Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 33

Thread: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    I previously posted something to the general discussion, but I'm still trying to figure out what type of instrument to buy, so I could use a little more advice.

    I'm a 60-year old musician, but I'm new to mandolin. I have a piano and violin background. I've been borrowing a friend's 8-string acoustic mandolin, which I restrung with just 4 light-gauge strings. I like the feel of it. The 4 strings and lower tension are easy on my left hand grip and my fingertips, and having single strings doesn't diminish the volume too much. (While I was at it, I also re-strung my ukulele with some Aquila 30U strings so it's now tuned GDAE, and I like the feel of that, too.)

    Anyway, I now think I'd like to have something with a low C string, as well, so I'm leaning toward buying a 5-string mandolin, CGDAE -- perhaps a hollow body with pick-ups.

    I'm in rural Japan, by the way, so I'm not able to just dash over to a big music store and try out lots of instruments. If I can make a trip to Tokyo or Osaka over the winter holidays, I may be lucky and find something here in Japan, assuming there's a store that sells 5-string mandolins.

    I'm thinking of also making a short trip back home to Michigan to see family next spring, so I could aim to get something then, assuming I can find a dealer with 5-string mandolins in Michigan.

    Online I've looked at pictures of instruments by Jonathan Mann and they look real nice. Unfortunately for me, he's in Tennessee, so it would mean ordering something without trying it out. I may do that.

    I know it's a rather general question, but does anyone have advice on buying a 5-string mandolin (what's good, what's bad, where to buy, where to avoid)? I'd like something nice, and I'm willing to spend what it takes to get something that sounds great and is also easy on my left hand.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Depends on your budget. Emando.com has several Fender hollow body 5 strings (NFI) at, to me, reasonable prices. Of course, several folks will custom make one for you. Arrow Mandolin's 5 string is pretty gorgeous and plays acoustically as well (the pickup is suspended from the fingerrest and the top is fully carved. (NFI) ~$4-5K I believe.

    I think that 5 strings benefit from a slightly longer scale for 'better' C string response, but I'm sure others will have more detailed advice.

    Good luck
    Play it like you mean it.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Are you sure you want a 5-string? The low C is more than just another string - it requires a completely different approach to playing than a regular 4.

    I have a Fender FM60E that I quite like, but it took a fair bit of modding to get it that way. Out of the box they are difficult to get tuning stability and the pickup switch couldn't be in a worse spot if they planned to put it in the worse spot possible.

    Gold Tone has a 5-string that looks reasonable if you want to go that way. If you get a Fender, be prepared to put some coin into it before you can do any serious playing on it.
    VerneAndru.com | oKee.ComX

    - ---==< V >==--- -

  4. #4
    Registered User jefflester's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Location
    California
    Posts
    2,126

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by InJapan View Post
    If I can make a trip to Tokyo or Osaka over the winter holidays, I may be lucky and find something here in Japan, assuming there's a store that sells 5-string mandolins.
    99% certain you will not be able to find such a store in Japan.

    I'm thinking of also making a short trip back home to Michigan to see family next spring, so I could aim to get something then, assuming I can find a dealer with 5-string mandolins in Michigan.
    Only slightly more of a chance. Your best (perhaps only) option here would be Elderly Instruments in East Lansing. You can check out their inventory online: https://www.elderly.com/catalog/category/view/id/97/
    Currently they do have a couple of 5-string Bluestars (electric) in different colors. Bluestar is located in Michigan and I'd venture to guess that the relationship between them and Elderly provides the only store in the country that actually stocks a 5-string electric mandolin. It is an incredibly niche instrument and since Fender discontinued the FM-60E some 10 years ago there just is no mass market instrument available. So anybody currently making them are individual (or small shop) luthiers who sell their products directly, rather than through stores. It's possible there may be relationships between some of these luthiers and local stores, but the only way to find out would be on a case-by-case basis.

    Verne mentions the Gold Tone model. I guess that could be considered a mass market instrument, but the odds of actually finding one in a music store are very small.

  5. #5
    Chief Moderator/Shepherd Ted Eschliman's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    Nebraska
    Posts
    4,275
    Blog Entries
    2

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Agree with the notion that the 5-string is a whole different approach. I tend to think of mine as a mandola (or tenor guitar) with an E string rather than a mandolin with a C. That said, since mandolin is not “native” to you, your musicianship will take you far in making the adaptation quicker assuming you’re equipped with light dose of music theory. Enjoy the journey!
    Ted Eschliman
    Tenor Guitar Enthusiast

    www.JazzMando.com
    Author, Getting Into Jazz Mandolin

  6. #6
    Quietly Making Noise Dave Greenspoon's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Leesburg, VA
    Posts
    723

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    I love the low C on Stealie. Ignore the three years of viola I had as a kid. I love the fact that I can go low in G. My ears really love the extra grounding the C offers on barre chords like D and E. The increased range from the C string is more than just more notes and tones; it is a whole lot of options!


    Rigel A Natural #1774 w/mods
    Andrew Jerman Irwin-style 5 string electric "Stealie"
    Paul Newson custom blonde w/Radius "Feivel"
    Epi Mandobird IV
    The Loar LM 370
    Grandmom's solid mahogany teens bent-top
    Baglamas 002
    Peavey Classic 30, Laney Cub 10, Bugera AC 60 amps
    Main Rig Grab&Go Acoustic

  7. #7
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Outer Spiral Arm, of Galaxy, NW Oregon.
    Posts
    15,089

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    I have a 4 string conversion tuned in Viola pitch CGDA. magnetic pickup, EM150
    the hard way, luthier modified A50..


    few years back, got a Penta System Pentaula
    started out as an A E B C# F#, tried octave tuning the fat G is a bit floppy for a GDAEB..

    haven't played it in a while , mostly play old tunes with other old folks, ( turned 70 past sunday )

    ought to shed it.. before the estate sale..



    ...
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

  8. #8
    Registered User dang's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Location
    Omaha, NE
    Posts
    766

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
    ( turned 70 past sunday )...
    Belated happy Bday!
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

  9. #9
    Cambridge Mandolinist Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Cambridge, UK
    Posts
    1,737
    Blog Entries
    81

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    As Ted said, a 5 string is no different than playing a mandola, except that the scale length is a bit shorter. And, like him, I think of my 5 string as a mandola with an extended upper range. It's an easy transposition.

    This thread made me get my 5 string electric out of the cupboard and have a go on it (unamplified) late last night.

    If you can find a JBovier ELS-5 or EMC-5 somewhere online, grab it. It is head and shoulders above anything Fender made or makes. Unfortunately, Jeff (Jeff Cowherd, the proprietor of JBovier) has stopped making them because of the recent Fender re-entry into the market.

    best,
    Daniel

  10. #10

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    A thought on 5-string - I find the technique quite different from either mandola/tenor and mandolin. Because of the 5th tuning the extra string(s) require a very definite technique (i.e. you really have to focus) to ensure you're not hitting sour notes. I found the same moving to 7-string guitar. You have to be more definite on what you're playing and be good at muting out the unwanted string(s). While there are a few playable chords that use all 5, "few" is the operative word.

    I think of mine as a tenor on the bottom and a mandolin on the top strings. String sets of 4.

    I also have a short-scale 6-string guitar tuned in 5ths that bends the mind even more. It eventually became its own thing in my mind but thinking in terms of "string sets" of 4 was very helpful getting me up and running.

    As of now there are no technique books on extended range 5th tuned instruments. Even Tiny Moore's book is strictly 4-string mandolin - quite a shame as he could have taught those of use trying to follow in his footsteps quite a bit.
    VerneAndru.com | oKee.ComX

    - ---==< V >==--- -

  11. #11
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Outer Spiral Arm, of Galaxy, NW Oregon.
    Posts
    15,089

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Novel is with 3 string chords, the middle 3 strings is the root 1, high 3 the 5th, low 3 the 4th,
    all on the same fret..



    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

  12. #12
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Upstate New York
    Posts
    22,108
    Blog Entries
    49

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    I have a five string and I play the potatoes out of it.

    Playing issues:

    I hadn't realized how much my brain identifies G string as the "bottom string". In general its not a problem, but when playing my five string it catches me over and over again.

    Same problem if I am playing a tune I know a fifth down. My brain says "top string" and screws it all up.

    Something to get used to.
    Indulge responsibly!

    The entire staff
    funny....

  13. #13
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Location
    Southern Maine USA
    Posts
    563

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Funny, I don't find a C string makes things that different. I never play chords on the C because of its stronger booming sound. Its not that bad, but is likely a problem for most 5 string players. Otherwise the C is used for a few lower licks and usually palm-muted. In my soloing I'd tend to avoid E and C.

  14. #14
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    Westchester, NY
    Posts
    23,956

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Verne Andru View Post
    As of now there are no technique books on extended range 5th tuned instruments. Even Tiny Moore's book is strictly 4-string mandolin - quite a shame as he could have taught those of use trying to follow in his footsteps quite a bit.
    I spent a few Swing Weeks at Ashokan with Tiny and even bought a Roberts 5 string from him back in the 1980s. He basically comped 3 and 4 string chords on the 4 lower strings (as Verne noted) and played single string breaks on the the upper strings, more or less. As far as I know, I don't think he really chorded using all 5 strings which i believe some players might do. Sort of similar to guitar players chording using more of the bass strings for comping.
    Jim

    My Stream on Soundcloud
    Facebook

    Playing lately:
    1923 Gibson A2 black snakehead -- Brentrup A4C -- 1915 Frank Merwin Ashley violin -- Huss & Dalton DS -- 1937 Gibson L-Century -- 1939 Gibson L-00 -- ca. 1890s Fairbanks Senator Banjo -- ca. 1923 Vega Style M tenor banjo -- Gibson TB-Junior

  15. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Jim Garber For This Useful Post:


  16. #15

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Verne Andru View Post

    As of now there are no technique books on extended range 5th tuned instruments. Even Tiny Moore's book is strictly 4-string mandolin - quite a shame as he could have taught those of use trying to follow in his footsteps quite a bit.
    Didn't Nile's Hokkanen have a five string book.

  17. #16
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Outer Spiral Arm, of Galaxy, NW Oregon.
    Posts
    15,089

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    mix tenor banjo and mandolin chords and they overlap.
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

  18. #17
    Registered User jefflester's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Location
    California
    Posts
    2,126

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by thistle3585 View Post
    Didn't Nile's Hokkanen have a five string book.
    He had the very rare (and long out of print) Electric Mandolin co-written with Richard Thompson. Dunno if there is any 5-string specific stuff in there, descriptions of the book don't mention 5-strings and the book is basically impossible to find any way. The penta in Pentatonic Mandolin refers to 5-note scales rather than 5-strings.

  19. #18

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    I have a couple of his books and I don't think that there is any five string in the ones I have but I thought he had done one.

  20. #19

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    It would seem there is a void in the market for an instructional book on 5-string mandolin technique.

    I don't have the cred, but others here may be able to fill the void and maybe even make a few dollars along the way. I muddled my way through it, but it would have been a nicer experience with a place to start.

    Just sayin...
    VerneAndru.com | oKee.ComX

    - ---==< V >==--- -

  21. #20
    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Rockville, MD
    Posts
    1,319
    Blog Entries
    7

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    I have considered the idea of trying to assemble what I have learned. Inconvenient that much of my progress was in arranging Beatles songs, because they have easily heard bass lines to go with melodies, and because they have canonical versions heard on the recordings. As Tim Connell discovered, the rights to publish Beatles arrangements are very expensive.

    But I do have a stock of go-to chords now, and arrangements of jazz tunes as well as some Americana songs. I am mainly working against my own aging clock to get as far as I can in playing skill before hands and fingers give out, but I suppose someone might want to read some stuff I know. I quail at the thought of trying to render my arrangements in tab, though, so I would have to stick to treble clef with extra ledger lines, and/or alto clef.

    I would of course not refer to this as only a 5-string book, but 5- and 10-string. Among other questions we could consider in the book would be equipment issues, like scale length and amplification. My repertoire depends on mandolin scale length, and as far as I know 5-string electrics don't try to be longer-scale mandolas. Acoustic 10-strings are rare, and the only mandolin-scale ones I know of are Tom Buchanan's and the Brazilian bandolim makers.

    I would welcome any suggestions, as I don't know how to address various skill levels.
    Blog--Miniature Orchestra
    Sound Clips--SoundCloud
    Videos--YouTube
    The viola is proof that man is not rational

  22. The following members say thank you to Tom Wright for this post:

    derbex 

  23. #21
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Outer Spiral Arm, of Galaxy, NW Oregon.
    Posts
    15,089

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Fan fret would be Ideal ... longer scale for the C, shorter for the E to optimize tension on each..
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

  24. #22

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    I don’t see the chord problem, if you can build 3 note chords. Take the 3 basic shapes (1-3 or 5 in the bass) and build them like you would on the d-a-e courses. Some work required.

    I’ve just started on the d a e courses, and by applying the rules you already know, it’s just a solvable problem that takes work.
    Play it like you mean it.

  25. #23

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    To be honest I don’t have a problem with chords. Yes there’s few that sound good (to my ears anyway) that use all five strings. I have an app for my iPhone ChordCalculusV3 that will find chords for Mandolin and Mandola. I have a five string octave Mandolin I built. To be honest because it has a twenty inch scale length. I find that I use double stops the low C string is iirc about the thickest you can get in a guitar string. Which makes it sound like a bass. Some of the three note shapes work better than others. But that could just be me. I’m not doing much more than noodling about with it trying to learn to play it better. I built a four string Mandolin too but my daughter has that tuned as a ukulele now. I am going to replace it but probably with a fan fret five string. Basically as a result of what I have learned from building the two instruments. I had lots of string changes to get the octave playable. I probably wouldn’t go for a twenty inch scale again for the low C it is too thick and thuddy for a lot of stuff I have tried to play, would work a treat for metal though. I have tried different scales on a fretboard calculator but not settled just yet as I need to print them out and see how they look. I know that this doesn’t help you finding one but it may help you decide what to look at.

  26. #24

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
    Fan fret would be Ideal ... longer scale for the C, shorter for the E to optimize tension on each..
    I once thought so as well.

    A few years ago I had a chance to try a fanned fret tenor built by cafe member Kerry, if I recall his name correctly. Nicely built instrument BTW. I found due to the nature of where notes group for playing in 5th's tuning, fanned frets actually made fingering very difficult and really unnatural.

    This is one of those situations where it seemed like a good idea on paper but didn't work well at all in practice IME. For single notes, diads and some triads fanned frets are okay, but it was very hard to make it work for "normal" FFCP playing.
    VerneAndru.com | oKee.ComX

    - ---==< V >==--- -

  27. #25
    Registered User colorado_al's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Boulder, CO & Chesterfield, MO
    Posts
    1,523

    Default Re: Seeking advice on buying a 5-string mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by InJapan View Post
    Online I've looked at pictures of instruments by Jonathan Mann and they look real nice. Unfortunately for me, he's in Tennessee, so it would mean ordering something without trying it out. I may do that.
    Back to the OP's original question, Mann electric mandolins are amazing! You will not go wrong with one.
    http://www.manndolins.com/em--4-5-8.html

    JL Smith makes really good electric 5 string mandolins also:
    http://www.jlsmithmandolins.com/
    Review here in Jazz mando
    http://jazzmando.com/jl_smith_5string.shtml

    Here's a clip of Don Julin playing a JL Smith 4 string
    http://www.jazzmando.com/sound/JLSmithdemo.mp3

    The Gold Tone GME-5 is OK if that's all you can afford, but hard to find in stock

    Anyhow, not to blow your mind or anything, but checkout what is for sale at emando
    http://www.emando.com/shop/sales.htm

    I like the Rono as well
    Last edited by colorado_al; Nov-12-2017 at 12:40pm.
    2016 Franzke A5 Custom w/Rubner tuners & James Tailpiece & McClung Armrest
    2011 Collings MT Custom w/Rubner tuners & McClung Armrest
    2014 JBovier A5T w/Grover 308 tuners & McClung Armrest
    2015 Breedlove Crossover OO w/SOliver Armrest
    2015 Blueridge BR-40TCE Tenor to Octave Mandolin conversion
    1960s Harmony H1213 Archtone Guitar to Mandocello conversion
    1999 Tacoma M2E
    2011 Big Muddy MM-8 MINI-MO
    2005 Malagoli solid-body electric cavaquinho

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •