Raul Blacksten Interview
Raul Blacksten is the original owner of a 1978 Ibanez 524 mandolin which he purchased new in California in 1978. Raul has put a lot of mileage on his F-5 in the almost 30 years that he has owned B788045, wearing through the gold plating on the tailpiece while teaching himself mandolin.
IbanezMandolin.com: You own a 1978 Ibanez mandolin that you purchased new. Where did you buy it?
Raul Blacksten: I bought it from McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California. I seem to have purchased most of my instruments from them: this mando, 2 guitars, a mountain dulcimer, a fiddle, and a bodhran.
IbanezMandolin.com: Were there many Ibanez mandolins at the store for you to try out?
Raul Blacksten: That I don’t remember. McCabe’s always have around 8 or 10 mandos from different makers hanging on the wall. If there were more Ibanez, there probably was only one other, but as I say, I don’t remember.
IbanezMandolin.com: So they actually had yours in stock and you didn’t have to order it?
Raul Blacksten: Until recently, I have never ordered any instrument.
IbanezMandolin.com: Can you remember what you paid for the mandolin at the time? Do you still have any of the paperwork from the time of purchase like a receipt or warranty card?
Raul Blacksten: I paid $695.00 for the mandolin and case on October 6, 1979. I still have both the receipt, which is really faded badly, and the warranty.
IbanezMandolin.com: Did you consider the price expensive compared to other instruments?
Raul Blacksten: Considering I didn’t know how to play the mandolin, yes. It was by far not the cheapest one on the wall but it was probably one of the less expensive ones there which appealed to me.
IbanezMandolin.com: Besides the price, what else appealed to you about an Ibanez Mandolin at the time?
Raul Blacksten: It seemed to be of good quality and it was a carved F-5 and still a heck of a lot less expensive than a Gibson. I have seen more expensive mandolins that actually had flat scrolls and they just weren’t as pretty as the Ibanez. There is just something about the F-5, it’s a piece of art, God bless Lloyd Loar! Although I own one, A-style mandolins just don’t compare in my book. I remember going back to McCabe’s several times to look at it before actually buying my Ibanez, that’s kind of the way I buy things. I may go back and look at it several times, even over several days, but I always seem to buy it in the end.
IbanezMandolin.com: Were you aware at that point that Bill Monroe endorsed Ibanez?
Raul Blacksten: No. I don’t even remember if I knew who Bill Monroe was at that time. I had been to a few bluegrass festivals but I was not very knowledgeable about it and really didn’t know much about the mando “culture” until after I bought my Ibanez. I had no other instruments at the time. When I was little I had played the piano and I played the viola and violin in junior high school in the mid-1960s. I was not interested in playing the fiddle at this time. I liked the sound and look of the mandolin. I am also a bit of a non-conformist and liked that the mando was not a guitar. It seemed like “everyone” plays the guitar, but the funny thing is that the last jam session I attended, there were 6 mando players out of 12 participants and only one guitar!
IbanezMandolin.com: Have you played it much since you bought it all those years ago?
Raul Blacksten: Yes, I have worn the gilding off of the tailpiece cover. Unfortunately, I am a bit lazy and completely self-taught, never took a lesson, so I don’t have all of the fancier techniques down, even after all these years. I have seldom played it in public until late last year when I joined a jam session. When jamming, I prefer the mando because I can play along with the tunes even if I don’t know the song all that well. I have played the guitar for 15-20 years but I am not as comfortable with it and cannot extemporize on the guitar. To me, the mando is easier to play.
IbanezMandolin.com: At this point, you have owned your Ibanez Mandolin for over many years. What has made you keep it for so long?
Raul Blacksten: I’ve had it 29 years according to the receipt. I like the mando as an instrument and I like the Ibanez as a mando. I also own a 1953 Martin A-style that I bought a few years later to help out a friend who needed some money but the Ibanez is my favorite of the two. I have played many mandos over the years but never found one I liked better than my Ibanez. Believe it or not, I recently played a Weber and still preferred my Ibanez. The Weber was really nice, but not nice enough for me to pay that kind of money for it unless I just wanted it, which I didn’t.
Because of its size, it is also a lot easier to play the mando while sitting and watching TV than it is a guitar or any other instrument that I own. I also have a strap on the Ibanez which makes it more convenient to play if I am standing. My Martin does not have a strap, there is no scroll to put one around.
IbanezMandolin.com: Have you noticed the tone of your mandolin change at all over time?
Raul Blacksten: I have played it so much that I don’t remember what it sounded like when it was new. When it was new, I used to set it in front of my stereo speaker to help “play-it-in.” Don’t actually know if it works, but I had heard that it did, and I have done the same with all of my instruments.
IbanezMandolin.com: What is your opinion of the quality and sound of your Ibanez Mandolin?
Raul Blacksten: I feel that the quality of workmanship is very good. That is one of the things that sold me on it. To me, it compares favorably with more expensive mandolins. In fact, I have seen a few more expensive ones that are not as good in my opinion or have quirks that I don’t like. The only thing that bugged me was the cheap plastic, white edged, truss rod cover, but I have learned to live with it. I frequently marvel that something that looks this nice, is finished this nicely, and sounds this good came from a factory in Japan.
As to sound, I am not an audiophile and unless it is obvious, most of the time I can’t really tell someone what I like about one and don’t like about another. I can hear the difference but I can’t tell you what the difference is or why I prefer it. Recently I purchased an R. Taylor guitar because I thought it sounded and felt a tad better than a comparable Goodall that I was also looking at, but I can’t tell you why, and it was close. Of course if something sounds crappy it is much easier to explain—and I have heard some crappy sounding, expensive, mandos. My Ibanez sounds good to me, and that’s all that counts.
To me, my Ibanez has a warm, rich sound. Good bass. Projects well. Damn fine sounding instrument in my opinion. An “expert” may not think the Ibanez sounds as good as a Weber or a Gibson, but I don’t think that so who cares. My Martin sounds nice too, but there is just something about a carved body that seems to improve the sound for some reason.
IbanezMandolin.com: Raul, thanks for taking the time to share your story and pictures with our readers.
© 2008 IbanezMandolin.com, do not reproduce without permission.