View Full Version : Piccolo Mando Tuning?

Mike Buesseler
Mar-10-2004, 7:28pm
Two questions (I hope this is the best forum for this):
What is the difference between a piccolo mandolin and a mandolino? #(Are they even related?) #

Assuming one of those two represents the next higher register in the mandolin family, what is the correct tuning for it?

Oops, three questions....Has anyone ever tried putting a D string pair on the top of a regular mando, an A pair, next, then E, finally finishing with a B pair? #(I'm guessing this is piccolo/mandolino tuning.) # I know this would take very light strings for that B, but you can get .008"s, maybe tune them down a step and capo at the second fret to shorten the scale....

I'm thinking about trying this. # Comments, cautions, etc?

J. Wiens
Mar-10-2004, 7:50pm
Hi, I think mandolina is just the spanish word for mandolin. The piccolo mandolin is a smaller, higher pitched instrument with a voice that is distinct from the regular mandolin . My piccolo F-5 has a scale length of just over 11" and is designed to be tuned an octave above mandola, CGDA......though it can be tuned down a bit with no problem. ( David Grisman says he tunes his piccolo to Bb)

The strings are lights (D'addario J-62). If you wanna simulate the feel of my piccolo , capo your mando at the 4th fret and tune the strings up a half step. It won't peel paint quite like the piccolo ,which has a more focused response in the high end , but you'll be able to get a sense of it.............. Jamie

Jim Garber
Mar-10-2004, 8:30pm
Mandolino is a term used by Paul Sparks and others for 6 course soprano lute ca. 1700-1750 that is related distantly to the mandolin as we know it.

It has been discussed on the classical board on this thread (http://www.mandolincafe.net/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST;f=6;t=12672).


Mar-10-2004, 8:38pm
Jamie, is there any particular reason you chose that particular register for the piccolo?

Mike Buesseler
Mar-10-2004, 9:15pm
The reason I was thinking the piccolo mando would be tuned DAEB is because it has the next higher fith, like a mandola has the next lower, CGDA, right? #It seemed logical and I gather from your response that your choice was sort of arbitrary, i.e., it COULD have been designed for DAEB. #

My thinking is that using DAEB has three of the same strings, same tension as a mando, and one higher. #Doesn't seem like too much strain. #And if it is, lowering the pitch of everything one whole step and capoing, seems like a fun experiment.

Jamie, do you have the guages in that set? (I guess I could look them up....)

Mar-11-2004, 3:10pm
Mandolino is simply the Italian word for mandolin. #As Jim points out, the name was first applied to a soprano lute-like instrument tuned mostly in fourths that had 6 courses of paired strings in its final common evolutionary stage. #"Mandolino" unmodified by adjectives is now usually used to refer to that specific ancestor of the modern instrument. #Click here (http://www.usd.edu/smm/StradMandolin.html) to see a ca. 1680 5-course mandolino by a rather famous maker.

Occasionally, narrow-tabled pocket/pochette mandolins are called "piccolo." #This is really a misnomer because they were simply smallish travel/practice versions of the standard mandolin at standard pitch (similar to the Backpacker). #Such things were popular in Germany, ca. 1900.

I believe there were three types of piccolo mandolin to occasionally appear in Europe (feel free to correct me, Alex, if you're reading). #There was only one to receive rare use in North America. #The piccolo mandolin in the US was equivalent to the mandolino quartino in Europe and tuned c'-c', g'-g', d"-d", a"-a", i.e. a fourth up. #A fifth above the standard mandolin would just be too wee!

I think at a standard mandolin scale, it would be tough to get any strings to b" without frequent breakage. #Maybe with capo...but why?

Mar-11-2004, 3:12pm
PS: And click here (http://home.earthlink.net/~gcminer/piccolomandolin.htm) for Gregg Miner's fine write up on piccolo mandolin.

Mike Buesseler
Mar-11-2004, 3:49pm
Thanks, Eugene, for your usual thoughtful input. #I had a feeling one of you guys might have something on this.

I think at a standard mandolin scale, it would be tough to get any strings to b" without frequent breakage. #Maybe with capo...but why?

Well, why not? #It seems to make as much sense to me as a mandola does. # In fact, when I tried a mandola, I found that lower C pretty much useless to me, without some serious rethinking of the tunes I play. #It seems much more logical to me to add another course, one fifth higher than standard mandolin. #After all, we amateur players run into most of our trouble once we get past the A, or maybe B (5th or 7th fret). #

It's costing me $1.50 to try this. # I found .007" strings. #I think they'll go to B. #If not I'll settle for A, capo and still have as much scale left as I'd have on a real piccolo.

Ok, ok, if I'll report back here, with news, good or bad.

J. Wiens
Mar-11-2004, 7:45pm
Hi Again, MikeB: the decision to go with a C tuning was based on 1. scale length, which is in the ballpark of traditional piccolos. 2. string tension at that scale, which is limited to what is safe and familiar, and 3. downforce on the top which is also a limiting factor.

The whole step between Bb to C is the range which works , and obviously C is the most mando-friendly.

When you string the piccolo up and play around a bit you realize that C tuning is plenty high , yet still familiar and comfortable, with similar string tension to a normal mando. It is also related enough to regular tuning so as to make sense. The familiar chord shapes work but obviously become different chords ...ie; your good 'ol G chop is now a C and your D is a G, etc.

When you try to play with other mandolins It becomes apparent that it is a completely different instrument however.... and you do have to think of it that way. All your tunes have to be re-thought and transposed.

If one wants to get into playing piccolo mandolin in a group , I think you'd have to be willing to dive into it as a completely new instrument , one that specializes in high harmony lines or other tinkle-sports *g*.

Yep, It's alot of mental exercise to transpose everything , but what a great sound! ....A friend & I were working out St. annes reel for piccolo & mando and found the picco really adds a sort of cute, bright "chipmunkiness" ..for lack of a better word ...to the high line ,which can't be had on a regular mando. It has great potential and I'd love to hear what a good player could do with it................Jamie

Mike Buesseler
Mar-11-2004, 9:30pm
Thanks, Jamie. #Your enthusiasm is great! #I wish I could afford to have you build me one o' them piccolos...man!

I'm going to try my experiment with adding the B string, despite everything. #I've messed with a capo on mandolin and I love those "chipmunky" sounds, too. # If you only had room to put fingers.... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Btw, are going to sell that piccolo, or what? #You sound pretty attached to it, and I bet it is a real hit at any show you attend.

Mar-12-2004, 10:55am
You know, I think I'd like a Wiens piccolo in my stable some distant day (if I could get one in an oval hole)...some day...

Nov-20-2020, 8:16am
Octave4Plus now has a .006 Gauge String designed to tune to B4 on a 25.5 in Guitar, but on an instrument with a Scale Length half the Length, it becomes a B5.

Nov-20-2020, 8:23am
As a Matter of Fact an Octave4Plus .006 can tune up to a B5 on a Mandolin.

Nov-20-2020, 8:33am
In order to use Ball end Strings on a Mandolin for DAEB Tuning (Raised Fifths Tuning), not only will you need Octave4Plus Strings for this tuning, you'll wanna swap out the Tailpiece with an Ashton Bailey that allows you to use Ball end strings.