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The Fifth Course

Mando(la)bird and Bluebird

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Gig last weekend in Sonora CA...
Two sets with Seņor Circus, a band for which I play mandolin and guitar. So my gig rig is fairly heavy. I use both an eight string electric mandolin and a four string electric mandolin, so an amp and a set of effects pedals are part of the package too. The regular mandolin and the guitar round out the gig stable, and they just go through the PA.

I've altered the four string electric mandolin a little. It is an Epiphone Mandobird, and it was designed to be tuned (low to high) GDAE, but the the E is always a little weak. So I put heavier strings on it and tune it CGDA. It has a very rich, guitar-like tone I can easily get tones that approach Carlos Santana's or Slash's. The tuning makes it essentially a mandola rather than a mandolin, so I call this instrument the Mando(la)bird.

That's us playing in the pic below, with me on the Mando(la)bird.

The 8 string is more conventional, if an electric mandolin can be said to be conventional. But I've had it altered too. The original pickguard was parchment colored and single ply. It held the pickup perpendicular to the run of the strings, which put the pole pieces in the wrong places to accurately pick up the movement of the strings. So I had Gary Vessel, the luthier who made my F5 mandolin, to cut and install a new pickguard of triple ply pearloid.

The bridge on this beast was designed to handle 4 strings well, but 8 strings pushes its limits. So I've had Andrew Jerman build me a replacement. When that arrives, I'll have Gary Vessel install it and do a full set up.

[Update: Bridge is here. I'm delivering to Gary this afternoon, after band practice.]

The Fender has a completely different tone from the Epiphone. If you're familiar with the difference between Gibson and Fender electric guitars, then you know a bit about what I mean. But it's a bit more than that too. Eight strings sound different than four, they have a little more zing. And the tuning is different as well; I've left this one in mandolin tuning (GGDDAAEE).

Below are a couple of pics of the mandolin. No one's caught me playing it yet. I've only had it since March, and only gigged with it once so far.

Both performed well last night and turned heads. These little guys make the noises fans expect to hear when listening to a rock/pop band, but they look very small compared to guitars. Because they're small I like them to be visually flashy. That way they catch the eye and seem a little bigger.

Love 'em both. Would love to gig more with them.

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Updated Jun-08-2009 at 2:50pm by Daniel Nestlerode

Electric Explorations