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Notes from the Field

Electric Mandolin - A New Context

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In this posting I wrote about finding a context in which my messing around with electric mandolin makes some sense.

The jamming opportunities I naively sought out have been dead ends. It seems that, for the most part, jamming is not what one does on an electric mandolin.

What I am finding is that as an electric I am an outsider to the mainstream of mandolin and as a mandolin I am an outside the mainstream of electric guitar. I am forced to figure something out on my own.

Well this lack of established paths has spawned a gigantic opportunity. With no mentors, heck, nobody whose advice seamlessly applies, I have been forced to put things together on my own. Instead of looking for an established context, I am looking at building something new.

So from my more organized than usual and careful listening to the natural musical habitat of the electric guitar I have reached an epiphany - really killer electric guitar music is not really separable from really killer drumming.

Maybe, instead of a jam to play in, I need a drummer to play with. I have met up with a rock drummer, a friend of a friend, and over a few diner lunches and much coffee he has started to teach me the history of rock drumming, and what to listen to and what to listen for. He happens to be a huge fan of Ben Thatcher (Royal Blood), and, though before his time, Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa “Shut up and Play Your Guitar”), and I have a fist full of napkins with drummers names and albums and artists I need to learn about. He is also of a mind that short of playing the drums, and practicing the drums, the best thing in the world is talking drums.

Creativity involves new ideas sure, but it also involves letting go of old ideas that don’t apply any more, or don’t apply everywhere. One of these is my general antipathy towards drums and drummers. If I flex on that one little point, I might turn the corner and make something really magical happen. I don’t know where killer drumming and loud angry heavy metal fiddle tunes intersect, but it has motivated me to stay with the electric mandolin and see what I can build out of it that is sustaining, and hopefully, gigantically satisfying.

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Updated Oct-16-2016 at 3:21pm by JeffD



  1. lukmanohnz's Avatar
    This is an interesting post, Jeff. I bought one of the reissue Fender Mandostrats a while back, chiefly to bring with me on lengthy overseas business trips so that I would have something to noodle on in the evenings. It served its purpose well, but wound up mostly sitting in the closet after my spate of business travel ended. I just pulled it out again last weekend and was reminded of what a great little axe I've got. Having just recently attended a swing/Gypsy jazz mandolin workshop, I was playing around with all the new jazz chords I just learned and some perpetual motion circle of fifths studies. I am thinking that there is a good place for electric mandolin in a jazz trio if you can find the right musicians to round one out (and it need not include a drummer, though bass, drums and emando sounds pretty interesting to me!).
  2. Matt's Avatar
    I'd like to chime in on this one.

    Things I've learned when using an Emando:

    1) you can use tremolo to encourage sustain on an accoustic, you don't need that technique with an electric, there is plenty of sustain.
    2) just about any style of music can be translated to an Emando.
    3) most people do well to advance their knowledge by focusing on one instrument. Using an Emando for your amplified fix keeps you focused on the mandolin and not dividing your efforts on a guitar.
    4) you can play by yourself just fine.
    5) MAS is just as serious with Emando's.
    6) If you are married or live in close quarters get a 5 watt amp.
  3. JeffD's Avatar
    Number 5 above is so true. It kills me.

    I agree with number 1, that is my experience as well.

    Number 2 I take some issue with. My limited experience is that anything I play electrically is transformed. A silly little tune becomes an anthem. It would be like talking in headlines, or always using capital letters. So the better a piece would work as an anthem, the better it sounds on an electric.

    Number 4, not me. I mean yea I can play it with nobody around. But, at some point I get real antsi and self conscious about being over 40 and sitting at home playing an electric instrument. If all I had was to play music at home, I would give it up after a while.

    This is true in my acoustic world as well. Luckily there, I participate regularly in various jams parties and the like, so even when I am home practicing, it is with some public playing in mind.

    More to the point, however, is that my recent listening as described above has led me to believe that the great music one can make with an electric instrument is in an ensemble with others, and especially with a drummer. Even those great extended guitar solos of the 1970s had a drummer in the background. To my ear, playing electric alone sounds much more like practice then like playing, like I am in charge of part of the music, but not the whole thing.

    I dunno. My perceptions are likely to change as this adventure continues.