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Thread: 5 string in jazz combo question

  1. #1

    Default 5 string in jazz combo question

    Having never played a 5 string electric, I'd love to hear some opinions on how well a 5 string might work in a jazz combo or even big band scenario in place of the guitar. It seems it would have the enough of the range to cover the space. Guys like Tiny Moore didn't seem to spend much time down low, but then he had a guitar covering that too. I'm thinking specifically about the rhythm more so than the lead. Seems like it could be a good compromise.

    Thanks for any thoughts.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    5 string mandos are way too cool just to take over rhythm from a guitar.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Sorry, I'm not saying exclusively rhythm, but my question is really geared to how well it accomplishes the task in a rhythm section instead of the electric guitar.

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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    I do enjoy having piano in the group, but I have spent a couple of years in a jazz workshop group acting as the guitar and even piano, using my electric 10-string. Hamilton de Holanda was touring with a trio, of 10-string acoustic, upright bass, and drums. They made a big sound without piano or guitar.

    The 5- or 10- string occupies pretty much the same range as guitar or piano comping and soloing. Of course it can do the job, only some effort is needed to find appropriate voicings. Generally the goal is close intervals, but mainly they should be pitched in the correct octave, not up high. John Scofield's jazz guitar playing is instructive on how to use a couple of notes to convey harmony.
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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Quote Originally Posted by GalenB View Post
    Sorry, I'm not saying exclusively rhythm, but my question is really geared to how well it accomplishes the task in a rhythm section instead of the electric guitar.
    The effect will be similar if you play chordal rhythm on the mandolin in the appropriate swinging style, but the low C of the 5 course mandolin will not get to as low a range as the guitar.

    Many swing, jazz and big-band guitar players play chords voiced on the 6th, 4th and 3rd strings, and as such does go below the C string range of your mandolin.

    So other than that, and the fact that the voicings on 5ths tuned instruments are not the same as guitar tuning chords, you should be successful.

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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Speaking solely for myself Ė ya, it works, it does the job, with the bonus of adding flavours ('cuz of the unique voicings compared to the guitar's) that are seldom heard.

    If you already know your seventh chords on (GDAE) mandolin, it's some work but not insane to start recognizing the new chords down a fifth, to know that "ya, that Cmaj7 shape is now an Fmaj7" etc. Like almost everything else in music, it just takes practice.

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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Bevan View Post
    If you already know your seventh chords on (GDAE) mandolin, it's some work but not insane to start recognizing the new chords down a fifth, to know that "ya, that Cmaj7 shape is now an Fmaj7" etc. Like almost everything else in music, it just takes practice.
    And minor 7ths and 7b5's etc....great point though! Mandolin family instruments all share easily moveable chord shapes.

    And to include voice leading, as you say, practice.

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    Registered User Martin Ohrt's Avatar
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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    5 string mandos are way too cool just to take over rhythm from a guitar.
    Of course that's true

    Seriously, in my opinion a 5 string mandolin would already be better suited for this role than a 4 string. But, as DavidKOS mentioned, the low C string is still relatively high compared to a guitar. So the "best" option would be an octave mando, which covers roughly the same tonal range as a guitar.
    I've been succesfully using an 5 string octave (GDAEB) as a "guitar" in a standard jazz combo for some years now, and I still think that this is the best option if you don't want to learn the guitar. However, the high B string is only very seldomly used...

    There's only one thing that really distinguishes an electric octave from an electric guitar: Due to the fifths tuning the intervals in your chords are quite wide, whereas a guitar produces a "tighter", "more dense" or "bigger" sound. That's also the reason why I prefer the plectrum banjo (CGBD) over the tenor banjo (CGDA).
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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    For me, it's a great divide.
    Different tools for different jobs.
    Guitar, with closed chords, for rhythm.
    5 string emando, in consistent 5ths, for lead.
    5 string, for extended range, solid body U-BASS for bass.
    Last edited by Jacob; Aug-19-2020 at 12:13am.

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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob View Post
    For me, it's a great divide.
    Different tools for different jobs.
    Guitar, with closed chords, for rhythm.
    5 string emando, in consistent 5ths, for lead.
    5 string, for extended range, solid body U-BASS for bass.
    True, given that you can play the guitar... If you're a mandolin player a "make-believe-guitar" is the best option. And honestly, the audience can never distinguish the sound of an electric OM from that of an electric guitar.
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  16. #11

    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Thanks for the replies all around. Good stuff to think about. Martin, the close chord intervals of the guitar makes a lot of sense.

    The question is really for my teenage daughter. We both play mandolin and guitar, and she plays piano too. She's kicking around guitar or emando in her school jazz band this year. I think the band director is up with either, and as it's a small district and they've had to do without a guitar player in the past, and to gain a good lead player would be a benefit. It'd be a good opportunity for her to work on her jazz chops on the mando, and learn some knew technique. Long term I think she'd be able to (and should) get up to speed on guitar, but her lead playing and improv on the mando is far superior. And she's been jonesing for an electric for awhile.

    Thanks again.

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    Registered User Martin Ohrt's Avatar
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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Well, in THAT case, I'd say: Go for the mando! Maybe they have a piano player? In that case it's not so important that the string instrument plays big, close chords.

    If she's seen as a lead player, the texture of her chords is less important - because , being horns, most lead players in jazz bands can't play chords at all! Then it's already cool that she would be a lead player that occasionally does some backing. And hey, which jazz band has a lead mandolin?!

    This is completely different from primarily being a rhythm (and chord player) that occasionally plays a solo... In that case, I would focus more on nice, full chords and play guitar.

    I'd love to hear some music from that band, any chance for that?
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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    In a school jazz band, i think the mandolin would be great. Way back when, as a guitar player, I'd ask the band director for alternate chords on a lot of chords. The answer I'd usually get would be the top of those chords. For example, rather than C13, he had me play Bbm7. That way the upper register was covered on the guitar, with the lower register covered by other instruments such as bass and lower woodwind and brass instruments.

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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Having spent some time in the 1980s in the presence of Tiny Moore, he generally comped on the lower strings and played melody on the upper ones. I would guess that in a larger ensemble he might relinquish the comping esp when playing with the likes of Eldon Shamblin and other hot guitarists.
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  23. #15

    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Quote Originally Posted by Woyvel View Post
    For example, rather than C13, he had me play Bbm7.
    You don't mean a Bbmaj7?

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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    in my experience on the 5-string electric, I'll usually "comp"(grab chords for accompaniment) in the mandola range of the five, lower four C-G-D-A. i've heard my friend and electric mando hero Paul Glasse play 5 note voicings, but hey, he's Paul Glasse!

    I've always been a bit a bit self-conscious about chording behind instruments that make full, fat sounds and tones. To me it can sound like the right hand of the piano accompanying the left--distracting, upside down, etc. John Carlini encouraged me one time to trust my own inclinations and listen to the ensemble. He said everyone in the ensemble should be doing that so as to make tasteful contributions to the overall sound.

    In a big band there's always a lot to deal with in the guitar chair--will voicings clash with the piano? Will the chords indicated by the arranger be playable on the guitar? What style is the piece--older swing? Latin? Modern? In other words will the guitar's function be mostly as "pitched percussion" (as in an acoustic archtop playing one to three string voices in sync with the corresponding instruments that hit the same rhythmic figures on the drum kit), or will it be called on to enunciate fuller harmony on an electric, perhaps in lieu of the piano? Big Band charts often call on the guitar to play ensemble lines, say together with trombones or saxes(range considerations) These lines might require some transposing or re-writing to be executed by a five string mando. Certainly "blowing" (improvised solos) indicated on a guitar big band chart could be taken no problem on an electric 5. In many ways it makes more sense as an improvising instrument than a guitar--it's easier to find one's own ideas on there. Ask Mike Marshall.

    So what should the young player bring to the "jazz combo" gig? Both probably, but who wants to do that? In a small group situation (quartet,trio, quintet) the five string would be almost always cool because you probably wouldn't be called upon to play "rhythm" or "comping" that often. In the big band it might be more a matter of what is asked of you--rhythm chunks? funky wah-wah solos? In either case the main thing to bring is big open ears and people skills so as to communicate with the leader, your colleagues, the charts, the music itself. And a fearlessness to just go for it, not just when soloing, but finding your place in the ensemble in general.

    that low C on the 5 string sounds to me to be the same C that's the 3rd fret of the A string on the guitar. So that's what, only 8 notes on the guitar that the mando doesn't have? So one would think they are fairly interchangeable, but there's more to it than that I guess. If we go to the lower strings to voice chords we usually end up with three or 4 note voicings. Guitar voicings have a few more options( and possibilities for confusion and clutter.. so it always becomes a question of context--who else is playing chords and how are they voicing them and what rhythmic figures are they hitting..?

    Don't let anyone try to tell you the electric 5 string mandolin
    "sounds just like a guitar anyway"---it's just not true. Sure, Glen Campbell transcribed Tiny Moore solos thinking they were guitar solos, and it helped establish him as one of the best and most facile guitar players. But the more you listen to Tiny (electric Bigsby or Roberts, 5 strings) Jethro(Fender 4 string)or Johnny Gimble(electric hollow mandolin tuned to mandola C-G-D-A) the more you're likely to accept it as a mandolin. Mandolin notes, mandolin thoughts, mandolin chord voicings...

    I sure don't mean to come on strong with these observations. I guess it comes down to whether you are playing any kind of guitar or any kind of mandolin, you have to know all your chords, scales, and a gazillion tunes, and keep the radar on to put all that to use musically and tastefully. A wonderful lifelong project and adventure.

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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Stiernberg View Post
    John Carlini encouraged me one time to trust my own inclinations and listen to the ensemble. He said everyone in the ensemble should be doing that so as to make tasteful contributions to the overall sound.
    What a great point - everyone in an ensemble needs to learn to hear themselves AND the whole group simultaneously.


    Quote Originally Posted by Don Stiernberg View Post
    In a big band there's always a lot to deal with in the guitar chair--will voicings clash with the piano? Will the chords indicated by the arranger be playable on the guitar? What style is the piece--older swing? Latin? Modern?
    Another good point. Are we playing Basie style and needs Freddie Green style comping?

    Some bop tunes that need the guitar to stay out the way of the piano (or be voiced as a single line w/ the saxes), or play Bossa, Latin jazz, rock, etc?

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Stiernberg View Post
    And a fearlessness to just go for it, not just when soloing, but finding your place in the ensemble in general.
    And that's a whole other issue! Both finding your solo voice AND your spot in the band.

    Thanks for your great post.

  28. #18

    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Thanks Don for the great insight and advice.

    She and I had a conversation last night where I was suggesting that maybe she should embrace the guitar and maybe jump on the mando now and again for any tunes that will feature her as a soloist. Playing/carrying two instruments can only make you a stronger musician, literally & figuratively right?

    We really appreciate all of the advice in this thread.

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  30. #19

    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    I love my electric octave (GDAEB). It has a sound very much like my favorite electric guitars, but
    A) I don't have to deal with the nonsensical tuning of a guitar, compared to the mandos clean fifths and
    B) It's much more fun to play something that make people go "You play a what-now?" rather than a guitar.


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  32. #20
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Playing mandolin in rock bands, I've almost always wound up doubling, mostly on guitar, so that route makes sense to me. Being able to switch easily is an advantage.

    But on the other hand, I do think one could figure out how to get the job done on mandolin.

    The Freddy Greene style comping is mostly a percussive sound, not a lot of notes in the chords, just reinforcing the drum and bass. I'm thinking one could figure how to do that pretty effectively on a 5 string mandolin, so I don't think that's impossible. Playing more recent fusion or funk influencing charts, I often wound up playing guitar parts closer to what you hear in funk guitar, "jab" style chording, usually with a 9 chord. But again, it's mostly a percussive effect, a telecaster worked best for that, it was easier to stay out of the way of the piano, the way the telecaster speaks quickly. So, maybe do-able with a 5 string mandolin?

    Trying to do something different really opens up your imagination, if your daughter's band director is on board with it, go for it on the mandolin.

    Should be a lot of fun with either approach.
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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Iíve played a lot of bass in big bands and combos, and have often wished that the guitarist didnít have an E string. And if the pianistís left hand fell off, that would not be such a tragedy.

    BTW, Freddy Green played mostly just double stops or 3 note voicings. Sometimes he played a single note. 3/7 double stops, or whatever will work. Itís far more about rhythm than harmony. In that style anyway.
    Last edited by lowtone2; Sep-03-2020 at 8:53pm.

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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Ohrt View Post
    And honestly, the audience can never distinguish the sound of an electric OM from that of an electric guitar.
    This may be true if the electric mandolin can phrase in the style, playing solos in a linear way. I don't think this is true playing chordal rhythm. IMO "tuned in 5ths" can be very "white bread" sounding. Especially when the highest note ringing out is the 1 or 5 [unless its really rootsy. :^) 3rds and 7ths played as low as possible on the instrument sounds better to me. Worked for Freddie Green with Count Basie...

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    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: 5 string in jazz combo question

    Era of jazz you are playing and what other instruments are in the ensemble are big determining factors. When playing 50s era stuff with piano players, I comp very sparingly. When the piano solos, he will often not comp behind his own solos, and I’ll take up some of the slack. Use your ear and always leave enough space for all to be heard clearly!
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