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Thread: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

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    Default Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    Howdy folks.

    I am starting to build a couple octave mandos and can't decide whether to go for 1 4-course and 1 5-course, or just make two 5-course ones. Both will be about 56cm scale length, so the 5-course would be GDAEa (or any other tuning within this range), which makes this a 5-course cittern, rather than an octave mando I guess.

    I've never played an OM and only occasionally play the mando, so haven't got a clue about OMs The 5th course makes sense to me as it should help playing melody lines on a longer scale, but that's just a guess.

    A question to all OM owners - do any of you play 4 and wish you had 5? Do you play 5 and wish you had 4?
    Any point building a 4-course when I can make both of them 5?

    Thank you.

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    Thumbs down Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    Don't all rush to reply at once by the way

    Having just re-strung my mando, the only downside of a 5-course that I can see is that there's an extra course to string up and keep in tune

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    I have a 5 course 17" mandola tuned C-G-D-A-E, like a viola with a high E. Completely covers the range of a mandola and a mandolin. I have a 4 course 21" octave mandolin in standard G-D-A-E. I have a 5 course 26" mandocello tuned C-G-D-A-E (octave below the mandola) with octave pairs on the C, G and D. I have a 5 course octave viola (tuned like the mandocello), a 5 course viola (tuned like my mandola) and a 5 course Hardanger viola tuned the same with 5 additional understrings.

    Five course instruments tuned in fifths are always preferable to four course, in my experience.

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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    Thank you very much - quite a selection of instruments you have!
    5 in fifths would be preferable, but I'm a guitar luthier, so don't want to overcomplicate the first half a dozen cittern builds until I am more comfortable with the new instrument. I believe 5 in fifths would either require fanned frets, or pushing the strings to their limits on a single scale length.

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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    I have an OM and a cittern, and I use and enjoy them both. If you made me sell one, though, it would be the cittern, but very reluctantly. (My cittern has a longer scale, so it's tuned like Mandobart's five-course mandola, but an octave lower.)

    Since you're planning to build two instruments and you have never played either one, I'd suggest building one of each, so you can see what you prefer. You're obviously right about the extended melody lines that you can play with a fifth course on either end, but the narrower neck of a four-course instrument is easier to move around and has less potential for hitting the wrong string. Tim O'Brien, Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Sierra Hull, et. al. have done just fine playing OM's or bouzoukis without a fifth course.
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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    Quote Originally Posted by chavez View Post
    I believe 5 in fifths would either require fanned frets, or pushing the strings to their limits on a single scale length.
    I don't think it would. Offhand, I can't think of any citterns that I've seen that had fanned frets. Mine (which was built by Richard Beard) doesn't, and it holds its tuning and intonation just fine on all five courses.
    still trying to turn dreams into memories

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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    A question to all OM owners - do any of you play 4 and wish you had 5? Do you play 5 and wish you had 4?
    I've owned both and decided to go with 4 courses. I haven't found the high A to be that useful. If I went with a cittern I would probably use an open tuning like GCGCG or GDGDG. But I have more than enough work to do increasing my ability with the zouk in GDAD and it's mandola variant CGDG. How much we specialize in an instrument vs branching out to other instruments is a fun question. I am interested in a DGDAD cittern but you might need longer than a 22 inch scale to get that booming low D.

    Any point building a 4-course when I can make both of them 5?
    Yes. I think different instruments and different tunings present different strengths and challenges. It's technically correct to think of them as the same instrument with an extra course but Citterns seemed to me to be their own instrument and wanted to be played a little differently than a zouk or an octave mandolin.
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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    I have been building a lot of 5 string instruments the last year or so. About 20% decide the 5 string isn't for them and revert to a four string. I tend to see a lot being used for jazz. None of mine have had fanned frets. The mandolins are 14.5" scale, the baritones 18.5" scale and tenor guitars at 23" scale. I have not done a 5 string OM at 21.5". These are all single course electrics. Rarely do I build a paired course electric.

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    Quote Originally Posted by chavez View Post
    In believe 5 in fifths would either require fanned frets, or pushing the strings to their limits on a single scale length.
    No fan frets on any of mine. I do have to use .0095 for the E on the 10 string mandola.

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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    I'm playing the Eastman MDO305 that has a rather short scale length of 21". I string it with the lower two courses in octaved tuning (Gg dd' a'a' e''e''). I use strumming to accompany a singer as well as picking some melodies to fill in. The octaved tuning adds some sparks to the sound of the chords. I don't play melodic tunes like irish tunes that often.
    I converted an archtop guitar (Godin 5th avenue) into a mandoloncello recently to try out, if the low C course can give me something I was missing from the octave. The longer scale (24.84") is just enough to give me some decent bass sound. I do play the same style like on the octave mandolin. Added some Bach to my repertoire recently.
    In my opinion adding a 5th course of strings makes most sense, if it maximizes the range of the instrument. I would go for a tuning in 5ths adding a lower c course to the octave mandolin. With a short scale this will be a problem, as the c strings will be to sloppy and the body will not project the sound too well.
    I can also imagine having an additional e course for the mandocello. The overal range would be just a little bit larger than that of a standard guitar. I think that I would have to play the instrument differently than. More melody lines and not so many strummed chords, because I would have to damp one course or play only 4 of the 5 courses at once.
    With my octave I'm actually not missing much in terms of tonal range. When playing melodies, you can always work up the neck into the range of a mandolin. When playing melody parts in a band, you want the melody to stick out. G and D strings (not speaking of a low C) are almost too low for solos.

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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    Thank you very much folks, that gives me some food for thought.

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    MerryBlacksmith Bernd Bannach's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    I play four and five course, both Fylde. The four course is an octavemandolin with 53 cm scale. Tuned GG DD AA EE I can play ist like my mandolin with a some loss in speed when ist comes to higher notes high b or higher.
    The five course is a cittern, scale of 60 cm, tuned Gg Dd AA EE aa. The high aa pair gives me a very easy access to the higher notes when playing fast, nearly as fast as with my mandolin. On minus side, if I don‘t play it often enough the fifth course can be confusing for the first couple of tunes.
    I love the sound of the five course more.
    Bernd

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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    I've cut the wood up for one 4-course and one 5-course - now just need to put it all together 8)

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    Maurice McMurry
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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    Will you be wanting to play chords? There has been a good amount of discucsson on the forum about the difficulty of playing mandolin chords on the octave mandolin. Will a 5 course instrument with this scale length be a mandolin? I have big hands and can barley play a few four finger chords on a 21 7/8 inch OM. There are videos of folks who do it well. They are very skilled.

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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    I'd want to play everything on them, but in reality it will probably end up in more capable hands of a local player who'll think that it suits his style.
    I am aware that some of the mando technique can't go on a longer scale. I've got an old waldzither (currently in bits and being repaired) which has got a longish scale length.

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    Maurice McMurry
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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    I like to watch Rob MacKillop play on 4 strings or 20 strings.

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    Mandol'Aisne Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    Five course instruments tuned in fifths are always preferable to four course, in my experience.
    I agree with this statement entirely.

    I mostly play 5 course electric mandolins (CGDAE, one string per course), but I also play an 8 string (4 course) octave mandolin with a 19" (48.26cm) scale length. I love the extra depth of the om, but miss having easy access to two octaves.

    A friend is building a hybrid of the two for me: a solid body electric octave mandolin with 5 single-string courses tuned GDAEb. I can't wait.

    Daniel

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    Mandol'Aisne Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    Quote Originally Posted by chavez View Post
    I believe 5 in fifths would either require fanned frets, or pushing the strings to their limits on a single scale length.
    I realize I'm a bit late to the discussion, but 5 courses does not require a multi-scale construction. Multi-scaled instruments are about making intonation easier to achieve both in set-up and playing.

    But for the shorter scale instruments, like mandolins, you can still get really good intonation if you pay attention. And for the longer scaled instruments we're discussing, intonating the instrument is a bit easier.

    As for playing the fannned frets, that's up to the player.


    Daniel

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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    Quote Originally Posted by MrMoe View Post
    I like to watch Rob MacKillop play on 4 strings or 20 strings.

    You can't really see it in the videos, but I hear he's got 10 fingers on each hand.

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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    I feel since we're both in Scotland that I should chip in and say something, but I don't have much experience of a 5 course octave mandolin (although I do play a 10 string mandolin with an extra D on the bass).

    When I bought my octave mandolin from Stefan Sobell in the seventies it was sold to me as an 8 string cittern. At that time 10 string citterns were popular in Scotland, featured in Scottish folk bands like The Battlefield Band, Ossian etc. Nowadays it seems to me that a 'cittern' tends to refer to a 5 course instrument, and I have to say I don't see so many around these days.

    However, I still play my octave a lot. I tune it ADae. Good for Scottish pipe tunes.

    Do you ever look at the Facebook site The Irish Bouzouki? Despite its name, you often get stuff from people in the US, Spain, Scandinavia etc, often with some good videos.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/1689228111104135

    But in terms of how to play a 5 course octave, I'm afraid I don't have much to offer.

    Good luck though.

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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    I really enjoy the Spanish musician and luthier Ruben Bada's stuff.

    Here is clip of him playing a Sobell 10 string cittern. Fantastic.

    https://www.facebook.com/13024666245...58987023247460
    David A. Gordon

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    Maurice McMurry
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    Default Re: Octave mando 4 or 5 courses?

    My Kinfolk were Scots. Most did not get the 10 fingers per hand trait. I only have 9 grand total and two are thumbs : ( .

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