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Thread: Newbie Mandolin question

  1. #1

    Default Newbie Mandolin question

    Hi all,

    I'm an experienced guitarist that has recently started playing Mandolin and I have a quick question regarding the playability of my current instrument. It's a Paul Hathway cedar topped mandolin and I'm having some difficulty in playing chords. Single notes are fine, but the chords seem very hard to finger and sound a bit buzzy. Is it generally quite difficult to play chords on a mando vs guitar? I would have thought the opposite would be true. Or could it be a set-up issue with the Hathway? I use John Pearse Medium mando strings by the way and the Mandolin was bought 2nd hand, so I haven't had it set-up since buying. Action seems to be reasonably okay, although there is quite a lot of buzzing higher up the neck on the G strings (tuned GDAD).

    Thanks!

    Dominic

  2. #2
    Registered User Rodney Riley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Mando chords are a lot, a LOT, easier for me to play. Do believe you need a good setup. Which setups are a lot, a LOT, harder to do on a Mandolin. Regular guitar techs have no idea when it comes to setting one up. Search for Rob Meldrum here on the cafe. Heís got a free e-book he will send you if you ask him for it. Read thru that and youíll have a better understanding of these little beasts. And no, there shouldnít be any buzzing. Welcome to the Cafe, and the dreaded MAS disease. (Mandolin Acquisition Syndrome)

  3. #3
    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Bear in mind that you have a lot of space on a guitar fingerboard compared with the tight fit of the mandolin board. Many folk moving from guitar to mandolin experience problems of getting into the new playing position. You have eight strings occupying a lot less width than the six guitar strings you are used to, and finger placement needs to be worked at. The mandolin demands more accurate placement of the fingers so that you do not foul adjacent strings.

    Are you using the "one-finger-to-two-frets" fingering that mandolin playing works better with? When I moved from guitar to mandolin (and more recently to fiddle) I had to readjust to the new fingering and on the fiddle the absence of any frets makes very accurate finger placement essential to get anywhere near decent intonation. Make sure your figertips on the fretting hamd are coming down as close to vertically as you can to clear the other strings, and position your hand so that your fingers point down the fretboard towards the bridge rather than more straight-across positioning of guitar playing.

    The buzzing higher up the neck may suggest that you need to have the action checked and maybe get a setup, but as you say it is the G strings it could again be a fingering adjustment needed. Mandolins need more pressure to get the higher tensioned pairs of strings properly in touch with the frets and the G strings are furthest away from your grip as you play. The guitar's longer scale length and single strings require less finger pressure.
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    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Move your elbow in and open your palm up. Your fingers should be pointed toward the bridge (up the neck) and your thumb pointed more back toward the nut.

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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    For all the reasons John Kelly stated above you may have a harder time getting clear notes from your mandolin, or it may need a set up. Do you know any mandolin players that could play yours and tell you if it's you or the mandolin? Also your left hand should be posistioned entirely different than on a guitar, no thumb behind neck, more like like a violinist than a guitarist,

  7. #6

    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Thanks guys, some useful info there. Not really sure about my left hand technique - just basically playing as I have for the last 20 years and not thinking too hard about position. Agreed that it's harder to get clean notes due to fret size which is quite an adjustment. It does feel like I should be having to press down so hard though, so perhaps a set-up would make my life easier and mean less fighting the instrument. Unfortunately I don't really know anyone else that plays mandolin, so I'm just going on guitar experience which may not transpose that well onto mandolin. When you say 'no thumb behind the neck', is your thumb entirely off the instrument?

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    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Can you play each pair of strings in the chords cleanly? If so that possibly suggests technique rather than setup like John said. Where are you located? Perhaps someone local could take a look for you?

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    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    It means your thumb is not right under the tips of your fingers. It is more resting along the neck. Check out my hand here. Thumb pointed toward the nut,
    Fingers pointed toward the bridge. My palm is more open then when I play guitar. Click image for larger version. 

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  10. #9

    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Interesting, I'll try that technique change and see if it helps. The main thing I'm finding though is the strings just seems hard to push down, which is not what I was expecting.

    I'm based down in Enfield, North London. Can anyone recommend a good luthier in that area?

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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    You might like to check this out - http://www.mandolin.org.uk/forum/php....php?f=1&t=661 Tosh has been running this group for several years now.

  12. #11
    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    If you find the strings hard to fret could you try a lighter set of strings. Paul Hathway suggests Newtone’s third heaviest set, I have the same mandolin and went down to the set that’s a little lighter and found it more comfortable.

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    You almost certainly need a setup. In particular, the nut slots tend to be quite high initially. There is reason for this, as it is easier to take them down that put it back after you have lowered them... also the buzzing suggests a setup is required too. Could be a high fret. I have a friend out here with one of these and it did need a bit of 'tweaking' to get it exactly right. It now plays easily and it is a very nice mandolin. Get it checked by a luthier who actually understands mandolins. Some who work mainly on guitars have not got a clue....
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Quote Originally Posted by OneChordTrick View Post
    If you find the strings hard to fret could you try a lighter set of strings. Paul Hathway suggests Newtone’s third heaviest set, I have the same mandolin and went down to the set that’s a little lighter and found it more comfortable.
    So that would be the Newtone .010 - .037? I'm currently using the John Pearse Mediums which are 11-40 so that would make a difference. Definitely time for set-up methinks.

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    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Yes, 10-37.

    Before you rush into a setup what’s the action at the 12th fret? My instinct is that you may just be have small problems adapting from guitar to mandolin. As you have a zero fret the nut depth is, in my view, a less likely cause. Plus as you haven’t bought a starter mandolin so it’s reasonable to assume that it had been set up.

    Great choice as a first mandolin by the way!

  16. #15

    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    I think you're right. I haven't had a chance to check the action but when I alter my technique (as mentioned by an earlier post) there seems to be a lot less buzzing, which might suggest my technique needs adapting. Maybe just the Newtone's and see how I go from there?

  17. #16
    Registered User Michael Neverisky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    I came to the mandolin with 40 years of guitar experience, including formal classical technique. It was a struggle at first... chords on the mandolin were much more difficult and I developed some tendonitis in my fretting arm.

    The best piece of advice I received, and the one that paved the way for success on the mandolin, was "approach the mandolin more like a violin than a guitar". I think Mike Marshall demonstrates this on YouTube, holding his mandolin under his chin a fiddle, setting his left hand that way and then bringing the mandolin down to his knee. Excellent!

    The mandolin is a fretted fiddle, not a tiny guitar.

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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Quote Originally Posted by domforr View Post
    Interesting, I'll try that technique change and see if it helps. The main thing I'm finding though is the strings just seems hard to push down, which is not what I was expecting.

    I'm based down in Enfield, North London. Can anyone recommend a good luthier in that area?
    You are pushing 2 short high tension steels wires, makes sense that it requires more effort than a guitar strings

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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA Frosty View Post

    The best piece of advice I received, and the one that paved the way for success on the mandolin, was "approach the mandolin more like a violin than a guitar". I think Mike Marshall demonstrates this on YouTube, holding his mandolin under his chin a fiddle, setting his left hand that way and then bringing the mandolin down to his knee. Excellent!

    The mandolin is a fretted fiddle, not a tiny guitar.
    As a former and still current guitar player, I agree. And you may find, as I do, that playing the mandolin improves my guitar playing, although I find mandolin easier due to the smaller neck size.

  21. #19

    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    The mandolin is a fretted fiddle, not a tiny guitar.

    That's very good advice to bear in mind. When I started playing the Irish Bouzouki it didn't really require much adjustment, but the mandolin is a slightly different beast it seems.

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    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Quote Originally Posted by AKA Frosty View Post
    The mandolin is a fretted fiddle, not a tiny guitar.
    Well said, sir.

  23. #21

    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kelly View Post

    Are you using the "one-finger-to-two-frets" fingering that mandolin playing works better with? .
    So, the hand angle change is definitely making notes clearer and easier to play, but can you just explain the one finger two frets fingering? Do you mean that say frets 1+2 would be covered by finger one and frets 3+4 by finger two etc etc?

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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    I think thatís what John means. I come from the violin, and I think more about which finger for which note, rather than which fret is for which notes. So on the D string my head says 1st finger for E, 2nd finger for F and third finger for G - and they fall in the correct place rather than which fret space I need to hit. Of course I need to adjust to the spacing on the mandolin, but itís the finger patterns which count.

  25. #23
    Registered User bennyb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    One finger per scale tone, is another way of saying it. That becomes more obvious once you move out of first position, or in keys other than G, C, D and relative minors. It's a guideline, not a hard and fast rule.

  26. #24

    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    I don't want to hijack his thread but have a related question; I also am learning guitar and have found my forefinger on my fretting hand develops pain after playing mandolin for a bit. I assume it is sloppy technique or bad angles, is that atypical?

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie Mandolin question

    Quote Originally Posted by domforr View Post
    So, the hand angle change is definitely making notes clearer and easier to play, but can you just explain the one finger two frets fingering? Do you mean that say frets 1+2 would be covered by finger one and frets 3+4 by finger two etc etc?
    That's just what I mean, indeed. In fiddle playing, at least in traditional fiddle rather than violin, the student is taught to place the fingers in positions which equate (allowing for differences in scale length) to the positions of frets 2, 4 and 5. In keys such as G major, D major and A major one octave of the scale is got by playing exactly the same pattern across 2 adjacent strings: for G it is G open, first finger plays A, second plays B, pinkie plays C (natural) then change to the D string and play D open, E with first finger, F# with second and G with pinkie. THis is got on mandolin by playing G open, A at 2nd fret, B at 4th fret, C at 5th fret, D open, E at 2nd fret, F# at 4th and G at 5th. Start this pattern on the D string for D major scale or on the A string for A major. Fingering on the relevant pairs of strings in the same for each of those scales.
    Where Sportsnapper talks of coming from the violin and thinking of which finger for which note, it is to be remembered that in the scales of G, D and A we most commonly play in in traditional fiddle music, there are sharps in the key signatures. G has F#, D has F# and C# and A has F#, C# and G# and the violin fingering has to make allowances for the half tone difference (one fret on a fretted instrument) between the natural and the sharpened note. Fiddle teachers talk in terms of wide space and narrow space, so the F# is a wide space (going for fret 4 on the D string) and the F natural is a narrow space (fret 3 on the fretted instrument). Sportsnapper will make this allowance automatically as he plays, and a lot of the fiddlers I know and play with talk of the sharpened notes without using the term "sharp", which can cause some confusion to non-fiddle players who might be asking for the notes.
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