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Thread: Violinist to Mandolin Questions

  1. #1

    Default Violinist 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 playing of Celtic, Folk, Scottish music would you recommend F hole or Oval hole? I'm debating between 300 and 500 series.

    I'm classically trained on violin but have always wanted to learn Celtic/Scottish music and learning on both violin and mandolin at the same time will definitely be interesting. I am going to learn classical playing on mandolin as well so. I want an instrument that will allow me to play both styles with good tone
    Lastly, what strings do you recommend for playing Cektic and Folk with?

    Thank you!!!

  2. #2
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Georgetown, TX

    Default Re: Violinist to Mandolin Questions

    Do you have a mandolinist or two whose sound you really like? That could help you know what type of mandolin sound you prefer. The sound difference between and oval and f hole is pretty noticeable, so I would listen to some high-quality recorded examples to see what sound you like. In my opinion you can play any style on either, but there are some genre conventions that will likely inform the advice some people give you.

    Same goes for strings and picks; tons of options and different opinions, it just depends on what sound you want. I use D'Addario strings (again, lots of options even within the brand) and play an F-hole mandolin for a variety of styles, because that is what I like. Some people would advise me to get a bowlback or different instrument to play classical, some will like an oval hole better for folk, etc. But that is the sound I like.

    I'm not a violinist so I can't say for certain, but for an American F or oval hole mandolin I would think you might prefer standard nut width (1 1/8" generally) rather than a "wide nut" (1 3/16" generally), since you are used to a smaller neck. The scale of these mandolins is still bigger in general, but I would think that would help keep one of the differences from being as big as it can be. Here is a basically new Eastman in the classifieds for a decent price, if you are stateside. They are good mandolins.
    "Yeah, well, you know, thatís just, like, your opinion, man."

  3. #3
    Registered User Paul Brett's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Kilkenny, Ireland.

    Default Re: Violinist to Mandolin Questions

    I have an Eastman MD605 (f hole A stye) and a Jimmy Moon A2 (oval hole A style). The Eastman is a beautiful instrument to play with a great balance and tone across the strings and up the fretboard. The Moon has deeper lows but has a very definite ring around the higher range. I'm not sure how to describe the difference but the Moon has a sound that my Irish Trad playing friends prefer while I've a few friends who are into bluegrass and they all prefer the Eastman. While saying this I don't believe having either one stops you from playing any genre of music. Mike Marshall Plays classical music on an F5 not a bowl back. At one stage the Irish accordion play Sharon Shannon had a mandolin player in her group who played an F5.

    I currently gig with the Eastman and do any acoustic sessions with the Moon mostly because the I prefer the pickup sound from the Eastman (I got my A2 before Jimmy started putting K&K pickups in them as standard, I put a McIntyre in mine) but think the Moon rings louder in noisy sessions, I do like the sound from the Moon while playing with my fiddle player. While the Moon is definitely louder I've also had a cheap F which was the loudest Mando I've ever owned, I think this changes from instrument to instrument.

    The Moon fretboard joins the neck at the 12th fret while the Eastman joins at the 14th giving the Eastman the impression of having more room. (not that I play that much around the 12th fret!)

    In Ireland, the Moon would cost you new about €1,300 and the Eastman €1,100. Can't say that I would pick one over the other they both fill a specific role for me.

    here's the Eastman

    here's the Moon

  4. #4
    Benjamin Gieseke flymolo0's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2011

    Default Re: Violinist to Mandolin Questions

    Hello! Welcome to the Cafe, and to mandolin! I also started out playing classical violin and took up mandolin along the way, I think you'll enjoy the experience!

    Regarding your questions:

    Quote Originally Posted by LilHobbit View Post
    For playing of Celtic, Folk, Scottish music would you recommend F hole or Oval hole?

    Lastly, what strings do you recommend for playing Cektic and Folk with?
    While you absolutely should try a couple of instruments and pick the one that sounds best to you, I think the "classic" answer regarding f vs. oval hole is that for classical/celtic/folk, most people prefer the oval hole sound. It tends to be warmer with more low end content, though the oval holes tend not to project as much (I'm using "tend" here as there are always exceptions). I own both an oval hole and an f-hole mandolin, and while the f-hole is my go to instrument for most applications, if I was playing Celtic music the majority of the time I would probably lean on the oval hole (see a player like Marla Fibish for an example).

    As far as strings, I think this depends more on the context where you will be playing. Phosphor bronze strings will generally be brighter, so might be better suited for playing in a group where you need to cut through, such as at a jam. If you are going to be playing classical music, most classical players use flatwound strings, which are generally warmer sounding, though some people find their sound a bit dull (they also tend to last longer than uncoated bronze strings). I personally use flatwounds, either D'addario or Thomastik, on both instruments. Most of my playing is done in a mandolin orchestra where both the musical selection and the need to blend in with my section make a warmer sound more logical.

    Hopefully this helps! Best of luck!
    Summit F-200X (#133)
    1919 Gibson A-2
    Eastwood Mandocaster

  5. #5
    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Ardnadam, Argyll, Scotland

    Default Re: Violinist to Mandolin Questions

    Welcome to the Cafe, the best place to be for anything mandolin related.

    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.
    I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. - Eric Morecambe

  6. #6
    Registered User DougC's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Minneapolis, MN
    Blog Entries

    Default Re: Violinist to Mandolin Questions

    I play violin as well as mandolin. As you know, good tone from an instrument is largely a matter of cost. (AND your abilities). Mandolin Cafe has an enormous amount of information about the choice of instruments and strings.
    As for switching instruments, it helps to have played guitar. Mandolins are limited in their ability to play ornaments done on fiddle. However there is a wonderful percussive ability in mandolin playing that you can't get with a violin.
    Learn how to search Mandolin Cafe and you'll be richly rewarded.

    I play Irish music and classical music on a Collings MT mandolin with D'Addario EFW74 strings.
    Decipit exemplar vitiis imitabile

  7. #7

    Default Re: Violinist to Mandolin Questions

    As a fiddle/cellist who moved to mando, with mandocello first, I will tell you that the LH will be fine, but get a method and really work on your picking technique! I didn't for a long time and it really held me up. I'm a huge believer in getting an older or at least used instrument so that you know what sound you are getting right away. I have a Washburn that is a copy of those wonderful Lyon & Healys; couldn't afford the real thing, but mine plays like a dream! Best wishes!
    "There are two refuges from the miseries of life--music and cats" Albert Schweitzer

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