John Reischman demonstrates his mandola.
by Teja Gerken
September 28, 2020
To most mandolin fans, Peghead Nation Melodic Mandolin Tunes instructor John Reischman is closely associated with his Lloyd Loar–era 1924 Gibson F-5. But while the F-5 has become an integral part of John’s sound, he also plays other instruments, including a Heiden Heritage F-5 mandolin, and a Lawrence Smart A-Style mandola, which he demonstrates in this video.
Based in Idaho, luthier Lawrence Smart builds guitars and mandolin-family instruments, and his clients include many of today’s finest roots musicians (check out this demo of a similar mandola by Peghead Nation instructor Joe K. Walsh). Although Smart’s instruments are fundamentally based on traditional designs, he frequently combines features from different instruments, includes contemporary ideas such as fanned frets, or uses inlays and design elements that aren’t found on vintage instruments.
John first became aware of Lawrence Smart instruments during a recording session with Nick Forster in the early 1990s. “He had a Lawrence Smart mandolin and mandola, and I was just really taken with that mandola; I played it every chance I got.” John began communicating with Smart about ordering an instrument, which ended up being delivered in 1997. Built with big leaf maple back and sides and an Engelmann spruce top, the instrument has an A-style body and relatively light shade sunburst finish.
In this video, John demonstrates the instrument by playing pieces of several tunes, including “Arkansas Traveler,” “Juramento,” and “Arthur McBride.” He also shows how he sometimes tunes the A-string courses down to G to create a drone sound, as in his tune “The Deadly Fox” (which he recently taught in his Melodic Mandolin Tunes course). John also demonstrates a setup with the two low courses strung with octave strings, creating a tonality similar to an Irish bouzouki.
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