Friday, August 3, 2018

My history with Mando Mo Strings / China Trips

It all starts in 1999.  I was doing some consulting for a company in Northampton MA that was importing horse tail hair in China for sale to violin shops in North America.  I was very interested in the process: how the hair was prepared for making bows, so I decided to go to China and observe the process myself and take pictures.  My first trip was in December of 1999.  It was a crazy month because I had been to Egypt earlier that month with my Celtic band performing at a World Music Festival.  I went to the slaughterhouse in Harbin, and then took a train down to Anping which is in Heibei Province.  Here are pictures of that trip.

While I was there, I went to several violin and guitar factories that made instruments for sale in Europe and Asia.  Why not the US?  This was still 1999 and there were very few American companies that were doing business in China, specifically with musical instruments.  Of course that has all changed now, almost 20 years later.  While I was there, I met a factory manager whom I developed an interesting relationship with.  He asked me many questions about how to sell instruments in New York.  I said that really the best way to penetrate the American market is through trade shows.  I suggested he get an account with NAMM and start attending annual trade shows.  He did and now his company is one of the largest factories that sells instruments to America.

My next trip to China was in 2003 when I attended Musik Messe in Shanghai.  I met a company that makes very fine carved top mandolins there.  I was very interested in buying tonewood from China.  I'd learned that many factories buy tonewood from Kunming.  I wanted to know what companies used and why.  It was at this trade show that I learned that most Chinese companies used kiln-dried tonewood, even violin-family instruments!  If you want to learn more about air-dried vs kiln-dried tonewood, I've written a post on the subject, and there's also a podcast if you prefer to listen to it.  Just go to iTunes or Google Play and do a search for Sweet Music Studio to find my podcast there.  You can then listen to it in your car or on your phone.

The next trip to China was in April 2004, where I spent a lot of time in Anping, Beijing, Tianjin and Dalian where I went to the factory that makes Epiphone, Bean Blossom, Michael Kelly, Fender and other American brands.  I was there with a company called Emily's Violins doing research.  Here are pictures from that trip.

The next trip to China was in 2005.  I was there in November and December.  I spent a lot of time with a company that supplies American companies that supplies tonewood for making mandolins and guitars.  Which brings me to the topic of Mando Mo Strings.

Mando Mo Strings is a company in Holyoke, MA that has developed a line of affordable musical instruments made with top quality materials and workmanship.  The owner of the company is Al, a veteran and amateur luthier.  I met Al a couple of years back when he was looking for a mandolin teacher.  He wanted to learn how to read music and play bluegrass and country music.  Over the course of the next couple of years, Al mentioned to me that he was interested in importing instruments from China to America.  I offered some suggestions about options.  The mandolins are designed by Al.  The instruments are imported from China where they are made primarily in Beijing.  Not only does Mando Mo import mandolins, but they also import ukuleles and guitars and will eventually be importing violin-family instruments.

In my opinion, these instruments are on par with or better than similar brands including carved top Mandolins by Eastman, flat top Mandolins by Big Muddy/Mid Missouri and Ukeleles by Mahalo and other brands.  Decisions were made to prioritize air-dried tonewood (instead of the standard Chinese practice of using a kiln to dry the wood), solid or flamed maple, Triple A grade ebony or rosewood fittings, scalloped solid tailpieces, Brekke or Al's patented solid ebony/bone bridges, adjustable truss rods, a variety of neck widths (from the standard 1 3/16"ths, to 1 1/4" - please ask).  The instruments are designed in Holyoke, Massachusetts, constructed in China, and finished/set up in the US.

Mando Mo will ship anywhere in the world via DHL Express and bill you for the actual cost of shipping plus a packaging fee.  We ship via FedEx ground in the United States.  You are required to pay for insurance yourself so that the shipping company can coordinate with you if there is damage in transit.  Here's more information about the Mando Mo warranty and returns policy.

The mandolins sold by Mando Mo Strings include The Pup, which is a flat-top "puppy sized" instrument with a big sound, great for celtic or classical music.  Also a great travel mandolin, and if you've seen my video on The Ranger by Bruce Weber, you'll know that I find the Pup to be a much better travel mandolin than the Ranger because it's a real mandolin that you can play out with friends and even on stage, whereas the Ranger is just a travel mandolin.

The Terrier is an F5 mandolin with no binding, great for bluegrass, natural finish, has a real nice tone.  The Tortoise is an F5 style bluegrass mandolin with tortoiseshell binding.  I particularly like this instrument because it has a great chop, real crispy and easy to play, really fun.  The Red Fox has a gorgeous sweet soft gentle tone, perfect for celtic/classical music.  I did a few videos on the Red Fox because I like it so much.  Check out my Youtube channel where you'll see them.  The Bull Dog is the most recent of the F5 mandolins from Mando Mo.  This is a real bluegrass mandolin.  It sounds great for classical and celtic music as well.

Mando Mo Strings also imports ukuleles.  We currently have two styles in stock: The Seal with beautiful carved Koa and abalone binding, and the Dolphin without the abalone binding.

Check back here within a few weeks for information about Mando Mo guitars!

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