Review of Rigel's G110 Mandolin
Red spruce top, figured maple neck, back and sides, radiused ebony fingerboard, gold-plated Grover tuners, internal piezo pickup with endpin jack, gold-plated tailpiece, ebony bridge, three ply pickguard, rectangular tweed case.
Chop? Bark? Cut? Are we in the kennel or the kitchen?
Mandolinists recognize these terms as descriptions of a most prominent feature of their instruments: it's that backbeat-bluegrass-snare drum strum that is so much more than a strum. An attack with a short attention span, it's got the punch to be heard through the crisp clatter of the banjo, the screel of the reeling fiddle and the big bottom of the dreadnaught, flatpicking the Lester Flatt licks to close out the verses.
It is this power that separates the modern-day archtop mandolin from the old Neapolitan lute-related instruments. Orville Gibson and Lloyd Loar brought this New World development into fruition, and it became the driving force, in the hands of Bill Monroe, of bluegrass music.
Peter Langdell was a machinist by trade and mandolinist by avocation when he built the first Rigels, which visually proved a challenge for the tradition-bound mandolin market. Despite their radical appearance, Langdell stood by his design, construction techniques and the resulting acoustic presence: he didn't even want to put pickups in his early instruments.
Times change, and our review G 110 ($4,775.00) came with a factory-installed piezo pickup, now standard with all Rigel mandolins. The G 110 is the original Rigel design, characterized by its detachable neck, arched fingerboard, solid-body-style radiused sides and cutaway horns, all entirely unlike accepted mandolin construction techniques. Beautiful quartersawn fiddleback Vermont maple sides and back and one piece neck are mated with a top notch red spruce and finished with a lovely tobacco-burst hand-rubbed lacquer finish. The workmanship and finish are damn near flawless on our review G 110. I looked and looked, and I could find nothing but interesting detail, from the star-dotted logo to the modernistic f-holes to the sculpted headstock and fingerboard extension.
Orville Gibson's mandolins featured bandsawn and carved side construction that might have inspired the Rigel, although Langdell's design differs in that the neck is not an integral part of the sides. Rather than bending thin maple pieces and joining them to blocks at the points, scroll, neck and tail, Rigel joins three pieces of prime maple and routs out the interior. Cove cuts to hollow out the inside surface and rabbet cuts on the top and back of the rim are machined, and the back and sides are glued inside the rabbet cuts. After assembly, the sides are radiused to produce the distinctive futuristic Rigel look. The wedge shaped body, 13 _' long and 10 _' at its widest, is deeper at the tailpiece, which is a gold-plated design of aesthetic purity and functional simplicity.
The Rigel voice is refined by another construction technique typical of Langdell's fastidious approach. After the back is glued into the rims, the top is clamped into place and a test neck and hardware installed to check the sound of the instrument. If some further top graduation or brace shaping is needed to improve the voice of the instrument, it can easily be done and the top again temporarily installed and tested. The careful voicing technique and the wood selection, combining varying grain widths for the top and braces, allows for each Rigel to have its maximum musical effect, whether you want to call it chop, bark or cut.
The Rigel has some chop and cut to it, and enough bark to wake up the cat. The G 110 is not all about rhythm playing though. It has a balanced frequency response and projection that soloists will appreciate when the spirit of Bill Monroe seizes them and the flurries of eighth notes and syncopated blue notes start popping out of the f-holes. When played lyrically with a lighter touch, the Rigel responds with a full, round tone supplemented by a sweetness that would lend itself readily to styles other than bluegrass. Rigel Mandolin Orchestra, anyone?
The piezo pickup with endpin jack tends to accent the rhythm chop when played with the EQ set flat. A little midrange enhancement and the slightest high frequency attenuation brought the amplified sound back into line with the acoustic projection.
The compound radius fingerboard, bound with plastic, inlaid with abalone and featuring a 13 7/8' scale length, is a pleasure to play with the easygoing setup (the high E strings are a strong 3/64s' at the 12th fret). Rigel uses a fret half again as wide (approximately .0075') as the classic 'vintage' mandolin fret, and I think that the fret size enhances both playability and sound. Only a gentle rounding of the fret ends could improve the fretwork (manufacturers take note: this takes me about thirty seconds with a slightly modified file but creates a lengthy impression on knowledgeable buyers.) The bone nut is beveled nicely on the headstock side, and polished to a gleam that matches the lacquer. The neck with its graphite epoxy reinforcement and ebony fingerboard is fastened by three screws underneath the inlays at frets 12 and 15. That makes it not-exactly-end-user-serviceable, but still convenient for a competent luthier to remove if necessary.
Physically easygoing to hold and aesthetically pleasing to behold with its rounded edges and graceful curves, the G 110 is a fine interpretation of the instrument Orville Gibson conceived perhaps even before he left the frosty regions of Chateaugay, NY, across Lake Champlain from where the Rigel team works in northern Vermont. A hefty dose of Yankee ingenuity and instinct and a lot of love went into this Rigel mandolin.
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