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I've played around with string length with the mandolas I've built, but all of my mandolins have been the standard 13 and 7/8s inches. What changes (if any) will occur if one increases this to 14 and 1/4 inches? Will this minor change affect string guages or tone?
Lawrence Smart wrote that he built some w/ a scale length as long as 14.375", so I guess that you can get away with it. String tension will be increased unless you go to a lighter gauge set of strings. I'm generally not in favor of longer scale lengths, as the stretches for the player can be uncomfortably long, and the instrument also becomes much harder to play because of the increased tension.
You can play with all of the values by doing some string tension calculations ahead of time. Bernoulli's relation between length, mass, tension, and frequency is in most textbooks, possibly even some introductory physics texts. Or, you can use an online string tension calculator such as Arto's String Calculator. You can find it through the links over on MIMF.
Doug Dieter's Universal String Tension Calculator (http://www.kennaquhair.com/ustc.htm) is also a very helpful program.
A link to download it is at the bottom of the page.
Dave and bolannta,
Thank you very much for the feedback and links. This is exactly the sort of information I was looking for.
Here's another question along the same line... anyone know how 13.75 and 13.875 became the accepted standard for mandolins?
Yes, they cut all the wood away, and when there was a mandolin left, they measured.
"Yes, they cut all the wood away, and when there was a mandolin left, they measured."
You gotta' remember to turn the extraction fan on in the spray booth the next time you're usin' thinners!<G>
No, seriously, did 'ol Orville come up with this or does it go back to the days of the Red Priest (Vivaldi)?
No one answered you, Rob, so I'll take a stab at it.
In Vivaldi's time and later, Neapolitan mandolins had a scale length closer to that of the violin, ca 13". For that matter, they still do. Orville certainly deserved credit for popularizing the longer scale length, though there may well have been some experimentation by a few others at that time and earlier.
Thanks for that Dave.
Do all "classical" mandolins use the shorter string length and why is it preferred (tradition or tone)?
I built a copy of a little Martin A about 10 years ago. Not wanting to cut my own fret slots, I bought a pre slotted board. The Martins were short scale instruments and this was a standard Gibson scale ebony fret board. I cut it off were the first fret would have gone. Same thing as tuning down half a step and putting a capo at the first fret. This instrument has a shorter scale than a Gibson but a bit longer than a classical. I forget what it actually measured out to be, but it is a nice little player.
Truth or folk myth - I do not know. But, I heard that the mandolin scale length was derived from the violin but lengthened to include the combined widths of the fret wires.
Truth or folk myth - I do not know. #But, I heard that the mandolin scale length was derived from the violin but lengthened to include the combined widths of the fret wires.
That was part of the Gibson Co.'s early propaganda, but way more hype than a quantifiable reality. As much as I've stewed on this, I can't figure out why they thought that notion would appeal.
In Vivaldi's time and later, Neapolitan mandolins had a scale length closer to that of the violin, ca 13". #For that matter, they still do. #Orville certainly deserved credit for popularizing the longer scale length, though there may well have been some experimentation by a few others at that time and earlier.
Actually, there was no Neapolitan mandolin in Vivaldi's time. #It was only coming to be as Vivaldi was being occupied by dying. #The mandolin for which Vivaldi wrote was much more like a soprano lute than the Neapolitan mandolin and had five or six courses of gut strings. #Here (http://www.lucianofaria.com/mandolinos.htm) is an example. #Scale length ranged from around 12.00" to 13.38".
The Neapolitan mandolin was concocted in the mid 1700s. #Early on, the scale varied a bit. #I know of some to go down to 12.79". #I have an anonymous one of ca. 1835 vintage with a 13.11" scale. #My 1908 Martin clocks just about the same.
On the why of it, I guess this is like asking why violin scale lengths are what they are...or why Gibson chose the scale length they did (barring the non-quantifiable nonsense explanation they offered in advertisement back in their early days). #In the US, it's not uncommon to find classical ensemble players using old Gibsons (e.g., the Uptown Mandolin Quartet). #It seems to me the ca. 13.12" scale is preferred by classical mandolinists who tackle virtuosic solo music. #I'm a mighty stretch away from virtuoso, but I certainly favor the feel of shifting voices within chords that require some stretch on the shorter, older-fashioned scale length. #I do like to noodle on a Gibson for more linear type stuff or more static chord voicing.
One more thought:#I suspect one practical reason that early Neapolitan mandolins, even though their scale lengths varied a bit, didn't exceed 13.12" or so is that the a' strings were of very fine and fragile brass harpsichord wire. #Circa violin scale length probably generated about as much tension at a' as that fine brass wire could tolerate.
Thanks lads for the enlightenment.
Thanks Eugene for the link to an example of a mandolin of Vivaldi's time... and I thought building an f-4 was tough!<g>
Thanks Eugene for the link to an example of a mandolin of Vivaldi's time...
Anytime, but here's the example that I should have brought to mind: 5-course mandolino, Antonio Stradivari, 1680 (http://www.usd.edu/smm/StradMandolin.html).
Thanks again Eugene. Love the case!<g>
People were smaller back in Vivaldi's time, too. Probably their hands were as well.
People were smaller back in Vivaldi's time, too. #Probably their hands were as well.
I don't think this explanation holds much water. #Guitars in Vivaldi's day commonly had string lengths up to 27.5". #Some, like the 1688 Ashmolean guitar by Antonio Stradivari, were even longer! #25.2"-26.7" could be considered the baroque-era standard.
I'm not a builder so I defer to the wiser posters ahead of me, but Paul LeStock (Arrow mandolins) is now doing what he calls a G-style mandolin that has a 14.875" scale length. It's getting some favorable reviews, so you might want to talk to him.
See post here:
Longer length string, combined with accepting a lower pitch for the set , and some chord transposing ,perchance?
My spruce head uke banjo (with 13-7/8 fretboard) with nylon strings works well at an FCGD tuning. trying for GDAE snaps the filament core wound strings way too quickly.
then theres the mandola . g is c, d is g,etc.
as I understand the width of the frets,as a total was added to common 4/4 violin length of strings to arrive at the mandolin's scale .
But even now [centurys later] the length of violins and violas is a variable range.
as I understand the width of the frets,as a total was added to common 4/4 violin length of strings to arrive at the mandolin's scale.
This is the arguement Gibson made to arrive at the scale length their shop used, which, at the time, was a bit longer than typical. This statement is still a brimming bowl of hype. I have no idea why the Gibson Co. PR characters of the early 1900s thought this argument would actually sell any mandolins. There were a great many other aspects of the longer scale they could have touted that would have made more practical sense (e.g., increasing length increases tension at a given pitch and string diameter and thus has the potential to brighten tone).
Eugene, could it have been convenience? A 13 7/8" scale is a 24 3/4" guitar scale cut at the 10th fret. 24 3/4" is a typical Gibson guitar scale. They would only have to do the math once.
FYI, my Selmer style mandos come with a 15" scale. The long scale combined with light strings is part of the distinctive sound. Curiously, quite a few people have played them without noticing the longer scale length at all.
Interesting. That seems as logical as anything, especially in the days to predate spreadsheet software. That's also the kind of tidbit that really wouldn't be glamorous enough to be capitalized upon in a marketing campaign.
[QUOTE]"But even now [centurys later] the length of violins and violas is a variable range."
Partly true. Yes, the scale of violas does vary quite a bit; the scale of the (full size) violin, however, has been standardized for centuries now.
Gibson's "add-fret-width" argument is lame: It is the sounding length of the string, i.e. from nut to bridge, that determines all those other correlated acoustical parameters. The width of the frets —or, for that matter, the thickness of the player's fingertips— does not make a bit of difference.
And, as Eugene writes, the larger, philosophical question is "why?" Why would Gibson's marketing dept. have thought that this argument (even if true) would induce anyone to actually BUY an instrument that exemplified it? A mystery...
Just a speculation: I believe Gibson's intent was to tie their mandolin designs to the more respected tradition of violin making. The connection would lend a sense of legitimacy and history to what were in reality fairly new, somewhat radical designs. This would explain the multiple references to violins and Stradivari in their literature.
A valid point, and one that could also be tied in with the F-holes, the scrolls, the carved tops, i.e. all the striking, fundamental, and "violinistic" elements in which the mandolin in America eventually diverged from the Neapolitan bowlback.
So, as Erk writes, the larger point of emphasis in Gibson's campaign may not have been the "add-fret-width" argument but the overall notion of somehow espousing the noble and august heritage of violin-building. Hmm...
Here's my take on it-it's been fun tweaking the fretscale.
My standard mando scale is settling in at 14.866".It started at 15", but Radim convinced me that the highs were getting a little weak.
The expansion of dynamic range is quite impressive,the response from the best of players is more than supportive- they're buying the damn things.
Let me state that currently I am only using this scale length on 2 new designs, so comparison to a standard F or A shape would be like comparing apples & grapefruit. I am however going to build myself an F-style as close as possible[without the flowerpot,of course]to a Loar era instrument to see what happens.
As Eric mentioned, it's suprising that some players[great ones at that] do not even notice the difference in scale length.
The down side is playing a closed G or D chord in first position for someone with small hands. My personal feeling is that sophisticated players are already playing substitution triads rather than dwelling in the first position.
As to WHY the scale was originally set by others-all the factors discussed have influenced the past, but look out, here comes the future!
p.s. don't even get me started on neck width.
Oh go ahead, Paul. #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
Here's an interesting and informative webpage about scale length.