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Electric Mandolin - A Different Culture

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Wow. My explorations of the electric mandolin have led me to some surprising conclusions (well surprising to me anyway). It’s not what I thought.

I got a four string electric, and an amp, and have gotten past messing with the ookie noises I can make with the settings on my modeling amp and figured out how to get from how I sound to how I want to sound. For the most part. I have lots to learn, but I am on my way.

I can play loud angry fiddle tunes. I have figured out a range of tones I like, and when and where to use them, and its good enough for now.

So now what?

I have been pursuing this almost entirely alone, just playing in my living room. Not having other people to play with is killing me, as that is my main thing in the acoustic mandolin world. I jam or rehearse at least twice usually three times a week in that world.

I went to an electric jam at this bar several times, and it was fun, but it was a bunch of paunch rockers, playing all 70s 80s and 90s rock, and little or no flexibility about where the mandolin “fits in” (unless there was a mandolin in the original, like Led Zeppelin’s Battle of Evermore). Not me. Not me at all.

My electric guitar playing brother pointed out, as have others, that my modeling amp puts the whole history of rock and roll at my fingertips. The implication being that if I want to use it correctly, I need to learn the whole history of rock in roll. (What was I thinking – of course one needs to learn the genre.)

But playing rock guitar on the mandolin, and aspiring (at my age) to be the god of the small guitar, is ridiculous in the extreme.

I love the electric mandolin as used in Western Swing – and I have been working a little on that. But that too is a whole universe, and like rock, it will take me a while to get into.

The more fundamental thing is that electric mandolin is not just a mandolin electrofied. It really is a different culture, or at least it is outside the mandolin culture I am used to. I naively did not think it through. I kind of went forward half assuming there would be these electric jams, where I would find people to play electric music with and I could meet weekly with them and all would be wonderful and ummm... electric.

What I am finding is that in the electric world, (guitar mostly, but electric mandolin is not breaking out of this mold) it is mostly performing or recording. You either perform, hope to perform, prepare to perform, rehearse, or you record, or prepare to record, or you compose and record, making wonderful music files to post here and there. Or both.

So I need to form a band - become a composer - or play alone at home, making the wallpaper peel in the living room.

What does an adult, non-professional, electric guitar player do?

The other option seems to me to be the hobby consisting of purchasing new equipment, and fiddling with it as you pursue an ever rarified tone of wonderfulness, and thereby avoid all the much harder problems of what the heck to play, and with whom.

So I desperately need a context in which electric mandolin makes sense, and especially where I can find others in an electric context and play with them regularly and have fun. Failing that I am afraid my interest in this will fade away once the novelty and intellectual pursuit have played out.

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Updated May-05-2020 at 8:31pm by JeffD



  1. Ted Eschliman's Avatar
    I have been down a similar path, as well. I was able to fill in the role of electric guitar a couple times with my mandobird in a church praise band, and I think the congregation as a whole just thought it was a guitar. I've not had the opportunity since, but I agree the only way this can be done is starting my own band, devoid of ensemble preconceptions and traditions. This is pretty much what Paul Glasse in Austin, Tx does with his jazz duos and trio. Outstanding music if you ever get a chance to hear his playing.

    Also, there is an entire world of Guitarra Baiana in South America where the instrument is common. Check out some of the videos of Marcos Moletta.

  2. JeffD's Avatar
    A friend pointed out a band i have always loved - Steeleye Span, and how they took electric guitar and other rock elements into traditional folk music and made something great out of it. Similarly, to an extent, with traditional French music - Malicorne. Something for me to think about, anyway.

    At least there is some connection with the music I do already.
    Updated Apr-07-2016 at 8:30am by JeffD
  3. JeffD's Avatar
    Though different than acoustic mandolin in many ways, playing emando is working my brain around the same fretboard. So its not entirely irrelevant practice.