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Thread: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

  1. #1
    Harpua19
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    Default Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    A family friend builds electric guitars and basses and has offered to build me an electric mandolin. They said to let them know what wood variety. Any recommendations for this endeavor? I generally prefer a natural wood look over say a Candy Apple Red, but aside from that am unfamiliar with wood choice in electric instruments.

    Also, I was thinking for an electric, an octave may be a versatile tool to have in the collection. Would there be a benefit to going with an octave over a standard mandolin size? Any increase in build difficulty?

    I donít want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but given the option to give him a breath mint first...That said, any suggestions/advice would be appreciated.

  2. #2
    Hands of Pot Metal
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    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    An octave mandolin would play and sound more like an electric guitar, so it depends on the genre(s) you want to play. The Bigsby electric mandolins I believe were all maple, but you could look at the Almuse site for a variety, along with Ryder and Jerman mandos. Pickups are a choice, number and type, ie, single coil and hum bucker. Location is also a variable. So is solid versus hollow/chambered a consideration. Number of strings and scale length too.

    Any electric player you want to sound like? That might be a good guide as far as instrument direction. Emando.com shows a lot of variety to get ideas.

    Good luck.
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  4. #3
    Harpua19
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    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    Thanks, Bill! I'll check out those builders.

    I'm not familiar with too many electric players. However, I am a fan of Michael Kang from The String Cheese Incident. He plays a 5 string octave; however, I'm not sure how well I'll adjust to an extra string!

  5. #4

    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    IMO, I'd go with a 5 string mandolin (not octave).

    As for woods, have him build it out of what you'd have an electric guitar built of. Ash body, maple neck. Cap it with some gorgeous maple and do a dyed finish for a great look. A neck through design is a little easier with a mando, so that might be a nice option.
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    Mandogenerator Mike Black's Avatar
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    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    If you're going electric, I'd vote for a 4 sting tenor/octave mandolin. With no more than a 23" scale length and no less than 21.5"

    As for woods... Alder is a very common wood to use for electrics. So is Ash and Mahogany. I used poplar on the Flying V below, and Mahogany on the SG, and a mix of Poplar back and Maple top for the simi-hollow pictured in the center.

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    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    I am a bit of a contrarian here. I think part of the sound of a mandolin is the double strings. I do like the idea of an octave simply because they aren't as common. It wouldn't be something you could just find. Wood makes way less difference in a solid body electric than in an acoustic. Go with what you like the look of.

  9. #7

    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nevin View Post
    I am a bit of a contrarian here. I think part of the sound of a mandolin is the double strings.
    It does seem to me that a 4 string mandolin is veering towards ukulele turf... I suppose the contrary argument is that the extra strings can be simulated with electronics, but I spent the money on a full set of tuners on the one I'm making...

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    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    IMHO electric mandos have much more sustain than any type of acoustic mandolin. I find the double strings to be a bit overkill. I also think the tuning in fifths keeps one a good distance from ®ukulele" turf.

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    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    Quote Originally Posted by dave vann View Post
    IMHO electric mandos have much more sustain than any type of acoustic mandolin. I find the double strings to be a bit overkill. I also think the tuning in fifths keeps one a good distance from ®ukulele" turf.
    I never thought of the double strings increasing sustain, and don't see how they would. They do increase volume.

  13. #10

    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    @Dave. The physics agrees with you about sustain. With a rigid body, virtually no energy from the strings is lost making the mandolin top vibrate, but the double strings are doing a much more complicated job, timewise which translates to a different sound. Now that audio spectrum analysers are just apps, we could easily look at the details if we wanted. A piano, for example, with triple strings for (most) notes, sounds completely different than one with single strings. I know this because a relative built a high-quality transportable piano with single strings - hoping zeppelins were coming back, or trains - and the sound was very clear, flutelike if you will because strings were not having a conversation with each other. Also, on an electric, the signal that comes out relates to motion at a specified location, or a few locations, but not what appears at an acoustic bridge, let alone how that transmits to the air.

  14. #11
    Registered User DogHouseMando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    First off, super excited for you to embark on selecting an electric mandolin, especially one that is custom made! Second, I want to offer some observations I've had on the electric mandolin journey.

    The first thing to think about with getting an electric mandolin (whether it's 8 strings, 4 string, 5 string, tenor, octave, or whatever), is thinking about what kind of music (or voice) you want with this instrument. I began the electric mandolin journey as a fan of Michael Kang and SCI, loving that electric jam band sound. I then got into Jamie Masefield in Jazz Mandolin Project and Michael Lampert. My first electric mandolin was a 4-string Dillion (semi-hollow mahogany with a single coil pickup). I started by playing as I would a with normal 8 string setup. I found it was not at all the same for me, because it's a completely different animal. Eventually I got used to the electric feel and started trying to use it as a lead instrument, but the single coil pickup wasn't enough to achieve the voicing I was looking for.

    My second electric mandolin is a Schwab 5-string (solid ash body with two bartolini hum buckers and tone selectors). Again, totally different instruments with different voice and feel. The Schwab is basically a mini-telecaster tuned as a five string mandolin CGADE. This thing is significantly different in size and weight from the Dillion. The Dillion is almost the same scale length as most of my acoustic mandolins (13.875" scale). The Schwab is larger (14.5" scale) so it was more of a workout for chords at first. And the additional string and hardware made it feel like a bucking bronco: if I didn't learn to work with it, it would literally get away from me and I'd lose myself in practice and gigs wherever I was in a scale, chords, whatever. I had to take the time to really get to know the setup on that instrument before I could jump all in. I have learned to not play it exactly like an acoustic mandolin. The Schwab is now my prime electric instrument. I won't even play an electric guitar anymore, because I've gotten accustomed to the Schwab feel and tone.

    The point I am trying to make is, the biggest hurdles with electric mandolins, in my experience anyway, was finding what voice I wanted when playing these electric instruments. For me, they're not really mandolins: they are essentially electric lead instruments with mandolin tuning, but not mandolins exclusively in a traditional sense. That's just me. I'm certain there are infinite ways of playing these instruments. I highly recommend checking out resources like Emando.com and read up on the electric mandolin forum section of the cafe. MrMando is the owner of Emando.com and is super helpful.

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  15. #12

    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    I have built a 4-string electric mandolin and a 5-string electric octave. While I enjoy the 4-string, to me, it's limited by its trebliness, and it's been mostly a wall hanger. The 5-string octave, however, is probably my favorite instrument. That said, it sounds a lot like an electric guitar.



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  17. #13

    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    My experience with electric mandolin started nearly 30 years ago. A band I was watching at a local pup used one on a couple of songs. I was hooked, but couldn’t find one to buy. I bought an acoustic and tried on and off (work wife kids etc in between) to learn to play it. Roll on twenty years and I decided to build myself a n electric mandolin. I had some very old mahogany and some ash planks. The result was a five string octave with a 20” scale. It sounds like a guitar with the advantage I can use chords I already know well quite a few of them. The next one was a four string with 13 5/8” scale walnut and the leftover mahogany and ash neck. The nut ended up too wide (seemed like a good idea at the time) my daughter uses it as a ukulele. I liked the tone lipstick pickup in the neck and humbucker in the bridge.
    However I went down a different road with my recent build. Poplar back and ash top with a very nice piece of sycamore for the neck. The biggest change was to pickup position. I went for 19 frets to get more room not quite Bigsbys 17 frets (maybe next time). Along with a piezo in the bridge I have the tone I was after. An eight string 13 5/8” scale two point design sounds like a mandolin but without the feedback of an acoustic.
    You can achieve either a guitar or mandolin sound standard scale or octave. The thing is you want to have a clear idea of what sound you want. I play my five string every so often but it is the eight string that is beside my chair as I write this.

  18. #14
    Registered User mandrian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    Quote Originally Posted by Magnus Geijer View Post
    I have built a 4-string electric mandolin and a 5-string electric octave. While I enjoy the 4-string, to me, it's limited by its trebliness, and it's been mostly a wall hanger. The 5-string octave, however, is probably my favorite instrument. That said, it sounds a lot like an electric guitar.


    Hi Magnus,

    That’s the first time I’ve been aware of hearing a 5 string octave. Thought that it sounded excellent. Would be interested to see the 4 string in action, if you have a similar video. Thanks for the post.

    Regards,

  19. #15
    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Electric Mandolin Build Help?

    As you may know dialing in the high Estring with the pick up can be an issue, getting that right can make or break a four string electric mandolin IMO
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

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