View Full Version : Fundamental diff. between guitar & mando strings?

Lauren Donahue
Aug-17-2007, 12:28pm
I was a bit curious about the interchangeability of guitar and mandolin strings because I am trying to find the right combination of strings for my mandolin. #I really like the D'Addario Flat Tops, but to my knowledge they only come in one gauge (.011,.015,.026,.039). #I've been having slight pain in my left hand while playing lately, so I want to lighten the gauge slightly. #Thus, I became curious when I saw that they also make the same semi-flat phosphor bronze strings for guitar with varying gauges and I wondered if I might be able to mix and match. #Has anyone tried this before?

Aug-17-2007, 12:42pm
Fundamental difference? Ball end or loop end.
the balls are held in a loop,
that loop is smaller, after you crush that ball and take it out,
than the loop in the end of strings that don't have a ball.

Aug-17-2007, 12:47pm
Typically guitar strings (steel string) have a ball end where as typically mandolin strings have a loop end, thus they are not directly interchangeable. I've never tried the solution mentioned above, removing the ball from the ball end. Next time I'm in a pinch for a string, I'll have to try it. However, there are a lot of mandolin strings out there. I'd be surprised if you couldn't find another set by another maker to suit your need. Perhaps some light TI's if you're willing to spend the money. I do hear that they last for ages. Otherwise, you could buy individual strings and build your own sets with gauges customized to your liking.

Aug-17-2007, 1:09pm
And pain in your left hand may be an issue to look at separately.
are you holding your hand / wrist in low tendon stress position?

The wound A string, core wire, on those sets is already really thin. ,
the .011 is a good size for enough tension to get reasonable volume out.
but as I found the As break too soon, an .011 plain string is actually thicker than the .015" core.

perhaps try swapping just the E's for a start, with .010", or .0095"

Laurence Firth
Aug-17-2007, 2:28pm
I've had no need to try this myself but i remebered that Frank Ford had some info on this topic on his frets.com site. Here is one quote from Frank:
"Don't forget that there is no real difference between ball-end strings (as on guitars) and the loop end strings. With some practice you can cut the brass ball out of a string to make it a loop end string. The loop is smaller, but usually works fine. So you can use appropriate gauge ball end strings in a pinch."

this is the link to that page:

link on frets.com about using guitar strings on a mando (http://www.frets.com/FRETSPages/Musician/Mandolin/MandoString/mandostring2.html)

Hope that helps

Big Joe
Aug-17-2007, 2:49pm
Guitar strings are longer http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif . Just take the ball ends out and use what you like. We used to do it all the time. I finally got tired of the extra work and just got used to what was available...which is much better today than twenty years ago!

Aug-17-2007, 3:40pm
Happybird, why don't you do what I did, I also have left hand pain so I tuned the mandolin (J74 strings) down two steps to E-B-F#-C#. It works for me and I have no pain anymore. Hope this helps.

Aug-17-2007, 4:33pm
[some correcting to help treetop ]
well 2 _ 1/2 steps is F,C,G,D, 3/2 to the E above , use either.

E, F, F#, G. ...

Lauren Donahue
Aug-18-2007, 10:08am
Thanks, all. I may try some other mandolin strings and I may try experimenting with the guitar strings a bit. If I tuned my mandolin down though, I think my fingers would be quite confused when I try to play the same tunes I play now with other people!

As for the pain in my hand, I don't think I am holding it in an improper way. I attribute it to playing for long periods of time, so now I am trying to break up my practicing a bit and that has helped some.

Thanks again for your input!


Jim Broyles
Aug-18-2007, 3:22pm
[some correcting to help treetop ]
well 2 _ 1/2 steps is F,C,G,D, 3/2 to the E above , use either.

E, F, F#, G. ...
Treetopper's drop is 1-1/2 steps, or a minor 3rd. A step is two frets on a fretted instrument. Put another way, each fret is 1/2 step from the adjacent fret in either direction.

Aug-31-2007, 6:15pm
If you go to www.juststrings.com, a MandolinCafe sponsor, you can buy single strings in the gauge you like by the dozen. If you buy four dozens, you'll have six sets of mandolin strings. Don't worry about who makes them.

As for your pain, you might try buying yourself an eight string ukulele. I have one I bought on eBay for $70 (advertised as a mandolin). It has a 16" scale, so it's actually mandola length. I replaced the strings with some black nylon baritone uke strings, as they are easier to tune to mandola tuning. The tension is higher than for a uke, but those nylon strings are very easy to play and the neck is wide. The sound is like a classical guitar versus a steel string guitar--less sustain, nice for classical music. Not a great bluegrass instrument, but it will let you play on for a few more years.