By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
- PLAYER SPOTLIGHT -
"D'Addario mandolin strings have been the standard bearer of tone and playability, but I recently realised how trustworthy they are. The last thing you need when you are in the middle of a big festival set is to worry about breaking a D string!"
Quote from D'Addario.com
In this edition of the player spotlight we look to feature something quite different from the norm and we hone our focus on an 8-string enthusiast, who’s made a revolutionary impact on the the mandolin scene; a household name and a child genius this guy really epitomises the true meaning of the title “Musician”.
An epically intense, but in the same breathe casually conveyed musical virtuoso! Let’s get into the mandolin master that is of course Mr Chris Thile.
Rolling back to 1981, Oceanside California, Chris Thile was raised in an evangelical Christian household and was encapsulated by a musical family both immediate and direct. His introduction and subsequent bond with music was instantaneous at an incredibly young age.
The absolute child prodigy Chris begged his parents at the age of 2 to begin playing mandolin and he eventually picked up the 8-string officially at the age of 5… . Clearly a later developer then… 😉
His earliest memories of music are listening to Stan Getz's recording of "The Girl from Ipanema" before he even turned one year old. When he was two, his family started going to That Pizza Place, where he listened to John Moore's band Bluegrass Etc. When Thile was four, his family moved to Idyllwild, California.
Thile began playing the mandolin at the age of five, taking occasional lessons from John Moore. At age eight, Thile's family and the Watkins family formed Nickel Creek. The band performed at many California bluegrass festivals, and as a result Chris had to be home-schooled. At age twelve, he won the mandolin championship at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas.
There appears to be an ongoing resurgence and growing fascination for heritage instruments and styles based around folk, and an almost historical bluegrass scene, at the forefront of said movement with limitless enthusiasm is the revered Chris Thile.
Just in case we’ve overlooked the importance and sheer significance of the mandolin in contemporary music let’s take a trip down memory lane…
“For those who aren’t already up to their ears in mandolin lore and history, it’s worth putting his accomplishments in context. A little over a century ago, the mandolin was arguably the most popular instrument in the United States. Waves of Italian and other European immigrants brought mandolins with them, and there was homegrown enthusiasm for the portable, relatively easy to learn instrument, too. There were mandolin clubs, chamber ensembles, and fully fretted orchestras dotting the amateur and semiprofessional musical landscape. The iconic Gibson brand, today best known for its electric and acoustic guitars, started off as mainly a company that catered to mandolin ensembles and fostered interest in the instrument.
By the 1920s, interest in the mandolin had all but faded, just about the time Gibson perfected the F-5, an instrument intended for classical musicians but which found its real home in the world of bluegrass, when Bill Monroe, the “father of bluegrass” started playing an F-5 at the center of his high-powered, mountain-music string bands in the late ’40s. Monroe’s powerful, blues-drenched mandolin style fostered fresh interest in the instrument and his remarkable output of challenging instrumentals and passionate songs became the backbone of the bluegrass repertory, an influence that lasts to the present day and which Thile has fully absorbed.”
Excerpt via SFCV.org
Chris began and developed his musical journey at the young age of 5-years-old… astonishing!
Absorbing everything he’d picked up along the way and bearing the torch from the past and carrying the flame 🔥 into the future Thile has really made his own mark on the books of musical history.
As Chris turned 8-years-old he joined musical forces with the Watkins family, the siblings Sara Watkins on fiddle and Sean Watkins on guitar accompanied by Scott Thile on bass (Chris’s father).
The group made a real impact on the bluegrass scene and paved the way for "new acoustic music“, recording six albums and accepting a Grammy for their fourth recording. Chris and his band turned platinum as they were teenagers, their excellence was appreciated and welcomed by the scene.
A few short years on from his initial project as a young lad Chris then formulated an almost supergroup of virtuosos and named the project “Punch Brothers”. Consisting of the very best of the best from the scene, to the untrained eye they may look like a simple stringed bluegrass outfit but they’re capable of playing pretty much anything going from Radiohead reinterpretations to classical and jazz pieces ensembles.
To date the group have masterfully crafted seven albums and in 2019 another Grammy was accepted by Thile and the band for best folk album.
THILE DA TONE
A truly awe-inspiring player that’s engrossing to listen to and watch as a performer, I really believe Thile has almost single-handedly reincarnated the mandolin into the modern day and given its legacy an actual justifiable resurgence.
Such a demanding and relentless player surely has very specific string and of course plectrum requirements to meet his very in-depth musical needs.
“I started using D’Addario strings because I became frustrated picking up my colleagues instruments and I would just touch it I would just “go!”, I was feeling like I was trying too hard to get a sound from my instrument.”
Chris Thile for D’Addario.
Chris expresses how he got a bunch of strings from various manufacturers and "blind tasted them" with his fellow players in Punch Brothers.
A truly great and comprehensive way to select the string your instrument requires. I genuinely believe every player should do this for every instrument they own, like I always say the guitar/mandolin/banjo/bass/ukulele will choose the strings it wants, not you!
Chris describes how every time they tested, D’Addario strings came back as the most reliable, consistent, and stable string that gave the mandolin a real lift and made it feel somewhat more substantial all round.
“D’Addario coated strings just give you a bit more transparency and less string noise! I change strings now when I want to not when I have to, I used to change every show but now I don't need to I only change as to not tempt fate, looking down at my mandolin thinking, “man one of you guys is gonna to go but, the reliability is there.”
Chris relies on and swears by the following products offered via D’Addario’s extensive range.
Every part of his instrument is well thought through as he is looking to create a distinctive but heritage sound, the following strings sets really complement his Vintage Gibson F-5.
I've been so intrigued and fascinated by Chris Thile as a player and an artist and more so his incredible looking and sounding instrument, so now not only do I have this fascination with Guitars and especially Vintage Guitars I'm now just about to look up Gibson F-5 mandolins for sale … 🙈.
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