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Thread: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

  1. #1
    Registered User Walt's Avatar
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    Default Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Hey Guys,
    I have an F-5 kit that I've recently put a new top on and I'm getting close to stringing it back up. I have been wanting a mandola and I'm thinking of stringing this mandolin up as one.
    I understand that mandolas have larger bodies and longer scale lengths, but is it crazy for me to think that I could tune this as a short-scale mandola. Obviously I could use mandolin string gauges for the G-D-A and just find a heavier gauge string for the C.
    Has anyone tried this? Does anyone see any problems with doing this?
    Walt

  2. #2
    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    I've seen threads on this before. The verdict I seem to remember was that the C would be floppy on such a short scale.

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    Americana in France? Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Hmmm. I doubt you'll be able to intonate the C course properly.
    I did this with my Mandobird and I had to crank the saddle for the C course back nearly a 1/4 of an inch to get to intonate properly. You don't have that kind of flexibility on a standard mandolin bridge.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Won't work. Best bet is to string it up and trade it for a mandola.
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    Hester Mandolins Gail Hester's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    I wonder if on the fiddle sites this question comes up wanting to string a fiddle like a viola.

    I like Martin's advice. There are some nice mandola kits out there now.

    Mandolins a mandolas are different designs for a reason. Gibson's original mandola scale length of a less than 16 inches is as short as I would go for a real mandola. The challenge in building a mandola is to get good volume and presence from the "C" strings and the proper scale range is key.
    Gail Hester

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    Registered User Walt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    I've been eyeing that Siminoff H-5 kit for a few days now. Are there any other mandola kits that anyone is aware of? Maybe an H1 kit?
    That is a good point about fiddles. I've seen several fiidles that have been retrofitted with an extra C string.
    I saw a post somewhere that said some mandolas have a 20 in. scale. That seems like to much distance to cover on an instrument that is tuned in fifths. I guess I should probably stay away from mandocellos.

  7. #7
    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Quote Originally Posted by Gail Hester View Post
    I wonder if on the fiddle sites this question comes up wanting to string a fiddle like a viola.
    You could do that ... just use strings for a 3/4 viola ... but I think the tone would be unsatisfactory.
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    Hester Mandolins Gail Hester's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    I guess I should probably stay away from mandocellos.
    Don't stay away from them, just don't string one like a mandola.
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    Registered User Lefty Luthier's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    I have experimented with using mandola strings on a mandolin and never found it satisfactory. Not only is the C string impossible to correctly intonate, the C strings are not pressing evenly on the bridge due to their lower tension and hence it is a bit unstable, ie. your soundboard is going to be lopsided.

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    Registered User Walt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Could the C string tension problems be solved with a heavier gauge string?

  11. #11
    Registered User Walt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Lefty,
    Did you use mandola strings across the entire instrument, or just for the C strings?
    What I was thinking about doing was using mandolin strings for everything but the low C.
    For the low C, I would use a gauge heavier than a mandola string, in order to get the tension right.

  12. #12
    Registered User Kerry Krishna's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Walt, it does'nt matter what string guage you use, it just is'nt going to work. See about getting that mandola kit. What you COULDa done though is make a mandola neck for the kit you now have. It would work, but the sound cavity is still not the right size, so it will never sound as good. The lows just would not be there....KK...

  13. #13
    Registered User Lefty Luthier's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Quote Originally Posted by Walt View Post
    Lefty,
    Did you use mandola strings across the entire instrument, or just for the C strings?
    What I was thinking about doing was using mandolin strings for everything but the low C.
    For the low C, I would use a gauge heavier than a mandola string, in order to get the tension right.
    Yes all D'Addario J76 strings the only two times I tried this. Never used a heavier pair of C strings. That might work, would at least be an interesting test.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    In the violin world it is common to use a violin as a fractional size viola. A 4/4 size violin is equivalent to a 14" viola (considered a 3/4 size viola). While there are some differences between the two instruments, it is generally considered to be acceptable to restring a violin to make a fractional "student grade" sized Viola. Keep in mind that bowed instrument strings are made specifically for a given scale length, and no frets equals fewer intonation issues.
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  15. #15

    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Bump. Walt, did you ever end up trying that lower gauge C string? I restrung my KM-150 into a “Mandola” with G, D, and A strings I found lying around, which sounds great, as should be expected. I obviously didn’t have a gauge heavier than my current G, so I just tuned it down to C and the intonation is the biggest problem.

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Quote Originally Posted by Gail Hester View Post
    I wonder if on the fiddle sites this question comes up wanting to string a fiddle like a viola.
    I went the other way, kind of - took a 16.5" viola and added an E string for a 5 stringed fiddle. D'addarrio makes a helicore long E string for just this application.

  17. #17
    Registered User Walt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Quote Originally Posted by Ian_valdius View Post
    Bump. Walt, did you ever end up trying that lower gauge C string? I restrung my KM-150 into a “Mandola” with G, D, and A strings I found lying around, which sounds great, as should be expected. I obviously didn’t have a gauge heavier than my current G, so I just tuned it down to C and the intonation is the biggest problem.
    Ian, I never tried it. If I were building a mandola now (ten years later) I would absolutely go for a 16+ in. scale. But I think the "it won't work" comments are probably hyperbole.
    Assuming EJ72 mandola strings, the C-string (.049 gauge) tension on a Gibson mandola is 21.1 lb. If you put that same string on a mandolin scale length, the tension drops down to 16.12 lb. If you want to bring the tension back up on a mandolin scale length, you would need either a .056 gauge string (20.71 lb) or a .058 gauge string (22.31 lbs).
    If I were to try it, I would try a .056 string. You would need to re-slot the nut, of course. Then the issue is how much compensation do you need at the saddle to get the heavier gauge to intonate properly.

  18. #18
    Henry Lawton hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    I once tried J75’s on my Goldrush. The instrument couldn’t handle the heavy G string and was distorting the sound badly. I inspected the instrument thinking there might be another problem but J74’s brought back the instruments original voice.
    "A sudden clash of thunder, the mind doors burst open, and lo, there sits old man Buddha-nature in all his homeliness."
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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    The challenge is not the strings or the scale length but the body that is too small for a satisfying C course. I use .048 on a 14.25” scale, but the body of my 10-string is about 50% larger in interior volume than the same maker’s mandolins.

    For a 14” scale I would recommend whatever is 1.5 times thicker than your G course, although I go a little lighter than that ratio, having .034 as G and .048 as C. My 10 lacks an adjustable truss rod so I go rather light overall.

    Nut slots of course would need widening, and either a mandola-compensated or straight bridge would be necessary. (Mine is straight, just angled.)

    I wish mandolas were more like a viola, playable in the way of a violin — the much longer typical scale is a bear to play and I don’t see the necessity. A mandolin-scale 10-string is my solution, playable and much more useful than either mandolin or mandola, unless you are expected to fill some conventional niche.
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    Registered User Walt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    I get the body size part of it, for sure. A C-course on a mandolin body is not going to sound like a C-course on a mandola body. But if you look at the Gilchrist mandola that Darol Anger used to play, it's way way bigger than an H-5. It had a longer scale length too, I think. Look at it compared to the K-4.

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    If Gilchrist had set the standard first and someone came along and said, "Can I try a mandola with a 15.875 scale length and a smaller body (e.g., an H-5)?," I wouldn't categorically tell that person "No, that will not work."

    It sounds like Ian wants to experiment with different sounds on a modest imported factory mandolin. I say go for it. When I posted the thread 10 years ago, I was going to try it on a cheap F-5 kit that my uncle and I had botched a few years prior. That mandolin is in a landfill now. I kind of wish I had tried it--might have made some interesting music with it.

  23. #21

    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Friends, I converted last week! Not to some extraterrestrial religion, but mandolin to mandola. Used EJ72 strings, but so far just installed the C, which is 0.049” and moved the others over. The testbed is a Degas I got off the ‘net, and it’s a bit large in the body, 2.5” at the sides, bellied top and bottom. Initially, I got some buzz at the C, and shimmed the bridge on that side, but it turned out that it was the nut end, which had a zero fret. Raising the strings to get (normal) clearance there eliminated the buzz even with the bridge set to nominal.
    Now, I’m no musician, but this thing sounds clean and balanced all the way, and I’ve put in a few hours a day since. Enjoy it quite a bit, and it looks like the C string want’s to get involved with some jazz, especially as it’s easy to slide between notes. As a talentless amateur, I was interested in something lower register, but couldn’t justify buying something unknown, and maybe expensive online just to experiment, and adapting to another scale length looked like a stretch - literally.

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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Quote Originally Posted by Walt View Post
    I have been wanting a mandola and I'm thinking of stringing this mandolin up as one.

    I understand that mandolas have larger bodies and longer scale lengths, but is it crazy for me to think that I could tune this as a short-scale mandola?

    Has anyone tried this? Does anyone see any problems with doing this?
    Walt
    I've done this before.

    I've had to do a little intonation adjustment, but since I normally use very light strings and play chord melody all over the neck, going to a set with equal tension for mandola pitches wasn't so difficult.

    The latest instrument I've done this on is a prototype Army Navy pancake I got from Jeff over at J Bouvier Instruments. He has another mandolin currently listed for sale which he has strung up as a "Min-Dola" (miniature mandola), with a bridge to match the required intonation, along with a bridge for mandolin tuning.

    J Bouvier Folk Mandola Conversion

    He's pretty friendly, so I'd recommend dropping him a line and asking him for advice.

    J Bouvier Mandolins contact

    ----

    I'm also going to note that I've done other deep-tuning projects, including on guitar. Although some acoustics had to have more extensive work to intonate correctly, like filling the old bridge saddle slot and routing a new one, the strings themselves were decidedly *not floppy* at the correct tension *and* intonation.

    On an instrument with a floating bridge, it should be even easier to get there, and I'm basing that on my actual experience.

    Whatever you choose to do, good luck!

    Edit: Dang it! Tricked by a necrobump! *laugh*

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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    Fifteen or so years ago my buddy wanted a baritone electric guitar for recording. After some study, he bought a set of baritone strings and put them on his electric guitar and for the most part it worked fine and sounded like a baritone -- even though the experts would say it shouldn't.....

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  29. #24
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Converting Mandolin to Mandola

    I'd say, "try it and see." Worst case, you're out the cost of a set of mandola strings, and you have a decent kit mandolin. Perhaps tweaking the gauge of the fourth-course strings, making them a bit heavier, will cure the "floppiness," but it may not alleviate intonation problems.

    When I had a luthier build me a ten-string mandolin/dola, I spec-ed fanned frets and an angled bridge and nut, to give me a longer scale on the fourth course than on the first. No intonation problems, but learning to use fanned frets was/is challenging.
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