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The back of a flatback mandolin will be made of a flat plate of hardwood. Some builders incorporate a barely perceptible catenary arch into the back plate to increase stability. Most pre-depression models will have canted tops and an oval soundhole.

Many modern ones will be entirely flat and usually have an oval-shaped or circular hole (a few are f-holed). Their tone is often described as bright and sometimes sweet. They produce a clear melody line, well suited to playing to the accompaniment of other instruments. They're good generalists, excellent beginner's instruments, and are still favored by many folkies and old-timey players.

Some jazz players prefer flat mandolins in the shape of Selmer or Selmer-Maccaferri guitars. There are also many ethnic variants.

A few well-known builders to build flat mandolins are/were Martin (styles A through E), Vega, various Larson Bros. brands, various Lyon & Healy brands, Weymann, Gibson (e.g., the Army-Navy), Flatiron (their early "pancakes"), Weber, Mid Missouri, etc.

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