View Full Version : Bach Stuff on Mandocello

Jan-29-2018, 9:01pm
I've been activating my sweet tooths on those Bach that's worse than them bites...


On the Easyman MDC-805 set up special by my local luthier I still run into problems.... The fret buzz, the lack of dynamics... You dextrous mand-experts ever get that one down? We wan't Bach's suites to sound soulfull, express, but it keeps gnashing out, biting our fingers, screeching when we want a soft hiss! Been looking at those Damann mandocellos, with their quick-adjustable necks. Maybe they can give me the action I seek?... Or is this a question solely of technique? In my scores I see things like "pianissimo, mezzo-forte, fortissimo..." Can I wrest these dynamics from the beast? Or look elsewhere? Alas, Poor Yorrick.

Anywho, just checking in for hints or tips, to the secrets of the thing.

Jan-29-2018, 9:20pm
The Eastman's rather a blunt instrument, I'm afraid.

Jim Garber
Jan-29-2018, 11:32pm
I am not a mandocellist tho I did have a nice old Gibson years ago but I no longer own it. A friend in the New York Orchestra wanted me to play MC and lent me an Eastman like yours but it wasn't set up much at all. The spacing was all wrong and the width of the fretboard was too wide for me. I know there are some MC players who like the wide fretboard and that may not be the problem. One other thing you might try is flatwound strings to minimize the string squeaks and even possibly lighter gauge strings. I would talk further with your luthier to see if he/she can suggest anything else.

As for your playing. I think you have a good feel but you may want to watch some of the cellists on youtube. For one thing some of them seem to slow things down a bit compared to your tempo. Also, they seem to stay in upper positions and don't jump up and down the fretboard as much as you do. Try out different fingerings. Did you work out your own fingerings or did you learn them from cello scores? There really is no one way to play and Bach never indicated fingerings. I believe that all those were indicated by much later editors.

You do see so very unhappy playing in this video. I know this is not so easy especially recording but I have a feeling you may need to relax a bit also and enjoy the music.

Jan-30-2018, 2:02pm
It's a tough position to be in with no frame of reference in regards to the instrument: they don't keep mandocellos stocked at the local instrument shops. I can only judge the Eastman in regards to what I want to use it for... The neck width doesn't quite bug me, only that it's really hard to get tremelo going on the C strings... One of the things I really like about the instrument is the guitar style body shape, which makes left leg positioning very convenient... Are there mandocellos manufactured that somehow have a wider dynamic range?

@mrmando if the eastman are blunt instruments, where can I find mandocellos that are not? I've seen Dammann make five course models, but haven't come across many demonstrations playing the range of music and style to justify considering.

The fingerings I adopted are those indicated, for the most part, by Frits Gaillard in his arrangement of the cello suites. I understand they're not necessarily relevant the the instrument but accept them for the moment as excercise. It helps to hear others say there is no "right" approach...

This isn't the first time I've heard remarks on my playing "demeanor." Definitely something I hope to work out of as the anxiety of performance diminishes.

Jim Garber
Jan-30-2018, 3:00pm
Many years ago, I decided to put my ego on the line and play a solo concert. I was very nervous about it all but it came off all right. Lots of my friends were there and they were very supportive. One good friend told me to watch my expressions -- she said that many times after playing I would frown or wince. It was obvious that I was not pleased by my own playing. I thanked her a lot for that critique and have always been aware how I appear on stage. A side note: after a bunch of years later I married her and she still gives me excellent feedback.

Yes, try out your own fingerings. Not only is it a different instrument than cello but you are a different player than all others. Figure out what works the best for you.

The Dammann is a flattop instrument so the sound will be much different from the Eastman, though it might be very nice for what you want it for. I like the tone on this video and also the fact that it has that high added course. As one commenter noted this makes it really a modernized liuto cantabile which was Raffaele Calace's main solo instrument around the turn of the last century.


BTW the C string is one of the hardest strings to play on most mandocelli. I knew some players that actually removed one of the two lowest strings. In fact I know a few players who only play with single strings but that is definitely not the rule.

As far as other mandocelli, they are not easy to find. Check out this older thread (https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?47793-Modern-Mandocello-Builders).

This Santa Cruz mandocello (https://www.santacruzguitar.com/mandocello/) is interesting.


Jim Garber
Jan-30-2018, 3:07pm
Actually that Dammann looks amazing. I imagine that if you ordered one you can work with him to get the neck just the way you want it. Also, I wonder, since he builds guitars, if he would even build you one with a guitar body. Could be perfect, of you like the sound and everything else.

Mark Gunter
Jan-30-2018, 4:59pm
Actually, he has a few guitar bodied ones in stock. I really like the looks of the standard offerings on his website, but he makes six different styles including guitar bodied.



Jan-30-2018, 5:05pm
I actually recorded that same piece on a Bruno mandocello (see time 9:18 on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAoJWVJtXlo) but your version is much faster with different fingering. I'm very impressed by your skill level, but I recall hearing a slower version of that piece on an actual cello which gives the cellist a little more time and space to work the nuances. Personally, I find it difficult to incorporate a lot of subtlety to the Bach stuff especially without the cello's bowing patterns and vibrato (and with my limited skill as a classical player) though it's still fun to play. Regards the Eastman, I'm personally more of an oval hole mandocello guy for classical stuff.


Martin Jonas
Jan-30-2018, 7:38pm
One other thing you might try is flatwound strings to minimize the string squeaks and even possibly lighter gauge strings. .

I would second Jim on that. I don't use flatwounds on my mandolins as I don't like the way they deaden the trebles, but I do use them on mandocello. My Suzuki came with Thomastik strings on them when I bought it. I initially swapped them out for d'Addario roundwound mandocello strings, but although I liked the tone, they were buzzing like mad and I found it difficult to control dynamics -- pretty much the problems you complain about. I returned to the Thomastiks, which are much more comfortable to play and incredibly forgiving to imprecise fretting: they will not buzz even under extreme provocation and they are so smooth under the fingers that I can slide the finger between adjacent frets without lifting them off, making for much more economic fretting movement. To coax some brightness out of them, I have experimented a lot with picks and settled on a 1.5mm Jim Dunlop tubby Triangle pick: a large thick triangular pick with sharp corners. Useless for mandolin, great on mandocello!

Unfortunately, the TI strings cost a fortune -- $78.86 per set at Juststrings.com. On the plus side, my set came with the instrument and I haven't yet worn it out.


Jim Garber
Jan-30-2018, 10:25pm
Whoops! I should have looked more carefully om the Dammann site. Thanks, Mark.

mildini mandolini
Jan-30-2018, 10:35pm

you are doing well and your shifting looks good

I have been working on this and many other cello suite pieces for many years. This one is actually quite challenging once you know the notes and want to make it sound good.(David Grisman says "they are all hard, even the easy ones")

I have been working and reworking the fingerings on the second minuet for ever and probably will never be finished to get to the sound I hear in my head. but I am getting closer. when looking at shifting and fingering I first look for ease and as little moving around as possible. when I need to shift I try to fit it into the flow of the music and the colouring the different strings have to offer. (every instrument will be different there) I have smaller hands (especially my pinky) so I need more shifting or going up the neck in a piece like this where a lot of stretching happens in first position and I do not like my hand jumping back and forth between first and half position.

looking at your fingerings I think there are some easier options and if you would like to see my fingerings I can send you a copy by e-mail. (smildenberger@gmail.com)

the other recommendation I have for you is to sign up for online lessons with Mike Marshall at artistworks, he is a fantastic teacher and the best mandocello player I know off (i have been there for 4 years now and love it)


Feb-08-2018, 8:02am
Here is a great thread on the construction of a mandocello.
Guitar body (larger body) and franned frets to allow a long scale for the C strings always seems to be the answer. The C string always seems to suffer on the shorter scaled m'cellos in comparison to the strings. But one thing I dont particularly like about the Eastman m'cello that the OP is playing are the F holes, or F holes on an archtop m'cello in general. So a larger body with an Oval hole, at least to me, really beings a m'cello alive...the sustain and dynamics are much better.

As far as your playing goes. As stated earlier, there is a little room for improvement with fingerings. When learning classical mandolin, this was always #1 concern with my teacher. As he said, more efficient left hand leads to cleaner playing with less effort. This allows you to focus on the "music" and not on getting your left hand to where it needs to be. But overall I think you are doing great. I think a guitar bodied, Oval hole will make a huge difference in your sound.

Jim Garber
Feb-08-2018, 1:15pm
Here is a great thread on the construction of a mandocello.

Maybe you meant to link to this Mandocello Build Thread (https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?103561-Mandocello-build-thread)? The other was about fan frets.