View Full Version : Octave mandolin or mandola?

John Bertotti
Sep-20-2004, 2:36pm
Looking at different options after listening to the Freshwater sound clips in another thread I decided that one or the other will be my next purchased instrument. Why than would one want an octave mandola over an octave mandolin. I'm leaning in the octave mandola direction because of my difficulty with some of the stretches with my left hand. Any comments? Thanks John

Sep-20-2004, 2:46pm
there's a terminology issue here... what we in the US call Octave Mandolin, is often referred to as an Octave Mandola in England (and is listed as such on Freshwater's site). I know there are a couple of places where one can read the detailed explanation of terminology differences (perhaps someone has a link handy and would post it...?)

More and more, I'm learning that the larger mando family instruments are kind of on a continuum...some people tune mandolas to OM range, OM's and Bouzoukis can be tuned the same, but the scale (and tone) is a bit different),etc. I think it's worth spending some time figuring out what scale is comfortable for you, what range you want to play in, how many courses, what tones do you seek and what tunings do you prefer, how wide a neck do you want, etc.

Then you seek instruments with the characteristics you want and it doesn't matter whether they're called mandolin or mandola or cittern or blarge or fred...:;):

John Bertotti
Sep-20-2004, 3:25pm
Oddly enough I know what I think I want. I imagine I would like the instrument labeled octave mandola on the Freshwater site. I wonder if the cittern wouldn't give me the tone I'm looking for and with the added course allow for the longer scale and have the the four highest strings tuned like a mandolin gdae with the lowest being tuned to possibly a c. I have no first hand experience with any mandolin family instrument other then an epiphone and my vega. I know I want an instrument with a tone similar to the clip in the previous thread that was recorded with the shure 58 mic. I am going on faith of the comments of people here and recordings. Vague as it may be that is my only choice. I was hoping for some physical reasons to pick one over the other. Thanks for the help I think the info your referring to is in the archives. I wonder if the octave mandola on the Freshwater site is an American Octave mandolin then what do we call a instrument he calls an octave mandolin? Seriously I don't care what it's called as long as I can get the tone and work the finger stretches. Thanks otterly2k. John http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Sep-20-2004, 3:35pm
I've wrestled with these same questions. When speaking to David Freshwater, he mentioned that though he doesn't list such an instrument on his site, he'd would be happy to build a ten-string octave mandola/mandolin which could be tuned CGDAE. I guess you could also call this a short-scale cittern?

John Bertotti
Sep-20-2004, 4:00pm
How much of a difference would the smaller box width of the octave mandola have on the tone as compared to the octave mandolin recorded in the previous thread. Higher? I would go that route if I just knew what it would sound like. I may try anyway after talking to David Freshwater or may just go with the cittern. Thanks john

Sep-20-2004, 4:02pm
A Freshwater octave manDOLA is about 22" scale, or an octave mandolin in the USA, a Freshwater octave mandolin is more like 24 inch scale and closer to the zook. I've had both.

Jim M.
Sep-20-2004, 4:16pm
Well, compare them for us Neal. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

I had a Freshwater octave mandola, and it's a great instrument for the price. I only sold it because I found myself only needing one long-neck, and I chose to keep my 25" Crump bouzouki. Compared to the Crump, the Freshwater had a higher-pitched tone, and was definitely easier to play fast melody on. The Crump can boom like a Martin D-28, though, so it's great for accompaniment.

As to the issue of five courses, I've never quite figured out what I'd do with the extra course, and it certainly complicates chords. I'd recommend trying out a 5-course instrument before you commit to buying one.

Also, Cafe member Halfdead Hippie has both a Freshwater octave mandola and bouzouki, IIRC. You might want to PM him to get a comparison.

John Bertotti
Sep-20-2004, 8:10pm
Neal elaborate on your instruments if you would please. I also PM'd halfdeadhippie in the hopes he will chime in also. Thanks John

Sep-21-2004, 3:08am
I was a bit skittish on a 5-course at first, but I gave it a shot as my first CBOM. Worked out just fine, only takes a little extra time to get used to the extra course. I wanted a "mandolinny" one, or one I could play melody on.. so I got a 10-string Sobell 21" scale that I tuned GDAEA. The extra strings on top really made it interesting as a chording instrument too, without them I feel a zook and a guitar don't compliment each other. I've hardly ever been the only accompanist in a band/session.

Anyway, it's not as hard as you might think to get used to the extra strings. Just "stay the course" (har har) and be stubborn. Most of this stuff is just "in your head" as to wether it's hard or not..

John Bertotti
Sep-21-2004, 7:16am
My whole reason for thinking five course was to facilitate fingering some more difficult chords on a longer scaled instrument. I am just guesing that this is possible. I have also been thinking that a cgdae may not be the best choice for this since it is the upper regions of the g string my pinky has a hard time, or just wont, reach. Is this valid reason for pursuing a 5 course instrument? I am also a bit curious if anyone has tuned their instrument with a string intentionally tuned sharp or flat? I don't know why I'd want to I'm just curious. John

Danb how does the Sobell sound. How does it compare to the Freshwater; sound, workmanship, costs etc... Thanks John

Sep-21-2004, 7:25am
Reesaber, the sound come from my website( i suppose).

I done some videos on "Lesson" section http://cbom.free.fr/31.htm , when you can see my finger play the G scale.
If you want to play more melody than chords, i recommend you the Octave Mandola.( a friend have got one and he's very happy with it, he plays irish banjo too and just melody no chords)

But my octave mandolin ( 24) is sometimes to long for some chords in GDAE ( and i haven't got little fingers) chord like Bm with 4-4-5-1 the 1 is to hard to play with fast reel. So i just play 4-4-5-x OR 4-0-1-1

The difficult come from the neck is too thick. The Joe Foley's mandola (octave mandolin)neck is very thin and better to play fast.

Good luck

Ask David Freshwater to have the best longer for you http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

Dagger Gordon
Sep-21-2004, 7:42am
About 20 years ago I think there used to be more 10 string citterns around than I seem to see nowadays. I don't know if that's just me or if that is generally the case.

It always seemed to me that a high A course was quite a good idea if you were struggling to stretch to the 7th fret of the top E string. Makes all the notes into a handy first position.

I've never been completely convinced about the benefits of an extra bottom C string. Many people would tune it up to D, but even then you'd need a pretty heavy guage to stop it flapping about.

I'd also definitely go for whichever has the shortest neck to ease the left hand stretches.

Sep-21-2004, 5:31pm
Halfdead chiming in

firstoff- Jim M -- no offense taken but I have a Fresh water octave mandolin and a freshwater mandocello -pictures are in the "post a picture of your mandolin" section backin august of 2003.

The mandocello has a long scale and fairly heavy strings - can be a bit of a bear, definatley not for the nervous-
but it is wicked cool!
The octave has a 21inch sale and the same body as the mandocello, (cello has celtic knot, octave has round hole), but a very different neck

between the two I play the octave more - simply because it is more versatile - I play fiddle tunes, Irish music, classic rock, and even bluegrass ( I can hear the purists moaning)
I am constantly complimented on the beautiful tone of the octave - bright and full,with a great sustain,and I must say even unplugged the sound really carrys, that box is loud!- I do play with John McGann style heavy picks (Dunlop gator 2.0mm)
As for left hand stretching, about the best I can do is 1-6 or 2-7, and this is not without some pain, so if you are worried about stretching but want to keep the GDAE tunning I believe the Freshwater Octave Mandola might be what you are looking for.
David is fairly flexible on body size and scale length - personnaly I would go for the largest body possible, and I will say the round hole is much louder than the Knot.
The American Black Walnut used in the body is (IMHO) the key to the Freshwater sound, I love it, and I love my Freshwaters,as I said before - not for sale or trade ever.
I do have alot of "Freshwater" MP3s available at

Stormy Morning Music (http://www.stormymorning.com/hippie/hdhtunes.html)

So send David an email - I believe he will call you personally- tell him I said hello!

PS - I bought the Greenman humming electric 10 string CGDAE-haven't plugged in yet - but so far it is everything I hoped for!

John Bertotti
Sep-21-2004, 6:04pm
Halfdeadhippie thanks, I listened to your link. The music was excellent. That Octave mandolin sounds exactly like I want. My only concern in the scale length. I worry a bit about going to the octave mandola with a slightly narrower body. I wonder if this might significantly change the tone. I think I've talked my self into a 5 course instrument so I'm hoping the cittern which I believe is the same as the octave mandolin will be a bit friendlier on the stretches. When I talk to David I will find out if he knows what tone changes I may expect with the deep body octave mandola as compared to the octave mandolin/ cittern. Thanks John

Mandolman I just checked out your web site. After seeing your instrument I think the scale length is just a bit to long for me. Looks like I'll have to go for the octave mandola. Must talk to David. Thanks John

Sep-22-2004, 2:30am
Danb how does the Sobell sound. How does it compare to the Freshwater; sound, workmanship, costs etc... Thanks John
I no longer have the Sobell, and I've never tried a Freshwater.. but a Sobell will be considerably more expensive if you can get one. Another thread here on the cafe details some delays and price increases from Stefan recently.

It was quite a lovely sound, very archetypal for Celtic stuff. They're currently played by a number of pros, including Andy Irvine & Ciaran Curran of Altan. The thing about it that was most perfect was the 20 3/4" scale and the GDAEA tuning. *perfect* for melody at that length, and the top A made very interesting chord voicings.

I had a long-scale 10-string zook from Stephen Owsley Smith for many years as well. In my opinion, Steve is still the finest maker in the CBOM space.. both in tone and in cosmetics. The SOS zooks are more of a hot-rod instrument, they tend to be extremely high-performance for either chording or melody (2 distinct carving types or "voicings" he does).

It's tricky to pick as there is still such a variety. A flat-top will be a nice loud clear instrument in a session (Phil Crump excells at these, played by the Dervish guys). An archtop tends to be an amplified band instrument with a more complex tone. Sobells are dark & complex, but perhaps lacking the wide window of dynamic response of a Smith. To me, that makes the Smith a better melody player. Steve's chording zooks (like Zan McLeod's or Chipper Thompson's) are just wonderful too. Chipper Thompson's "Red Bouzouki" is the finest individual musical instrument I have ever played.

That said, picking up a Steve Smith instrument is no longer easy. I let my zook go as the long scale of it was really causing me some hand problems as I used tenor banjo fingerings on it. Old dog, new tricks etc. Funny enough I feel Steve's zooks have a lot of the characteristics of fine F-style mandolins (attack, clarity, depth), and his mandolins have a lot of the traits of classical oval-holed mandolins (a Lyon & Healy on steroids?).

Back to tunings & Scale length- as a melody player I'd no longer recommend the long-scale ones. My SOS was tuned DGDAD, DGDAE, DAEBE, or DAEAE. Of those, DAEBE was my favorite (variant of GDAEA I suppose). The low string was mostly a drone, and I found I could have done without it.

GDAEA is surprisingly intuitive.. I didn't use the top A as a crutch for tricky fingerings, but I did use it to get the "bouzouki sound" of unisons and thirds etc out of the music. I think that if you really want a zook to sound like a zook, you need to have either GDAD or DAEA in it somewhere. The ability to unison the top D on the A string, or unison the A on the E string really makes a nice tone that "sounds bouzouki-like".

GDAD is better for backing trad instruments like pipes and whistles (all the D modes). GDAEA is superb for backing fiddle tunes, especially the "barn burners" that tend to be in A or E.

There are more bouzouki tunings than there are stars in the sky.. it's a good excercise to try as many as you can and open your mind to them as you look to find your voice.

Sep-22-2004, 3:03am
Give the word and I shall custom build you one.


John Bertotti
Sep-22-2004, 7:56am
Don do you have any mp3 clips I could hear? Thanks John

Danb incredible assessments.
"The ability to unison the top D on the A string, or unison the A on the E string and thirds etc.." I have no clue what this is Yes I'm that new.

All of you have been a great help. Thanks John http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Sep-22-2004, 11:30am
"Unisons" are when you play the same note on two different string courses.. so on a normal mando, the 7th fret on the D string is the same note as the open A string.. makes a neat sound http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

on a zook, you need a 4th interval (ie gdaD instead of gdaE) to make that stretch reasonable..

John Bertotti
Sep-22-2004, 8:38pm
Danb I was checking out your website but couldn't get the video clip of your picking. Might just be my computer but I'm hi speed and after a few minutes I get a cracked quicktime icon. Thought you should know in case it wasn't just me. Some cool looking instruments on the site. John

Sep-23-2004, 2:33am
reesaber- I believe that's encoded as an mpeg.. but though I sure play with the software a lot I'm not sure I've really figured out how to make those darned things compatible for everyone. One thing you could try if you're really feeling dedicated to the cause would be to pull down a new quicktime, or see if there is an update for your computer that has "video codecs" in it.. Very likely it's my fault though http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
I'll probably update my site with a bunch of stuff I've done recently. For a while I was going to put together an instructional video.. never really found the time. In the meantime, I might put some of the bits up on the site. Also, I no longer have *any* of the instruments I used on the first recording, which is somewhat looney I suppose!

John Bertotti
Sep-23-2004, 6:20am
Let us know when you get the video done. I will try different approaches to opening your link. I consider it all part of the learning curve. Thanks John http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Dagger Gordon
Sep-23-2004, 6:28am
Hey Dan,

What CBOM instruments have you got these days? I hear about your mandos but nothing zouky.

Sep-23-2004, 7:35am
I've got a tenor guitar that happily changes from AEAE, GDGD, GDAD, GDAE.. and I have a 10-string 21" scale instrument (vintage!) in restoration, but that will be a worked on for a while yet before I get my hands on it!

I'd sold my SOS zook recently to acquire a fairly special mandolin which didn't turn out right for me.. I hadn't been planning to go zookless for any length of time before that though http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

John Bertotti
Sep-26-2004, 9:25pm
Does someone sell five course strings for a short scale octave mandola?
I'm going to build one shortly. I am still going to order a Freshwater but not till January about. If this built mandola sounds great I may order a five course mando instead. I talked with Mr. Freshwater he's back online after having some cable problems by him. John
Oh and are the strings ball end or loop?

Sep-27-2004, 3:55am
The tailpiece => http://cbom.free.fr/36.htm

The waiting annouce by Freshwater is 4 month BUT is really 6/7 months.

Sep-28-2004, 6:25am
Mandolman - I just noticed you linked to my "she moved through the fair"

I am honored to be up next to John McGann, Manus Lunny, Robin Bullock-

gosh I better keep up my chops!

Nice corner of the web- I'll be sure to link over to ya.

thanks so much

Sep-28-2004, 11:10am
You're welcome http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

Sep-28-2004, 12:11pm
Respected New Zealand luthier Davy Stuart just posted this to cittern-L:

"Incidentally, off- topic, sort off, if anyone is looking for an 18'
scale rosewood/spruce mandola available now, please email me off-list -
cancelled order...



-- Davy Stuart, Luthier 141 England St, Christchurch, NZ. ph +64 (03) 9813814 http://www.stuart.co.nz _"

*I have no connection with Davy apart from knowing him through the list, and I've never seen one of his instruments, but many people I know on the list own his work, and I know of no disappointment.

Sep-29-2004, 5:52pm
"...if anyone is looking for an 18' scale rosewood/spruce mandola..."

I have pretty long fingers, but I'm not quite ready for an 18-foot scale. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

(This reminds me of the "Stonehenge" scene in "This is Spinal Tap".)

Oct-01-2004, 1:20pm
Emailed Mr Stuart; the mandola is spoken for (I came in second!)

Oct-01-2004, 3:45pm
bob, try the website for acoustic music co in england. they have some jimmy moon mandolas and citterns. there is also a dealer here in the us that carries his mandolas too. shadetreeguitars.com

Oct-04-2004, 6:14pm
Dear Freshwater fans . . . probably the wrong message board but I have 2 Freshwater O.M's (or whatever you call them) 24" & 21 1/2" scale lengths. (the latter I picked up on e-bay 4 weeks ago - built 2001 - unused wall ornament - 190) but I guess you players will all have the same build features that mine had?

Both instruments have been improved dramatically (as yours will) by the fitting of a compensated bridge - lowering of the nut slots (always way to high) - fitting of a cast tailpiece and the resulting, significant lowering of the action.

#I fitted wide, removeable bone saddles into the bridges (which I can swap if I change string gauges and need a different 'take off' for certain courses) but these aren't too critical.

#Set up therefore, was the only criticism I would have w.r.t. Freshwater instruments but there are big rewards if you improve this aspect. If your action is more than 3/64" at the 12th fret and more than 1/64" at the 1st fret then you can do yourselves a lot of favours with a little time and effort. The improvement in your playing speed and facility with chords will be dramatic to say the least. Imagine improving on the superb tonal quality that you already have !!

#Enjoy . . . T.P.

Steve Baker
Oct-05-2004, 2:32pm
OK, I'm about to take the heat for some of the rest of you and show the world the gaps in my knowledge. Can anyone explain the theory behind a compensated bridge? I see the term a lot and I'm pretty sure I'll recognize one when I see it but the why and how escape me yet. Anyone care to educate the new guy? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif

Oct-05-2004, 3:26pm
Here's Frank Ford's explanation (http://www.frets.com/FRETSPages/General/Glossary/Comp/comp.html).

Steve Baker
Oct-07-2004, 8:11am
Wow, what a great site! Thanks for the tip!

Steve http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Oct-07-2004, 9:24am
I agree with rosincloud - you do want to do some adjustment or have a luthier or someone knowledgeable help you with lowering the action on the Freshwaters

I haven't gone quite as far as he did - but the small drop in action and changes in string gages made a huge difference for me

It's all about personal preference of course.