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Thread: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

  1. #1
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    Default Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    Since as a youngster I played violin, as an adult I can play a bit of mandolin (with its similar left-hand fingering). I enjoy trying to play mandolin while reading classical or popular sheet music, or while picking out folk or show tunes by ear.

    Since as a younger person I also played a bit of guitar, I enjoy the informality of strumming chords while accompanying others who sing, especially on a classical-style guitar with its soft-sounding nylon strings.

    It seemed that it might be fun to play a hybrid instrument, one with tuning similar to a violin, but with strings similar to a classical guitar.

    Other people have written on the Internet and in these forums* about similar ideas. I would be glad to briefly describe my current experiment.

    My hybrid instrument is based on a tenor ukulele, but its 4 strings are replaced with nylon guitar strings. These strings are tuned one octave lower than a regular mandolin. The effective result is a mellow-sounding octave mandolin that is easy on the fingers (with 4 nylon strings instead of 8 steel ones), and that does not require the same stretch as an octave mandolin (with a scale of 17 inches instead of 20 or more).

    Experimentation with several instruments and sets of strings, combined with research with a couple luthiers and manufacturers, have led me to this current choice of nylon-type guitar strings from D'Addario:

    1st - E (e' - E4 - 329.6 Hz) - NYL034 - nylon only
    2nd - A (a - A3 - 220.0 Hz) - NYL026W - steel-wound nylon
    3rd - D (d - D3 - 146.8 Hz) - NYL034W - steel-wound nylon
    4th - G (G - G2 - 98.0 Hz) - NYL048W - steel-wound nylon

    These choices do not represent the only possibilities (I have tried several). But they represent sort of a balance after trying some strings that were too loose, and others that seemed too stiff.

    A music teacher with whom I am currently studying is excited about this hybrid instrument, which he likes to call a mandolele. A few other references to mandolele can be found on the Internet. The version with which I am experimenting is more like an octave mandolele.

    A choice of strings is not obvious, as no sets of pre-made strings currently exist, of which I am aware, for turning a tenor ukulele or similar instrument as an octave mandolin, with 4 nylon-type strings.

    Neither is a choice of names obvious for the resulting instrument. A few people who write about similar hybrids use various names.

    Throughout the years, string instruments like lutes, mandolins and guitars have apparently taken on different shapes, configurations and names. The current instrument with which I am experimenting may not be easily categorized, but it sounds pleasant, and it is enjoyable to play.

    The instrument may not be perfect, and its player is far from that(!), but playing the instrument is enough fun that I am communicating with a luthier about making a custom version of the instrument.


    -------------------------------------------------------

    * Here are a few related links in these forums:

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...do-GDAE-tuning

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...andolin-(GDAE)

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...-guitar-hybrid

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  3. #2
    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    Hi. and welcome to the forum! I am very interested to know what model of tenor ukulele you used for this "hybrid" experiment, as well as what its scale length is. Most I've seen advertised have said 17 inches. Have you made any videos or sound clips? I've done a conversion myself from a Baby Taylor guitar to an octave mandolin, but if I should ever have the means to acquire yet another instrument to experiment on, it will probably be some lower member of the ukulele family, either a baritone or tenor, as I too am intrigued by the mellow sound of the nylon strings.

    bratsche
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    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    What you have come up with is really quite similar to a tenor guitar only nylon strung instead of steel and with a shorter scale. Normally tenor guitars are tuned CGDA but many use heavier gauge strings make GDAE octave mandolin tuning, also known as "Irish" tuning. Instruments like these are usually over 20 inch scale length though. I think a baritone uke would be a better candidate with its bigger body and longer (19" or so) scale length.
    Don

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    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    Hello, and thanks.

    As part of this project, I have bought several tenor ukuleles, each with a scale of 17 inches. Compared with a mandolin scale of between 13 to 14 inches, the tenor ukulele scale requires stretching the left hand a bit. For most purposes, however, standard left-hand fingering ą la mandolin and violin is still possible for me. Plus, the extra scale length, as well as neck width, of a tenor ukulele allows for forming chord shapes more easily.

    The first tenor ukulele I bought was from a local music store. It was a Kala model KA-TE (the E at the end of the model name, I think, indicates the presence of an electronic pickup). A music teacher helped research which strings to try on the instrument. He suggested choosing nylon (and wound nylon) guitar strings with diameters such that each string would end up applying about 10 pounds of tension. (Part of the research showed that the total tension of 4 strings on a tenor ukulele should be around 40 pounds). However, the instrument's intonation seemed imprecise, and the strings were loose enough to buzz against frets.

    The second tenor ukulele I bought was from a luthier who is selling such instruments on the Internet. Coincidentally, he used a similar Kala model (though without an electronic pickup). His instrument was an improvement in that he apparently used a saddle that was taller and wider, and with firmer strings (hence reducing string buzz), and he shaved part of the saddle (to compensate for imprecise intonation on the 1st, E string).

    The third (and most recent) tenor ukulele I bought was thru a well-known Internet merchandiser. The instrument was an Oscar Schmidt model OU7TE. The instrument looks attractive and seems to have better intonation than the other two. On this instrument, I have placed strings as described in my original post. According to my calculations and estimations, each string applies an average of about 12.5 pounds of tension.

    No, I have not made a video or audio recording of an instrument of mine. If my music teacher would someday want to do so, I would gladly lend him my latest instrument (but at this stage of my training, I would not attempt making a recording myself!)

    My music teacher likes the tone of the instruments, particularly from the lower-frequency strings (GDA) that are made of wound-type nylon.

    We both notice, however, that the strings stretch enough that the low- and high-frequency strings (G and E) can be forced beyond the edges of the instrument's neck. In other words, for our purposes, the neck of a tenor ukulele, even though wider than the neck of a regular mandolin, is still not quite wide enough for present purposes. Each of my current tenor ukuleles has a neck width of 1 3/8 inches at the nut. I am communicating with a luthier about constructing a custom instrument whose neck would instead have a width of 1 3/4 inches at the nut.

  6. #5
    ISO TEKNO delsbrother's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    If you search this forum for ukuleles tuned in fifths you will find many similar conversions. IIRC there was a duo who recorded some classical (?) pieces using this tuning.

  7. #6
    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Leslie_i80 View Post
    We both notice, however, that the strings stretch enough that the low- and high-frequency strings (G and E) can be forced beyond the edges of the instrument's neck. In other words, for our purposes, the neck of a tenor ukulele, even though wider than the neck of a regular mandolin, is still not quite wide enough for present purposes. Each of my current tenor ukuleles has a neck width of 1 3/8 inches at the nut. I am communicating with a luthier about constructing a custom instrument whose neck would instead have a width of 1 3/4 inches at the nut.
    If that's the case, then why not just make closer spacing of the string slots on the nut and the bridge (not so near to the edge)? It seems to me that a 1 3/8" neck should be plenty wide for only four strings. 1 3/4" is even wider than the nut on my Baby Taylor (@ 1 11/16"), which now has 8 strings - I did also feel the need to move them in a bit on both sides from where the 6 strings had been placed on the original nut and bridge, and even after that, they still feel pretty widely set (but not bothersomely so - and at least the leftmost G string and rightmost E string aren't going to slide off the sides of the fretboard while I'm playing).

    I guess it's just really hard for me to imagine only four strings set on that huge a piece of fretboard real estate! But maybe that's what you want.

    bratsche
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    Registered User mandobassman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    Similar to what Bratsche has done, I too have converted a small guitar (23"scale) into a octave mando that sounds wonderful. I have a baritone ukulele sitting around (19" scale) that I am thinking of doing the same same thing you have with the tenor uke. I'm wondering what would be the proper nylon string tension to use with the baritone uke, tuned an octave below standard mandolin tuning. How do you find that info?
    Larry Hunsberger

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    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    Hello:

    Thanks for writing about your similar interest.

    A principle source of information for me about string choices has been a document that the D'Addario company publishes at this address:
    http://daddario.com/upload/tension_chart_13934.pdf

    The document contains a formula that produces an approximate string weight based on scale length, note frequency, and string tension. Then, based on a resulting string weight, one looks up a string model.

    We know the frequencies of the GDAE (octave mandolin) tuning we want, and we know the scale lengths of our instruments (tenor or baritone ukulele). Less certain are string tensions.

    According to several sources of information about string tensions for ukuleles, including the couple below, a baritone ukulele is apparently designed for a total tension (among 4 strings) of about 53 pounds:
    http://www.ukuleles.com/Technology/strings.html
    http://www.ianchadwick.com/ukuleles/tuning.htm

    To estimate tension for an individual string, one could divide 53 by 4, and perhaps round up a bit, then use the result in D'Addario's formula.

    To complicate matters, however, some sources of information on string tension suggest that tensions among several strings on the same instrument might not be uniform! So some research and experimentation may be in order.

    Nonetheless, for the 19-inch scale of a baritone ukulele you want to use, and a tension per string between 13 to 15 pounds, my calculations show that the very same D'Addario strings that I am using on a tenor ukulele (noted in a message above) might work for you on a baritone uke! How so? In D'Addario's formula, string tension is in the numerator of a fraction, while scale length is in the denominator. The longer scale length of your instrument in the top of the formula's fraction, with a higher tension in the bottom part, tend to offset one another.

    I would welcome learning about the string decisions you make, and what you think about the results. Regards.

  10. #9
    Registered User mandobassman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    Thanks for the reply. I will do some research of my own and compare with what you have provided. I'm very excited about doing this. I originally bought the baritone uke with the idea of converting into a octave mandolin using lighter gauge steel strings in 4 double courses, just as in a normal OM. But I quickly realized that a baritone uke will not handle the 8 steel string tension. Your thread gave me a better idea and I'm looking forward to the results.
    Larry Hunsberger

    2013 J Bovier A5 Special w/ToneGard
    D'Addario FW-74 flatwound strings
    1909 Weymann&Sons bowlback
    1919 Weymann&Sons mandolute
    Ibanez PF5
    1993 Oriente HO-20 hybrid double bass
    3/4 guitar converted to octave mandolin

  11. #10

    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    This string combination works as advertised on my Hamano Tenor Uke. Intonation is good to very good for the wound strings, and fair to good for the E-string.

    I'm a violin player/fiddler. But it's a loud instrument and sometimes you don't want that. About a year ago I picked up good quality mandolin (by my standards, anyway). But I also wanted an really inexpensive GDAE instrument that I could take camping or leave in the car and not worry about it getting stolen. You can find GDAE string sets for the Soprano Uke, and I was able to get good advice for strings for a Baritone Uke tuned to GDAE, but this was the most helpful post for a tenor uke.

    Thank you for posting

    MorrisEd

  12. #11

    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    I can attest to this working on a Baritone (19") scale with classical high tension strings. Some string sets will give you iffy intonation, others not.

  13. #12
    Registered User Steve VandeWater's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    Last week I bought a solid spruce top tenor ukulele to try this on, and all I can say is "WOW"! I installed the same D'Addario strings that the OP suggested, and this little thing is a lot of fun to play.
    I had earlier bought a Blueridge BT-40 tenor guitar, but being used to the shorter scale length of a mandolin, I found the guitar difficult to play. This little uke solved that problem. I can easily reach the higher frets without moving too much (I'm not a very good player).
    With the strings tuned an octave lower than a mandolin, this instrument sounds very big, deep, and full. The tone compares very favorably with the BT-40, so much so that I am planning to sell it and use the uke instead.
    My wife, who DOES NOT enjoy the higher pitch of the mandolin, complimented the tone of the uke. It's one of the first positive comments about my instruments I've ever heard her utter, so I guess it's high praise indeed. Now maybe she'll let me take an instrument on vacation once in awhile!
    Anyway, thank you to Leslie_i80 for posting this helpful thread. It solved a problem I had been experiencing for a long time. Also, thanks to the Mandolin Cafe in general for being a great site.
    It ain't gotta be perfect, as long as it's perfect enough!

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    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    Another converted user here! Just installed the suggested D'addario strings on my all myrtle wood Ko'olau Tenor uke, and I'm actually impressed. (My other experiments never turned out this good). The bass string (G) especially is full and resonant. And the balance is pretty much there for the treble end as well. I'm looking at wanting to try other higher end strings like fluorocarbon and the like, but can't find anything better than this recommendation, and really it works very well. Highly recommended, and this lower octave is really great on the tenor body. For my style of playing, the smaller scale length of the tenor is more suited to what I do, so this is a fantastic option to have for a softer resonant expressive tone. Thanks Leslie_i80!

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    Bark first, Bite later Steve Zawacki's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    Have been this route already. I have had an 8-string tenor ukulele (Oscar Schmidt OU28T) tuned CGDA for quite a while. In fact, all of my ukes are tuned CGDA. Aquila makes a string set (#31U) which tunes CGDA perfectly on tenor and concert scale ukes. The uke itself is under US$100. Here's a sound sample of it in action - https://soundcloud.com/steveztv/osca...ou28t-heart-of
    ...Steve

    Current Stable: Two Tenor Guitars (Martin 515, Blueridge BR-40T), a Tenor Banjo (Deering GoodTime 17-Fret), a Mandolin (Burgess #7). two Banjo-Ukes and five Ukuleles..

    The inventory is always in some flux, but that's part of the fun.

  17. #15

    Default Re: Tenor Ukulele as Octave Mandolin

    Hello, All.

    I am revisiting this thread, because I have become obsessed with this 17 inch scale length in lower GDAE tuning (octave mandolin, tenor banjo, one octave down from fiddle, or however you prefer to describe it) for several main reasons. I can easily reach the notes for quick single-note melodies. The sound is very pleasant to most ears who have listened. The nylon classical guitar strings are inexpensive and widely available, and they don’t hurt my fingers one bit. The only drawbacks might be some futzing about to get balanced tone and tension, with the low G needing a fatter string than some might like. I now have a Córdoba 20 with a solid cedar top, and it’s lovely, especially for the price.
    OOPS: The other drawback may be insufficient volume for loud sessions, which is a question I have for you all. What might a low cost loud tenor be? Has anyone done this setup on, say, a tenor resonator Uke?

    I would love to hear from any about how this project goes for you, now some 6 or 7 years in? Can anyone share sound samples? Success stories? Issues with playing at sessions? I really think this may be the instrument for me to concentrate on into my dotage, forsaking all (well, most) others.

    Thanks for any thoughts, and regards,

    David

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