View Full Version : electric mandobass?

Feb-28-2004, 3:03pm
Hi friends: I was wondering if there is such a thing as an electric mandobass. I've seen some pictures of the monstrous acoustic mandobasses that Gibson et al would make back in the days when the mando was king of the popular instrument world (alas we live in the age of the guitar, although with a mando revival going on, ukes too). I want one of those too, but perhaps of more relevance would be the question of whether anyone has one? Could you guys suggest a luthier who might want to approach such a project? I long to use my mando chords and scales on a four string mandobass... I'm thinking of the start of the Grateful Dead's 'That's it for the Other One' when Phil Lesh rips off this mad bass line. Remember that?
Any insights or interesting web URLs to look at would be appreciated. Thanks!

Jim Garber
Feb-28-2004, 3:59pm
First of all, you have to figure out what you actually want. The Gibson mandobasses were 42 inch scale 4 strings tuned like a standard bass, i.e., eadg low to high. I owned one a number of years ago. An electric mando bass would just be like a std bass with an extra-long scale. If you want to use your mandolin chord formations: a) you would need super large hands and b) you would need to tune it like a bass octave (or double octave -- two octaves below?) mandolin.

You may be talking more about an electric octave mandolin or an electric mandocello.

In that case, check out Joel Eckhaus/Earnest Instruments (http://www.earnestinstruments.com/). A seriously cool instrument he makes is an acoustic flattop 4 string cello guitar he calls Big Red (http://www.earnestinstruments.com/bigred.html). He also builds very nice electric mandolins and I have a feeling he would love the challenge of building an electric version of whatever you want.


Feb-28-2004, 4:11pm
Thanks, this makes me consider some new facts. So it seems, the Gibson mandobass was just a big 'ol acoustic bass guitar to me. I'm envisioning something with a solid body. Perhaps an electric octave mando could be it. I'll keep thinking about this....

Feb-28-2004, 4:33pm
Was the Gibson J model of the 1920s played standing up on a spike, like the one depicted in the first of the two links?

Jim Garber
Feb-28-2004, 4:42pm
The J model could be played both ways. I recall mine having a spike so you could play it like a guitar but i think you could move the spike to the upright position as well.


Feb-28-2004, 6:49pm
Tuned as a cello?

Jim Garber
Feb-28-2004, 7:02pm
I had an old supro guitar that I tried to restring as a hyper-cello: six strings, tuned cgdaeb or fcgdae. I couldn't quite get the string gauge correct, tho and the range is pretty wide in fifths.


Feb-28-2004, 7:08pm
Tuning an electric bass (preferably shortscale) two octaves below mandolin would work but give you less low range than standard bass guitar tuning. You could also tune any electric 4-string CGDA an octave below cello (a 5-string bass string set should work reasonably well if you throw the E string out). Some people even tune their upright basses that way...

Now for a useless exercise in nomeclature-stretching... perhaps historic electric mandobasses do exist - weren't the Ampeg "scroll" and "devil" basses from the 60s just bass guitars with a 40-something inch scale and a weird pickup? I think someone (Azola, maybe?) is making copies of them today. Now, most were fretless, but there were a few fretted ones which would have all the essential features of an electric mandocello, wouldn't they?

Feb-28-2004, 11:49pm
I have a electric octave mandolin made by Steve Ryder...I've been playing it about 3 weeks now and I love it. It has about the same range as the electric guitar. With a 20" scale length it's already a bit of a stretch to play scales on the low end of the neck, so I can't quite imagine an even longer scale instrument tuned in fifths. I tend to play open string scales and cords on the low end and everything else higher on the neck. It's a blast to play!


Feb-29-2004, 3:06am
Delsbrother, cello or single strung mandocello. #The tuning is the same. (http://www.celloheaven.com/staff.gif)
Hi Jacob, not trying to "troll" #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif Just curious given the string set you linked to. So you take these strings:

1st E
Nickel Round Wound

2nd B
Nickel Round Wound

3rd G
Nickel Round Wound

5th A
Nickel Round Wound


Feb-29-2004, 4:00am
Peter, the guy making the Ampeg scroll reissues is in my neck of the woods (well, SoCal, anyway - Burbank, CA). His name is Bruce Johnson. He has a webpage (sadly not really updated regularly):


Really nicely made instruments, IMO. I'd seen some of them around the Hollywood shops, and they look better than the originals! I contacted him recently when I was shopping for electric plectrums - I had a thought that an Ampeg scroll would make a fine one - but although he was very pleasant he wasn't too keen on trying it. (He had a different plectrum project in the works for some b*nj* players, but I wasn't interested in that). He has a background as a machinist and R&D Engineer, and it kind of shows in his approach to lutherie.. (of course I ended up going to Steve Wishnevsky instead, slightly different vibe #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif ) I never thought about stringing it up as a emandocello. Hmmmm...

I dunno, I seem to have collected quite a few oddball instruments to experiment with long scales and fifths tunings (which is odd because I make incomprehensible noise on whatever I play, however it's tuned).

Started with a Dean V - the Mandochicken ™- but wasn't really happy with the string tension.. Got the Wishnevsky Electric Eddie Freeman Special on order. Here's the latest addition to my brood - a 29.75" scale Dano Baritone, 200 clams from Elderly..can't go wrong, eh?

The Trollolectro? (http://members.aol.com/mrgknox/baritone1.jpg)

(I actually swiped that image from an eBay auction; mine looks just like it.) The bridge is easily swapped/modded for new strings, lipstick pickups mean no polepiece issues, scale is long enough I can try a bunch of different tunings with capos and partial capos.. Well that's the plan, anyway.

Mar-01-2004, 2:07pm
heh, I actually met Bruce Johnson once. I had just played a gig at Smokin' Johnnie's BBQ in the Valley if memory serves.

The Osborne mandobass looks cool, but why is the fretboard extension on the bass side?

The Gibson mandobass has a 42" scale, same as a standard orchestral double bass, and is tuned in fourths. The frets and the body shape are what make it mandophonic. An electric upright bass would be the closest thing if it had frets ... is anyone making a fretted EUB?

Mar-01-2004, 3:10pm
Turns out those Ampeg basses didn't have as long a scale as I thought, so they and their copies aren't really mandobasses. Oh well. There are quite a few makers of electric uprights out there and I'm sure it's possible to find one who'd be willing to do one with a flat fingerboard and frets.

Then there's the chitarrone moderno... you can see one in photos of Cafe member Alex Timmerman's mandolin orchestra Het Consort:


Obviously a contrabass guitar and not a mandobass, but big and fretted nonetheless...

Mar-01-2004, 4:09pm
Peter, did you mean the Ampeg Baby Basses? (http://search.netscape.com/ns/boomframe.jsp?query=ampeg+zorko+bass&page=1&offset=0&result_url=redir%3Fsrc%3Dwebsearch%26amp%3Brequest Id%3Dd8d7a8180817ca32%26amp%3BclickedItemRank%3D1% 26amp%3BuserQuery%3Dampeg%2Bzorko%2Bbass%26amp%3Bc lickedItemURN%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fusers.aol.com%2 52Fbluemuse%252Finstruments.html%26amp%3Binvocatio nType%3D-%26amp%3BfromPage%3DNSCPSuggestion&remove_url=http%3A%2F%2Fusers.aol.com%2Fbluemuse%2 Finstruments.html) They had longer scales than the scroll basses (which are closer to Fenders) - but AFAIK they were fretless and meant to be bowed..

Mar-01-2004, 4:41pm
Yeah, I got the Ampeg baby, scroll and devil basses confused.

I did find photographic evidence of a fretted electric upright bass - it's got six strings and the fingerboard is probably radiused, so it's not quite an electric mandobass, either, but take a look at this:

All sorts of weird beasts are popping up on this thread...

Mar-01-2004, 5:23pm
Ah, Chris Larkin ... he makes a nice-looking mandolin too.

Jim Garber
Mar-01-2004, 5:23pm
If we are still talking about electric mandocello's not fretted electric basses...

The most sensible thing to me would be to take a std electric guitar kit and outfit it for 8 doubled strings with a blade pickup. Could be a cool thing.


Mar-01-2004, 5:54pm
This thread has always been about electic mandobasses, we just took a little detour through electric mandocellos for a couple posts..

Sheesh, Jim, try to keep up! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

BTW I'm sure you could get Steve Wishnevsky (http://www.wishbass.com/pages/943108/index.htm) to build you a funky fretted EUB. For probably very little money. Might be fun to try just to see if you'd like it.

Mar-01-2004, 7:07pm
There are several electric mandocello builders at emando.com ... but this is a mandobass thread.

Martin Jonas
Mar-02-2004, 8:22am
Here are two photos I took off the Acoustic Music Company web site. One shows their Gibson Mandobass (on sale for 7000 Pounds), clearly with an asymmetric spike, just like on the Gibson catalogue repro earlier in this thread. The other one shows Dave Pegg (of Fairport Convention) playing it like an upright bass, but without the spike being in evidence.

Incidently, and more in keeping with the original query and with the forum we're in, I have a 1981 video of Pegg playing a very different type of electric mandobass: a double-necked solid-wood instrument in electric blue combining an electric bass guitar with an electric mandolin. Dead cool! Pegg is currently selling off his instruments (as noted in a different thread), including his mandolins as well as (some of) his basses; I wonder whether the mando/bass combo is for sale as well.


Martin Jonas
Mar-02-2004, 8:24am
And the other photo.

Jim Garber
Mar-02-2004, 9:22am
This thread has always been about electic mandobasses, we just took a little detour through electric mandocellos for a couple posts.
Started that way... but how much are we reinventing the wheel. An electric solidbody mandobass would either be a loooong scale (42 inches) bass or else a fretted upright. The former is prob something few would want and the latter is pretty much available from custom makers.

berkeleymando said at the outset of this thread: I long to use my mando chords and scales on a four string mandobass

Of course, the chords and scales would not work since it is tuned like a std bass. Maybe he was thinking more of an electric mandocello or octave mandolin.

If you want a four string solidbody instrument tuned like a bass (or mandobass) there are plenty out there, obviously, in any music store.

Now the idea of an electric mandocello or OM is more interesting to me. Taking a std solidbody guitar and adapting it to that 8 string configuration would be an useful instrument.

Of course the thread is named mandobass, so I guess we take it from there.

Sep-07-2012, 3:25am
I think I've got you covered on an electric MandoBass. Kala makes something that might work.
While this thing is technically a Bass Ukulele you can probably get away with mandolin tuning.
I picked one up and noodled around with it at the storefront for Austin Bazaar and I've got to say it sounded shockingly good ...considering it has rubber strings (ok, polyurethane ...but they feel like rubber).
Find one locally and go play with it. Its actually very impressive sounding.

Warning: Do NOT watch this video unless you have money to spend. You're going to want one.

Edit: I may be wrong on the tuning.This guy says its tuned like a normal bass. Check this out (on the acoustic/electric version):

Sep-07-2012, 3:46am
Is it possible.. You have managed to link together the "tune a bass in fifths" and "tune a uke in fifths" threads! Impressive!

John Flynn
Sep-07-2012, 8:13am
This is a timely thread for me. I recently learned to play electric bass guitar for my church choir, because that's what the musical setting needed and I've found it to be fairly rewarding. I've been playing in standard bass tuning, EADG, but I've always been curious as to what I could do with it tuned in fifths, given my mandolin background. I have two instruments now and I recently calculated what the string set needed to be for GDAE tuning with a 34" scale, ordered those gauges from JustStrings and strung the lesser of the two up that way.

I've found it pretty cool to experiment with. For regular bass lines, the reach factor on the fifths scale is a challenge, but not insurmountable. I have experimented mitigating that using a capo. Where this tuning really comes into its own is playing chords. In standard fourths tuning, chords tend to sound pretty muddy. There are some great bassists out there who can get good tone out of chords in standard tuning, but it is a challenge. In fifths tuning, though, the simple two finger mandolin chords can sound really good. Combined with some cross-picking or finger picking, you can really do some unique things. I also found there are some professional bass players out there who use the tuning regularly.

I am strongly considering getting an Ibanez Mikro Bass, which has a 28.6" scale, stringing it in fifths and using it as my regular bass. If I take that step, I will post and report on it.

Sep-07-2012, 8:55am
Is it possible.. You have managed to link together the "tune a bass in fifths" and "tune a uke in fifths" threads! Impressive!

I uh... meant to do that.
That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Eddie Sheehy
Sep-07-2012, 10:47am
I have an F-Bass - an F-style body with a 30" scale and a bass neck - tuned as a regular bass. Piezo under bridge and vol/tone controls...

Sep-07-2012, 1:02pm
So this is about a fretted bass with a peg so you stand to play it , and the peg holds it up?

why not .. tried playing a Fender P bass , that big slug of wood is heavy, on your shoulder.
I don't object to having someone build a different body to use a support peg.

be a Job Creator .. go for it.. :cool:

maybe like a Steinberger Bass that gets fretted?

rico mando
Sep-07-2012, 11:10pm
I have my standard bass tuned DAda . not that any one wants to know this :grin:

Sep-08-2012, 5:23pm
I briefly played this beast at Rumble Seat Music in ithaca a couple of weeks ago. While it's tuned as a normal bass now, with different strings it'll take the mandobass tuning.

Hagstrom (http://rumbleseatmusic.com/vintage%20guitar%20pic%20pages/68Hagstrom8StringBassSunburst.html)

They actually have two of them, though this one is cooler because it has plastic stuff on it. I couldn't justify buying either, so hey, they're all yours.

Jim Garber
Sep-09-2012, 4:01pm
The Hagstrom bass, I believe, was originally meant to be tuned with octave strings in all courses.

Jim Bevan
Sep-09-2012, 5:34pm
My daughter has a Fender Mustang bass (shorter scale than a P-bass) tuned an octave lower than a 'cello.

It actually has one semitone more range than a tuned-in-fourths 5-string bass, if you care to figger it out. :)

It has a B-string from a 5-string as the low C, the fattest A-string available for the G, a normal D-string, and the thinnest available G-string for the high A.

It sounds great! I've even had to use it on occasion when someone would call me for a bass gig ('cuz I didn't always have a normal bass around).
I'm sure that that much brain-exercise postponed my Alzheimer's by a year or two!

Sep-09-2012, 6:28pm
The Hagstrom bass, I believe, was originally meant to be tuned with octave strings in all courses.

Yes, that's exactly correct, so it's not quite a true paired string instrument. The one thing I noticed that, even with lots of time on a mandocello, I had a heck of a time fretting both strings without my finger slipping between them. The longer scale and looser strings made for quite a struggle. I refused to let them plug me in to spare myself the embarrassment.

Jim Bevan
Sep-09-2012, 6:45pm
Not to derail the thread, but I've had my nuts replaced (ouch!) on my two 10-string mandos, to get the strings as close together as possible.

Way easier to play, and there's never been any buzzing from the strings hitting each other, even the big low-C strings.

Sep-24-2012, 9:27pm
The Manson Brothers built a triple neck mandolin for John Paul Jones with the longest neck a "bass mandolin" tuned 2 octaves below a mandolin. I built an acoustic "double octave mandolin" before I knew about the triple neck. I have tought about restringing a short scale bass to that tuning.

Sep-25-2012, 10:55am
Once you add a divided pickup to send the signal through a Guitar pitch to Midi synthesizer,
you can make the signal coming out the speakers be a Bass , though the instrument in your hand
is a lot shorter scale..