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Thread: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

  1. #1

    Default Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Had an idea, and maybe it's been tried before. Was wanting opinions.

    I have access to an old mandola with a 17" scale, so about 3" more than a typical mandolin. The mandola offers a bigger sound body, and I was thinking, maybe bigger, sweeter sound. Is it possible to string it up for a mandolin tuning?

    I am think, with that short scale and bigger sound body, if it worked it would probably have a resonant, lovely sound and be nice and quick. But are the strings to make it happen even possible?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    I'd recommend stringing it with light gauge mandolin strings up to FCGD, or EBF#C# and capoing on fret 2 or 3. I've tuned my Flatiron mandola to FCGD, but I think it's a shorter scale length than 17". It's a nice sound!

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    What gauge strings are you planning on trying? I tried it with a set of mediums and got all of the strings up to pitch except for the E strings, broke three of them before I gave up, it wasn`t my mandola or strings and I was just trying to do a favor for a friend....

    Willie

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Or you could go down to GDAE instead of up -I have a 17" scale mandola in octave tuning. European string makers have sets for the job, I currently have a set of Optimas on it -sounds great.
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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    You might want to play around with the various string tension calculators in the web, e.g. http://stringtensionpro.com
    You only need to find a suitable gauge for the ee strings and move the aa, dd, gg strings and remove the cc strings

    That said, I did the same thing to find a set for octave mandolin tuning on a mandola.

    You can also look for information in the CBOM section of the forum.

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bauzl View Post
    You might want to play around with the various string tension calculators in the web, e.g. http://stringtensionpro.com
    You only need to find a suitable gauge for the ee strings and move the aa, dd, gg strings and remove the cc strings
    Turns out this is much easier to do going mandola to mandolin than it is going mandola to OM. A standard guitar string, steel .008" string will get the E note.

  9. #7

    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Does anyone know if there are any recordings of a mandola raised to mandolin tuning? I searched but haven't been able to find anything yet.

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    buy a capo and stop reading the internet!

    f-d
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  11. #9

    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Many old Gibson mandolas have been destroyed by tuning them up to mandolin pitch. There's too much tension and most likely the top will cave in sooner or later.

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Geez guys, a mandola is already 3/4 of a mandolin, finishing it out ain't rocket surgery.
    Just be careful with the E's (think light). My 10 string 16.5" mandola is tuned C-G-D-A-E with octave pairs on the C, G and D courses. I use .045/.023 for the C's, .036/.018 for G's, .022/.011 for D's, .014 for A's and .0095 for E's. So basically remove the C' s on your 'dola, move all strings over one set of notches to the bass side, and string up with .009 or lighter for your E's. I used a set of these Newtones on my vintage banjolin and resonator to not overload them.

  13. #11

    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    This whole thing seems silly to me. Mandola tuning is awesomeness, and you probably already have a mandolin, which is a better suited size for the sparkle of the higher pitch.

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Upis Land View Post
    This whole thing seems silly to me. Mandola tuning is awesomeness, and you probably already have a mandolin, which is a better suited size for the sparkle of the higher pitch.
    I got the idea from a luthier in the UK who makes mandolins with oversized soundbodies specifically for Irish music. It really brings out a loud, lush tone, from what I've heard. But another friend has tried it and he said it's thin on the E string.

    I've built musical instruments. I am always inclined to tinker and look for improvements. It's almost as much fun as making music.

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Mike Dulak of Big Muddy makes a flat top mandolin with the regular mandolin scale and a mandola body, to get that exact sound you are referring to. It is not his regular model, you have to request it.

    I remember a few years ago Gibson made a 15 inch scale instrument that could be strung either as a mandolin or a mandola. It was a limited edition and, if I remember correctly, could have been specially made for The Mandolin Store.

    The key is in the string tensions. You can string anything to be tuned any way you want it if the string tensions approximate the tensions the instrument was designed for. As stated above, spend some time with an online string calculator, using your standard mandola set that you use right now as a reference. Find a set that works and gives you your desired tuning. You will have to go much thinner, so string buzzing in the nut and bridge slots may become a problem. And your E course may be so thin that frequent breakage becomes an issue. I will say, 17 inch seems pretty extreme for mandolin tuning. I would feel much more comfortable personally if it was 15 or 151/2 inches.

    Have you ever considered any other alternate tunings? For a while I had a 15 1/2 inch mandola and tuned it DAEB, with slightly lighter strings. It worked very well for Irish music. I thought of it as an octave mandolin without the low G and a “bonus” high B course. I have also heard of people using DAEA.
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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Just leave it alone, I'd say, and play the mandola in its normal tuning (CGDA), as a mandola. You can always capo on the 7th fret if you want it to come out fingering like a mandolin (GDAE). You are still just learning, so you would be much better advised to purchase a decent mandolin and learn to play that, instead. The investment will be well worth it! Or, decide to learn to play the mandola instead. But I think it's a rather poor idea to try to learn the mandolin using a mandola. Restringing a mandola for GDAE may give you the right open notes, but all the fret intervals will be significantly larger, and you may not be able to reach quite a few of the mandolin stretches (like the infamous G-chop chord in bluegrass, or the oft-used B note on the 7th fret of the first string). That's no way to learn, especially for a beginner -- unless you have absolutely massive hands!

    What you can do, if you want, is to capo your normally-tuned mandola (CGDA) on the 2nd fret and play in a 'mandolin' key that's a fourth above. For example, if the tune is actually in D, you play as if it's in G, using the "G positions" used for a mandolin -- but on the mandola. It will come out in D. If the tune is in G, then play as if it were in C on a mandolin. If it's in A, play as if it were in D, and so on.

    Still, I'd recommend a mandolin as the best instrument to learn to play mandolin!
    Last edited by sblock; Jan-22-2018 at 11:59am.

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    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Okay, I want to try tuning my Big Muddy mandola (15.5" scale) as a mandolin, just to satisfy curiosity. (It's not like I don't have several other mandolas normally tuned!)

    Would I be better off getting .009 gauge E strings or .008 gauge? I play with a pretty light touch, never chop or strum, and have never broken a string while playing. (Not that that latter part means a hill of beans.) I am looking at these ones in bulk at Just Strings. I'm going to move the Thomastiks over, dropping the C strings and adding an E course, and wonder which will sound best and not break easily. Or will I have to sacrifice sound for non-breakage by using the lighter .008 gauge?

    "Why not just play your mandolin?", you might ask. Well, I'm intrigued by exploring the tonal nuances of a slightly bigger body in mandolin tuning. Plus I just find mandola scale lengths more comfortable to play than mandolin. I've never done this before, so any advice is appreciated.

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Quote Originally Posted by bratsche View Post
    Okay, I want to try tuning my Big Muddy mandola (15.5" scale) as a mandolin, just to satisfy curiosity. (It's not like I don't have several other mandolas normally tuned!)

    Would I be better off getting .009 gauge E strings or .008 gauge? I play with a pretty light touch, never chop or strum, and have never broken a string while playing.....I'm going to move the Thomastiks over, dropping the C strings and adding an E course, and wonder which will sound best and not break easily. Or will I have to sacrifice sound for non-breakage by using the lighter .008 gauge?....l've never done this before, so any advice is appreciated.

    bratsche
    I just restrung my mandola-lin a couple nights back. Nut to bridge is 16.5". I used .009's on the E's. I have used .010's before, and broke one on a particularly spirited St. Patrick's night gig. I don't think you'll have a problem with .009's on a 15.5" scale at all. I think you could use .010's but I would check the tension calculator first.

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Thanks, Mandobart. This mandola was strung with mandolin strings when I got it, but I couldn't bring whatever E strings were on it up to pitch, and they broke. I changed it to mandola strings after that. Wish I'd thought to ask the seller what stirings those were. I guess I'll try ordering the .009 gauges. I wish I could get them to mix 1/2 dozen .009 and 1/2 dozen .010. LOL I don't have any mandolin E strings on hand, other than in full Thomastik sets.

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Learn to love the Viola CGDA.. you can use tenor banjo charts too..
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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Just in general, guitar strings break around the pitch G#4 at a scale length of 25.5". It doesn't matter if they are thinner (less tension needed, but weaker because they are thinner) or thicker (stronger because they are thicker, but correspondingly greater tension needed because they are thicker). It might not break immediately if care is taken when tuning, but it probably has a lifespan of only a few hours of use.

    Extending that to mandolin, a string of scale length 15.2" will break at a mandolin's E5 in the same way.
    Playing a no-point 14-fret-to-the-body oval-hole with scroll, a Flatiron 1SH mandola (original owner), a McNally Ukulele Strumstick in CGDA mandola tuning, a McNally 4-string Chromatic Strumstick in GDAE octave mandolin tuning, and rocking my six-course, unison-tuned 12-string Ovation mandophone/extended cittern in CGDAEB Full Fifths Tuning...

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Explorer View Post
    Just in general, guitar strings break around the pitch G#4 at a scale length of 25.5". It doesn't matter if they are thinner (less tension needed, but weaker because they are thinner) or thicker (stronger because they are thicker, but correspondingly greater tension needed because they are thicker). It might not break immediately if care is taken when tuning, but it probably has a lifespan of only a few hours of use.

    Extending that to mandolin, a string of scale length 15.2" will break at a mandolin's E5 in the same way.
    Simply not true. I've had my 16.5", 10 string mandola-lin for many years, with .010, .0095 and .009 inch E's (E5, e'', 659.25 Hz). All have lasted many hours of playing time. Only had a string break once, a .010" E. Likewise I have two 16.5", 5 string violas with E strings tuned to E5, e'', 659.25 Hz that I've owned and played for several years, with never a broken string. Just last summer I received my 10 string, 16.5" hardanger viola with an E tuned to E5, e'', 659.25 Hz. No broken strings yet either. You can theorize all day and post whatever you want. I have actual experience playing these instruments.

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    Likewise I have two 16.5", 5 string violas with E strings tuned to E5, e'', 659.25 Hz that I've owned and played for several years, with never a broken string.
    A 16.5" viola refers to the instrument's body length measurement, not the scale as with a mandola. The viola's scale length is a lot shorter... my 16.5" viola's scale length is 14.75". We must be careful not to compare apples with oranges. Otherwise, good info.

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    For a 17" scale, which is pretty long, you would have to be very careful not to get the string tension up too high (say, above about 20 lbs/string, on average) if you want the tuning to be GDAE -- otherwise, you'll risk damaging your instrument. That would mean something like the following gauges:

    E = 0.08" solid
    A = 0.12" solid
    D = 0.20" wound
    G = 0.30" wound

    That's getting up into a "super-light" gauge category for the E string. Yes, it can be done, but I'm not sure I'd ever recommend it. Besides, unless your hands are very large and can manage the much larger stretches, you don't play a mandola exactly the way you play a mandolin, even if the tuning happens to be the same. Can you manage the "bluegrass" G chord of 7523 on a 17" scale, to pick but one of many examples? Most of us cannot!

    And there's another consideration, which is the acoustic physics. You will not win on this! The super-light gauge strings required (to get the tension down to a reasonable value with mandolin tuning) mean that they will have much less vibrating mass than a normal set of mandola string gauges, which are heavier. Since the energy in a plucked string depends both on its tension (which is already maxed out at around 20 lbs/string, due to structural limitations) and on its mass (which is much lighter, due to the super-light gauges), your strings will tend to carry less vibratory energy than in normal mandola tuning! On top of that, these super-light strings will be trying to drive a larger, mandola-sized instrument body with a smaller amount of energy. The result? Your converted mandola will tend to sound (1) thinner and (2) quieter. There's no getting around that with an acoustic instrument (super-light gauges can work on electric instruments because you amplify them). So, this is not a good way to improve the tone, and I tend to doubt that you will be very pleased with the results.

    My recommendation would be to learn to play your mandola as a proper mandola (tuned CGDA). It will be rewarding in its own way, and it will cross-fertilize your mandolin playing, too.
    Last edited by sblock; Mar-07-2018 at 2:09pm.

  28. #23
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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    For a 17" scale, which is pretty long, you would have to be very careful not to get the string tension up too high (say, above about 20 lbs/string, on average) if you want the tuning to be GDAE -- otherwise, you'll risk damaging your instrument. That would mean something like the following gauges:
    Agreed. One of my mandolas was damaged when someone strung it up to mandolin tuning using standard mandolin strings. Not surprisingly the top sunk. Either use extra light strings, or mandola tuning and a capo. 17" is pretty extreme for mandolin tuning so I would use a capo.
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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Quote Originally Posted by bratsche View Post
    A 16.5" viola refers to the instrument's body length measurement, not the scale as with a mandola. The viola's scale length is a lot shorter... my 16.5" viola's scale length is 14.75". We must be careful not to compare apples with oranges. Otherwise, good info.

    bratsche
    That's a good point - all three of my 5 course long scale violas have about a 15" nut to bridge length, just an inch or so longer than my mandolins, and 2" longer than my 4/4 violins.

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    For a 17" scale, which is pretty long, you would have to be very careful not to get the string tension up too high (say, above about 20 lbs/string, on average) if you want the tuning to be GDAE -- otherwise, you'll risk damaging your instrument. That would mean something like the following gauges:

    E = 0.08" solid
    A = 0.12" solid
    D = 0.20" wound
    G = 0.30" wound

    That's getting up into a "super-light" gauge category for the E string. Yes, it can be done, but I'm not sure I'd ever recommend it...And there's another consideration, which is the acoustic physics. You will not win on this! The super-light gauge strings required (to get the tension down to a reasonable value with mandolin tuning) mean that they will have much less vibrating mass....on top of that, these super-light strings will be trying to drive a larger, mandola-sized instrument body with a smaller amount of energy. The result? Your converted mandola will tend to sound (1) thinner and (2) quieter. There's no getting around that with an acoustic instrument (super-light gauges can work on electric instruments because you amplify them). So, this is not a good way to improve the tone, and I tend to doubt that you will be very pleased with the results..
    My experience with "super light" strings (.008 - .030) is on two vintage instruments from the 30's. One is a banjolin and the other a regal spider bridge reso mando. Both have a 14" scale length. I use "super light" strings based on recommendations from folks here on the cafe. Now these are certainly different from an all wood arch top and back mando, but these strings are more than capable of making enough sound in these applications to overpower any all wood mando I've ever heard or played. Again based on my experience there is no way using .009 or smaller strings tuned to E5 on a 15.5" scale instrument will hurt anything and it may sound pretty good.

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    Default Re: Mandola to Mandolin Tuning?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    That's a good point - all three of my 5 course long scale violas have about a 15" nut to bridge length, just an inch or so longer than my mandolins, and 2" longer than my 4/4 violins.

    My experience with "super light" strings (.008 - .030) is on two vintage instruments from the 30's. One is a banjolin and the other a regal spider bridge reso mando. Both have a 14" scale length. I use "super light" strings based on recommendations from folks here on the cafe. Now these are certainly different from an all wood arch top and back mando, but these strings are more than capable of making enough sound in these applications to overpower any all wood mando I've ever heard or played. Again based on my experience there is no way using .009 or smaller strings tuned to E5 on a 15.5" scale instrument will hurt anything and it may sound pretty good.
    I have no reason to doubt your experience, but with all respect, it's irrelevant to the present case! First off, the banjolin and the resonator mandolin are the two loudest mando-family instruments of all (unless you count electric amplification). Furthermore, neither one of these two instruments has a carved wooden top. They were specifically designed to be much louder than the carved wood mandolin, in fact. So, the inevitable loss of volume associated with putting super-light gauge strings on one of these screamers would not be such a loss, when the instrument is so loud in the first place. And second, you did not change the scale length on them: your two instruments have the same 14" scale as a normal mandolin.

    I am not quite sure what you really meant by writing that using super-light strings will not "hurt" anything. As I already pointed out earlier, if you take care to keep the string tension about the same on a longer scale length (like 17") then you should not risk damaging the instrument. So, you certainly won't hurt anything in that narrow sense. But you will almost certainly "hurt" the volume, and also likely "hurt" the tone.

    But hey, it's cheap enough to just try it out and see what happens -- buy a custom set of the right gauges (say, from Mapes, which provides custom sets for excellent prices). The nut slots will probably be slightly too wide, though, and the action may need to get raised. But you should be able to get an immediate sense of how it will sound. If you like it and want to make the change more permanent, you can always carve a new nut, or fill-and-recut the existing nut.

    That said, I still think the OP should keep it as a mandola, not try to use it as some kind of long-necked, thin-stringed mandolin!

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