart,” although evidence suggests that the murder did in fact take place in 1683 or 1684. But it hardly matters much when, these 400 years later, the story’s core elements have been disseminated through dozens of sung descendants of varying degrees of textual, musical, and geographic distance. The lyrics of Charlie’s “The Knoxville Girl” would have been recognized by Irish, English, Maritime, Appalachian, Texan, and Midwestern singers over the past 250 years as cousin to “The Wexford Girl,” “The Oxford Girl,” “The Lexington Girl,” or “The Cruel Miller,” among a number of other variants. And, as Charlie makes plain, some small difference a handful of years makes when the ballad’s themes of jealousy, revenge, and punishment are nearly carbon-datable, and will certainly endure in perpetuity.

No listener of American folk music, no matter how amateur, will have missed the profusion of murder ballads in the tradition. Francis James Child’s landmark study of British vernacular song in the Southern mountains (1876-1882) shows that the murder ballads comprised a considerable portion of the enduring old country repertoire. Cecil Sharp visited in 1916 and documented, despite his primary interest in British origins, an increasingly American approach to the songs, such as, in one instance, the transformation of portions of “Pretty Polly” into “The Virginian Lover.” And come the heydey of the “hillbilly” recording era of the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, nearly every other artist was cutting a ballad learned from a parent, a grandparent, or a neighbor to shellac, picking up where the late Renaissance left off and providing the ballads with a new method of commercial distribution.

Charlie Louvin recalls his mother’s singing of “The Knoxville Girl,” and credits her for teaching it to him when he was young Charlie Loudermilk in Henegar, Alabama. Judging by extant recordings of other musicians from that part of the country, Mrs. Loudermilk’s version seems to have been the favorite of northern Georgia and Alabama, as well as of southwestern Tennessee. In fact, in 1925, two years before Louvin was born, a guitarist and singer from North Georgia named Arthur Tanner made the first commercial recording of the “Knoxville Girl.” The version in Tanner's repertoire was nearly identical to that which the Louvin Brothers cut at their first session in 1957, and that Charlie Louvin sings today. And five more “Knoxville Girl” sides would follow in the next ten years, as well as several other manifestations of the story from Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas.

But if a spelunking Kentuckian named Floyd Collins didn’t get trapped in a cave in 1925, the story of the Knoxville Girl might not have reached us at all. The entrapment, rescue effort, and ultimate death of Collins in Sand Cave are well known, precisely because they gave rise to one of the most hysterical media events America has ever experienced. Just as the country was held captive by the disappearances of Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway, millions waited anxiously for a week in February of ’25 as riveting updates from the Barren County cave were delivered by nearly every American newspaper and radio broadcast. When the accidental celebrity finally expired of starvation and exposure, the nation mourned. And three months later, when a Columbia record of “The Death of Floyd Collins” hit stores, with opera singer cum country star Vernon Dalhart’s delivery positively dripping with melodrama, the nation devoured it. As Christopher King writes in his notes to the Tompkins Square label’s boxed-set, “People Take Warning,” Dalhart “set in motion a rage for country-tinged exploitation event songs which made 78s and sheet music the broadside ballads of the post-Industrial Age.”

“The Death of Floyd Collins,” penned by the Reverend Andrew Jenkins, sent A&R executives of the major American recording companies into a frenzy trying to cash in on the success of Dalhart’s record. Although, to again quote King, songs like it were “old and familiar, yet fresh as the morning headlines,” it seems that management was also willing to gamble on older news. Not more than a month after “Floyd Collins” was released, Columbia brought Arthur Tanner into their New York studio to re-cut his “Knoxville Girl.” Yes, re-cut. He had recorded his first version just shy of three weeks before the death of Collins, but evidently someone at Columbia was unimpressed and the master was lost or destroyed. Its commercial viability had yet to be revealed. In fact, Tanner wasn’t the only one who had submitted a version of “Knoxville Girl” only to have the Columbia brass find it uninteresting or unusable. The blind singer and guitarist Riley Puckett — who would go on to become one of the most popular and prolific old-time performers, both solo and with the super-group the Skillet Lickers (led by Arthur’s brother, Gid Tanner) — had visited New York nearly a year earlier, in March of 1924, where, of his five sides, the only one rejected was “The Knoxville Girl.” (Puckett, however, never re-recorded it.)

Thus the Renaissance murder ballads met their 20th-century descendants in the catalogs of the American record companies and on the Victrolas of American homes. Though dance tunes (“Turkey in the Straw”) and sentimental numbers (“Little Old Log Cabin In the Lane”) were the old-time era’s morning-line favorites, the event ballad — whether pulled from memory or newly composed — quickly became an indispensable element of the early country-music repertoire. Local murder ballads became an especially popular item, fusing some of the language of the British varieties with the people and places of current headlines. (See our playlist for examples: Nana Wray’s “Ballad of Charlie Lawson” and the Floyd County Ramblers’ “Story of Frieda [or Freda] Bolt.”

The 1930s brought with them many changes for hillbilly music, not the least of which was the Great Depression’s effect on the previously high-flying record companies’ bottom lines. Many performers found their contracts expiring and not renewed, and the satellite recording operations that captured the local music of so many Southern backwaters were no longer profitable to maintain. Top artists in the late 1920s, song-crafters like Rev. Jenkins and Fiddlin’ John Carson, were among the casualties of the Depression years, as their big-selling ballads of the 1920s had literally become old news. Motion pictures were giving rise to a Western craze, and the record companies, as Bill Malone points out in his Country Music U.S.A., were refocusing their attention from the Southeast to the Southwest. And hugely popular programs like the National Barn Dance out of Chicago and Nashville’s Grand Ol’ Opry were shifting the very medium of country music from the phonograph to radio receiver.

Despite these modernizations, however, the traditional aspects of many popular artists’ repertoires held firm, as did many listeners’ preference for them. The “old-time songs” provided succor for millions of Southerners scratching out livings on rented parcels in Georgia, slaving in the cotton mills in North Carolina or the coal mines of Kentucky. Those who migrated north to Midwestern factories or followed the Joads west to the migrant labor camps in California tuned into the radio barn dances or the continent-sweeping programs broadcast by the powerful “X” stations across the border in Mexico. As Mark Zwonitzer writes in his biography of the Carter Family, Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?, “radio could cut against the loneliness of the country’s age of dislocation, could find the homeless wanderers who had escaped the rural South for dreams of better lives, and then lost their own sense of where they belonged.”

Between advertisements, rural listeners strewn across the country could hear the Carter Family, who spent the late ‘30s in Del Rio, Texas, playing border radio shows like XERA’s “Good Neighbor Get-Together,” pick out murder ballads such as “Young Freda Bolt,” “The Fate of Dewey Lee” (a ballad based on a 1935 murder in Wise County, Virginia, and written by A.P. Carter), or “Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand Of You,” a Southwestern Virginia variant of “The Knoxville Girl.”

Bill Malone has written that hard-scrabble existences combined with a rigorous Calvinist faith naturally disposed Southerners towards ballads of a mournful variety. And hearing those ballads sung by parents, grandparents, and neighbors no doubt instills a keen sense of the tragic in a child. Perhaps that’s why so many family bands, especially the brother duos — the Monroes, the Stanleys, the Delmores, the Blue Sky Boys (whose “Story of the Knoxville Girl” from 1937 is virtually identical to that of the Louvins) — trafficked in such material. It’s no surprise that when the Louvin Brothers began their radio career in the 1940s, as Charlie remembers, the most requested song was “The Knoxville Girl.”

Surely it’s more than voyeurism that keeps us returning to murder ballads. We have more than enough contemporary violence in sound and image to hold our attention. Their enduring relevance might have something more to do with humanity’s perpetual, ineluctable high-wire walk between the worst of our bestial natures and the best of our aesthetic capacities. These songs, full of beauty and bathos (they couldn’t have lasted so long without them), are stories of animal responses to human emotions; they’re frank portraits of our species, and unsettling in their familiarity. Charlie Louvin scoffs at those who wonder at how the murderer of the Knoxville girl could commit such a crime. “Why would this dirty guy do this?” they ask. “Unattended love,” obviously, replies Charlie. “You didn’t listen to the song good: ‘Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl, with a dark and roving eye.’ There are still those idiots out there who will say ‘if I can’t have you nobody can.’ “ The crime itself is all that separates us from those idiots. Who among us hasn’t felt such a pang? Thus, as for the murder ballads: “I think they’ll always be here.”

E.C. Balls Gift To A Frowning World

This is a recovered version from the original website. All credit goes to Bob Moses. Bob,if you are reading this and would like me to remove this content you've written, just get in touch with me). This article has been linked to by some great sites(i.e Huffingtonpost), so we had to restore it from the old site.

E.C. Balls Gift To A Frowning World

by: Bob Moses

It's now a commonplace that geography is destiny. If stolid mountains and excitable weather can mock mere politics and war, then surely they can imbue a man with an interior geography, a sense of his own purpose and place. E.C. Ball was a man of a particular place, a singer and songwriter from the Appalachian hills around Rugby, Virginia. A voice this fiercely independent, warm, good-humored and devout could spring from no other soil. Producer, musician and archivist Nathan Salsburg assembled a like-minded group of artists, mostly from Louisville and nearby, to pay tribute to E.C. Ball with Face A Frowning World: An E.C. Ball Memorial Album.

Estil Cortez Ball and his wife Orna were recorded many times, first by John Lomax in 1937, then by his son Alan in 1941 and 1959, and then by a number of authenticity seekers during the folk revival. Perhaps the most widely distributed commercial release was a Rounder recording from 1995 that included "Trials, Troubles, Tribulations." It was that song's evocation of God's wrath as described in the book of Revelations that first froze Nathan in his tracks and led to this contemporary presentation of Ball's songs. (Hear that Alan Lomax recording of "Tribulations" in our playlist, above). He convened an assortment of singers centered around the Louisville group Health and Happiness Family Gospel Band, with contributions from Jon Langford, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Jolie Holland, Uncle Earl's Rayna Gellert, Michael Hurley, and his own fine guitar playing and accomplished finger picking. Nathan describes the set as "fairly non-standard interpretations" but perhaps a standard interpretation isn't possible for such a non-standard repertory.

Ball's songbook included country gospel, familiar hymns, centuries-old folk songs, comedy numbers, eccentric guitar instrumentals (Ball was a strikingly original guitar player), and rural blues. Nathan produced beautifully-recorded performances filled with Ball's intention and the interpreter's personality: Langford is as merry a heathen as will ever sing "When I Get Home I'm Gonna Be Satisfied." If his boisterous singing awaits, I hope there's a honky tonk on the ground floor of Heaven's golden mansion. The version of "Tribulations," sweetly and movingly sung by Joe Manning and Glen Dentinger, captures the bone-chilling fear and yearning for release from earthly worries that gives country gospel (and evangelical sermonizing) its haunting power.

E.C. and OrnaE.C. and Orna

Music clings to the Appalachian ridges and hollows like the fog, as Ball's vast and varied work reflects. Folk tunes from the English and Scot-Irish settlers, shape-note singing and sacred harp, community singing schools, and pentecostal, evangelical and holiness churches of every stripe all contribute to mountain-song traditions even older than the African-American gospel that may be more familiar to urban ears. Face a Frowning World draws most of its material from Ball's sacred songs, and that honors the central importance of the spiritual in the region's music, and Ball's own personal mission.

In the album's notes, Nathan doesn't shy away from the apparent contradiction of mostly non-believers performing deeply committed music. I asked him if he thought E.C would view that as a failure. "I don't think E.C. would have felt like his music failed," he said, "but that, perhaps, my heart had been hardened to Jesus, and that the failure to soften it - through music or prayer or bible study - was mine. I'd be fine with that." With his thoughtful selection and production, Nathan's Face A Frowning World encourages us to encounter E.C. Ball's music on its own terms, whatever historical, geographical, spiritual or secular reference you bring to it.

(Nathan notes that "As E.C. and Orna Ball left no heirs, royalties from the sale of this album will be donated to the Blue Ridge Institute, which documents, preserves, and promotes the folkways of the people living in and around the Blue Ridge Mountains.")

E.C. Ball: "The Early Bird Always Gets the Worm"

Face A Frowning World: An E.C. Ball Memorial Album Track List and Source Notes by Nathan Salsburg

01. INTRODUCTION by E.C. Ball.

Recorded by Alan Lomax at E.C. and Orna’s home in Rugby, Virginia, August 1959. Previously unreleased. Used courtesy of the Alan Lomax Archive.

02. HE’S MY GOD. Sung by Dave Bird

Original on “E.C. Ball and the Friendly Gospel Singers,” 1967 (County Records). Out of print.

03. JOHN THE BAPTIST. Sung by Bonnie “Prince” Billy

Original on “E.C. Ball,” 1972. Reissued on CD in 1996 as “E.C. Ball with Orna Ball.” (Rounder).

04. JENNY JENKINS. Sung by the Handsome Family

Several original versions recorded by John A. Lomax (1937), Alan Lomax (1941 and 1959), and John Cohen (1965). Those of Lomax the elder and Cohen are currently in print on, respectively, “E.C. Ball and Orna: Through the Years, 1937-1975,” 1999 (Copper Creek) and the CD reissue/expansion of Cohen’s “High Atmosphere” compilation, 1974 / 1995 (Rounder).

05. WARFARE. Sung by Joe Manning

Original on “High Atmosphere” and “E.C. Ball and Orna: Through the Years.”

06. PLAIN OLD COUNTRY LAD. Sung by Pokey LaFarge

Original on E.C. and Orna’s “Fathers Have A Home Sweet Home,” 1976 (Rounder). Out of print.

07. LORD I WANT MORE RELIGION. Sung by Rayna Gellert

Original unreleased. Home recording made by E.C. in 1970.


Original on “E.C. Ball with Orna Ball.”


Original on “White Spirituals” LP in the Southern Folk Heritage Series, 1959 (Atlantic); reissued in “Sounds of the South” box-set, 1993. Both out of print.

10. TRIBULATIONS. Sung by Joe Manning and Glen Dentinger

Original versions on “White Spirituals”; “Sounds of the South”; and volume five in the Southern Journey series, “Deep South… Sacred and Sinful,” 1960 (Prestige). Reissued on “Southern Journey #6: Sheep, Sheep, Don’cha Know the Road” in the Alan Lomax Collection CD series, 1997 (Rounder). Only version currently in print is on “E.C. Ball and Orna: Through the Years.”

11. ONE DAY I WILL. Sung by Nathan Salsburg

Original on “Fathers Have A Home Sweet Home.”

12. CABIN ON THE HILL. Sung by Catherine Irwin

Original on “White Spirituals” and in “Sounds of the South.”

13. WHEN I CAN READ MY TITLES CLEAR. Sung by Glen Dentinger

Original on “E.C. Ball with Orna Ball.”

14. BEAUTIFUL STAR OF BETHLEHEM. Sung by Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Dave Bird, and Catherine Irwin

Original on “E.C. Ball and the Friendly Gospel Singers.”

15. FATHERS HAVE A HOME SWEET HOME. Sung by Jan Bell, Jolie Holland, and Samantha Parton

Original on “Fathers Have A Home Sweet Home.”

16. JUBILEE. Sung by the Sandpaper Dolls

Original on “Fathers Have A Home Sweet Home.”

Photos by Blanton Owen and Roddy Moore. Used courtesy of the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College, Ferrum, Virginia

"Tribulations" performed by E.C Ball and Lacey Richardson, "When I Get Home I'm Gonna Be Satisfied" performed by E.C Ball, and "Poor Ellen Smith" as recorded by Alan Lomax on August 31, 1959, used by permission of the Association for Cultural Equity.

How to Buy a: Mandolin


This is a recovered version from the original website. All credit goes to Bob Moses. Bob,if you are reading this and would like me to remove this awesome resource you've written, just get in touch with me). This article has been linked to by some great sites(i.e Wikipedia), so we had to restore it on the old site.

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How to Buy a Mandolin

by: Bob Moses

Not long ago, when you took your guitar down to the local jam or open mic, you joined the other 25 guitarists somewhere at the edge of the crowd and hoped you could pick out your playing over the six-string din. I’ll bet you’ve noticed recently that the first half-dozen folks in the door are toting little cases that hold shiny new mandolins.

Mandolins are turning up on national stages as well as your local watering hole. Especially outside trad bluegrass and country settings, younger players such as Chris Thile are expanding the mandolin’s visibility and repertoire. Hell, The Clark Brothers, featuring camera-friendly Adam Clark on mandolin, even won the Fox tv reality show, The Next Great American Band, beating out the pop-rockers. Mandolins are turning up everywhere from rock arenas to honkytonks because their characteristic sharp attack packs a rhythmic punch, yet they can be hauntingly melodic. They find expression in many styles of music, and you can spend a lifetime mastering them — once you find the right instrument for you.

Doing our part to convert the rest of the world’s guitarists into mando players, we brought Brad Einhorn, a local fixture on the Brooklyn bluegrass scene, to Mandolin Brothers in Staten Island, a world-famous repository of mandolins — and a repository of wisdom in the form of owner Stan Jay. Stan has counseled players from the world famous to the just-starting on mandolin purchases, and, as you’ll see in our video interview, no one has more enthusiasm for the instrument. Brad has also recently launched Kings County Strings, an online emporium featuring custom-made guitars and mandolin-family instruments from noted luthiers. We also corralled our friend Jimmy Ryan, leader of The Blood Oranges and Beacon Hillbillies, and tireless sideman for many on mandolin (see him this summer with Laura Cantrell), and Fred Skellenger, mando player and singer in New York’s Copper Kettle, for their advice.

Here’s a quick summary of what we learned:

1. Be clear about what kind of music you’ll be playing. Do you need a loud chop to cut through the strumming at your local jam? Or do you aim for the sweeter, woodier sounds of Celtic or folk? As Stan points out, the mandolin was originally a classical instrument (and is tuned like a violin), and there is a significant jazz repertory. There are instruments suitable for every style. In general, models with f-holes are going to be louder than oval holes, which may offer more sustain and overtones — and either can be fitted with a pick-up for those who rock. But be clear about what you need; I’ve made the mistake in the past of falling for a warm-sounding oval-hole mando that ended up nearly inaudible in a crowd. And don’t fall for a pretty finish: mandolins are some of the most beautiful instruments made, and the hand-carving they require makes them relatively expensive. Make the sound you need your first priority.

2. There are two basic styles, derived from Gibson models of the early 20th century. The F models are the ones with the intricate scrolls at the neck, with the shape and pointing of a violin; the As are teardrop-shaped. Either can have f-holes or oval holes. (Check Stan’s clear explanation of Lloyd Loar’s innovations and body shapes in our video.) There’s a lot of handwork in those scrolls, and you’ll pay for it. You can find A models that sound every bit as fine — and loud — as F models. But the Fs sure are beautiful objects.

3. Explore some makers you may not be familiar with — there are some great young luthiers exploring the mandolin now, and their work may be a relative bargain. Gibson, of course, is the iconic mandolin and is most often seen in the hands of the bluegrass pantheon. But there are smaller makers who produce superb instruments: Stan mentions the Collings instruments in our piece, and finds their A-shaped MT series a real value. He also applauds the one-man show of the Phoenix mandolins at a slightly higher price point.

4. Let how the instrument plays help guide you to the right choice. Does it stay in tune, and do the tuners work easily? Are the strings set up too high or down too low? Do the frets buzz? Does the neck feel right in your hand, and is it straight? Do you prefer a flat fretboard, or a radiused fretboard; wider or narrower? You will only know by playing the instrument, and giving yourself plenty of time to try lots of different models. A store that specializes in mandolins will have a full range of possibilities, as you’ll see in our tour of Mandolin Brothers. You’ll see us play and compare lots of mandos in the video so you’ll get a sense of Collings, Phoenix, and Gibson instruments.

5. Pay for what you really need (assuming you’re not buying a mando for investment value – and given the huge run-up in prices over the last 10 years, that wouldn’t be a great idea). Unsurprisingly, prices vary with the workmanship and materials involved. A custom F-5 style with spruce top and solid maple back and sides from a noted luthier will be a pricey proposition. In general, a reliably playable mando can be had for just under $1,000. There are some Chinese makers such as Eastman that have won fans for their accessible instruments, and Gibson has revived the Flatiron brand with Chinese-made mandos. At around $2,000, you can find perfectly playable, professional instruments, the Collings MT being among them. You’ll need to find $4-5,000 to enter the big leagues, and plan to pay in the $15-20,000 range for a world-class professional instrument.

6. Don’t be afraid to buy used, or to peruse the online listings on sites such as Mandolin Café. Many reputable dealers will have listings there and most have approval policies so that you can try the instrument. Mandolins can take years to settle in and warm up. A used instrument may sound better to you right away than one right out of the box. And you’ll save some money, too. I have a 1995 Flatiron that my friend Martin found on MandoCafe, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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