Ian Umbers, UK
You may be interested to know that I tried out a wide range of instruments before selecting the Neoclassical. Of all the instruments I tried, including some that were nearly twice the price, it was the most responsive and interesting to play with a great depth of sound and the light strings make it so playable!
Madeleine's New Mandolin
Last year, Madeleine had been a participant in the March Mandolin Festival in Concord, New Hampshire, and she fell in love with a Phoenix NeoClassical. Later in the year, she visited the shop with her mother and brother and picked out the woods she liked and features she wanted including a sound port. We e-mailed pictures of the progress on her mandolin but carefully kept them several weeks behind the real progress so her mandolin was finished before Christmas without her knowing it. Just before Christmas her family all came for a "visit" to her mandolin-in-progress, and she was surprised by the early gift including Jenny's special inlay of her initials on the finger rest. Her mother later wrote: "I can tell you that your mandolin has made this a very merry time here. Madeleine is still glowing. This instrument is bringing all of us such joy. We all get to hear it, and Madeleine's happiness is contagious. What a treasure this mandolin is! Thank you, so much, for making it possible for Madeleine to have this instrument of a lifetime. After leaving your shop, we were in the car for only a few minutes before Madeleine just had to play. We didn't have a pick, so Dave found a spent gift card in his wallet and took the scissors to it. Madeleine played with that plastic card pick for a couple of hours, playing everything she knew, including almost all of Vivaldi's 'Summer', from The Four Seasons. (She's playing the first violin part for that in her string chamber orchestra.) It was cool to hear her translate the classical violin style to the mandolin. She found that tremolo worked really well to get the drama in there."
Paul's Ultimate Neoclassical
Paul McCallum had been playing his Ne Plus Ultra for classical music with Evan Marshall but Paul decided he wanted a specialized mandolin for this purpose. So he underwrote the creation of the "ultimate classical mandolin." It was designed as a NeoClassical but with a one-piece 100-year-old European spruce top. It has Ultra-style fingerboard and abalone top and back purfling with a white purfling line on the side of the body, fingerboard, and headstock. Jazz-style dots were used on the face of the fingerboard, a moose bone nut, and a sound port was added on the bass side. Jenny and Rolfe did their most-careful work on the crafting of this mandolin, and Paul's assessment of the final work was: "Job well done!!!! Every instrument you've made me has been fantastic, but there's something about this one that's really appealing. As soon as I had the strings to pitch, from the first G scale, I knew it was going to work and work WELL! It's exactly what I hoped it would be -- PERFECT! And my daughter loves that you left a hole in the side so she can see inside the mandolin. I'm very happy with her -- can't wait to go see Evan and resume my classical lessons."
"These are a few of my favorite things. Love the Standard."
After receiving his mandolin, a Standard model that had been a demonstrator for a couple of years, Roger Renfro wrote: "What a great mandolin!! I've been playing it for about 45 minutes now. It's everything I could have wanted. The pickguard fits my style of picking perfectly. I love the neck. It's a little wider neck than I've had for a long time & it's perfect. And, it just sounds great!!" Then he wrote, "The mandolin just keeps getting better & better. I had a friend over last night to jam. I had to pry the mandolin out of his hands when it came time to stop. It's a "good'un". And, as far as neck profiles go, my all time favorite mandolin neck was the Collings MT that I've been playing for a couple of years. #449's neck is a touch fuller than the Collings (the Collings has a bit more V) &, actually, #449 seems to be more comfortable -- perfect for me. This mandolin was just supposed to be mine. BTW, the Collings is for sale." Later he added, "Another thing that I wanted to mention about the mandolin is it's sustain. It has an incredible amount of sustain. I know that many bluegrass players don't like as much sustain, but, for me, it fits well with what I play. Another reason I really am enjoying this mandolin."
I've been playing my Phoenix at a New York City bluegrass jam for more than a year now. The regulars, mandolin players or not, have all expressed their admiration for the instrument. Every now and again a super-picker will stop by: he'll ask me about it, I'll hold his axe while he takes a few whacks with mine, he'll hand it back with a nod and smile with "you have a good'un there." With that kind of encouragement, why wouldn't I want to learn to play better?
Eric Ludwick's 3 favorite 'mandolins'...his 2 Phoenix Mandolins (Jazz & Neoclassical) and his daughter Amanda Lynn !!! Eric writes: I like mostly jazz, classical & folk styles ... although I have played in some bluegrass bands I'm not a big fan of it. I am currently working on transcribing the classical guitar music (hymns) of Rick Foster into mandolin tab. I really like the thomastik strings & am glad you offer these two mandolin models that are set up for them. I also love your violin design on these instruments, they play & sound fantastic.
Marc Janssen not only plays a recent Phoenix, he now has the custom Unicorn mandolin that had been around the shop(s) since 1980. He also bought for his wife a Phoenix banjo that had been built back in the Richmond shop. He wrote: "After playing the Unicorn and several friends' handmade mandolins, I now realize how truly outstanding my Phoenix is. It is light as a feather, and it's the easiest-playing mandolin I've ever held in my hands. What continues to delight me is the incredible combination of power, projection, richness, and resonance that comes out of the Phoenix. Nothing I've ever heard or played has the same versatility."
About his custom dark finish Phoenix Bluegrass, Chris said: "I love it. It's way louder than my F5-G It's also much easier to play because of the wider neck and lack of fingerboard extension. I'm not sure that my Gibson will get much play time. I'm extremely happy with my purchase. My wife can't stay made forever, can she?" Asked about a comparison of the tone, "It seems like the Phoenix has a darker, more complex sound than the Gibson. It seems to have more of a woody tone. The Gibson has a more sweet, delicate sound. I should probably say that I really like my F5-G. It's a great sounding instrument and was built very nicely. I know there are a lot of people out there who really hate Gibson, but I have nothing but positive things to say about mine." His wife added to the discussion of tone: "She said the Gibson sounds like 'deek deek deek deek,' whereas the Phoenix has more of a 'deedle deedle deedle' sound to it." And later Chris added, "I know you wanted the picture with the Gibson and the Phoenix, but I sold the F-5G because after I got used to playing your mandolin the Gibson was hardly getting any playing time at all. I'm still loving the mandolin and couldn't be happier with my decision."
At an outdoor jam today, two other mando players said, "Hey, nice Phoenix." My wife picked this Phoenix Bluegrass because of its warm, sweet sound.