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Thread: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

  1. #1
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    Question Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    Hello Mandolin Cafe!

    my name is Amos, I am from Bavaria and new here

    I have that Mandola that I love. When I bought it, it had Thomastik 174 medium strings on it. This set is intended to be tuned to GDAE (octave mandolin).

    They had a beautiful tone and a pleasant feeling under the fingers. But I found the tension way too soft, especially the G string which was also quite silent. This can be because the scale is only 16.9'' (43cm) and somewhat shorter than the 45cm for which the strings are designed?

    In this useful discussion: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...andola-Strings, Bratsche describes similar observations.

    I also wanted to try CGDA tuning anyways, so I bought a set of D'Addario's EJ76 mandola phosphor bronze set medium. Definitely good strings and all, more brilliant and louder at a smaller price, but not what I need: I prefer the dark and soft tone that the Thomastik had, also I find the feeling of the corrugated string not so pleasent under my left hand and I don't like the sound it makes when the fingers slide over the strings.

    The next thing I tried was to put the Thomastik 174 back and just tune them up to CGDA. The resulting tone is great: acceptably loud and still a soft, dark tone. No more clapping sound when the too soft strings in the GDAE tuning hit the fretboard. BUT: One E-string broke when tunig it up to A so I had to replace them with the A-strings from the EJ76 set. It doesn't fit together at all. Another disadvantage of tuning the TI 174 up is that the tension is rather heavy now, such that it takes some effort to play and the chords wouldn't go so smoothly.

    Now I would like to ask you for some advice what I can try next. I have some thoughts and would be happy if you can tell me what you think about them ...

    • If I get the TI 174 set with heavy gauge (in GDAE tuning) - does it make a big difference? Can I expect that the G string is then significantly louder and everything is less flabby compared to the medium gauge?
    • Or, thinking the opposite direction, if I try the light gauge (TI 174w) and carefully tune it up to CGDA again, maybe the resulting tension is more suitable and the E-string wouldn't break ...
    • Yesterday, I learned in this forum that Thomastik also has a CGDA set, the 164. However, it is designed for shorter instruments. Can I put it on my mandola? I measured all relevant lengths and put them on the photo below. Will it then have a super tight tension again?
    • I was thinking about just completing my TI 174 medium set with a new pair of E strings (to replace the broken) and then tune the instrument to something between GDAE and CGDA, say, BbFCG. I play mostly by ear anyways and would "only" need to relearn where on the Fretboard which chord is located. However, I would prefer a solution with CGDA because I also have a cello and it is convenient to have both instruments tuned the same.
    • Do you have any other idea what I can try, like another set of flatwound strings that you can recommend for my purpose?


    Any feedback is appreciated.

    Sorry for the long post ... have a wonderful day!

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  2. #2
    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    I can't comment on the TI's, but:

    * The scale length of your instrument is about ideal for CGDA and really rather too short for GDAE.
    * Taking strings designed for GDAE and tuning them up to CGDA risks damaging the instrument with all the extra force involved.

    With regard to flatwounds, I have in the past bought D'Addario Chrome singles of appropriate gauges and taken the ball ends out for use on a mandola. They sound quite different to TI's though.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    You can buy Daddario flatwound sets from emando.com

    I'd personally go for the Mandola "Normal" gauge, and tune them CGDA, but you might also try the "Light" gauge.

    http://emando.com/shop/strings8_mandola.htm

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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    Thanks for the warning, Tavy. I haven't considered that I might damage the instrument. Your other point confirms my feeling that the mandola could not really support the low notes of GDAE. So, I'll go for CGDA tuning.

    Thanks colorado_al for the recommendation. Maybe I give the D'Addario flatwound (is it the same as flat tops?) a try ...

  5. #5
    Registered User Eldon Dennis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    I found this set of strings to be very nice sounding and easy playing on my Collings Mandola. They are not as loud, but have a nice warm sound and you don't notice the noise when making slides. All four strings are wound which in my opinion makes the A strings fit in better tonally than the all steel A strings in the EJ76 set.

    D'Addario Mandola-Flat Tops Phosphor Bronze, .016 - .053, EFT76
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    Quote Originally Posted by jedennis View Post
    All four strings are wound which in my opinion makes the A strings fit in better tonally than the all steel A strings in the EJ76 set.
    Good to know! Right now I have the A strings from the EJ76 set together with the flatwound strings from the Thomastik 174 set and it is disturbing that the A strings are plain while the others are wound - both from the sound and from the feel.

    I assume your Collings Mandola has a scale length of 15.9'' ... should I pick a different gauge based on the 1'' longer scale length of my instrument?

  7. #7
    Registered User Pete Braccio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    Not flat wound, but you could also try D'Addario (or other) Octave Mandolin strings (EJ80). 46-32-22-12 string gauges. These will be lower tension (but not floppy) so, less bright.

    Just a note: It's my understanding that most of the Mandola strings are tensioned for a Gibson Mandola scale length (15.875"). D'Addario states this right on their packaging. So, those .052 strings on a 17" mandola are not pulling 23.6 lbs tension. They are actually 28.3 lbs each. The total tension works out to 237.8 lbs vice 207.4 lbs for a Gibson scale.

    The EJ80s will pull a total tension of 180.5 lbs on a 17" mandola. That is about the tension of the Light Mandola (EJ72) strings on a Gibson scale. Sometimes lower tension gives you better tone.

    As you can see, I tend to overthink things. ;^)

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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    I use Thomastik flat wounds on my Gibson mandola. You need to get 164's for CGDA tuning. They are called "alto mandolin" strings.

  10. #9
    Registered User Eldon Dennis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    I don't know the answer to your question about needing a different gauge for your longer scale length. As I recall the D'Addario flattops only come in the EFT76 gauge (at least that's the only one's I could find). It's logical to think the longer scale would require more tension to get them up to pitch which might be an issue for the A strings as the steel core apparently has a pretty small diameter. You might just have to try them and see what happens. Sorry I can't be more helpful with your question.
    1992 Flatiron Master model
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    jedennis, your posts are helping a lot, and all the other replies, too. Still haven't bought a new set of strings. I feel that I should sum up the different inputs that I got since I posted the question. It seems that there is no one ideal solution to my problem, so I'll need to experiment. Will keep you updated.

  12. #11
    Registered User Eldon Dennis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    Good luck in your search and hopefully you will find the "compromise" that works for you. It seems many of us are always on the search for that "sound in our head", thus MAS!
    Last edited by Eldon Dennis; Mar-10-2019 at 2:32pm.
    1992 Flatiron Master model
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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    Following this thread with interest due to my recent acquisition of an old H-1 with scale length of 16.75". I tried GHS PF280 strings (12-24-34-48). They sound pretty good but I am concerned about the tension. Am right now in the middle of swapping them out for a set of D'Addario EJ80's per Pete Braccio's suggestion. I would love to find some flattops, but so far no luck in the gauges that appear to work out when I use the string tension calculator. I know about the Thomastiks, but I have been unable to convince myself to spend the extra $$. - yet.

    I think I would like flattops for two reasons - the mellower or darker tone and the lack of finger squeaks.
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    Registered User Pete Braccio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    There are flatTOP mandala strings readily available. D'Addario EFT76 are a flattop set with .053 .035 .024 .016. They have an even higher total tension than the roundwound strings, so I usually stay away from them.

    Hank, I thought that the Gibson H-1 had a 15.875" scale. How is the intonation on your H1?
    Pete Braccio

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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    I was surprised at the longer scale, too. I think the shorter scale started a few years later and became the current standard. I saw the EFT76's and estimated tensions (for a shorter scale than mine). Thought "no way". I haven't gotten really precise with intonation yet, But its close. That funny bridge is not helping but I don't think it is going to be a big problem. Right now the bridge is within an eighth of an inch of spot on on both ends and it is measuring right on 16.75 +/- a smidgeon. See my NMD thread on this mandola. Don't want to hijack OP's thread.
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    "The scale length of your instrument is about ideal for CGDA and really rather too short for GDAE."

    A European mandola (GDAE) intended for use in a mandolin orchestra, bowlback or half-round as is common in Germany, will typically have a scale length between 42-48cm. I own such an instrument, East German (1970s), a bowlback, which is tuned GDAE. I also have a Weber flat back mandola, 17 inch (ca. 43cm) scale, tuned GDAE. I use both instruments professionally (in the New American Mandolin Ensemble, among other groups). I have used Thomastik on both of these instruments, but prefer a brighter sound in performance (i.e. Thomastik are intended to produce a particular sound, soft, lute like, which is the preference in German groups) and so both at the moment are strung with Optima. I also own a liuto cantabile made by the late Walt Kuhlman, with about a 61cm scale, again used professionally. At the moment it has Thomastik on it, but I have also used Dogal successfully. It is true that the bass response is more robust on the liuto but the treble is more guitar-like; with the shorter scale instruments, the treble blends better with classical guitar (always in the groups in which I play). On any of these instruments I play (written) mandola parts; up to a point (ca. 25-26 inches) the scale is irrelevant, it is the sound that matters.

    The notion that a 17' scale is "too short" for GDAE tuning, in other words, is inconsistent with much actual practice. It depends on the sound one is after in the music one is playing, the instrument construction/setup, and the strings. I personally do not play Irish/celtic/folk/bluegrass, and can well imagine that, in such music, the longer scale is better for the sound desired.

    As for the issue of flatwound strings, if I want this sound on one of my short scale instruments, I tend to prefer Fisoma or Optima over Thomastik. Fisoma, in particular, makes a polished bronze set with some of the characteristics of Thomastik that many people like (no squeak, easy on the fingers) but project better in performance, in my experience.
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    Due to the lack of flatwound dedicated mandola strings in CGDA tuning that are suitable for 17in/43cm scale length, I decided to go back to GDAE and bought a set of Fisoma's supersolo flatwound mandola strings (thanks, Robert, for pointing me to that brand).
    They exist for two scale length ranges and for three gauges, and I took the one for 42-45cm scale length in medium gauge. Compared to Thomastik strings which are laid out for 45cm scale length, the medium gauge supersolo strings have smaller diameter, resulting in a reasonable string tension and loudness on my instrument. In particular, the critical g-string sounds good. The d-strings still seem a bit weak (a bit too soft), though I can live with that. An alternative would have been Thomastik's 174 set in heavy (stark) gauge to compensate for the shorter scale length.

    Thanks for all the friendly replies, you guys helped me a lot to get an overview :-)
    Last edited by Amos; Apr-14-2019 at 4:49am. Reason: typo

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    I don't know if this old thread on Thomastik mandola strings will confuse things or not.

    These are the T-I strings for Alto-mandola CGDA tuned and probably best for ~17" scale.

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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    Jim, I agree that the TI 164 should be the ideal solution if they fit. Reading bratsche's posts in the thread that you link to (see below quote), I wasn't sure about that.

    Yeah... I have 164s on a 17" flattop - I had to get a new tailpiece with hooks farther up, and even with it, there's just a little room to spare (...) bratsche
    Also when I called the Thomastik support, they confirmed that for 17'' scale length, the only product that they recommend is the 174 in heavy gauge. That's why I refrained from trying the 164.

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    Default Re: Flatwound strings for 17'' Mandola

    I have a 42.5cm mandola in GDAE it's fine with Optima Green Chrome Specials on it. 19-60
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