View Full Version : Strings you use for Vega cylinderbacks

Oct-24-2010, 10:52pm
These instruments commonly have sunken tops, which I associate with string tension too high for the strength of the top. I did not say the owners did anything out of the ordinary. Maybe the mandolins, etc, have some subtle structural problem.

I just had a 1919 Vega top un-sunk by a very patient and knowledgeable luthier. I suspected that its former owner might have used mediums, but only three strings were on it when I acquired it and there were no string packages inside the case. And naturally I failed to measure the few strings which were on it.

I'm leery of over-tensioning it. And then I found that it was a 15" scale mandola instead of a 13-5/8" (Vega) mandolin, so anyone using mandolin strings and tuning it to GDAE would apply about 20% more tension than a mandolin needs. So I am interested in what everyone with a cylinderback uses for it. I now have GHS-A240 UltraLight mandolin strings tuned to GDAE. These ultralight strings even at 15" scale and GDAE are a tiny bit lower tensioned than (I think) the lightest mandola set I can find would be at CGDA -- that would be the John Pearse 2250 set. So I thought I'd not be endangering the mandola. And it sounds quite nice like this.

So, what do you use and why? On which instrument with which scale length? Classical mandolin strings? Special single string sets you make up yourself? Thanks for any info.

Tom Wright
Oct-24-2010, 11:29pm
Light (weich) Thomastiks for my brother-in-law's 1913 curly maple cylinder-back mandolin. Beautiful sweet tone. They make a low-tension mandola set.

Jim Garber
Oct-25-2010, 8:02am
I used to think that the main reason for Vega CB disease was the higher tension strings but I was convinced some time ago that it was the pickguard on the treble side. Almost all the warpage occurs on that side.

In any case, it sounds like you are doping the right thing in terms of strings esp since your scale is even longer. BTW some folks use Thomastik lights for these CBs.

Oct-26-2010, 5:22am
I think these may have been designed for use with strings found on Bowlbacks of that era. This being before the Bluegrass time, light strings were in vogue. It seems to me that Tenor Banjo strings from that era, which run from .009 to about .030 or .032 are about the same as bowlback sets.

I use 2 sets of Tenor banjo strings on my mandolin banjo, I like the nickel wound strings and they are not too heavy.

Oct-28-2010, 8:33am
I use J79s on mine with no trouble. .049" on the high string, .130" on the low. Of course, my Vega CB is a mandobass, so that might not work for you. :)

I have used the J-73s or equivalent on a fine cylinder back mandolin for many years. Those are D'Addario's standard light set. .010"-.038". I don't really believe that these instruments are a lot more delicate than other instruments of their top construction, such as Martins, etc. Inlaid guards, do make a slight difference, I suppose - but I've personally seen maybe a dozen vintage Vega CBs with fine tops, and only one with trouble.

Oct-28-2010, 6:23pm
McDonald's web page string calculator estimates 160 lb. tension for J73 gauges on a 13-5/8" scale mandolin. Seems good. For Eddie's 10-string (assuming 15" scale) I get 173 lb from that calculator. For my 15" 8-string mandola using the same UltraLights as Eddie (deleting the C strings) I get 142 lb (although for a 13-5/8" instrument the tension would sum to only 117 lb). I think that this is as much as I'd like to impose upon my 15" instrument and it sounds -really- nice to my ear that way, so I'm happy. I very, very much appreciate all of the contributions to date and invite more folks to tell what they find usable on their Vegas.

Bob DeVellis
Oct-28-2010, 8:58pm
Just lost my posting, so here's another try.

The 10-strings came in two sizes, one with a body size and scale length of a mandolin (called the mandola-mandolin) and the other with the dimensions of a mandola (called mandolin-mandola). So, knowing an instrument is a 10-string doesn't imply mandola scale. Not confusing enough? There was also a 10-string called an "octavo Mandola-Mandocello," spanning the pitch ranges of the octave mandola and mandocello and built on the body size and scale length of the mandocello. All of these hybrids are the size indicated by the second part of the hyphenated names. All span the pitch range of both instruments in the name designation. A x02 model cost $35 for the mandolin, $40 for the mandola, $45 for the mandola-mandolin, and $50 for the mandolin-mandola, so there wasn't a huge premium for the 10-strings. They were just another variant. These prices are from a catalog where cylinder-backs are listed as "patent applied for," presumably signifying a data between patent filing and acceptance (i.e., 1913).

I use Martin lights (.010-.034) and John Pearse mandola strings (.012-.049) on the mandolin and mandola, respectively. The mandola strings may seem really heavy but because of the short Vega scale, they don't have much tension at pitch, so they're not hard on the instrument.

Hope this information helps.

Aug-19-2015, 5:13pm
I realize this thread is five years old, but I just found it and I think I can add something.

I have a 1917 Vega cylinder-back mandola, Model 303, with a 15" scale.

I use the Thomastik 164 "alt mandoline" set tuned CGDA and it sounds FANTASTIC. Someone on the Cafe once measured the string diameters as 0.012/0.017/0.028/0.045" in this set.

My only complaint is that the C is ever so slightly on the flabby side (insufficient tension), so I may eventually try substituting a slightly heavier 173 or 173W pair from the 174 or 174W octave-mandola set. These are supposedly around 0.049" diameter.

If anybody has already tried this substitution on a Vega CB mandola, let me know!