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Thread: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

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    Default Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    I've reached a pop cover live-performance octave mandolin/tenor fluency (major/minor scales, major/minor/7 chords) and finally played with the duo partner I usually play guitar with. I was a little disappointed at the OM's ability to really separate sonically. It sounded like a guitar with fewer notes. This is probably a "duh" for most people (and should've been for me), but are the advantages to OM tuning for most people just a familiarity with fifths tuning and preferring four strings over 6?

    Really breaking things down after the fact, OM strings/notes can be started on third fret E, open D, second fret G, open e on the guitar, so the unique melody voicing I thought were less attainable on guitar are pretty easily reproduced.

    I think my move now as a second instrument is either to just jump to a true mandolin (I'm aware there is a new learning curve technique-wise there) and/or jump to CGDA tuning on my tenor/OM to really create another layer of sound for our duo. Maybe an open tuning? I'm wide open for suggestions.

    I'm aware there is a lot of naďveté after the fact in this post, but I'm just genuinely curious if I'm missing something.

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    Mandolin Player trodgers's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Straight away strumming with guitar and octave mandolin is a dead end for me. Find other things to do with the instrument. Here's an example of using the low strings as a percussive drone. In a duo situation, this might get tedious quickly, but used sparingly it could add some sizzle. I like to use those low strings to work a bass line adding some color and texture.

    I would really like to hear this song performed exactly the same, without the drums.

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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Well for me playing octave mandolin with a guitar or two always means getting lost in the mix. The most fun I have with the OM is solo playing or accompanying a mandolin or some combination of mandolin, fiddle any maybe flute where the OM holds it's own sonic presence. You may enjoy switching to mandolin having learned as much as you have on the octave and it's always a good excuse for buying one.

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    Mandolin Player trodgers's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    You can slap on a capo at the fifth fret to unleash the hidden mandola that comes free with the purchase of every octave. This also gives you a chance to play around and get comfortable with the upper end of the fretboard, where the angels sing. You can work just a few strings with 2 or 3 finger chords to build on what rhythm the guitar is laying down. Also, getting used to the upper end is immediately transferable to regular playing without a capo.
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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Quote Originally Posted by trodgers View Post
    You can slap on a capo at the fifth fret to unleash the hidden mandola that comes free with the purchase of every octave. This also gives you a chance to play around and get comfortable with the upper end of the fretboard, where the angels sing. You can work just a few strings with 2 or 3 finger chords to build on what rhythm the guitar is laying down. Also, getting used to the upper end is immediately transferable to regular playing without a capo.
    How far up the neck do you usually go before it gets too high? I started my strings journey on the uke and moved to guitar when I realized anything above the 7th fret is sonically pretty unpleasant. The uke is tuned higher off the bat than CGDA though.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by trodgers View Post
    Straight away strumming with guitar and octave mandolin is a dead end for me. Find other things to do with the instrument. Here's an example of using the low strings as a percussive drone. In a duo situation, this might get tedious quickly, but used sparingly it could add some sizzle. I like to use those low strings to work a bass line adding some color and texture.

    I would really like to hear this song performed exactly the same, without the drums.

    This is an interesting idea and performance. Thanks for posting

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Hudmister View Post
    Well for me playing octave mandolin with a guitar or two always means getting lost in the mix. The most fun I have with the OM is solo playing or accompanying a mandolin or some combination of mandolin, fiddle any maybe flute where the OM holds it's own sonic presence. You may enjoy switching to mandolin having learned as much as you have on the octave and it's always a good excuse for buying one.

    Thanks for the advice. What acoustic/electric mandolin do you recommend as kind of the middle tier?

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Back when I had a performing duo playing mandolin backed by a very good guitar player, we tried to incorporate my OM for a few tunes just for variety. It didn't work; there was just too much overlap. It might have worked if we wanted to spend a lot of time working out arrangements to keep them separate, but just playing the melody line on OM with chordal backing on guitar wasn't enough.

    So we stuck with mandolin melody and guitar backing, sometimes shifting roles with mandolin chording while the guitar played solo lines. A mandolin and guitar fit so much better together with the pitch separation, so that's a reason to explore mandolin if you still want to stay in the 5ths tuning world.

    I still love the sound of an OM. I've been playing mine a lot more lately at home, either solo arrangements of Scottish and Irish trad tunes, or as a backing instrument for my fiddle-playing Significant Other. Working with a fiddler provides the right amount of pitch separation.

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    '`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`' Jacob's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    I have found OM to be lost when playing with a guitar, so I use mandola (or tenor guitar).

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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob View Post
    I have found OM to be lost when playing with a guitar, so I use mandola (or tenor guitar).
    The tenor guitar you play tuned CGDA right? Thanks

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    Back when I had a performing duo playing mandolin backed by a very good guitar player, we tried to incorporate my OM for a few tunes just for variety. It didn't work; there was just too much overlap. It might have worked if we wanted to spend a lot of time working out arrangements to keep them separate, but just playing the melody line on OM with chordal backing on guitar wasn't enough.

    So we stuck with mandolin melody and guitar backing, sometimes shifting roles with mandolin chording while the guitar played solo lines. A mandolin and guitar fit so much better together with the pitch separation, so that's a reason to explore mandolin if you still want to stay in the 5ths tuning world.

    I still love the sound of an OM. I've been playing mine a lot more lately at home, either solo arrangements of Scottish and Irish trad tunes, or as a backing instrument for my fiddle-playing Significant Other. Working with a fiddler provides the right amount of pitch separation.
    Yeah this was my experience last night as well. Just either fighting for the same space or buried.

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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Can sound very good. Not certain if this an OM or bouzouki, but you get the idea.

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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Yes. Tenor guitar tuned CGDA.

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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    I would like to think it is not the case, and would not be for The Complete Musician, but for me, what instrument I came from limits my playing on the instrument I land on. I am a mandolinner through and through, and have a conception of the fretboard for mandolin, or at least fifths tuning, ingrained in my brain. It would be a huge effort, feeling like a backwards step, to seriously consider really learning a different fretboard. (As proven by my half hearted attempt to make progress on standard guitar.) So when I want a deeper sound, I gravitate to fifth tuned deeper instruments. And I play them mandolinishly.

    But I think you are seeking something different, more like what decision would one make without any prior instrument bias?

    There is a natural fit for these kinds of things, in my over thinking of this.

    My thinking is that the tonal distance between strings should match about a full spread hands breadth. So one covers all the notes reachable on one string without shifts, before moving up to the next string.

    So for example: a regular guitar: The frets are far enough apart that chromatic playing (one finger one fret) is the norm, and a full hands breadth is around a fourth. So the strings are tuned in fourths.

    On a mandolin the frets are closer together, and diatonic playing is more normal (one finger two frets more or less), and a full hands breadth is around a fifth. So the strings are tuned in fifths.

    My thoughts are that departures from these require accommodations. So an instrument like a tenor guitar or an octave mandolin, tuned in fifths, the frets are far enough apart to make it more comfortable to play chromatically, yet after going the full hands breadth there are more notes on that string to get before going up a string. Or one could try and play diatonically and streeeeatch those fingers. Or, of course, play chords.

    I have a tenor guitar, tuned in fifths, and I wrestle with these two options all day. Of course I could become a chord monster, which a lot of tenor guitar players are.

    (Learning to play chromatically has not been easy, but it is easier for me than considering the altered landscape of a whole new fretboard.)

    So I think it that, absent the bias of prior instruments, one would have to decide what accomodations one is willing to work with - balanced against what sounds one wants to achieve. The Complete Musician would be accomplished on either and all options, and get the most out of whatever instrument he or she plays.

    Me, I just keep fighting, from where I am, working to get to where I want to be.

    I hope that helps somewhat, or at least adds some ideas to the pile.
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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Irish Bouzouki is an octave mandolin with a long scale , lighter strings fits in banjo cases but is easier on your arm to lift..
    Gg & Dd strings can be octaves..
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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I would like to think it is not the case, and would not be for The Complete Musician, but for me, what instrument I came from limits my playing on the instrument I land on. I am a mandolinner through and through, and have a conception of the fretboard for mandolin, or at least fifths tuning, ingrained in my brain. It would be a huge effort, feeling like a backwards step, to seriously consider really learning a different fretboard. (As proven by my half hearted attempt to make progress on standard guitar.) So when I want a deeper sound, I gravitate to fifth tuned deeper instruments. And I play them mandolinishly.

    But I think you are seeking something different, more like what decision would one make without any prior instrument bias?

    There is a natural fit for these kinds of things, in my over thinking of this.

    My thinking is that the tonal distance between strings should match about a full spread hands breadth. So one covers all the notes reachable on one string without shifts, before moving up to the next string.

    So for example: a regular guitar: The frets are far enough apart that chromatic playing (one finger one fret) is the norm, and a full hands breadth is around a fourth. So the strings are tuned in fourths.

    On a mandolin the frets are closer together, and diatonic playing is more normal (one finger two frets more or less), and a full hands breadth is around a fifth. So the strings are tuned in fifths.

    My thoughts are that departures from these require accommodations. So an instrument like a tenor guitar or an octave mandolin, tuned in fifths, the frets are far enough apart to make it more comfortable to play chromatically, yet after going the full hands breadth there are more notes on that string to get before going up a string. Or one could try and play diatonically and streeeeatch those fingers. Or, of course, play chords.

    I have a tenor guitar, tuned in fifths, and I wrestle with these two options all day. Of course I could become a chord monster, which a lot of tenor guitar players are.

    I hope that helps somewhat, or at least adds some ideas to the pile.
    Really great content here. A lot to think about!

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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
    Irish Bouzouki is an octave mandolin with a long scale , lighter strings fits in banjo cases but is easier on your arm to lift..
    Gg & Dd strings can be octaves..
    I didn't realize bouzouki had octaves. Interesting.

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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    I've never been sure whether the difference between an OM and a bouzouki is the longer scale length or the possibility of octaves on the G and D courses. I'll leave that to others to answer. On The Murphy Beds website, though, it says that O'Leary plays bouzouki, but not OM.

    That said, I think that octaves are more likely to stand out against (with?) a guitar than unisons are, because they give a 12-string guitar jangle to the sound, which could contrast with a 6-string's sound.

    As for your question in the title of this thread, I'd say that the biggest advantage is that an OM feels much more like a guitar than a mandolin does, and uses the same 1-fret-per-finger ratio that a guitar does, rather than the 2-fret-per-ratio of a mandolin or mandola.

    The video that Dagger posted gives a lot to consider. First of all, O'Leary and Hamer do my absolute favorite version of "Her Bright Eyes Haunt Me Still," which comes 10:30 into the video. There is tremendous guitar/bouzouki interplay there. Second, on pretty much every song/tune, O'Leary has his bouzouki capoed at the 5th or 7th fret, using the hidden mandola that trodgers mentioned. I agree, though, that the magic of an OM or bouzouki lies below the 7th fret. I wonder why O'Leary doesn't just use a mandola most of the time, but that also supports the general consensus that OM has too much tonal overlap with a guitar.

    If you advance the video to 40:30, though, you'll see him play with the capo on the 1st fret. I think O'Leary makes it work because he is basically fingerpicking with a flatpick, which prevents a sonic mush that could meld into Hamer's guitar's. So, I don't know where you could find a better example of how to use these two instruments well together. If the sound is still too mushed together for you, then your answer probably lies in a mandola, tenor guitar, or mandolin.
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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Quote Originally Posted by subby13 View Post
    How far up the neck do you usually go before it gets too high? I started my strings journey on the uke and moved to guitar when I realized anything above the 7th fret is sonically pretty unpleasant. The uke is tuned higher off the bat than CGDA though.

    I figure if there's board with frets on it, I'd be wasting the instrument's potential to not try to use all of it in one fashion or another. Try those chord shapes across and up the board, there's a lot there to mess around with. When doing a "cover tune," I really try not to just follow what the rhythm guitar is doing. I listen for the other instruments; percussion, bass, horns, harmonica, etc ... what are they bringing to the song and how can I find inspiration in what they are doing.
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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    Can sound very good. Not certain if this an OM or bouzouki, but you get the idea.

    What a wonderful, intimate performance! Thank you for sharing.

    Talk about two musicians in harmony with each other! A great example of how good players "tune" themselves to the needs of the song, and to the voice of other performers. Lots of sharing the sonic space! It's like watching two old lovers dance together.
    “Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free.” -- Aldo Leopold

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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    This thread comes up every now and then. I'm clearly in the minority but I think guitar and octave work quite well together. I think two guitars work well together. I think guitar and bouzouki work well together.

    I liked listening to Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir as a duo. CSN&Y. I loved listening to Nancy and Norman Blake. They often capoed away from each other to get a richer sound but they did a lot of two guitar stuff. Tony, Norman & Doc. The Murphy Beds are great. Altan uses cittern and guitar together. Planxty sometimes uses 2 bouzoukis and guitar.
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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    I think it depends on what the guitar and OM are doing. If the guitar is doing boom-chuck chords, the OM can get lost doing chords. But it can work if both folks think about it.

    Also and this is just my opinion, it depends on the OM. My Eastman gets lost easier than say a good English/Irish style instrument. At least that has been my experience. Both will sound fine with a fiddle or another instrument or two, but throw in accordion and maybe pipes and it can get lost in the mix.
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave mandolin advantages for an established guitar player?

    Quote Originally Posted by trodgers View Post
    I figure if there's board with frets on it, I'd be wasting the instrument's potential to not try to use all of it in one fashion or another.
    That's my philosophy also, but then I'm a strictly instrumental player on OM and not accompanying vocals where capos are sometimes needed for a singer's preferred key.

    Some of the OM's growl and punch is lost when capo'd, but I'm not completely averse to it. I'll sometimes capo at the second fret for a tune in B dorian, just to make the fingering easier. I've also been experimenting with a partial capo at the third fret for tunes in G dorian, so I can still have that nice fat open G on the bottom with easier fingering for the melody line.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck Leyda View Post
    This thread comes up every now and then. I'm clearly in the minority but I think guitar and octave work quite well together. I think two guitars work well together. I think guitar and bouzouki work well together.
    To be clear, I don't think it's impossible for a guitar and OM to work well together, just that it takes more work with careful arrangements than using instruments with more pitch separation, like mandolin with guitar, or OM with fiddle. We abandoned the effort in my former duo because we just didn't want to work that hard at it.

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