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Thread: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

  1. #1
    Registered User Travis Wilson's Avatar
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    Jun 2004
    San Antonio, TX

    Default Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    Hi gang!

    I have come to the conclusion I use my C-string much less than the other, traditional mandolin strings. Given most of the songs I play are in the keys of G, D or A, I was thinking about tuning it up to a D where it might be more frequently used in chords or as a drone.

    How do you folks use your mandola string? Do any of you use alternative tunings? What are your thoughts about this?

    2006 Weber Gallatin, 1984 Flatiron 2MW, Wendler #194, Schwab #177

  2. #2
    Mandol'Aisne Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
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    Mar 2004
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    Default Re: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    Hi Travis,

    I spent a lot of time thinking about these things and playing both 5 course instruments and mandolas.

    I have a Weber Alder #2 with 17" scale length. I had trouble with the Cs being too heavy to be comfortable. So I tuned it EBF#C# with D'Addario J74s. After a while, I switched to DAEB using octave mandolin strings, and finally dropped it back to CGDA, but still use the octave mandolin strings. The tension and size are still comfortable and I like being a full 5th lower than mandolin.

    The scale lengths of my 5 string electrics are longer than standard mandolin scale, so the C strings can have good tension without being too thick to play comfortably. I took my JBovier to 2 different luthiers before getting the intonation where I need it. The Arrow arrived set up perfectly.

    If it were my mandolin, I'd get the instrument set up properly after finding the right gauges for each course. Intonating that C string make take some time and experimentation. But once you've got it, I bet you start using it more.

    You've already got D on the second fret of the C string, so you can effectively play 2 octaves in that key. And with C# on the first fret, you can go a note lower than D and still be in the scale. In G, the C is a 5th lower, so you can harmonize below, and again you can manage two octaves. With A you've got a C natural for blues and an easy C# for a cool low third when improvising.

    Those are my thoughts. But you should do what works for you.


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  4. #3
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
    Tavistock UK

    Default Re: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    I use DGDAE on my 5 course long scale cittern, but for 5 string electric I would stick to CGDAE - the alternative tunings are great for chording, but IMO useless for melody, and on something mandolin/dola-sized I want to be playing melody with the logic of 5ths tuning. Just my 2c...

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  6. #4
    Registered User
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    Sep 2015
    Praha, Czech Republic

    Default Re: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    I do not have a 5-stringed musical instrument. But the idea is yes
    Would not it be enough to put a cut capo on C string?
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  7. #5
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Sep 2002

    Default Re: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    G,-D-A-e-a 17" scale; G is an octave lower than mandolin. Essentially turns the instrument into a short neck electric guitar in an alternate tuning.


  8. #6

    Default Re: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    Does anyone else use flat fifth tuning. I play eight string electric mandolin, and it would work very well for a five string. The stepwise progression makes it easier for both chords and melody. G D G D with a stepped nut. ie, Ds "nut" at the first fret. Martin

  9. #7
    Registered User
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    Jul 2016
    Central New York

    Default Re: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    I've been playing 5 string electrics for just over three years now and love the standard CGDAE tuning. I play classical, jazz, and some popular stuff. If you can handle using tab as well standard notation, just drop down a fifth and you'll find that lower c string adds another dimension to the sound. It allows many pieces to be played in the key they were written. I enjoy the 5 string in just the way they were intended to be played. That's just my humble opinion, for what it's worth.

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  11. #8

    Default Re: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    Guitars were originally all five string, tuned just like the modern instrument, but without the low E. It was a hundred years before someone added it. Guitar tuning is hard to beat, and a lot of "five string electrics" look more like guitars than mandolins.

    For a seventeen inch scale my suggestion is : D G C E A Chord shapes that include open strings would all be the same as guitar but the sound would be a fourth higher. Martin

  12. #9

    Default Re: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    If I was going to change the C string on my 5 string. It would be to a G and go for a high b leaving it tuned in fifths. I have enough trouble playing without learning a different interval of tuning.
    My 5 string is 20” scale and off the top of my head I have a 74 on the C which is good for tension. But does sound quite thuddy, I don’t use it for chords. Double stops are about the limit for my taste anyway.

  13. #10
    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Jun 2015
    Beaverton, OR, USA

    Default Re: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    my 5-string is usually tuned gDGBD but I often tune it to gDGCD .
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  14. #11
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Oct 2002
    Outer Spiral Arm, of Galaxy, NW Oregon.

    Default Re: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    <Geoff Muldaur's 'Minglewood' mandolin tuning >,, I forgot, (Prior post,)
    but the internet remembered it for me..

    I got a reply from Geoff Muldaur recently when I asked via web,
    about the tuning he used for 'the Mingle Wood blues' . ... circa 88

    He replied : low to hi, G-C-G, top of E pair is another C, 1st string still E.

    [for 8 not 5 anyhow. but 5 maybe try g/c/g/c/e, as separate strings]

    Last edited by mandroid; Aug-27-2018 at 4:16pm.
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  15. #12
    Registered User
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    Apr 2007
    Pittsburgh, PA

    Default Re: Alternative tunings for your 5-string

    Hey Travis,

    I play a lot of open tunings on the 5 string and I tend to bring at least one to my live shows. I made a video going over a few basics in the open D tuning (D,A,D,A,D) which I also tune to (C,G,C,G,C). There is a lot to explore. Hope folks find this helpful.

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