View Full Version : Octave Mandol(a)in

Jeff Hildreth
May-06-2004, 11:39am
First to be sure of correct nomenclature and to differentiate
the "western" mandola from the European mandola..
I think this is correct..

American/western mandola.. scale lengths from 14-18 inches
tuned CGDA also called the "Tenor Mandola"

European mandola... scale length 18-24 inches tuned GDAE an octave below mandolin...called simply "mandola" or "octave mandola" or sometimes in the west referred to as an "octave mandolin"

I am interested in the extent of use of the European or GDAE
octave mandolin in either a classical,traditional or modern context.. as either in a group context or solo.

Also interested in the extent of use of the "tenor mandola"

Many years ago I ordered and received a beautifully made
flatback classical mandolin...a very fine instrument.
Based on that I ordered the identical instrument in a "tenor mandola".. The builder was reluctant to make it and suggested the European "octave mandola" instead. As I was interested in the "voice" of the tenor mandola I ordered that.
I was extremely disappointed. Again beuatifully made but the configuration, for whatever reason did not translate well to the approximate 15" scale with CGDA tuning. It was a "dud".
I sold it .

I am once again considering mandola...but spending a little more time investigating the voicing and use before I go ahead.

Any and all information or corrections welcomed.



May-06-2004, 11:57am
I'm not sure exactly what info you're seeking, Jeff. #Here's a tiny historical sketch. #The original mandola in Eurpean orchestral scores was the octave instrument. #The octave instrument was also standard to plucked quartetto romantico. #The first tenor mandokin in Europe (maybe anywhere) was what Embergher termed mandoliola in, I believe, 1897 (I'm on the day job and away from references) and was part of a deliberate effort to emulate the string quartet. #This assemblage of two mandolins, mandoliola, and mandoloncello was termed quartetto classico and much string quartet lit. is directly interpretable by it. #Check out Paul Sparks's text The Classical Mandolin for a bit on such topics.

May-06-2004, 12:37pm
Eugene's summary is accurate, at least to my lesser knowledge. If you are interested in actually seeing a "European" mandola (i.e. octave), look up the Guriema-Riedel site in the Eye Candy section; they have a nice, bowlback instrument there.

P.S. Obviously, this with no affiliation to Guriema's business interests, nor any hands-on experience with these instruments. I do, however, have the shop's catalogue (in German) and would gladly send you a photocopy if you e-mail me your postal address. As always, of course, caveat emptor.

Jeff Hildreth
May-06-2004, 1:19pm
Thanks for the replies...

Simply put..
Is the Octave mandolin in more common use or the tenor mandola

Is it possible that the tenor mandola I had made was not representative of the tenor mandola sound and very possibly just not a very good instrument.. I have owned over 50 mandolins and so have at least some experience..
I did play a very long scale, believe 17",tenor mandola made by Gilchrist.. this was a very fine instrument.

Also is the tenor mandola or the octave mandola more versatile..
and does anyone have a preference for one or the other?

Is the Tenor or the octave more common in Europe?



Jim M.
May-06-2004, 1:36pm
Is the Octave mandolin in more common use or the tenor mandola I see more OMs than mandolas unless it's classical music, where there are mandolas and mandocellos but very few OMs. That's not to say they aren't there. The Irish group Dervish uses both. Ale Moller is a great Swedish mandola player. Grisman and Bush play some mandola on their "Sam and David" album.

Is it possible that the tenor mandola I had made was not representative of the tenor mandola sound and very possibly just not a very good instrument
Yes. #There are plenty of good builders out there. I've played and been tempted to buy ones built Weber, Coombe, Moon, Old Wave, Gibson, and Kentucky. #Look through the threads, you'll see a lot by Dolamon and Bratsche on their stables of mandolas.

Since I don't have a mandola, I guess you could say my preference is for OM, which I do have. One complication with mandola is that if you want to play bluegrass or Irish music, you can't just transfer your mandolin or fiddle fingering to mandola. You have to figure out new fingering. If I can get good enough doing that, I might make mandola my primary instrument.

Oops, I just noticed this was in classical, not CBOM. Forgive my off-topic ramblings but I've never seen anyone use OM in a classical situation but certainly have seen plenty of mandolas. If by "versatile" you mean can you cross genres, well then some of my answer applies.

May-06-2004, 3:29pm
Simply put..
Is the Octave mandolin in more common use or the tenor mandola
Within the context of art music, I think more octave use historically, but with a strong shift towards more tenor (aka mandoliola to Roman-style purists or simply mandola in the US) use through the 1900s. There is still plenty of literature available for the octave instrument. #The Calace Shop (http://www.calace.it/) refers to these instruments as "mandola in sol" and "mandola in do." #I kinda like this simple, descriptive nomenclature.

Is it possible that the tenor mandola I had made was not representative of the tenor mandola sound and very possibly just not a very good instrument.

Perhaps this is probable.

May-06-2004, 7:06pm
In your standard American mandolin orchestra, such as the one I play with (the Providence Mandolin Orchestra) the "mandola" is the tenor mandola, tuned like the viola. Oddly, the music is not written in viola clef, but instead in treble clef but displaced an octave.

Jeff Hildreth
May-06-2004, 7:32pm
Thanks for the replies..
I am going to play a tenor mandola and an octave mandol(a)in this weekend.. both carved top "A" style by Weber..

I will see which ,if either, is preferable.

I am leaning toward the Tenor mandola CGDA because of the scale length....the only reason I can see to go witht he Octave is the
seemingly easy transfer of reading/playing skills from the mandolin..

I also play diatonic button accordions.. There are "properly" keyed instruments by genre and by country,, sadly my favorite sound is the Bb/Eb hard to find and rare to see anyone play them..

So it seems with the tenor mandola.. I like the timbre.. pitch range of the instrument,,,


May-06-2004, 8:19pm
I too play a Gilchrist mandola, 17" scale, but tune it GDAE.
With Thomastik-Infeld strings it sounds great!

There has been quite a bit of repertoire written for this instrument. Eric Gross wrote Cadenza VIII for solo mandola, and Nick Vines's Headlands is for mandola and baritone. Jane Stanley's Spindrift/Interiors was also written for this instrument (though it could be played on either tuning).

I really think that having an octave instrument makes sense. The Gilchrist sounds fantastic up high, and really mellow in the lowest registers.
I also use the instrument in an early music group when we do folk music - mandola and guitar sound great together (though the guitar can't match the mandola's volume!).
The other thing is that works for me with a 17" length is that it is not so big a stretch for the fingers that one needs to slow down.

At my recent Harvard concert, quite a few people were really taken with the mandola, commenting that they thought it made a good accompanying instrument for voice. The composers I spoke to were also interested in having an octave instrument rather than a viola tuned instrument - more possibilities (esp. when combined with mandolin).


Bob A
May-06-2004, 9:09pm
I originally got my Gibson mandola because the mandolin was too high-pitched to play along with my daughter's voice. Hadn't thought of that for years.

A decent mandola can have a very warm, thrilling sound. I think they are not more used because the range overlaps the more common guitar. Pity.

For those of you who might be interested, my pal John Bernunzio dropped the price of his Gibson H5 mandola, with original Charlie Christian pickup, to $16500. Formerly owned and used by Dave Apollon. (!) Not everyone's cup of tea, certainly, but a magical provenance. And a far cry from the 25 large it was originally offered at.

Jim Garber
May-07-2004, 7:41am
Marco from Roma has a couple of interesting tenor mandolas on his site (http://it.geocities.com/marco_onorati/MandoliniItaliani.htm). One Embergher and one Vinaccia.


May-07-2004, 12:26pm
This is for Michael Hooper. Re: the Eric Gross pieces, where can one get the scores?

Jeff Hildreth
May-07-2004, 1:50pm

Did you get the Gilchrist with the highly laquer checked top from Dexter Johnson/Carmel Music some years back

I had heard that anything under 18" would be inappropriate for a GDAE
tuning (octave below mandolin) guess this disproves that theory.

What Thomastiks are you using...Model Number and gauge if you could.

I too am leary of the longer scaled octave instruments as my fingers are somewhat atrophied..: ) an age thing..and a few clever injuries.
I can easily handle up to 18" and of course the GDA tuning makes the
mandolin fingering an easy transfer



May-07-2004, 6:16pm
The strings I use are here (http://www.juststrings.com/toi-174.html).
The mandola does not have a highly lacquered top. My father ordered two in 1984 direct from Gilchrist. They both have an amazing sound.

As for the Eric Gross piece, you can find it here. (http://www.amcoz.com.au/opac/Detail.aspx?id=11921)


May-08-2004, 3:23am
So what do you call your instrument when it is sold/marketed as one thing and you restring/tune to a different standard.

For example, I have on order a Freshwater octave mandolin, advertised as standard tuning GDAE (an octave below a mandolin). #The scale length is 610mm, and I've seen instruments in that scale length range tuned down a fifth to CGDA. #If I do that (and it sounds okay), am I playing an octave mandolin in alternate tuning or playing a mandocello? #Does it really matter?

May-08-2004, 2:10pm
[QUOTE]"So what do you call your instrument when it is sold/marketed as one thing and you restring/tune to a different standard."

Oh, Tim... the confusion of it all! In fact, if you look at Musikalia's catalogue, under mandocello, the instruments are claimed to be tuned to GDAE! So, yes, much vague information around... Of course, their mandocelli are rather short-scaled, some 50-some cm. (compare those to Calace's, at 61 cm.)

The low C of picked/plucked bass instruments is indeed problematic, absent the adequate string-length; otherwise, one must resort to unbearably thick, rope-y strings to get any resonance.

The tenor C, on the other hand (i.e. the one of the viola/mandola) is not problematic at all. Either that or the bass-G is quite workable and sonorous on a great range of scales and instrument-sizes.