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Thread: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

  1. #1
    Registered User napochan's Avatar
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    Default Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    I'm considering getting a lower-voiced mando mostly to supplement a small local group of mando players. Our songs range from light classical and world folk, to early 19th century tunes. We have 2 members who trade-off between m'dola and m'cello, but there are times we have neither in the mix. We usually have a guitar, but not always.

    My first thought was to go for a mandola, but as I consider the notation range compared to an octave mandolin, I thought this group could provide some trade-off considerations I might be missing. In addition to balancing the group with a lower voice, I'd like the instrument to present well for solo work.

    Also, any guidance for a good instrument in a middle price range ($1K - 1.5K) would be appreciated. Most of the instruments I see highlighted are private luthier models costing 2-3X that. While I'm sure I'd enjoy one of those, I can't justify it. My current mandos are a Breedlove K5 (my mainstay), Gibson A40 (inherited), and a ZimGar bowlback (my first mando, found in a 1970 pawn shop).

    Thanks, in advance!
    ...Tom
    Plays: Gibson A40 ('56), Breedlove American KF ('11)
    Says: So many instruments out there, and so little time!

  2. #2

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    Octave’s a lot more versatile, with a capo, and especially if the guitarist is absent.
    Mandola with capo on second fret and played one string down is cool, much easier to play fast.

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    Registered User BoxCarJoe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    Have you considered a tenor (CGDA) guitar?

    Really stands out and versatile.

    My new love BTW.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    I think octave mandolin is a good choice; [1] you use the same fingerings and chord shapes as mandolin (albeit dealing with a much longer scale, wider separated frets), and [B] you already have two other group members playing mandola. Octave mandolin can also be a very effective chord/rhythm instrument, voice comparable to a guitar, when you don't have guitar in the mix.

    As to a brand, I have had for 35+ years a Flatiron 3K "bouzouki," which is basically an octave mandolin with a relatively long scale. It's a large version of the "pancake" style flat-back mandolins that Flatiron made starting out in the 1980's. They aren't made any more -- Flatiron's no longer a separate company, now a Gibson brand name for Asian=import mandolins -- but they pop up on the used market quite regularly. Here's a Reverb listing, unfortunately already sold, but it'll give you some idea of what the instrument's like. Mine has given me good service for a long time, and I'd have no hesitation recommending it.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  5. #5

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    Hmm... there was a Flatiron bouzouki in the Cafe classifieds really recently, for under $1k. It must have sold.

    If it *had* been available though, I would have warned against in as the scale length is just too long if someone is looking to double on it using mandolin-style fingering and chords. I got to play both the bouzouki and octave mandolin last February, and the 20" scale length octave didn't require much technique change from me... although my main instrument is actually mandola, with a 17" scale length, a bit longer than mandolin.

    I did a quick search.for "octave" in the classifieds here, and on "octave mandolin" over at reverb.com, and found more than a few for less than $1k. However, a lot of them were either Gold Tone, which I've never actually run across in real life, and Trinity College, which aren't the loudest IMO. Although personally I'm hoping to run across a plain Flatiron-style octave (not just a flat-top but a scaled-up Army-Navy type), a lot of folks have commented positively on the Eastman octaves. There are several over on Reverb.com for less than $1k.

    Whatever you choose to do, good luck!

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  7. #6
    Registered User napochan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    Great comments from everyone. Thank you!

    At this point, I'll keep my radar on both instruments to see what comes available. However, I'm starting to lean towards an octave mandolin. Hadn't really considered a tenor guitar, but that's interesting too.

    Cheers!
    ...Tom
    Plays: Gibson A40 ('56), Breedlove American KF ('11)
    Says: So many instruments out there, and so little time!

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    Registered User BBarton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    Peter Sawchyn in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, makes a BeaverTail-style OM and/or zouk (and mandolin and 'dola as well), which is very similar in design to the old Flatirons. I had one with an OM scale (sold it), and it sounded really good. His fit and finish is spot-on -- I've have/had a few of his high-end carved instruments, and they are top-notch, superbly made (still have the carved top OM, but that'd be out of your $$ range). His BeaverTail OM runs about $1500 Cdn -- quite a bit less, of course, in US$ after the exchange. It'd be worth the time to check out at Sawchyn Guitars; he does custom orders, including different scale lengths.
    Too many instruments...too little time

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  10. #8
    Registered User napochan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    Thanks BBarton! I think I've seen his website a while ago. Will check it out.
    ...Tom
    Plays: Gibson A40 ('56), Breedlove American KF ('11)
    Says: So many instruments out there, and so little time!

  11. #9
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    An octave mandolin would seem to be the obvious choice. However, one warning about OMs in a band context is that in my experience, they don't mix well with a guitar player. The note range overlaps too much with guitar, and most OMs have a darker timbre that's easily buried by a guitar's brighter and less complex tone.

    I played in a duo for a few years on mandolin along with a guitar player, mostly Irish trad and related music. Mandolin and guitar are a perfect pair together, but we wanted to mix it up a bit by adding my Weber OM on a few tunes. It just didn't work. Or rather, it might have worked, but it required being so careful to deliberately stay out of each other's way, that it just wasn't worth the effort.

    If you're in the type of band that can manage that kind of deliberate arranging, then an OM still could work alongside guitar. Or you could just bring it out when the guitar player doesn't show up.

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    Soprano Mandolin, Mandola & mando Cello are CGDA

    In addition to the shorter heavier string Octave mandolin is the Irish Zouk .. a long scale with thinner strings also an octave below ..
    Fits in Banjo cases.. A friend plays one instead of a guitar to sing & Play songs....
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    If you do decide to go the octave mandolin route, then you have to decide if you want a guitar bodied (GBOM) like this Pono in the classifieds (in your price range)...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/162760#162760

    Or a mandolin bodied one like this...

    https://themandolinstore.com/product...tave-mandolin/

    Good luck with your search!
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    These Red Valley octaves are priced around 2k. I know it's out of your budget, barely. But its good to have opinions!

    I've played one here in Seattle and I regret not taking it home.

    I have a Red Valley mandolin and I couldn't be more happy with it! The build, the tone, it's all very good.

    http://www.redvalleymandolins.com/

    https://store.dustystrings.com/p-1461-red-valley-omm-octave.aspx

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    Registered User 22_frets's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    I will second what Zach said. I bought a Red Valley octave mandolin a little over a year ago. It has been a great instrument. I bought it from a forum sponsor, Gryphon Stringed Instruments, and the set up was perfect. They have one available now on their website for less than $1700.

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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    Quote Originally Posted by napochan View Post
    Great comments from everyone. Thank you!

    At this point, I'll keep my radar on both instruments to see what comes available. However, I'm starting to lean towards an octave mandolin. Hadn't really considered a tenor guitar, but that's interesting too.
    Iíd try one out first. The instrumentís name accurately indicates that it sounds more like a punchy guitar than a mandolin because of its single strings. Youíll know pretty quickly whether or not that will work for you.

    If youíre not in a rush for an OM, Iíd recommend waiting for a Petersen. He retired a while ago, but his used OMís generally come up for sale in your price range. I have a 2006 Level 3 that I bought used nine years ago, and itís my lifer. There is one of his OMís that has been at Fiddlerís Green in Austin for quite a while, so they might be willing/able to take a little off the price, but it is sort of a mystery instrument, judging from the description and the photos. http://www.fiddlersgreenmusicshop.co...ctave-mandolin
    still trying to turn dreams into memories

  17. #15

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    Since I pretty much like to disagree with everyone, I will mention that my Trinity College OM has plenty of volume, after working it in for I dunno 15 years or so, and switching eventually to octave pairs on the G and D for the chimey 12-string-like sound.

    One thing I don’t disagree about though is that OM and guitar, working in the same timbre, are not necessarily the best combination unless they are playing very different parts.

    Since you are talking about arranging music in a mando combo, I personally would lean towards finding a nice mandola which would give you a range the others dont cover and it seems you are looking towards harmony parts. This is the opposite of the (correct) advice given to folks who want to play tunes in sessions, where if you have a mandola you either have to come up with some inventive fingerings, harmonize hella fast, or play the tunes in the “wrong” key and lose friends.
    2009 Eastman 505
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    Mandoline or Mandolin: Similar to the lute, but much less artistically valuable....for people who wish to play simple music without much trouble óThe Oxford Companion to Music

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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    In an acoustic I prefer the OM tuning (GDAE), it can be capoed up to CGDA easily enough, and if you remove 4 strings you have a tenor guitar (especially if you get a flat-top as it will sound like a guitar with 4 strings on it).

    So an OM would allow you to test drive 4 and 8 string OM's and mandolas.
    You could even restring it as a tenor in CGDA if you really wanted to.

    Alternatively, a longer scale mandola (18" - which is very short for an OM) can be strung down to OM GDAE with custom strings chosen for proper string tension. You will need to widen the nut slots to do this however, which I have done and it works pretty well.

    I love them all, but find I prefer 4 strings for the lower tunings as 8 strings gets a bit muddy down low to my ears, whereas in mando tuning the 8-string sound is fantastic.

    I am currently in a tenor-guitar phase so I am trying not to gush to much there. :-)
    Davey Stuart tenor guitar (based on his 18" mandola design), TC octave mandolin.
    Eastman MD-605SB, MD-604SB, MD-305, all with Grover 309 tuners.
    Eastwood 4 string electric mandostang, 2x Airline e-mandola (4-string) one strung as an e-OM.
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  19. #17
    Registered User napochan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    This discussion has really been helpful. Since I was open to either option, I went with the first temptation that crossed my path. I'm waiting for it to arrive so can't comment on that decision yet. It's a '85 Flatiron 3K mandola. If it doesn't work out for some reason, I can try restringing for OM tuning as was suggested above in this thread.

    More to follow...
    ...Tom
    Plays: Gibson A40 ('56), Breedlove American KF ('11)
    Says: So many instruments out there, and so little time!

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    Hope you got a nice one -- Flatiron made some nice "K" instruments before the koa embargo. As I said, 35+ years of good service from my 3K "zouk."

    Later: some Googling reveals that there may never have been a real "embargo" of koa wood shipments from Hawaii -- just that koa harvesting is limited to dead or fallen trees, to preserve the remaining forests, thus producing a limited supply on the "mainland." I was told that Hawaii limited export of koa; may or may not be true. And -- apologize for the hijack.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    I bought an Eastman Octave Mandolin 6mo. ago and I love it for the price I paid $745.00 new and have played it with a guitarist and it blended in well. Just my personal experience.

  23. #20
    Registered User napochan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin (GDAE) vs Mandola (CGDA)

    A few years ago I bought a koa ukulele in Hawaii. The owner of the company bought a major koa source - I don't know if it was pre-harvested wood or a live forest - and cranked out a new line of instruments. While their luthiery only lasted a short time they now are a major supplier of koa to other makers.
    ...Tom
    Plays: Gibson A40 ('56), Breedlove American KF ('11)
    Says: So many instruments out there, and so little time!

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