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Thread: 12 string half-mandocello.

  1. #1

    Default 12 string half-mandocello.

    I've hesitated often about making this thread: above all else in this world, man should strive to be appropriate to his environment. We shouldn't dream of dragging scuba gear to the Sahara or playing chess with an elephant; and it is the height of folly to expect the ATM to file one's tax return. Likewise, I wonder if the monster I'm attempting to love would FIT IN here.

    Let me pre-amble: I've never owned nor touched (though thanks to the members of this forum I have seen and heard) a true, taxonomic-ally correct mandocello. I've been fortunate to possess and to be possessed by an Eastman MDC-805 and a fine Crafted Dammann, but both of these, I think, would be considered "bastards" by a dictionary purist. They possess bodies more akin to archtop or flat-body guitars, respectively; though they do possess the blood to count them as fitting siblings of the legitimate members of the mondoloncello family, even if at weddings and reunions they are delegated to the tables at the far end of the hall with distant cousins, young children, those without pedigree...

    I've built this all up too fancifully, I apologize; though not without purpose. Definitions are, first and foremost, (as much as meta-physicians may wish to dream), human construct: the bleeding of fingers, pens, lead; the ephemeral workings of hidden brain folds striking against the "real" like a mallet. And the words and ideas we come to know are their echoes. So it's with hesitation, the fear of pain against the body of thought, that I ask:

    Is a 12 string guitar tuned to Robert Fripp's "New Standard Tuning" fitting fodder for the CBOM forums?

    THE ORIGIN: Guitars are so facile and commonplace that the phrase "dime a dozen," granted a little bit of inflation, certainly carries the ring of truth. In fact, you can tap their composite bodies and hear semi-metallic sounds. More exotic instruments, on the other hand, float heavenly above this paradigm. You're in luck if you think you can buy a mandocello you wouldn't have to think twice about smashing on stage to get the crowd going. Last I checked (just now), Goldtone mandocellos are selling for $850. To brag about picking up one of these out of the Amazon would elicit a passive-aggressive irony; jeers of "give us the nitty gritty, show us what it's like on the wrong side of the tracks," like humoring the natives. Yet it's a perfectly reasonable cost for a mid-range acoustic guitar.

    THE QUESTION: Is a mandocello its cost? I'm not gonna lie. Every time I walk out the door with my Four Thousand Dollar Dammann I feel like a jerk. If I were a musician I can't imagine enough music to justify the cost. How many hearts I'd have to ring, in however many drunken hazes they half remember the feeling. Wouldn't it be great, if mandocellos were so common you could grab one from a newspaper vending machine, heck, why not steal an extra for a friend, and not feel guilty?

    THE FACT: In the mid 1980s, when Lead Guitarist for King Crimson, Robert Fripp, began advocating for a style of tuning called "New Standard Tuning," people thought he was just being cheeky. With those fifths instead of fourths, he was literally turning those tabs on their heads, upside down, ya dig. Little did they realize the purity of his intent, the harmonic resonance: I'm sure the theory egg-heads could back me up, I've given up understanding. What I know is that the fifth is pure, it's automatic, it's the drone note; it's the tender vittles in the dark night. No wonder the orchestra strings, and the folk instruments, the very mando-family adopt this way of putting the fingers in their places.

    THE SONG: So for $200 I got myself a nice twelve string tuned to New Standard Tuning. What this means is I've unlocked the full range of the mandocello, the 12 string guitar, AND MORE. Sure, we've got octaves instead of unions for the first four courses, but if you get a duo on the same instrument you've got a mando and more. This is the tentacled thing we've all been asking for... Something to crash against the slithering things on-stage unseen by the audience, guilt free.

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    Last edited by FranticTones; May-06-2019 at 10:38pm.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: 12 string half-mandocello.

    Well, now is an ironically perfect time for you to ask!

    Firat off, here's a few topics on the matter from when I first started on the same path.!

    Once the O4+ strings settled in, I never had a break except when someone picked up the instrument without permission. They are great.

    I did abandon full fifths on the 8-course instruments, and instead tune to EADGCFAD, which is like combining a bass guitar (EADG) and a six-string which has been detuned a whole step (DGCFAD). That major third between the F and A at the top makes chording across six strings great on normal guitars.


    The reason I find it ironic that you ask right now is that I'm on the verge of retuning a classical guitar for full fifths, using some .5mm fishing line for my high B4. The fishing line works a treat, and I'm stringing up a guitar for travel.

    There are many rooms in the House of Mando. In whichever rooms you choose to dwell, good luck!

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  5. #3

    Default Re: 12 string half-mandocello.

    Ah dang. Very nice Explorer. Nice to see others being so bold with their tunings. That high B is taking it to the limit. I had considered unison tuning--- I read somewhere it's a fad in Mexico to tune standard tuning 12 strings in unison as opposed to octaves---but the octave seemed the most adventuresome....

    Good luck on that 5ths classical guitar. I imagine it might be somewhat difficult to get a nice sounding low c. Have you thought about double coursing it as some kind of pseudo-lute?

  6. #4
    Celtic Bard michaelpthompson's Avatar
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    Default Re: 12 string half-mandocello.

    What a fascinating thread FranticTones. I've been seeking a similar alternative, but nothing as sophisticated as what you're doing. I play in an Irish pub band, and switched from six-string guitar to mandolin, then octave mandolin in search of a different sound. OK, but still didn't have that "zing" I was seeking. I liked the idea of a twelve string guitar, but I wanted something a bit more different, especially in appearance. I found a Ukrainian Kobza on Amazon that was strung up as a 12-string guitar. Whoever adapted it really didn't understand the process (though I think it was done at the factory). The kobza is normally a six nylon string classical style instrument. They changed it over to 12 steel strings. The headstock and the nut are fine, but there was no strengthening on the bridge, so it pulled off the first time I tried to tune it. The strings passed through holes, similar to how you would tie on classical strings, but that was no where near strong enough for 12 steel strings.

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    So, I removed the old bridge, refinished the top and installed a more standard pin-style bridge with holes through the top. Then the bridge was fine, but the tension pulled up the top very badly. So, I'm considering abandoning it, or replacing the top with additional bracing.

    I really like the sound you're getting from your 12-string half mandocello. Very bouzouki like, which is a good sound for Irish music. Would love to do something similar, but with an instrument that doesn't look like a guitar. Ever seen an instrument that looks like a lute or cittern or bouzouki with twelve strings?

  7. #5
    Registered User NotMelloCello's Avatar
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    Feb 2014
    Doodah, Doodah

    Default Re: 12 string half-mandocello.

    I have loved Fripp's New Standard Tuning for a long time. Used to keep a Les Paul around with the proper string gauge and tuning just to experiment with. Also, as I remember - he had students playing 12 string Ovations in his Guitar Craft classes, so we know it will work. I suggest you tune down a bit.....
    The difference between death and taxes is that death does not grow worse every time Congress convenes. - Will Rogers

  8. #6

    Default Re: 12 string half-mandocello.

    @NotMelloCello I tried googling a bit 12 string NST to try and get some advice on gauges and came up short, so I just used d'addario stringtensionpro website to approximate a light 12 string gauge to the tuning and made some "judicious" modifications to more closely line up with recommended 6 string NST or mandocello gauges in a manner that had the appearance of "uniformity" across gauges, as well as consistency to overall tension.

    The attached graph illustrates. I'm currently playing with 12stringcustom set, but the upper two courses feel inconsistently light compared to the other courses, so I made revisions and will boost up their gauges when I restring. Hopefully the extra 18 lbs of tension shouldn't be too much to cause trouble. I notice the revisions also more closely approximate NST recommended 6 string gauges...

    What do you use the upper G string course for? Chord voicing? Melodies? I've mostly ignored it thus far; or noodled around using it to play fingered octaves against the A course (neatly matching how an octave might be fingered on a string instrument tuned in fourths.) I also find it kind of comical how easy it is to finger unisons with the upper two courses, four strings ringing out the same note approximating some kind of shrill chorus of bleating insects. I think this may come in handy as texture variation.

    The greatest drawback I've noticed has got to be the upper two courses not ringing octaves. It can sound a bit empty if not careful; generally if I'm playing a line I'll move up on the A string to hit notes rather than sacrifice the octave and play it on the E.

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