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Thread: Guitar player learning mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Guitar player learning mandolin

    Hi, I was recently given a Johnson Mandolin with a pickup the 115e model. I am a guitar player who plays 12 string guitars and the occasional bass guitar, and as such have pretty tough and strong fingers, however I am finding this little instrument rather hard to fret. Is it common for Mandolins to have such a tough first fret? I live in Perth WA and as such there is not a lot of mandolin choices in music shops, most do not feel any better to be honest or have no pickup. I want to use it in a band situation so a pickup is necessary. Does anyone have any recommendations that I can pursue online with regards to a decent instrument for my purpose? Thanks

  2. #2

    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Kim, if you can find a luthier/repair person who knows mandolins, a good setup might help a lot. A stiff first fret suggests the nut slots might need to be tweaked, and chances are the overall action could use some adjustment. See if you can make the mandolin you have work for you before you go looking for a replacement.

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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Mandolin is harder to fret than guitar. Just like on guitar setup can make a world of difference. The person who sets it up should be someone who knows mandolins because there are a few peculiarities that are not common to guitar. Holding your fingers more parallel to the neck like a violin rather than arching the fingers onto the tips like a guitar can help.

    There are some excellent mandolin builders in Australia including Steven Gilchrist who makes perhaps the finest instruments in the world. They are of course priced to match. Peter Coombe and Graham Macdonald post on this site and are fine builders though I believe both are across the country from you.

    For more affordable, factory built instruments Eastman and Kentucky get good recommendations for decent quality, affordable instruments. Both can be fitted with pickups and occasionally found with them installed. The classified ads on this site will have instruments show up continually at all levels of quality and affordability.

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    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    If you are able to do setup work on your guitars, you can do a decent mandolin setup yourself. One of the cafe members has a guide to doing so, just send an email to rob.meldrum@gmail.com with "mandolin setup" in the subject line and he will email you a copy of his ebook for free. Setup is even more important on a mandolin than it is on a guitar. Also important is left hand fretting technique, which is different than a guitar or bass. There are many good free resources on YouTube, I can recommend MandoLessons.com as a great place to start.

    If you do end up looking for a better instrument, the classifieds here on the cafe are well moderated and a safe place to find one. Also, the shops at the top of the page are sponsors and are great to do business with, and buying an instrument from them will include a pro setup. As was stated above, Eastman and Kentucky are the most common default starter instruments, and will serve you well for what you have in mind. You can have a luthier drop in a pickup (K&K is a solid choice) while they are doing the setup. Rule of thumb is that a comparable quality (new) mandolin will run you about twice the cost of a similar quality guitar, so a $500 mando would be like buying a $250 guitar. Prices climb rather quickly with these little guys, but a good instrument can be had for under $1K. You get more for your money buying used, generally, and you'll also get more for your money with an A style (round body) as opposed to an F style (body w/scroll). There are a gazillion threads on here from folks seeking advice on getting a good starter instrument.

    You'll also find a huge community here on the cafe willing to give their unvarnished (but civil) opinions and answers to anything you can think to ask. It has been around a long long time and is expertly managed and moderated.

    Like you, I came to the mandolin after decades of guitar and bass. I started with an Eastman 315 after hacking around on a friend's beat up Ibanez (I think) acoustic/electric. It's been a cool journey.
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Shouldn't be that hard to fret, even if not audibly sharp. You could ask this guy for his setup pdf which has measurements for string height at first fret, and how to make nut saws with feeler gauges: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...by-Rob-Meldrum

    Rob Meldrum spent a lot of time collecting the wisdom in that writeup and we all owe him a big thanks.
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Fret each set of strings, one at a time, at the 3rd fret. While doing that look at the space between the bottom of the string and the 1st fret. If you see a space, especially a noticeable space, get the slots on the nut lowered. Yourself or a luthier.
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    🎶 Play Pretty 🎶 Greg Connor's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    All of the above advice is spot on! It sounds like your instrument has never been set up and is also an inexpensive mandolin. You can buy nut files from Stewart MacDonald if you are inclined to do it yourself. I’ve hacked away at a few of mine but they never turn out as good as a professional job.

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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Kimsaunders View Post
    . I am finding this little instrument rather hard to fret. Is it common for Mandolins to have such a tough first fret? I live in Perth WA and as such there is not a lot of mandolin choices in music shops, most do not feel any better to be honest
    As the others have mentioned, the action on your mandolin, as well as all of those mandolins you’re playing in the stores, may have been set too high. If they’ve all been low-end mandolins in mass-market stores, that’s possible. In my area, though, the good music stores set up their mandolins properly, regardless of the price point.

    Another possibility is that your problem is coming from the nature of the mandolin in general. Even though the mandolin has double-string courses like your 12-string, its scale length is less than 60%, in comparison. So, when you play a note on the first fret on each instrument, you’re significantly closer to the nut on a mandolin. That could be making it harder for you to play than your 12-string.
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Here in Australia things are a little different from the USA. In the music stores Eastman is considered high end, and a mandolin setup is just about unheard of. They all come with the nut set way too high and the instrument is just about unplayable. I know because people come to me complaining about how hard their mandolin is to play. They have taken it back to the store and have been told there is nothing wrong. I say that is BS. but to fix it will cost if you want me to do it. Sometimes the problem is with the bridge as well as the nut, and it is not unknown to have to replace the bridge as well as to adjust the nut. If they play one of my mandolins, the first comment is always "it is so easy to play". Well duh.
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    I'll second (or third) the comment that mandolin technique isn't guitar or bass technique. for one thing, your callouses are most likely in the wrong place for the mandolin. then, there's the chance you're holding the instrument in a less-than-optimal position and your hand might be moving in ways it isn't used to. You might be used to a much wider fretboard and the mandolin fretboard feels cramped, especially if you're a good guitarist and use proper guitar technique of putting your fingers perpendicular to the fretboard -- which is terrible mandolin technique. At least you have experience on double strings which gives you a leg up!

    To help, once you get the instrument properly set up, you can use light strings until you acclimate and then use heavier ones. Mike Marshall also has a nice youtube on how to properly hold the mandolin. There are bunches of strings on this site of guitarists/bassists who switched to mandolin with their advice for others in their position. The fact you want to add mandolin to your repertoire shows you already have excellent taste! Here's hoping you get done what needs to be done to get your new acquisition up and working optimally! And welcome to the group!
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    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    First, yes, as others have mentioned get your instrument set up to play easier. The string tension of the mandolin is tighter than guitars, it'll probably take some time getting used to.

    Take some time to educate yourself on proper mandolin technique for both the left and right hand as the mandolin is more of a fretted fiddle not a tiny guitar.

    Happy picking!

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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Setup! Even a cheapo instrument might be a good player if it's properly set up. As my local luthier has demonstrated to me (and for reasons others have described above), having the nut slots just a smidge too high can make it really difficult to play.

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    The mandolin will just laugh at your guitar calluses. The combination of dual strings at higher tension and dubious setup turn the mandolin into an effective cheese grater for your fingertips.

    The first few things a lot of guitar players find out about mandolin:
    1. Its like fretting a cheese grater
    2. A decent setup is not optional. You need it.
    3. To get the equivalent quality level in a mandolin as you get in a guitar costs twice as much. A mandolin equivalent to the quality level of a $500 (US) guitar will cost $1000.
    4. You're going to need a thicker pick. Don't even mess with anything under 1.0 mm on mandolin.

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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    4. You're going to need a thicker pick. Don't even mess with anything under 1.0 mm on mandolin.
    Good points on all except this one. Many of us use thinner - but still very stiff - picks. Mine are all pointed, not rounded.

    I will say in defense of Mandobart that many (if not most) players use thick picks, often round-ish, particularly if they play Bluegrass and related genres on long scale archtop mandolins.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    I don't think anyone else mentioned this, but along with the required set up, you may consider lighter gauge strings. You are playing electric anyway so don't need a heavier acoustic strings. I don't know what is on it right now but that is a consideration.
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Good points on all except this one. Many of us use thinner - but still very stiff - picks. Mine are all pointed, not rounded.

    I will say in defense of Mandobart that many (if not most) players use thick picks, often round-ish, particularly if they play Bluegrass and related genres on long scale archtop mandolins.
    I also prefer less than 1mm picks. A stiff .72 will work very well, stiff is the important part. A brighter mando will benefit from a heavier pick. A mando with a deeper rich sound, not so much.
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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    A brighter mando will benefit from a heavier pick. A mando with a deeper rich sound, not so much.
    Absolutely false in my experience. My F4, 10 string mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello all have a very nice deep, rich bass response and all sound great with 1.5 mm, 2.0 mm and 2.5 mm picks, except for Bluechips. The 4 Bluechip picks I've tried all tend to mute the tone.

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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    I have been using a Wegen TF100, but I thin them down as I don't like the sound with the stock thickness, which is 1mm. It still depends on your mandolin and your ear. I have yet to like a pick thicker on several of my mandolins.
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    Registered User mtucker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    It’s probably a dozen years since I was in Perth but Zenith Music (toward Cottesloe) is a nice store that actually has a reasonable selection of mandolins, fiddles, banjo’s etc. I assume folks there could do a setup on your instrument.

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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Thank you for that advice ��

  26. #21

    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Yes I went in there a few days ago. Because I want to use it in a band situation, I have an interest in the little Ovations.

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    Default Re: Guitar player learning mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Kimsaunders View Post
    ...I have an interest in the little Ovations.
    Be aware that the Ovations are really built like "little guitars," with fixed rather than movable bridges, taking ball-end rather than loop-end strings, and adjustable by removing or adding shims under the bridge saddle, rather than by threaded posts and thumb-wheels.

    Somewhat decreases their set-up adjustability; check this 2011 thread.
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