View Full Version : Octave mando scale lengths revisited

Dec-17-2004, 3:16pm
I play a Freshwater "octave mandola", about a 21.5 inch scale length, as a secondary instrument to regular mando. I have mild tendinitis in my left arm which seems to be aggravated by playing the octave, so I am contemplating selling/trading it and moving to something shorter. I occasionally see mandolas advertised with scale lengths as long as 18.5 inches. Can these be played EADG? Thanks for any advice!

Dec-18-2004, 6:25pm
Morgan- I recently played two custom made OM's by Weber... one at a 20" scale and the other at 18" (or maybe it was 18.5...essentially it was a mandola tuned down to OM pitch). Both sounded pretty good...the 20" had more sustain and depth, the 18" was punchy and good for melodic work (and of course the short scale made it easy to reach all sorts of stuff).

I think the tradeoffs here are... if you tune strings low on a smaller instrument, the sound loses body...and you need to be prepared to play on thicker gauge strings in order to get the proper tension and not have a flabby sound.

But yeah, it can be done. But before you take the plunge, I'd encourage you to put a capo on your Freshwater (to imitate the shorter scale) and play it that way for a while to make sure that it provides the necessary relief to your tendonitis.


Dec-20-2004, 4:04pm
Jacob and KE, thanks for the info and advice. Good idea about the capo; I'm experimenting with different scale lengths now.

Dec-20-2004, 9:41pm
"Can" an 18"-scale be tuned GDAE? Of course -- you can tune it any damned way you want. Will it sound good and play well? No. To get anything close to a reasonable tension on the G, you'll have to go with a really thick gauge string that just won't sound great and won't feel very good under your fingers.

If you have to move to a shorter scale, change your tuning. Personally, I like tuning DAEB (or in your nomenclature, BEAD), which gives you the top 3 course of an octave mandolin, but substitutes a high B for the low G. A very comfortable and convenient tuning for old-style and Celtic music.

Dec-27-2004, 5:05am
I have seen many different scale lengths for the OM. I dare say as a builder I am confused. I can hold my own, so to speak, when it comes to playing other stringed instruments. The mandolin and violin family has me a bit puzzled.
I was thrown into teaching the workshops at Front Royal in 2001 and have since evolved the standard mandolin kit into a fine sounding, easy to build instrument. At the request of many people, I designed an OM kit. During my research I found a vast amount of scale variations. I am using a 22.75" scale and found if I take off the first two frets I am left with a 20.379" scale which can also be used with great results. The only problem I encounter when doing this is when it comes to doing a small production run of necks. I guess it would be easy enough to leave the choice up to the person but is there a general preference among OM players.
I really question a scale length less than 20".


Jan-03-2005, 9:47am
Jacob - No, I haven't played one of those German OM's, so I stand corrected -- at least technically. But clearly these are classical-style instruments, not really comparable to the Freshwater that was the subject of the original post here. Classical instruments are typically strung with much lighter strings and lower tensions (as a point of comparison, the G string of most classical mandolin string sets is .034 vs. .040-.041 for a typical bluegrass mandolin set, with around 18 lbs. tension vs. 24-25 lbs. for the bluegrass set) translating into a much more "delicate" sound and feel. And achieving even that 18 lbs. of tension from a low G on an 18"-scale OM would require a .053 string -- which I find to be pretty thick. Achieving a nice tight 25 lbs. tension would require a very fat .064 G -- about the same as the D string on a bass guitar.

As I say, you can do it, but I don't think you'll like the result.

Jan-03-2005, 10:26am
I have a year-old catalogue of Guriema and, to my understanding, they offer just about ANY of their (bowlback) mandolins "converted" into mandolas, (I suppose) simply by grafting longer necks on them and adjusting some of the geometry of the top. I have, however, not played one of them, so I speak speculatively, at best.

Yes, Jacob is right: The term "mandola" in Europe means OM by default; the CGDA instrument is properly (but rarely) called "mandoliola", and the confusion proliferates... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

Considering how stout the bowls of German bowlbacks are, and how consequently bassy-boomy their tone, I have no doubt that the bowls themselves are adequate to resonate well to the OM tuning. But... if the scale is the issue, yes, strings would need to be rather thick.

I trust that German luthiers have resolved this problem by compromise: the heavy-ish, flatwound strings they use, the heaviness of the construction altogether, all this leads me to believe that their "converted" OM/mandolas work quite well— again, with "classical" priorities in mind.

I would love to hear from someone who has actually played/heard one...