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Thread: Mandola dimensions?

  1. #1

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    I'm working up some basic dimensions for a mandola, all I've come up with so far is the 15-3/4" scale. Anyone here have a Gibson mandola to hand? I need width across the body and max depth of sides... Thanks.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    H-4 #33607 measures 11" wide, 13 7/8" top length from the 'cross piece' to the end, and the rim is about 1 11/16".

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    Dave, you might try Roger Siminoff at: www.siminoff.net . He has plans and blueprints for Loar era H-5 mandola.

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    Thanks for the tip Craig. I'm not doing a carved top scroll job though, but I needed some reference dimensions to put into the study mix.

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    Registered User Ken's Avatar
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    This was copied off of this board several years ago, and I didn't save the poster's name, so I apologize for not giving credit where it is due.
    This is for an H-4 mandola, circa 1912. Smart differentiated between F and A styles in his own instruments; where they differ, I will put his measurements to the right, in parentheses.
    scale lenght: 15 27/32" (Smart A 15 15/16, F 16 3/8")
    nut width: 1 11/32 (1 & 9/32)
    width at 12th: 1.75" (1 & 23/32)
    strings, outside to outside, at bridge: 1 37/64" (1 & 7/8)
    21 frets w extension
    depth of neck at 1st fret: 7/8"
    depth of neck at 6th fret: 1" plus (Smart, at 8th fret, 15/16)
    length of peghead: 7 1/8" (7 & 9/16)
    depth of sides only: 1.75" (1 & 25/32)
    width of lower bout: 11" (11.25 A, 11 & 3/8 F)
    length of body: 15 5/8" w/ scroll (14.25 A, 15 & 3/8 F w scroll)
    max height of arch, top: 3/8" (1/2"), top of edge to top of arch
    height of bridge; 13/16 - 15/16"
    max height of arch, back: 3/8" (9/16")
    soundhole dimensions: 2.75" x 1 5/8" oval (4.75" long)
    hypothetical bridge point to tail: 5.75" (6 & 11/16 A, 7 & 3/8" F)
    Peace

  7. #7
    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Is there a reason why you're limiting yourself to Gibson's specs? Viewing the mandolin family as one would view the violin family, it's a fairly diminuitive mandola. I've always felt the same about Gibsons mandocello: much too small, and sounding more like a mandola. To me a mandola tuned CGDA should have a scale of about 17" and a body to match, and the mandocello's scale (Gibson's was 24.75") should be at least 27" and have a body to match as well.



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  8. #8

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    Paul, I blindly assumed that the Gibson Mandola was the standard. I am planning the big brother to my "New-Navy" flat mando, the next would be the Octave. As this would be a spec instrument, I am open to any and all advice.
    I was just doodling some figgers, and if a violin:viola ratio is 1.1818 (scales 330:390) then a mandolin:mandola would be 13.875":16.397".
    I see this can be variable just like the viola is still variable.




  9. #9
    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Gibson's instruments are the standard in America, no question. Their mandolin took over the world for very good reason. But I've always felt that, because of their size, the Gibson mandola and mandocello cousins were comparatively rather indistinct from the mandolin. But Gibson's legendarily aggressive marketing and the formula for mandolin orchestras they were originally targeted, which had guitars, basses and even pianos sometimes, hammered a different style of mandolin family that's here to stay.

    I'm not sure what you base your violin:viola ratio on, as there is no fixed standard for viola scales. They can run from 13" (a violin strung and tuned down a fifth) to almost 19". I'm talking scale length, not body length, which is usually how violas are sized.

    What I do feel is important is distributing the mandolin family voices over a broader timbral range than the Gibson model allows. For example, the cello of a string quartet is the bass of the quartet (as distinct from the contrabass or double bass, which is a viol, not a violin). In a string quartet, the cello has a growl and an authority that your average Gibson-based mandocello simply doesn't have. There's not enough string mass or body size to do the job. Likewise, the mandola sounds little different than a mandolin. Bigger ones just have more depth and oomph.

    Complicating this in our era is the average mandolin-nut who wants whatever he plays to allow him to finger his cherished Bill Monroe G chord so he can go chop chop chop. This means a small instrument. But I don't think this is the historical basis for the Gibson mandolin quartet configuration.

    Needless to say, string quartet musicians don't think much about chop, or chords. They think about ensemble sound. The music they play and the instruments they play it on have evolved in a very particular way. The American mandolin quartet sprang from Kalamazoo and simply didn't take the string quartet as the model. I believe there's something to be said for recalibrating mandolin quartet instruments to the violin model. More breadth, more depth. And more clarity and distinction between the voices.

    The same conundrum besets octave mandolin players who want their high E at 17" to sound like the same note on a guitar with a 25.5" scale. A great sounding octave mandolin would have a 25.5" scale, but no one would buy it because they can't translate their mandolin brain to it very easily. (Of course they could play up the neck where the frets are closer together, but, noooo.)

    Your average tenor guitar or tenor banjo is tuned to precisely the same notes as a mandola. Their scale? 17" and up. Stefan Sobell's mandola scale length is 20-1/4" and it sounds fantastic. I think if you want a mandola with cojones, and you can do without the need to pretend it's a mandolin, that longer scale's going to sound way better.
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  10. #10

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    I don't want to build something that is going to be outside of the mainstream, at least in a "spec" instrument. If a Gibson mandola is 15-3/4" scale, wouldn't a 17" mandola scale be viewed as an oddball?

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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    I don't think Stefan, for example, ever worried about it. If you want an instrument that's tuned to CGDA like every other mandola, you have some options. You can opt to do the most familiar, or you can try something different.

    One of the advantages of having done repair non-stop for more than 40 years is that I have a steady stream of every damned thing you could ever imagine drifting through. I get to play them, check them out, compare them, think about them. So my point of reference is not an arbitrary "How I wish the Gibson mandola had more guts," but rather "This thing with a 19.5" scale sounds so much bigger and richer and warmer than that adorable little H-4." I'm not theorizing what's better, I know because I have played them, and listened to them being played by others, and so forth.

    Don't get me wrong, Gibson mandolas are lovely things. But they're not the only way to make a mandola. I've personally never cared about being out of the mainstream, and I'm inclined to admire others like that. And how big is the mandola mainstream to begin with, anyway?
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  12. #12

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    Well, putting it THAT way, I can't much argue with you. I've done repairs for 30 years, and I don't think I've ever had a mandola in the shop.




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    Gilchrist's mandolas usually have 17" scale lengths, and are not viewed as "oddball". Iirc, Weber mandolas also have the longer scale length. The take-home message from them is that a longer scale can be used, and it can be gotten used to. I found that the longer scale tended to make the mandola a bit "thumpy". It kinda had some of the punch that mandolin players are used to. I usually use either a 15.75" scale or a 16.0" scale length in my mandolas. I find that the shorter scale gives up nothing in volume and power to the longer scale lengths, but has the advantage in playability, has a bit warmer sound, and has a "softer" feel. I do make mandola bodies a bit larger than the old gibsons.. Mine are about 11.4" wide.

    Mandocellos are another creature altogether. I would love to think that I had the option of a longer scale length in those things, because the longer scale would solve some of the problems such as the 0.074" dia. C-string tending to be so floppy and buzzy. No Bilmon Rowe chop chords there, but if you try playing the Bach 'cello Suites on a mandocello, you start to appreciate the short 24.75" (or so) scale length, and maybe even wish for a shorter scale length. When the instrument is tuned in 5ths, the finger stretches get pretty difficult. In the (Violon)cello, the hand position allows the player to roll his hand in order to make all of the stretches in a given position. With the typical guitarlike hand position in a mandocello, it seems to be more difficult for me, despite having fairly long fingers.

  14. #14

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    Dave I have no answers for you but I do have a question. Of the mandolas being built NOW what are the common scale lengths being offered? Gibson does not currently build one so an H-4 or H-5 scale length might not have as much bearing on what I would want to build as what other current builders are able to sell.
    As they say, that is just my 2 cents and probably not worth what you paid for it.
    Bill Snyder

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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    From an interview with Bruce Weber:

    Quote Originally Posted by
    We've played around with quite a few different scale lengths and currently use what I think sounds the best. 17 inches on a mandola is a little bit of a stretch but when we went shorter the instrument seemed to lose a little projection. I'm always willing to make adjustments for the player though as long as it's not extreme to the point of killing the instrument's voice. We built a 20" scale octave for a woman who is heavy into classical and a 22" mandola for a tenor banjo player, both instruments turned out to be fantastic in their own ways. The octave was so relaxed and mellow it almost played itself, (octave on Valium), and the mandola had awesome projection.

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    Registered User swampstomper's Avatar
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    Jiri Lebeda's alto mandolas (CGdea) are also 17" scale. I agree that this gives a nice tonal differentiation with the mandolin. Agree also that the mandola is not a lower-voiced replacement for a mandolin in a bluegrass band!

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    Swampstomper, what does that mean? The reason I'm on this hunt is from watching Cherryholmes in concert with a mandolin and mandola playing side by side.

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    Formerly F5JOURNL Darryl Wolfe's Avatar
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    George Gruhn has long maintained that the Gibson mandola scale/body is much too short and small. I have to agree that the size difference between the Gibson mandolin and mandola does not seem to be enough. Especially when you can put mandolin strings on a mandola and tune it to pitch (I did not say that would last long without breaking the first string) The seven frets of difference in pitch seems to dictate a bigger instrument for the mandola. I have to play around with the guages of my mandola strings to get any punch out of the instrument, which is a Gibson of course). I do not have enough experience with other scales and sizes to comment on what may be optimum.
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  20. #19
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    All Over The Lot Dept.:

    Of my three mandolas, the Eastman 615 has a 16 inch scale; the Washburn bowl-back has a 17.5 inch scale, and the Sobell has a 21.25 inch scale. So there's more than a five-inch difference between the Eastman, which is an Florentine model with F-holes and well-suited for bluegrass, and the Sobell, which I use for Celtic, klezmer and song accompaniment.

    A lot less standardization than in mandolins, right?
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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    I think the optimum would be very analogous to the viola world, which I'm in all the time. Bigger sounds better, but the bigger they are, the harder they are for some people to play. Most players eventually go with the biggest instrument they can stand to play.

    Strad Magazine had a whole issue devoted to the viola a few years back wherein they polled a lot of major players about the size of their instruments. Most aspired to own a 15-1/2 (body length), but admitted that few in that size had much of a voice. Some do, of course, and command huge prices. That left people who were either physically OK with larger sizes, or on a limited budget, to resort to bigger instruments.

    Violinists fortunately never have to confront this issue. 13" is 333mm the whole world round. Arnold Steinhardt, the first violinist in the Guarneri String Quartet, is about 6'4" and plays a normal violin. And people make jokes about violists? I think their life is hard enough!
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    Registered User swampstomper's Avatar
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    Dave in Tejas,

    What I meant was, don't bother using chop chords on the alto mandola to drive a BG band the way you can with a mandolin. The sound is too low and too mellow (not cutting enough). I didn't mean the alto mandola can't play in a BG band and indeed a mandolin/mandola duet can be really sweet. So, since chop chords don't sound so good anyway on the alto mandola, don't bother about a longer scale length where it would be harder to chop. I was agreeing with an earlier poster on this point.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (allenhopkins @ Jan. 30 2007, 13:05)
    the Washburn bowl-back has a 17.5 inch scale
    My American Conservatory (Lyon & Healy) bowlback mandola has a scale length of 16.5 inches. Are you sure that the Washburn has a 17.5 inch scale? That seems kind of long for that period.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    JIm -- measured twice, cut once. Seventeen-point-five it is.
    Allen Hopkins
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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Considering the duration and the staggering output of L&H, it's not surprising that they had mandolae in more than one size.

    My pal Tony, with red tie here in 1937, played a Martin mandola which he tuned GDAE, an octave lower than the mandolin. He read viola clef but just transposed as he went.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (allenhopkins @ Jan. 30 2007, 23:57)
    JIm -- measured twice, cut once. Seventeen-point-five it is.
    Interesting... I did check all my L&H catalogs and none mention any measurements or specs, so I guess we have to go on the measurements of actual instruments.

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