View Full Version : Transition from mandolin to mandola

May-17-2004, 5:12pm
I'm thinking about getting a mandola. I'm intermediate to advanced on mandolin, and I would like to know what are the differences I should know. It's tuned the same, just an octave lower, right? What else is different? Also, what are the differences between mandolas, bouzoukis and octave mandolins?

May-17-2004, 7:41pm
In europe and probably some other areas a mandola would be tuned an octave lower. In the states commonly a mandola would be tuned a fith lower C G d a . My mandoiln has about 14.25" scale my mandola about 17.5" and my otave about 22.5". I think that bouzoukies are generally longer scaled 23" and up. Some of the older instruments from Greece had only three courses and were not tuned like mandolins. i find playing melody on the 22.5" scale chalenging but in most cases possible. From reading the board I would say that most players of the longer scale insruments use them for rythm and use many different tunings. If I had it to do again I would buy a short scaled octave before a mandola. What ever you get have fun. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/coffee.gif

May-18-2004, 4:43am
What is a good brand and model for the "short scaled octaves" like you were talking about? Probably anywhere under $800 would be a good price range for me. I just don't know anything about these. Thanks again in advance.

May-18-2004, 5:46am
I think Sean covered a lot of bases on the "big mandolin" question. The issue for you is ... what kind of music do you like to play and do you want to play rhythm or melody? Generally, the longer the scale, the more you are forced into a rhythm role. The shorter scale mandola's in CGDa are terrific alto voices for melody and work really well as counter melody, counter rhythm instruments. But - they require a lot of thought to move over to from mandolin. The C tuning will initially twist you a bit when you begin to play.

As a good, reasonably priced introduction to the instrument family ... I'd probably look at the "medium" scale, Trinity's, Johnson's, Tyler Mountain or other instruments like that. Normally these are sold as "Octave Mandolin's", have about a 21 inch scale (520 / 540mm) and come with a pretty good hardshell case for under $500 (on eBay). The caveat is - these are factory made and the fit, finish and set up can be a bit indifferent from one example to another. The set up is easy to adjust, if you buy from a reputable dealer, the fit and finish come with a warranty.

Some of these are pretty good players / sounding instruments. It seems a lot was due to the skill of the player and the way it was set up.

May-18-2004, 6:31am
What else is different?
Unless you have much larger-than-average hands, you will most probably have to use a different fingering scheme for octave mandolins.

May-18-2004, 8:42am
Simple little rule for your chord positions on mandola vs mandolin. (I'm talking CGda tuning)

Your mandolin C chord is an F on a mandola. A is a D. Just add 4 notes to the chord to transpose. Same position.

The other area you may want to investigate is tenor guitars or tenor banjos. Simalar tuning.

May-19-2004, 10:25am
At the price level you mentioned, you might also consider checking out David Freshwater's instruments... they are handmade instead of factory made, and he will consult with you re: all of your preferences and give you very personal service. I bought a used Freshwater bouzouki which has clearly taken a beating over the years, and it sounds wonderful and has stood up very well, as the craftsmanship is quite good. Just another option...


Jack Roberts
Jun-14-2004, 6:19pm
I've got a CGDA mandola on order from Peter Coombe in Australia. #It isn't much longer in scale than a mandolin, being based on the old Gibson Mandolas of 90 years ago. #I played one recently and liked both the sound and playability. #

The reason I ordered the mandola is this: #I play a lot of Bach Cello suites. #The Cello is tuned an octive and a fifth below the mandolin, an octive below the viola, or a fifth below the Octave Mandolin (European style Mandola). #I cannot play the mandolin along with my favorite Cello recordings without running out of strings, but the CGDA Mandola is compatable.

In order to play, I could use the C clef notation used for violas, or, better yet, learn from the violin transcriptions, and then play the mandola as if I were playing a mandolin. I will be playing a fifth lower than the notes I'm reading, but it is easy to find violin transcriptions of Cello music, which are, of course, an octive and a fifth too high.

You might want to look at Weber for mandolas, octive mandolins, and mandocellos, as they will custom build them.


Jun-15-2004, 7:29pm
Thanks for your help, I just bought a new Morgan Monroe mandola, which I really like the playability on. I didn't expect it to sound the way it does though. I thought it would sound like a mandolin, but lower. Instead, it has sort of twangy and buzzy type of Celtic sound. I think part of the buziness is because the string tension is very low. Is there any other answers to this problem? Also, where should I look to buy mandola strings?


Jun-15-2004, 8:28pm
check links for Elderly, JustStrings.com,; I have d'addario mandola strings on my 14" scale electric4 , still in CGDA,they're quite heavy guaged, I like GHS octavemando strings on my H-5 style mandola,more, for that reason, [lighter guages].

Jun-16-2004, 5:41am
Nathaniel - congratulations on your new Mandola. It's a small, non exclusive club, but your entrance fee is paid. You just found one of the sticky problems with tuning a long scale "big mandolin" of virtually any type. Ascertaining comfortable and workable string tension is difficult.

One trick to have in your arsenal of mandola mayhem is from Doug Deiter's remarkable Kennequhair (http://www.kennaquhair.com/)web site. On the bottom of the left hand menu is a Universal String Tension Calculator. Download it ... Also - while you're at the site, take a look at Doug's offerings, some very nice looking and playing instruments.

I keep a copy of the UTSC on my desktop for use when I am trying to figure out alternative string tensions or scale length options or even bridge intonation, offsets. It is a little tiny program but ... keep saving the variations you end up with - customize a file each of your instruments. As for the difference in sound between a mandolin and a Mandola. Well yes, it is a low alto voice and the fretting stretches will require rethinking some chord forms and finger placement. Explore Tremolo (http://tremolo.no/english/misc/chords/tenorchordd.htm) for a lot of different options. (You'll notice that very few of the chords listed use more than four frets in length - a little different from mandolin playing - but not much.)

Normally, I try to keep my string tension at about 20lbs per string for the scale length. If I can keep this tension across all sets, it makes a nicely playable instrument which can then be set up for intonation and string height. As for the difference in sound between a mandolin and mandola - to me a mandola is closer in sound to a good guitar rather than a mandolin - with a lot of subtlties which neither a guitar or mandolin could ever offer. Take your time with it, try working double stops into your music and explore the sounds possible above the fifth fret. (Also practice your A scale exercises on your mandolin - this will give you a good basis for playing in D on a Mandola.)

Explore and enjoy the difference.

steve V. johnson
Jun-16-2004, 8:03am
I've just been loaned a Flatiron mandola, a dark red one that looks like the
Gibson Army-Navy models. I'm -just- beginning to grasp the fifth-down
translation process, but this thing sounds great. Big fun, and it fits
nicely between my Kalamazoo K-11 and Crump B-II bouzouki. I think I need
to tape a transposition chart on the side of it... <GG>