What makes a professional double down and play one instrument onstage? How do they begin to make choices that lead them to finding “the one”, and is it in turn; beneficial for their career?
“The tone may [not] be exactly what you like, but the stability of them and the confidence you can put in them – to be something that you could play in various conditions.” (Adam Steffey, interview)
As Adam is a touring musician and has been for some time, he very much values an instrument’s capacity to be consistent in any climate. Adam also values the process of building an instrument and will go to great extent to meet with luthiers when possible.
“If I meet someone that’s building mandolins and I start hearing good things about them, or if I play one and I get a connection with an Instrument or, see what they’re mindset is and how they go about it. That’s interesting to me… …and I like that.. I like, people.. trying to reinvent what they are. I still always” (Adam Steffey, interview)
Owning a Loar or vintage mandolin directly relates to some of Peterson’s definitions of authenticity. If you’re looking for a Loar to play bluegrass, the Loar would be the Relic, not changed. You are paying homage to Bill Monroe by playing the music he founded with the instrument he famously played. The mandolin itself transcends Bill and becomes the authentic relic (Peterson, Creating country music, page –). This could put many pickers off from wanting a Loar if they understand the legacy of Monroe but want to be progressive and contemporary with their style. On the contrary, purchasing an F5 Gibson and recreating exactly what Monroe has done, becomes an imitation of the past and therefor inauthentic (Peterson, creating country music) and derivative.
The community that grew up going to Bluegrass festivals know how the music has developed, have a preconception of the instrumentation and style. I own an F4 mandolin. It has an Oval hole in the centre rather than your typical F5 with the f-holes either side of the bridge. I have had folk question this choice and make assumptions as to my understanding of the music and its history.
“they want the scroll and the points. That’s bluegrass, that’s what you’re supposed to play. I’ve had people come up and go “what are you playing an A model for?”” (Adam Steffey, interview)
Here, Adam mentions a similar event that occurred to him where a member of the audience asked why he used an A model mandolin. Most mandolins sound the same if you closed your eyes, shedding light on the Bluegrass community’s acceptance of the F5 mandolin as the standard. In a sense, choosing to play a mandolin that is not an F5 could be an extension of not following the “festivarian code” (Gardner and the portable community) and excluding yourself before you have the chance to be included.
Most people go through the instrumental equivalent of the “property ladder”. They start out by desiring an instrument that their hero plays. This by it’s nature is a copy of that person’s instrument and would be inauthentic. Then through certain decisions in their life and their professional momentum, boosts the prestige of their instrument. It is okay to be on anyplace on that ladder if you are aware and can consciously decide where to go next.
I asked Adam to name a mandolin that he could have if he clicked his fingers. The way he spoke about David Grisman’s mandolin hugely influenced this paper.
More research points:
The classical definition vs the prototype. are you only the bluegrass mandolin player if you play this instrument?
The social world of semi-professional Bluegrass
Stacks, Thile, punch bros and negotiation of genre