I am an intractable mandolin snob. Until this weekend, I had never owned a madolin that was made after WWII. I’ve got a couple nice old mandolins that are great for recording, but usually have to be plugged in at gigs. Also, like most mandolin players, I struggle to be heard in jam sessions. It’s often like trying to tap dance in a stampede, as the mandolin’s delicate tone is trampled by a wall of guitars, banjos, and fiddles. I have to play as hard as I possibly can to be heard at all, resulting in arm cramps, broken strings, and other annoyances.
In my relentless pursuit of unrelenting volume, I broke down and bought one of the new National RM1 resonator mandolins over the weekend. it’s a remarkable instrument — easily the loudest mandolin I’ve ever played, but with a surprisingly sweet tone. I compared it side-by-side to my 1930s Dobro Mandolin, and it was significantly louder with superior tone.
I used it for two gigs over the weekend. One was an all-acoustic Tangleweed show with no mics. I was able to cut through on my solos no problem. In many cases, I was actually able to approach the volume of our banjo player. The second show was a gig with Ed Burch and Andy Leach at Simon’s up in Andersonville. I threw up a cheapo condenser mic in the general vicinity of the mando, and had no problems putting out enough volume to compete with an electric guitar and an acoustic plugged into the PA. And the tone is vastly superior to the sound of of a transducer pickup running through a PA.
The extra volume opens up a wealth of options as a soloist, making it possible to play with a much lighter touch, and makes the upper range of the instrument much more useful. All in all, a very cool mando. I will use it to annoy my fellow musicians for many years to come.
Visit the MandoBlog for more posts about resonator mandolins.