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Thread: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

  1. #1

    Default From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    Hello all! I'm a violinist of about 30 years and have fallen in love with mandolin. I'm looking at getting my first mandolin and am looking for pointers on instrument and strings. After doing some searching, I'm leaning towards an Eastman mandolin A style. For classical playing, would you recommend F hole or Oval hole? I'm debating between 300 and 500 series.

    For those that play Bach cello suites on mandolin, is there anything different I would need to set the mandolin up? Or simply transpose the cello score up an octave? Help!!

    Lastly, what strings do you recommend for classical playing?

    Thank you!!!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    Oval hole mandolins are generally preferred by most classical players. They also work well for British Isles music.

    A 500 series would be a better instrument, but you might also want to consider an old Lyon & Healy style C, an oval hole Gibson, or even a good cant top mandolin such as a Martin style B. An older instrument will probably require some set up work, and perhaps a new set of frets.

    To play the cello suites, you can take the original scores and transpose them up an octave and a fifth. There are probably several editions available with this work already done.

    Light-ish strings work well for classical. Perhaps 10-14-24-38. I make up my own sets.

  3. #3
    Registered User Bruce Clausen's Avatar
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    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    Nice to have you aboard, LH!

    Yes, you can play the cello suites on mandolin directly from any of the various published violin editions.

  4. #4

    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by LilHobbit View Post
    Hello all! I'm a violinist of about 30 years and have fallen in love with mandolin. I'm looking at getting my first mandolin and am looking for pointers on instrument and strings. After doing some searching, I'm leaning towards an Eastman mandolin A style. For classical playing, would you recommend F hole or Oval hole? I'm debating between 300 and 500 series.

    For those that play Bach cello suites on mandolin, is there anything different I would need to set the mandolin up? Or simply transpose the cello score up an octave? Help!!

    Lastly, what strings do you recommend for classical playing?

    Thank you!!!
    You have to modulate the Cello Suites up an octave + a fifth (from cello strings CGDA to mandolin/violin strings GDAE.)

    As Bruce said, there are violin transcriptions already published, though I will add that using a pick and having frets grants you some performance options not available to the bowed instruments. For instance, it is possible to play the 4th Suite prelude holding down the first note of each measure through the whole measure, letting it ring. It’s devilishly hard (I was planning on trying to record it for my YouTube series, but I’ve walked back from that decision as of my shower this morning), but it is possible.

    As a fellow violin/mandolin dualist, I would suggest finding the easiest-to-play mandolin possible, specifically with the lowest action (height of strings from the fretboard) as possible. The amount of force required to push down a pair of steel strings compared to a single violin string is significantly higher, and it behooves you to reduce that muscle/joint shock as much as possible.

  5. #5
    Pataphysician Joe Bartl's Avatar
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    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    Indeed, Phil.Woodhull, I was just in communication with a violinist who, like the OP, has become interested in the mandolin. I mentioned to him that I am a mandolinist who has just begun violin lessons. Of all the advice he could have proffered, the only thing he mentioned to me was exactly what you just said: be aware that the finger pressure needed on a violin is much lighter than what, he's discovered, is needed on a fretted mandolin. -- Joe

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    I think going from violin to mandolin is much easier than going the other way. I recommend a bowl back for classical playing. To my ear arch tops, whether oval hole or f hole, have too much depth, at the expense of scintillating brilliance.

    The exception might be the Lyon and Healy model A. The one I have sounds more like a bowl than any I have played.

    Yes the arch top oval hole and f hole's that Gibson made were originally made for classical music. Yes. But bluegrass changed everything. First of all the bluegrass sound is so iconic that to my ear it sticks out when I hear it in other contexts. Secondly, the makers of archtops these days are all trying to emulate that deep rich creamy bluegrass sound. They do a great job. Unfortunately that is not the sound to chase if you are not playing bluegrass or grassy styles.
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    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    I cannot recommend Eastman oval hole mandolins. While their f-hole instruments are generally good values, their oval-hole instruments are quite weak.

  8. #8

    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    I switched from violin to mandolin about 30 years ago. I started off with a Flatiron flat top, which I still own and love, but after about 5 years I switched to an Eastman 615 f-style. I discovered that although Eastman isn't nearly as mellow as the Flatiron it is a much more playable instrument. I also discovered that with enough practice there is no reason why you can't play good sounding classical music on an f-style. After all, if an f-style is good enough for Chris Thile to play Bach, then it's good enough for me.
    Flatiron 2MW
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    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    I’ve heard Mike Marshall and Katerina play classical duets, she on her bowl back and he on an f style. The f certainly works well for him.
    Silverangel A
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  10. #10
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    About 12 years ago I took up mandolin with a 30+ year background on violin (classical and bluegrass) and guitar. Quite honestly, when I picked up a borrowed mandolin those old bluegrass fiddle tunes I'd learned at 13 just fell out of that cheapo mando. I was able to immediately play tunes on it.

    Fretting a high tension dual course steel stringed mando is a lot more work than on violin or guitar. My best advice is don't buy a cheap MSO for your first mandolin. Buy a decent quality used A style.

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    I am reposting this item I have already posted on the thread on the Celtic group. There seem to be two threads started by LilHobbit going at the same time on this topic, so here it is in case the originator does not look at the other thread:

    I would agree that for Scottish or other Celtic music the round hole or oval hole instrument is maybe preferable, though coming from a classical violin background you might also want to try a bowlback mandolin as it can feel closer to the violin in width for your left hand fingering. I play mainly Scottish music, much of it coming from the bagpipe tradition, but also a lot from the fiddle repertoire and I began learning fiddle a few years ago hoping to be able to play slow airs. My progress on fiddle has not been especially good, I have to say, and things I have found might be of interest to you.

    I play guitar and mandolin family instruments and build them too, and I found the fiddle very narrow at the nut end when I started playing it. I have a playing colleague who has a lovely Gibson A4 from 1918 (ish) and I find that a bit narrow too! My own mandolins have a nut width of 34mm which I find more comfortable with my fairly big fingers, and I also use a slightly longer scale length. Generally I use D'Addario strings, bronze or phosphor-bronze, with a top E of .010 or .011.

    You will find it interesting working on pairs of strings rather than single, and the feel of the strings and string tension will feel different from your violin. Learning to pick both strings can take a wee bit of practice and you need to work on this right from the start, with both up and down strokes of your pick. Bowing the fiddle is still a bit of a mystery to me, in spite of good teaching in the workshops I have attended, as is the actual holding and positioning of the instrument on the shoulder. When I sit with my fiddle on my knee and pluck the strings I can play tunes with good intonation, but put the fiddle up to the shoulder and I lose my orientation! I am sure it is mainly down to the fact that I have played instruments in the seated position for so long that bringing one up to shoulder height is a bit alien!

    You will find that starting to use a pick will be quite a learning curve and again, try out different picks both in shape and in thickness. Try not to grip it too tightly and keep both hands relaxed as much as you can, but again, as a violinist, you will be well aware of relaxing as you play. Different players will advocate different pick choices, but at least picks are cheap so you can afford to try out a good selection. I favour ones such as the Dunlop Ultex triangular picks, and about 0.73mm or 0.80mm in thickness.

    Above all, have fun with your new instrument and maybe post something for us to listen to at some point soon.
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    I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. - Eric Morecambe

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  12. #12
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    If money were no object and you had been playing mandolin for awhile I would also suggest a vintage Lyon & Healy mandolin. However, it looks like the OP is considering Eastman mandolins in the under $1000 range. First of all you can play classical music on any mandolin. Stay within your budget and get a decent instrument that is well set up. If you get seriously into it you can explore other tonal options and upgrade then.

    Vintage Lyon & Healy mandolins are lovely instruments but more than what I assume is your budget. If you find one that you can afford then buy it hopefuly from a pro dealer.

    I would not recommend any bowlbacks either—I love them and have played them for years but unless you have tried one out there are some techniques that complicate playing that you have to work out. Also, for bowlbacks you will likely end up with a vintage one and they may or may not be set up correctly or mighty have some issues. I am not sure where you are located but in North America it is generally difficult to find luthiers willing to work on these or even knowledgeable to do so. It might be easier in Europe but not that much easier.

    During these times it is even more difficult to try out mandolins so find something decent and start with standard strings. I would consider buying from one of the dealers on this site. They all pretty much include and expert setup with your purchase and can advise you on strings, picks, case, etc.

    Good luck.
    Jim

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  13. #13

    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    Lots has been said that I would have also said, so I don't feel obliged to say it again. I will say that appropriate strings and gauges are a complex interaction of your taste in tone and feel and whatever works on whatever instrument you ultimately select. (Doing no damage should be a concern for diverse types of vintage instruments if you ever go that route.) Sure, seek input on the preferences of others, but know that preferences are subjective.

    I love Neapolitan-type mandolins (or bowlbacks in general) in classical context. It's how I learned mandolin after years of classical guitar. However, Jim's point is valid. Also however, if you've never applied a plectrum to a string held near to your abdomen (as apposed to bowed on the shoulder), the learning curve to do so on a bowlback-type mandolin might not be substantially steeper than on an archtop.

    Finally, don't neglect the mandolin's dedicated "classical" repertoire. There are reams of the stuff dating from the mid-1700s through present and spanning all skill levels. Little suits the sound of the mandolin as well as music written to deliberately, idiomatically exploit the sounds and techniques associated with mandolin.

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    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by LilHobbit View Post
    Hello all! I'm a violinist of about 30 years and have fallen in love with mandolin. I'm looking at getting my first mandolin and am looking for pointers on instrument and strings. After doing some searching, I'm leaning towards an Eastman mandolin A style. For classical playing, would you recommend F hole or Oval hole? I'm debating between 300 and 500 series.

    For those that play Bach cello suites on mandolin, is there anything different I would need to set the mandolin up? Or simply transpose the cello score up an octave? Help!!

    Lastly, what strings do you recommend for classical playing?

    Thank you!!!
    I am also a violin player switching to mandolin. I had asked questions on this forum and was looking for an A style, oval hole but loved the Eastman MD505CC. It is a teardrop style with a burnished looking 'violin' finish but has "f holes". It sounds amazing, and the volume will hold up well in orchestra. I bought it from the Mandolin Store in TN. Good luck!

  16. #15
    Still Picking and Sawing Jack Roberts's Avatar
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    Default Re: From Violin to Mandolin - Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by LilHobbit View Post
    .....
    For those that play Bach cello suites on mandolin, is there anything different I would need to set the mandolin up? Or simply transpose the cello score up an octave? Help!!

    Lastly, what strings do you recommend for classical playing?

    Thank you!!!
    I play Bach’s Cello suites on Mandolin. I use the violin notation that is transposed up an octave plus a fifth.

    I play violin as well.

    I play mandolin mostly on a teen’s oval hole Gibson A-1, and I think that is great for Bach, but some people will prefer bowl backs but to my ear bowl backs are better for ensemble playing and carved tops are better for solo playing. But I am completely deaf in one ear, so my hearing is compromised and I understand why others may not experience sound the way I do.

    The oval holed carved tops mandolins work well for me. Gryphon has a beautiful Collings MF-O for sale in the classified, and I just love the way the oval holed MFs sound when playing Bach. You sound like you want to spend less, but remember, over the years a good mandolin is much cheaper than a fair violin.

    You’ll have to try different strings. I liked the Thomastic Infeld Mittels, but I go with D’Addarios now. The EFW74s are a good set to start with and then see if you want something heavier or lighter. The really good thing about mandolin is the strings are MUCH easier on the wallet than violin strings (and picks are cheaper than bows, too. My friend has spent more on one bow than I have on all three oval holed Gibson mandolins I have owned.)
    Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
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