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Thread: Octave Mandolin History

  1. #1

    Default Octave Mandolin History

    I'm very curious about the octave mandolin's history in the USA, especially the F styles.
    None of the early makers, Gibson, Washburn/Lyon & Healy, Martin seem to have made them. The earliest F style OMs made for the US market that I know of are the '80s Kentuckys imported by Saga and very few of these were made. Mandolas and mandocellos appear to be relatively much more common. Any info on OM history would be appreciated. Thanks. - Ken

  2. #2

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin History

    To keep you going until someone who really knows this stuff comes around:
    Also google "Andy Irvine waldzither".

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  4. #3
    Registered User
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    Sep 2002

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin History

    Thanks Marty.

    It's interesting to see that the 'modern cittern' pictured in your Sobell article only has 8 strings (as opposed to 10).

    In recent years the word 'cittern' seems to now mostly refer to 10 string instruments, with 8 stringers more often being called octave mandolins or bouzoukis.

    My instrument (which looks like the modern cittern in the article) was sold to me by Sobell as an 8 string cittern, and I generally still call it a cittern, although I do sometimes think octave mandolin might be a more accurate name.
    People sometimes call it a mandola, which is not accurate in my view, but is perhaps easier to say on posters and other advertising, and people then get the idea that it's a kind of mandolin.

    But I had never heard the description 'octave mandolin' until I had already had my 'cittern' for a number of years.
    David A. Gordon

  5. #4
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    May 2007
    Pacific Northwest, USA

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin History

    I'm no expert on this, but until one comes along... I think the Gibson archtop-style octave mandolins with F-holes might have first showed up in the Weber catalog, as a way to fill out the line of larger mandolin family models. Filling a gap, as it were. Someone correct me if someone else was doing it earlier. I think Flatiron was making octaves, but maybe not with F-holes?

    Meanwhile, we can't ignore this one when talking about the history:

    It's an Orville labeled, carved archtop oval hole OM from 1901. Possibly a custom one-off. I don't know if it was ever established that there were others made besides this one. It does show that someone was thinking in this direction, a little over 100 years ago!

  6. #5

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin History

    Now that's interesting. A 1901 Gibson OM. I wonder how long it took for the next American OM to be produced.

  7. #6

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin History

    Just checked the Weber website and they weren't building until 1997. So the '80s Kentucky OMs are still the earliest F style. Even though they were made in Japan they were imported fro the American market by Saga.

  8. #7

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin History

    A few years back I wrote a piece for my blog about the guitar bozuouki history - a little off topic but it may be of interest.

    Its quite possible the f hole OM is a modern thing as the old Gibson mandocellos were long scale. The Howe Orme roundhole 8 strings were around 17-19" scale.

    In regards to the cittern vs OM thing - when I worked for Stefan the terms were pretty much interchangable. Its customers who started to differenciate between 8 stings and 10 strings being OM or cittern. So when he would give me an order to start I'd clarify by asking the number of strings and the scale, so I could make the neck and neck block.


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  10. #8
    Mandolin tragic Graham McDonald's Avatar
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    Oct 2004
    Canberra, Australia

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin History

    The rise in popularity of mandolin orchestras in the 1890s led to the introduction of various mandolin family instruments, initially following the pattern of the bowed string instruments: mandolin, cgda tuned mandola and CGDA tuned mandocello. The first of these were made by the Waldo company from Saginaw MI in 1896 and followed the next year by instruments from the Howe-Orme company of Boston who added an octave mandolin to the mix. Over the next decade or so there was on-going debate in the mandolin orchestra community about the appropriate instrumental mix in a mandolin orchestra. This would have been the reason behind the Gibson octave mandolin mentioned above with various of the manufacturers experimenting with octave mandolins. The serial number puts the Gibson OM around 1904, likely after Orville's active involvement with the factory ceased. Gibson's marketing of the mandola and mandocello triumphed over the supporters of the octave mandolin and in 1908 the American Guild of of Banjoists, Mandolinists and Guitarists announced that, by a unanimous vote, "the octave mandolin which, while it served its purpose for a time, has outlived its usefulness." and "the tenor mandola and mando-cello are the proper mandolas to use in mandolin clubs or mandolin orchestras."

    The European mandolin orchestras have mostly continued with the use of octave mandolas, usually around 18-19" scale and with quite a thuddy sound. I have never been able to track down when the more modern 21-22" scale octave mandolin appeared. Possibly as an offset of the emergence of the Irish bouzouki in the 1970s with players wanting a shorter scale instrument more suited for melodic work.


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  12. #9

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin History

    Great info. Thanks, Graham.

  13. #10
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Mar 2003
    Westchester, NY

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin History

    I have seen a Larson Brothers octave Mandolin from teens or twenties. Also one suggested tuning for the Regal Octophone was octave tuning. I am sure there were others besides tenor guitars tuned that way.

    And of course in Europe that was the preferred tuning for mandola.

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