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Thread: Playing slide mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Playing slide mandolin

    Hey there,

    I've always wanted to play mandolin. I'm enchanted by the sound of double coursed strings. I think it's beautiful. There's only one problem.

    I have no fretting thumb, or more to the point I don't have a thumb "pad" on my fretting hand. To compensate for my disability I was thinking about getting a mandolin, raising the action and learning how to play in an open tuning. However I am not sure how wise it is to skip standard tuning on an instrument. I know Ry Cooder and Sam Bush play slide, however they are extremely talented and I am not. Should I let my mandolin dreams go? I'd be up for any advice on instruments, tuning and technique. Thanks.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Playing slide mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Krabo View Post
    Hey there,

    I've always wanted to play mandolin. I'm enchanted by the sound of double coursed strings. I think it's beautiful. There's only one problem.

    I have no fretting thumb, or more to the point I don't have a thumb "pad" on my fretting hand. To compensate for my disability I was thinking about getting a mandolin, raising the action and learning how to play in an open tuning. However I am not sure how wise it is to skip standard tuning on an instrument. I know Ry Cooder and Sam Bush play slide, however they are extremely talented and I am not. Should I let my mandolin dreams go? I'd be up for any advice on instruments, tuning and technique. Thanks.
    I think you are in luck in terms of fretting the mandolin. Possibly some players use the thumb in certain instances to play chords, but as a general rule most players never use the thumb to fret notes.

    Unlike some styles of guitar in which a player might fret the 6th or sometimes 5th string using the thumb, on the mandolin, as a general rule, players use only the four fingers of their fretting hand (index through pinky) to fret the strings. The role of the thumb is to provide support under or around the side of the neck. Some mandolinists use the thumb pad or joint of the thumb to press up against the bottom of the neck like a violinist might do, but most wrap the thumb around the neck so that the joint of the thumb touches the bottom or side of the neck (which does not require contact with a thumbpad). Some players even rest the bottom of the neck in the crook between the thumb and index finger.

  3. #3
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing slide mandolin

    We have a whole lot of slide mandolin threads. Take a look at this thread for some information. There is more.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Playing slide mandolin

    Hey Mike, thanks for the link. Sorry I took a while to reply.

    I also found a book by Steve James, called Roots and Blues Mandolin (link here: https://www.bookdepository.com/Roots.../9781890490799). I've got a Fender Tenor Telecaster, so what I'm going to do is tune that in an open tuning and see how I go.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Playing slide mandolin

    Thanks for the advice John. I've got a Fender Tenor Telecaster that has a pretty thin neck. Given that I can play this pretty easily, I might tune it using Irish tuning to try some mandolin chords, and then go to an open tuning (if that won't break the Tenor).

  6. #6
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing slide mandolin

    This my be duplicated in the thread linked above, but the main problem with playing slide on mandolin is the very short scale length, compared to guitar. This means you have to be much more finicky and accurate in moving the slide to be "on" a note directly over a fret, and not sounding sour.

    The typical slide vibrato effect where you move your hand back and forth also has to be within a much more constricted range on mandolin compared to slide guitar. It can be done, but it's so much easier on guitar with the more forgiving scale length. You can get a little sloppy and it still sounds great.

    Back in the day when I played electric instruments, I had a cheap Fender Tele set up for slide playing. Heavier than usual strings, and I jacked up the bridge higher than it would be for standard playing to avoid fret buzz. That worked great. I usually had it in Open E tuning. These days I only play a little bottleneck slide on an old 1930's roundneck metal body Dobro, same idea with the high bridge and standard nut height.

    Don't let this discourage you from trying slide mandolin if that's where your ear leads you, it's just one person's perspective. The mandolin is a great instrument in other respects, I play mine all the time.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Playing slide mandolin

    I play a bit of slide on the mando. I've always left the gdae tuning as it is, the 5ths tuning works ok for that. I usually play an electric which helps with sustain, but works on acoustic too. I agree it needs a bit more accuracy with the shorter scale, but when playing with others you can get away with not always hitting perfect notes!
    Gives me an excuse to post our lockdown vid with acoustic slide in it. There was a bit of post recording tweaking to help improve the sustain.
    https://youtu.be/eWaKonf3dtw

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