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Thread: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

  1. #1
    Registered User Jake Biddix's Avatar
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    Default When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    I am curious to those who play more than just mandolin when they realized that the mandolin was their primary instrument.

    I first started on bass in the 80s, then acoustic guitar in the 90s. My brother introduced me to mandolin in the mid-2000s. About the same time he introduced me to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" album. I always have loved acoustic music, but this seemed to be home base.

    I'd say that maybe 2009-2010 is when I really decided that the mandolin is where I wanted to focus my efforts when it comes to music.

    I really love bass and guitar, but mandolin has a unique grasp on me. I am told that people visualize music theory on the piano even though they play another primary instrument. I never understood music theory as well as when I applied it to the mandolin.

    Sorry for the long post, just was on my mind. Would love to hear from other folks in similar situations.
    Jake B.
    Charleston, SC

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    Wow. I prefer playing mandolin, still not very good, but when playing with others that’s what I prefer. Solo, there are still numerous vocal tunes where I need to play guitar. When? I’d say that when I really fell in love with the mandolin, then from that point I have wanted it to be my primary instrument. Took a good while to get to the point that I would feel comfortable playing it as a side man, but I wanted that long before I began doing it. Still working on making it my primary for solo performance.
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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    When I was learning guitar, my best friend from HS who was teaching me had an old mandolin that was a mess, but still playable. I was fascinated by trying to play it, but did not pursue it. Then I started hearing mandolins in popular tunes from time to time for years. The sound would jump out at me. So I think it was always meant to be my main instrument, but I was like, "No, that's just too weird." Nobody else I knew played one and music shops near me hardly carried them.

    Years later, I wound up in a church music ensemble with four six sting guitarists, which was ridiculous. I got a bonus at work, this was back in the olden days when that still happened, and I called around to music stores to see who even had a mandolin. I bought a cheapo laminated A style from Korea and Jack Tottle's mandolin book.

    The mando was a POS, but I still loved playing it. Within a year, it had become my main instrument and I traded the cheapo off on an Alvarez A-800, which was my sole mandolin for 10 years. That was almost 30 years ago. I am glad there are no recordings of me back then, though. I probably sounded so bad, I would have given it up right away.

    I have come a long way, but I am still working out the kinks. I still own one guitar, but I rarely play it.

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    Registered User Jake Biddix's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    Mark, I understand where you are coming from with the vocal accompaniment angle. I struggle with that as well. I don't have the chops to do a solo gig with only a mandolin. There is always a guitar there as well. I've dabbled in octave mandolin, but it isn't quite the same.
    Jake B.
    Charleston, SC

  5. #5
    Registered User Cobalt's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    At the age of about 8 or 9 I suppose. I'd previously tried a banjo-mandolin, a rather raucous-sounding beast. Then late at night after I'd gone to sleep, my father came home from a social evening where he'd bought a second-hand mandolin for me, from a friend. I woke up, tried out the wooden mandolin, admired its sound and its appearance. Its sound was so sweet to my ears, I wanted to play it all night. I don't think there was any turning back after that.

    Mandolin has been pretty much a constant companion since then. Just about anywhere I've travelled, a mandolin has always gone with me. This includes perhaps especially times when work or education has meant moving away from home.

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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    When I included my mexico made Stratocaster and my marshall amp in a trade for my first “real” mandolin, a Gibson A9 back in ‘03 or thereabouts
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

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    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    I think I made that decision before I knew what a decision was. We had one hanging on the wall, that's all I wanted to do, and was play'n Twinkle Twinkle in 1961 at 5 1/2..

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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    Great question. Terrific responses.

    I picked it up around 2005. Around 2008 I realised I could play far more sophisticated music on mandolin than my first love, guitar. Like others, I still love the guitar, but the mandolin is organised and efficient.

    I realised I think when I could play Sam bush tunes, specifically sailing shoes. I then had lessons with mike Compton. I also worked through rich del grosso’s blues book, Ted Eschliman’s getting into jazz mandolin, and mandolin for dummies. I feel fairly competent on mandolin. And it’s my go to when I don’t know what to take. So around 2015 or so.
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    Registered User Bunnyf's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    Wow. I prefer playing mandolin, still not very good, but when playing with others that’s what I prefer. Solo, there are still numerous vocal tunes where I need to play guitar. When? I’d say that when I really fell in love with the mandolin, then from that point I have wanted it to be my primary instrument. Took a good while to get to the point that I would feel comfortable playing it as a side man, but I wanted that long before I began doing it. Still working on making it my primary for solo performance.
    This is me. I dove in and it became my primary instrument after about a year and I prefer it any time I’m playing with others. For solo performances though, I still pick up a guitar. I think it accompanies my voice better and I also need to get better on mandolin before it would work for me performing solo.

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    Never. Mandolin, guitar, bass, bouzouki, etc, all are equal in my eyes and hands.

    But I do love the mandolin.

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    Registered User Carl Robin's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    I realized octave mandolin had become my primary instrument after getting one, and getting used to the fingering on a longer neck. Then I took up the Irish tenor banjo to play in Irish sessions. The fingering is the same, but if I'm not trying to be heard over other loud instruments, the expressive voice of the o-mandolin has become consistently my first choice for the past 5 years or so.

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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    A little more than a year ago I was just about to buy a paraglider and my daughter asked me why I’d stopped playing the Rogue mandolin we have. I told her why.
    -Well why don’t you get a really nice one then? Was the reply.
    So I bought an Ashbury Octave mandolin, love at first sight. Had a lot of hard work and a steep learning curve on the long fretboard, but it paid off, now I’m really happy with it.
    This is the instrument for me, though I occasionally look at big bodied mandolas...

    I had played a lot of accompaniment guitar before this and for me at least, it was important to keep focusing on the same instrument, tuned in fifths, and build up a solid tangible repertoire.

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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    It actually was by default. In the mid 70's I joined a band with three guitar players, and guess what I played? Well, I bought a cheapo mandolin and have been hooked ever since. No regrets.

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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    No matter how many times I swap them off for other things, I'm accepting that electric guitar has always been and always will be my main instrument. I have a 60's Gibson Southern Jumbo that I love, but mandolin is totally my main acoustic instrument. No rhyme or reason, I'm just happiest when I'm holding one of my Strats, a Les Paul Standard, or my Doyle Lawson F-5.

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    Registered User Tom Hart's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    With the sad realization I was never going to be a rock star, sold my Gibson ES 330, and focused on the instrument I had loved since the 1980s.
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    Registered User Jake Biddix's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    Thanks all for the responses. My favorite part of any super hero movie is the origin story, so these are very fun to read. I have played bass and guitar in bands throughout my life, but have never played mandolin in a band! My brother gave me his old Fender A style mandolin back in 2007-2008 and I was figuring out melodies on it within a couple of hours (simple ones). That motivated me so much more than any of my guitar or bass playing. To this day when I am learning a new fiddle tune, i'll either work on it by ear or read the notation using the mandolin and then eventually transfer it to guitar. Again, thanks all!
    Jake B.
    Charleston, SC

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    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    Quote Originally Posted by dang View Post
    When I included my mexico made Stratocaster and my marshall amp in a trade for my first “real” mandolin, a Gibson A9 back in ‘03 or thereabouts
    I also had a MIM Stratocaster that I'd had for years. It was setup/modded to the point of being a pretty amazing instrument. I convinced myself around 2006/7 that I'd not play it anymore and sold it to fund the new mandolin passion. I still have the mandolin but can't tell you how much I regret letting go of that Strat. Mandolin became my main instrument for about ten years, though I really never got very good at it. I still play but there's room in my life for guitars too (I've moved on from Strats and now prefer Teles, though.)
    ...

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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    Probably when i stopped figuring out tunes on an imaginary flute and started figuring them out on an imaginary mandolin.

    I learned flute as an elementary school kid and played it through high school, so I probably played flute for eight years. so when i had a tune stuck in my head, i would play it with in my head and move my fingers as if they were on a flute; I still occasionally do that, but I haven't actually picked up a flute for any length of time for five or six years and the last time I picked it up, I could still read music and play it, but I had no breath control.

    I picked up mandolin in college and played it (along with recorder) for maybe three or four years, then put it away for 20 years or so (as one does) and then picked it up again probably 20 years ago. For a while, I played mostly recorder with my sister and friends (we did a lot of baroque duets and trios) but when I went back to mandolin full time, about 16 years ago, that's the instrument I play pretty regularly. At some point, I realized that I was picking out tunes in my head on an imaginary fretboard so i guess you can say mandolin became my primary instrument about a decade ago.
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    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    Guitars, pianos, and cellos are too big for our retirement life style.
    We live in our RV and travel about 260 days per year and spend only about 100 days per year at home. Musical gear and instruments take up a lot of precious storage space.
    No problem though as I have become totally enamored with the mandolin/mandola.
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    I picked up the mandolin a few months ago, and I am loving it. I play guitar, dobro, bass, and fiddle as well. It hasn't become my primary instrument yet, but ask me again in a few more months.

  25. #21
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    I started violin at 10 years old. Started bluegrass fiddle, electric bass and acoustic guitar at 13. I became more than competent at these over the years.

    I didn't start mandolin till I was in my late 40's. The violin and guitar background really helped. I started playing around town and discovered I was the only mandolin player in my area willing to go beyond bluegrass. I started sitting in with bands and gigging.

    I saw that I could be one of a few 1000 guitar pickers trying to get noticed in the music scene, OR I could be one of a handful of mandolin pickers and the only mandola/octave mandolin/mandocello player performing in the area.

    I still play other instruments regularly and have continued to improve on all of them over the past 12 years. But mandolin will always be my main instrument.

  26. #22

    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    I decided when I bought my mandolin and started to play it. I don't really play anything else. I have a guitar and a banjo and a saz, but I will pick them up and mess with them from time to time, but I only really play mandolin.

  27. #23
    Registered User Drew Egerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    I started on guitar at age 16 in 2001. When I went to college, a friend had a cheapo mandolin and let me borrow it for the weekend. I was hooked right away!
    I still play some guitar but from that point on mandolin has been my #1.

    I remember foolishly thinking there must only be a handful of decent mandolin players out there, so I had better odds on mandolin. I could only name Doyle, Ricky and a couple of others at that point
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    I was a Fiddle/Violin player for over 30 years and had to retire because of a shoulder injury. Mandolin was an easy crossover because the fingering and tuning is the same and is much more ergonomic to play.

  29. #25
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: When did you realize mandolin was your primary instrument?

    I started playing mandolin when I found a 'teens Gibson A-1 in my late grandfather's attic. I got "serious" when my brother, a friend and I wanted to form a bluegrass band, and I was the one who owned the mandolin. This was, unbelievably, 50 years ago this year.

    But -- I wouldn't call it my "primary instrument." I do a bunch of solo gigs (when there's no coronavirus around) with banjo, guitar, ukulele and harmonica. No mandolin. I play mandolin -- plus mandola and octave mandolin -- in groups that do Celtic and klezmer music, and I always drag mandolin or mandola to folk club sing-arounds, jams, whatever. I've done recording sessions with mandolin, mandola, octave mandolin and mandocello. And, now that I've a mando-bass, I've played that with our little mandolin orchestra. But I don't consider myself primarily a mandolinist -- just a versatile, if not virtuosic, folk musician.

    I do, however, write more about mandolin (here) than any other instrument.
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