Date: Fri, 1 Oct 2004 22:30:01 -0500 From: Gregory Donovan <email@example.com> Subject: AL Smart mandolin report
Hello Comando folks:
I was very active on the [CoMando] list for some time a few years back, when I was first on a search for a mandolin with which I could settle down for a lifetime, and when I wanted to learn a lot more about luthiers, materials — and anything else.
I want to thank all of you for the knowledge I gained during that time, and to report on a rare phenomenon — that I actually have satisfied my itch for mandolin acquisition quite satisfactorily.
I own a December 1998 A. Lawrence Smart F5L mandolin, originally owned by CoMando list member Dave McCarty, who is not only a player but also a writer and reviewer — you see his articles sometimes in Acoustic Guitar or other magazines. The instrument itself was discussed in the the archives by McCarty as well as myself. You may have seen the instrument as well, either during the period when Lawrence Smart carried it with him to various shows during 1999 as an example of his work, or if you have ever visited his website, as this is the mandolin which you see pictured (without its cool pickguard) on the “Mandolins” page of Lawrence's site along with two A-style mandolas.
The mandolin has been completely satisfactory and more, matching or usually exceeding in quality of sound, and often but not always in quantity of sound, with any other mandolin I have played, including once when I compared it to a 1920's era Loar. The mandolin has a satin varnish finish, an elegant old-looking dark brown sunburst, a single-piece Western big leaf maple back with a dramatic, asymmetrical figure in the wood, a comfortable radiused fingerboard with fretwire that is slightly larger than Gibson's and is without fingerboard extension, gold hardware with a Monteleone-style aged-bronze tailpiece, modified X bracing which offers a kind of compromise between X-style and parallel tone bar bracing, a nonadjustable titanium truss rod, an exceptionally hard and dense Englemann spruce top, and an abbreviated pickguard intriguingly and inventively mounted with two threaded screws into the fretboard's side (which I have lately removed mainly to protect it). The mandolin is elegant and tasteful both in its sound and its appearance. The mandolin gets compliments wherever it is played, and most folks are surprised to find out that it is not an antique instrument, since its woody sound and old-looking appearance belie its relative youth.
I previously owned a 96 Gibson F5L signed by Bruce Weber, which was a better than good instrument, very well-made, but which nevertheless finally never satisfied me with its sound, and I tried out a 92 red-sunburst Hutto that Curtis McPeake had on offer from his website, as well as owning less remarkable instruments, but this one by AL Smart has by far exceeded them all.
For new players, you might be interested to know that I use a Golden Gate Dawg-style pick (I don't like the actual Dawg picks themselves, as they are a bit “soft” somehow, not as crisp and hard as the Golden Gates), and that I use D'Addario FlatTops FT74 strings which are somehow especially suited to this instrument. I am comfortable playing the instrument in any setting, but when playing in other than bluegrass bands on stage (for bluegrass I usually just play into a microphone), when I might need particularly strong amplification — as when doing a sideman gig with a band with electric instruments — I use a Schertler pickup. The Schertler is completely trouble free, requires no changes to the instrument, is easy and quick to stick on with the green goo packaged with it, and it works beautifully and powerfully without feedback.
I am still quite satisfied, and while I sometimes indulge my curiosity, I am no longer seriously looking to buy any other mandolin, as I have the one I want.
Lawrence Smart himself has always been gracious and thoughtful in his responses to my inquiries about his instruments, and I can recommend him and his instruments to you as absolutely first rate.
[Originally posted to the coMANDO mailing list]