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Thread: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

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    Question Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Hello.

    Someday I'd like to build my own instrument. I am curious why there are only 2-3 basic shapes for mandolins, A, F, and another (don't know shape name)

    If I was making one from scratch, could I use artistic license and make the body a different shape?

    I have seen sound holes in other than round, oval or F.

    Are there physics behind the shapes, and is there a reason another shape can't be used? (I'm not talking radical, just different)

    And while I wrote this my ADD asked, "Where did the names A-style and F style come from. Why is there no B? C?

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    Registered User Kevin Stueve's Avatar
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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    A style, F style, 2 point, 3 point, bent bowlback, bowlback, guitarbody ...

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Checkout Giourard and Sorenson, both builders make traditional as well as their own designs. Also look at Rigels. Just remember I suppose limits as to what you can do. This will be an interesting thread.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    There are many body/sound hole configurations! As someone once told me, "If you can design it, you can build it! Or at least try"
    If you want to make something you only see in your head, go for it, why not?
    Your last question has,plagued mandolinkind since..........
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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    I believe Martin makes a B and a C model mandolin. One thing to think about if you change the body too much it will be hard to get a case unless you make your own. There are many versions of the F model with and without scrolls, modified scrolls, various points that sometime can be found on an A model. I have had a Woodley A with a very unique sound hole in a different place than most ovals and it was a wonderful sounding mandolin.
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    some of them have sound ports on the side, too ... check out the eye candy, you'll see all sorts of interesting instruments there.
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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Breedlove made a K shape. I don't know what happened to G, H, I and J.
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    I believe Martin makes a B and a C model mandolin
    In the Martin world the A & B had the same shape with different wood for the back and sides. The headstock shape was a little different as well but the body shape was the same. The C had the same shape as A and B and the same headstock shape as the C. It had a higher level of trim. The body shape was the same. The style E had the same shape as B and C but an even higher level of trim.
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Moon View Post
    If I was making one from scratch, could I use artistic license and make the body a different shape?
    Of course. Check out some of Bill Bussmann's great designs.

    http://www.oldwavemandolins.com/
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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    There is a good deal of physics involved, but there is also a good deal of history and tradition. How much you can move away from tradition while staying within the physics is limited only by your imagination, your aesthetic and artistic sense, and the market were you to try and sell your creations.
    Indulge responsibly!

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    There are a few common shapes of mandolins that are probably the most produced shapes in one variation or another over the years but they are not the only shapes. This is a quick compilation of shapes, it is by no means a definitive list. I will note that many of the current styles that folks think are new are variations on older styles.
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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Continuing:
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    And more:
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    1st) Isn't the "F" for Florentine? Perhaps it isn't that D and E are missing but rather that the "F" is an alphabetical interloper.

    2nd) I always like to point people to the amazing book,

    Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down by J.e. Gordon

    ...because...the top of an arch-top mandolin is an arch and the history of "why things don't fall down" is about the physics of the structure that supports the arch. I've always thought the C-bouts on a violin and the points on an "F" are the equivalent of flying buttresses on a church. At any rate, the subject of Gordon's wonderful book is the same architecture and statics ( and common sense ) governing the tops and sides of mandolins.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    F is not for Florentine. Gibson used the Florentine designation on a banjo with scenes from Venice on it, as far as anyone has been able to show never on a mandolin. George Gruhn has referred to them as Florentine. This has been argued over and over. If F stands for Florentine why is the Harp guitar a model U? I suspect Orville built his A model and followed that with other shapes that didn't last. For example, the Lyre mandolin that was on the early labels. What was that letter designation? There wasn't one.

    I'll note our FAQ even promotes this less than accurate description.

    Here is a thread with a link to previous threads discussing the matter. If anyone can come up with Orville Gibson's shop notes, verified where he called it Florentine I'd accept it. It doesn't exist as far as I can see.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Zach Wilson View Post
    Breedlove made a K shape. I don't know what happened to G, H, I and J.
    I'll think that you'll find that the Breedlove K shape is named that because it's very similar to a mandolin shape used by a company that was in Chicago and built a similarly shaped mandolin. I could be wrong about that but the shape is pretty close and the name of that company was Kay.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    I agree that the F style mandolin was probably named as an alphabetical sequence with other shapes or models. This also explains how H is a mandola, K is a mandocello, L is a guitar, etc. Missing letters are probably from models that never succeeded.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Tobin View Post
    I agree that the F style mandolin was probably named as an alphabetical sequence with other shapes or models. This also explains how H is a mandola, K is a mandocello, L is a guitar, etc. Missing letters are probably from models that never succeeded.
    Exactly. That makes sense.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Wow. I don't usually reap so many answers... So you're saying I could make it any shape? Not that I have anything in mind, but being an artist myself, I think it would be fun too come up with a shape and design of one's own. I looked at the kits to build, and you have a choice of A or F... I think outside the alphabet (in this case). Not that I'd want it, but a heart shape, a square, a star...a moon? I wonder if they would work... Of course, the instrument has to be comfortable to hold and to sound good. I wonder if a star shaped mandolin had been tried and it sounded like crap.. or any shape. There may be a valid reason companies settled on the A and F. I'm wondering if there is a formula, x number of square inches needs to be in the body, sound hole should not exceed X% of face of mandolin... . Maybe having small areas like points of a star impede sound flow, who knows..? I found a calculator for figuring fret spacing, I wondered if there was a luthier's formula chart, book, etc.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    And more:
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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Looks like a couple of seals for soundholes on that second pic, a little weird that, so I guess it's in good company with those others, LOL. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder . . . I just can't see it there.
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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Thanks for the elucidation on the "Florentine." A sequence with long dead members makes some sense.

    The flash responses with mando images is impressive....that upside down heart also requires some beholding. That is a heart, right?

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    I like the heart, but it looks upside down. The sound hole too. I wonder why not made the other way... You'd just have to use a flat on the face tailpiece.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Incidentally, while looking for the answer to the question, I ran across this:

    "There are very many styles and varieties of mandolins made by very many manufacturers and independent luthiers. But, typically referred to in the USA are those manufactured by the Gibson Co. (or patterned after the Gibsons).

    Prior to about 1900, the typical mandolin was the Neapolitan style. The oldest surviving instrument was made by the Vinaccia family of Naples, Italy around the mid-1700's. This type of mandolin has a bowl-shaped back and a top made from a flat piece of wood bent over a hot poker forming a slight kink or ridge about where the bridge fits. This kink is important, and is what marks the advancement of luthiery credited to the Neapolitans, for it strengthens the top enough to withstand higher tension strings.

    Then around 1900, Orville Gibson of Kalamazoo, Michigan created two new styles of mandolins. Inspired by the way violins are constructed, he made his mandolins with a carved back (much flatter than the bowl-back of the Neapolitans, but carved to shape, none the less) and, importantly, the top carved in an arched shape. The plainer of the two styles he called his "A" style - it has a simple round teardrop shape profile to the body and a simple plain peghead. His other fancier style he called his "F" - it has a fancy body profile with projecting points and scroll and the peghead is likewise of a fancy shape. [It is said that these designations were short for "Artist" and "Florentine", but the names are confusing because they have been applied by the Gibson Co. and other makers to various other styles of mandolins. The letter designations, A and F, have been more consistently applied to the styles described.]

    A few years later, some moneymen (and Orville) formed the Gibson Co. and were very successful in manufacturing mandolins, guitars and later banjos. The Gibson Co. used the following letter designations for its instruments:

    A plain bodied mandolins
    F scroll bodied mandolins
    H mandolas
    K mandocellos
    J mandobass
    L plain style guitars
    O fancy style guitars"

    I also ran across the "C" model.. it is the one with "cat ears" at the top.

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    Default Re: Shapes of mandolin bodies (and holes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Moon View Post
    Hello. Someday I'd like to build my own instrument. I am curious why there are only 2-3 basic shapes for mandolins, A, F, and another...
    You're kidding, right? There are dozens of shapes in which mandolin-family instruments have been built (including a watermelon slice, and a slice of Swiss cheese). I doubt there are other Western stringed instruments, except perhaps the solid-body electric guitar, offered in such a variety of silhouettes.

    ...If I was making one from scratch, could I use artistic license and make the body a different shape?...
    Fear not the Luthier Police, showing up at your wood-shop to enforce stylistic orthodoxy. You wanta make one that looks like an avocado or a Zeppelin, go for it.

    And while I wrote this my ADD asked, "Where did the names A-style and F style come from. Why is there no B? C?
    The shorthand designations of "A-model" and "F-model" came from Gibson's usage. Moon has covered it well above. And, the only mandolin that I know of, that Gibson officially labeled "Florentine," was their EM-200 solid-body -- and it was a two-point, no scroll at all. Go figure.
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