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Thread: Medieval v modern mandolin

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    Deacon M100A Minorkey's Avatar
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    Default Medieval v modern mandolin

    Been thinking about medieval/early music being played on a modern mandolin, and how early instruments would have had gut strings rather than steel. So does that mean that a new mandolin made for playing music of that era, rather than a bluegrass/country mandolin, should have nylon, not metal strings?

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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Sounds good to me, I have never heard any instrument with gut strings. I think you are right to presume they are closer to nylon than steel.
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    That makes perfect sense to me, metallurgy had not been applied to wire science in the instruments infancy. Talk about string failure!?
    I have actually played a banjo with gut (“Kitty bowels” to quote Gid Tanner, as I recall) strings once upon a time, very temperamental to say the least! Then same banjo was strung with nylon, still “touchy” but, nowhere near the frustrating level as the gut.
    I’ve just become curator of a vintage “Washburn” and am still toying with the idea of nylon strings for it. It was interesting to play way back then (almost 45 years back)! Then again, everything was! Then again it still is interesting to play pretty much anything!

    Infancy isn’t really the right word but, you get my drift, I hope.
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    Deacon M100A Minorkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by kurth83 View Post
    Sounds good to me, I have never heard any instrument with gut strings. I think you are right to presume they are closer to nylon than steel.
    No that's not what I mean. The mandolin most familiar to us is used to play bluegrass, celtic and country music, which of course uses steel strung instruments. But if someone prefers to play medieval music, should they be using nylon strings? (Or gut if they want to be uber authentic)

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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Minorkey View Post
    No that's not what I mean. The mandolin most familiar to us is used to play bluegrass, celtic and country music, which of course uses steel strung instruments. But if someone prefers to play medieval music, should they be using nylon strings? (Or gut if they want to be uber authentic)
    In short, yes! In my less than excessively educated opinion.
    Nylon may not be the difficult item that gut could prove but, who knows?
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    Deacon M100A Minorkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    So like say I decide to play in a medieval ensemble, all early music, theorbos, cornetts and sacbuts, and I brought my mandolin it would be a nylon strung instrument, completely different to the A and F style mandos seen on here...

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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    But the mandolin didn't exist in medieval times! The mandolin, as we know it, evolved during the 18th century, derived from a 16th century precursor instrument called the mandora, which was part of the lute family (like the early gittern and rebec). Antonio Stradivari himself produced a couple of early "mandolinos" that still exist from around 1680, and these had gut strings, but they were not tuned in fifths. Virtually all mandolins since 1750 have had metal strings and are tuned in fifths.

    So no, I do not think it would be especially appropriate to put nylon strings on a mandolin for medieval music. It would be anachronistic, in fact. No mandolin ever existed that was contemporaneous with medieval music. The mandolin dates from the Baroque Period, not from the Medieval Period.

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    Deacon M100A Minorkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    But the mandolin didn't exist in medieval times! The mandolin, as we know it, evolved during the 18th century, derived from a 16th century precursor instrument called the mandora, which was part of the lute family (like the early gittern and rebec). Antonio Stradivari himself produced a couple of early "mandolinos" that still exist from around 1680, and these had gut strings, but they were not tuned in fifths. Virtually all mandolins since 1750 have had metal strings and are tuned in fifths.

    So no, I do not think it would be especially appropriate to put nylon strings on a mandolin for medieval music. It would be anachronistic, in fact. No mandolin ever existed that was contemporaneous with medieval music. The mandolin dates from the Baroque Period, not from the Medieval Period.
    Oh dear I should have known that being a classical music buff... ok, so rephrase the question, changing medieval to classical music. Do 'modern' classical mandolins use nylon strings (like modern classical guitars)?

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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    I recline corrected but, I hold that the earliest of the Mandolin development was probably not designed for steel strings.
    Ready for further education and/or correction.
    Thanks folks.
    The line between anachronistic and authentic is one which probably makes many cringe but, there is the fascination (and argument) for so many. Not me, so much.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Minorkey View Post
    Oh dear I should have known that being a classical music buff... ok, so rephrase the question, changing medieval to classical music. Do 'modern' classical mandolins use nylon strings (like modern classical guitars)?
    No. Nylon/gut for guitars dates concurrently with the guitar consequently, nylon is right. For mandolins, not so much. Thanks sblock!
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    There is a chamber orchestra out of Boston, I think, that I heard that plays early instruments and all the strings are gut. The cellos don't have endpins either. By the end of a movement they all had to tune. A much softer sound.
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    There is a chamber orchestra out of Boston, I think, that I heard that plays early instruments and all the strings are gut. The cellos don't have endpins either. By the end of a movement they all had to tune. A much softer sound.
    If they played early (Baroque-era) instruments, the chances are good that those were not cellos. More likely, they were viols da gamba: relatives of the cello, but often with (moveable) catgut frets tied around the neck, and bowed upright between the legs (hence the name!) much like a cello, but without an endpin.

    The only surviving member of the viol family today is the familiar 4-string bass (double bass), or bass viol. Like the viol da gamba, it has sloping shoulders. Instruments in the violin family (violin, viola, cello) do not have those sloping shoulders.

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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Minorkey View Post
    Oh dear I should have known that being a classical music buff... ok, so rephrase the question, changing medieval to classical music. Do 'modern' classical mandolins use nylon strings (like modern classical guitars)?
    No, they don't. Both Mozart and Vivaldi both composed for the mandolin, but the instrument they had in mind has steel, not gut, strings.

    In fact, I think you'll discover that gut (or nylon) strings will not successfully drive a modern carved-top mandolin, nor a traditional, Neopolitan-style bowlback mandolin, for that matter. I would suggest that you stick with steel strings on your instrument, or get a custom instrument made that's designed ab initio for the lighter weight and tension of nylon.

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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    There are some Baroque cellos around—lower bridges, gut strings, no endpin.

    From what I can find, steel strings were not used on guitars or violins until around 1900, although metal-stringed mandolins seem to go back to about 1750, as sblock said. For reference, that was the year Bach died, and six years before Mozart was born, 20 years before Beethoven's birth. Vivaldi's mandolin concerto was written in 1725—what strings were available in Venice that year?

    Gut strings are a total pain: they break easily, and the tiniest temperature change sends the intonation haywire. And, with modern tuners, you would wear out turning those tuners to get them up to pitch. They're fine with friction pegs, but not with tuning machines. That said, they do have a lovely tone.

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    Mandolin tragic Graham McDonald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Up to the middle of the 18th century mandolins were tiny lutes, 5 or six double courses, tuned mostly in fourths with gut strings and a fixed glued on lute type bridge. These are the instruments for which Vivaldi wrote his mandolin music. From the middle of the 18th century these were gradually replaced by the Neapolitan mandolin, with a deeper bowl body and floating bridge with strings a mix of gut (first course) and brass and tuned in fifths like a violin. Beethoven and Hummel wrote music early in the 19th century for yet another kind of mandolin, the Cremonese mandolin, which had four single strings of gut tuned in fifths.

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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Hi Minorkey - My thoughts :- A 'new' mandolin built for playing Medieval / Baroque music,would be a 'flat top' style rather than an archtop. Possibly a mandola sized instrument would have a better 'timbre' for such music = it begins to approximate the size of a small lute. On such an instrument,you could use Nylon strings,but i'm pretty sure that 'Gut' strings would be available - they are still made & are pretty darned expensive these days. I saw one of our UK ''How things are made'' TV progs. a few months back & it showed how 'Gut' Viola & Double Bass strings are made = a long,lengthy process,hence the cost.


    From the Salisbury Bartoque webpage :- Baroque Instruments Strings

    All Baroque members of the violin family use gut strings (or covered gut for the lower strings). The neck is shorter and square to the instrument compared to the modern violin which leans back.

    I'd most certainly be trying for a tone similar to the stringed instruments of the period if i were taking up Medieval / Baroque music. For some actual 'horses mouth' info.,you could do worse than to contact one of the UK's Baroque Orchestras,
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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    There was no such thing as a mandolin during the Middle Ages, so authenticity isn't something you should worry about.

    Gaelic harps were being strung with brass wire a thousand years ago, so it seems to me that if people will accept medieval music being played on a mandolin at all, they shouldn't be persnickety about what the strings are made of.
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Graham McDonald View Post
    Up to the middle of the 18th century mandolins were tiny lutes, 5 or six double courses, tuned mostly in fourths with gut strings and a fixed glued on lute type bridge. These are the instruments for which Vivaldi wrote his mandolin music.
    A handful of luthiers will make you a baroque mandolino of the sort Graham is talking about, and those instruments frequently do use gut strings. https://www.dreamguitars.com/shop/al...e-baroque.html
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    My (limited) understanding/experience from partaking in some medieval-themed events is that the spirit and historicity is sort-of relaxed for musicians, since few musicians own truly medieval instruments and can play them. Keeping strict historicity requirements would often mean having little music with fewer people participating or maybe none at all.

    Of course, there are hard-core medieval musicians who make it their hobby/quest to play a truly medieval instrument. In that case you'd have to opt for a lute of some sort, probably. But that doesn't sound like your aim, if you just want to play medieval or medieval-style music on a mandolin, I don't think you have to worry about the strings very much since the instrument itself is modern...

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    Deacon M100A Minorkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Hmm if I could get my mandolin set up I might consider playing it and learning baroque style (I'm not really a fan of bluegrass/country)

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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Ivan Kelsall View Post
    Hi Minorkey - My thoughts :- A 'new' mandolin built for playing Medieval / Baroque music,would be a 'flat top' style rather than an archtop. Possibly a mandola sized instrument would have a better 'timbre' for such music = it begins to approximate the size of a small lute. On such an instrument,you could use Nylon strings,but i'm pretty sure that 'Gut' strings would be available - they are still made & are pretty darned expensive these days. I saw one of our UK ''How things are made'' TV progs. a few months back & it showed how 'Gut' Viola & Double Bass strings are made = a long,lengthy process,hence the cost.


    From the Salisbury Bartoque webpage :- Baroque Instruments Strings

    All Baroque members of the violin family use gut strings (or covered gut for the lower strings). The neck is shorter and square to the instrument compared to the modern violin which leans back.

    I'd most certainly be trying for a tone similar to the stringed instruments of the period if i were taking up Medieval / Baroque music. For some actual 'horses mouth' info.,you could do worse than to contact one of the UK's Baroque Orchestras,
    Ivan
    Gut strings actually aren't any more expensive than synthetic, and the plain gut ones are cheaper. Compared to mandolin strings, though they're all expensive. Where a set of mandolin strings costs about $5, you can easily pay upwards of $100 for a set of violin strings, wound gut or synthetic. A set of Pirastro Chordas, plain, Baroque-style gut, are about $60. Plenty of players use Eudoxa or Passione strings, which have a gut core. I have a set of Passiones in my viola case. Took them off, as they were too finicky about temperature and I was playing in both underheated and overheated rehearsal spaces at the time. The first synthetic-core strings, Dominants, came out in about 1970. While fiddlers often prefer steel-core strings, they're awfully bright for classical playing.

    Cheaper strings are available, of course.
    Last edited by Louise NM; Sep-21-2018 at 11:10am. Reason: Didn't like autocorrect's changes.

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Minorkey View Post
    Hmm if I could get my mandolin set up I might consider playing it and learning baroque style (I'm not really a fan of bluegrass/country)
    There is a world of music for mandolin that is not American bluegrass/country; Italian music, Choro, classical, Klezmer, Irish trad, and so on.

    The mandolin evolved from the earlier mandora and gittern type instruments and some elements of lute construction - in many way the bowl back mandolin is still a version of the lute, although a steel strung violin tuned version.

    http://banjolin.co.uk/mandolin/mandolinhistory.htm

    "As early as the 14th century a miniature Lute or Mandora appeared."

    http://www.tresbearmusic.com/blogs/i...-the-mandolin/

    "The mandolin is a descendant of a small lute, an instrument common in the Renaissance era, generally meaning Europe in the 14th to 17th century. The lute is a descendant of the Arabian oud,"

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandolin

    "The mandore, appeared in the late 16th century and although known here under a French name, was used elsewhere as indicated by the names in other European languages (German mandoer, Spanish vandola, and Italian mandola).[31]"

    http://www.wirestrungharp.com/materi...eferences.html

    Metal string have been in use since the middle ages

    "
    1185–1188 AD
    The Topographia Hibernica Ζneis quoque utuntur chordis, non de corio factis [variation: Ζneis quoque magis utuntur chordis quam de corio factis]
    Moreover they [just the Irish? or the Scots and Welsh also?] [5] play upon ‘bronze’ strings rather than strings made of gut [variation they play upon ‘bronze’ strings more than strings made of gut]."

    The Renaissance had some metal strung lute-like instruments, such as the orpharion, bandora and cittern:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orpharion

    "Due to the extremely low-tension metal strings, which would easily distort the notes when pushed down, the frets were almost flush with the fingerboard, which was gently scalloped.[1] As with all metal-strung instruments of the era, a very light touch with the plucking hand was required, quite different from the sharper attack used on the lute."

    https://earlymusicmuse.com/bandora-orpharion/

    " Less familiar and less played are two related instruments, the bandora and orpharion. Both were strung with wire and plucked, "

    https://earlymusicmuse.com/gitternshorthistory/

    Also a possible ancestor of the mandolin

    " So what exactly was the medieval gittern?

    The gittern was strung with gut, had 2, 3, 4 or 5 courses (single, double or triple strung), was played with a plectrum made from a quill or fashioned from horn (both seem to appear in iconography), and its bowl and neck was carved from a solid piece of wood. "

    finally, other instruments such as the hammered dulcimer/santoor and other Oriental instruments have used metal strings for many centuries.

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    Deacon M100A Minorkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Good post David! I like a lot of styles of music but the genre that most interests me is classical. And I am currently enrolled on a classical guitar course. I also have 2 ukuleles, a concert tuned gCEA and a baritone that I've just put in open G or banjo tuning (CGBD), its normal tuning being DGBE.
    I'd also love to try a lute, but nylon strings. I don't fancy messing on with gut strings.

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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    David, I really appreciate the support links and notations in your posts of this nature! You write this sort of thing like a technical writer but more “heartfelt”.
    Thanks for your clarity and research!
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Minorkey View Post
    I'd also love to try a lute, but nylon strings. I don't fancy messing on with gut strings.
    When i play Renaissance lute, I use modern "Nylgut" strings:

    https://www.aquilausa.com/luteguitar.html

    These are wonderful synthetic strings and sound a bit more gut-like than plain nylon.

    BTW, your DBGE tuned bari uke could play 4 course guitar music...as can a soprano uke.

    Quote Originally Posted by Timbofood View Post
    David, I really appreciate the support links and notations in your posts of this nature! You write this sort of thing like a technical writer but more “heartfelt”.
    Thanks for your clarity and research!
    Thanks. I try to support my opinions with a few facts.

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    Deacon M100A Minorkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Medieval v modern mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    When i play Renaissance lute, I use modern "Nylgut" strings:

    https://www.aquilausa.com/luteguitar.html

    These are wonderful synthetic strings and sound a bit more gut-like than plain nylon.

    BTW, your DBGE tuned bari uke could play 4 course guitar music.
    Ah yes my ukes are strung with Aquila Nylguts.

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