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Thread: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

  1. #1

    Default Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    Hi guys,
    I just joined up to this site so I guess I'm going to use this post to say hello and ask a few q's.

    So...

    Hello! ... Moving on:

    I'm sure that this has been asked before, and I have searched through the forum but I couldn't find an answer that precisely fitted my question(s)

    Firstly some backstory. I play acoustic guitar and tenor ukulele. I love my instruments but a bandmate of mine has been badgering me to get on to a mandolin for various reasons (we're trying to move away from the upbeat sound we've got, moving into traditional folk styles with a pop twist). We only play acoustic sets. I'v always been interested in the instrument and it seemed an easy purchase decision... then I heard about these things called the bouzouki and the octave mandolin. My questions are:

    1) is it normal to tune a bouzouki in the same manner as a standard mandolin?
    2) what is the difference between an octave mandolin (which as i understand it, is a big mandolin tuned an octave lower) and a bouzouki?
    3) If playing with a guitar, a very loud and deep singer (bordering baritone) , acoustic bass, tribal drum kit (big ol' bongos) and the occasional harmonica, will a bouzouki or octave mandolin cut through the sound effectively or is it likely to get lost?
    4) considering that i currently play tenor uke (usually with a g tuned an octave down) and acoustic guitar, which of these instruments would be the best addition in terms of being able to play a range of sounds? (sorry if that question is a bit ambiguous)

    sorry for all them words,
    thanks in advance!

    Jonno~

  2. #2
    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    1) is it normal to tune a bouzouki in the same manner as a standard mandolin?
    No. In real Greek bouzoukis, the 3-course ones are usually tuned DAD; the four course ones are tuned CFAD, like the top four strings of a guitar tuned down one step. Outside Greek culture, there are no standards. Sometimes DADG, sometimes DGBD, sometimes in octave mandolin tuning.

    2) what is the difference between an octave mandolin (which as i understand it, is a big mandolin tuned an octave lower) and a bouzouki?
    Not much more than the tuning; you're right about the conventional octave mandolin, which mirrors the notes in Irish tuning on a tenor banjo.

    3) If playing with a guitar, a very loud and deep singer (bordering baritone) , acoustic bass, tribal drum kit (big ol' bongos) and the occasional harmonica, will a bouzouki or octave mandolin cut through the sound effectively or is it likely to get lost?
    Depends on the instrument and the player. And the consideration of the other musicians.

    4) considering that i currently play tenor uke (usually with a g tuned an octave down) and acoustic guitar, which of these instruments would be the best addition in terms of being able to play a range of sounds? (sorry if that question is a bit ambiguous)
    Which of which instruments? The tenor uke or the guitar? Or a bouzouki or an octave mandolin? Since you're in a group that already has a range of sounds, you might want to look for one that fills a niche, rather than duplicating something that's already there. A normal mandolin comes to mind—it will cut better than anything else you've proposed.
    Last edited by Paul Hostetter; Oct-30-2012 at 10:14pm.
    .
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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    Thanks a lot man, that was everything I needed. Will look into a normal mandolin ... although now that i know i can tune the bouzouki to octave mando tuning I'm extremely tempted (just because i love the sound and I think I'd feel like a medieval bard playing it which is +5 points for me)

    You're a gentleman and a scholar!

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  6. #4
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    Maybe 30 or so years ago, some Irish musicians took 8-string Greek bouzoukis and tuned them GDAE like octave mandolins. Thus was born the "Irish bouzouki," which was basically an octave mandolin with a slightly longer neck. Now I'd say that a plurality of "bouzoukis" you find for sale -- other than those made specifically by Greek or other Mediterranean builders -- are designed to be tuned GDAE or some variant thereof, rather than in 4ths/3rd as the Greek four-course 'zouks are.

    If you're worrying about covering the same range as your guitarist, either "standard" mandolin, or mandola, might be a good fit. The mandola's an interesting compromise "voice," in between mandolin and octave mandolin. It's tuned CGDA, so its highest-pitched three string courses are like the three lowest courses of the mandolin.

    You're playing a large-bodied ukulele in non-re-entrant tuning, and its range of pitches largely overlaps that of a "standard" GDAE mandolin: the low G strings are the same, the D (3rd) string of the mandolin is the same as the uke's 3rd string at the second fret, etc. The "closer" 4ths/3rd tuning of the ukulele means that its 1st string is the same as the mandolin's 2nd string, and you have the mandolin's high-E 1st string pitched well above the uke. And, of course, the instruments' timbres differ, and playing techniques are distinct enough so that the mandolin won't "sound like" the ukulele in your ensemble. But it will play in a similar register, again excepting the high E string.
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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    Paul, perhaps you know the answer to this?

    I am a huge fan of the French guitar, oud and bouzouki player Titi Robin. I think I recall you offering some background on him a few years ago when I first discovered him so perhaps you can tell me what bouzouki tuning he uses?

    He played at Celtic Connections festival in Scotland last year and in a review (by someone who is usually quite well informed) it said that he played his bouzouki in 'Kurdish' tuning. I have not been able to find out what that is.

    Regards,

    Dagger
    David A. Gordon

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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    Wow! Not sure I know either. But I know who to ask. Give me a little time. He says he plays buzuk, but all the images show him playing a routine Greek 4-course. It sounds to me like he tunes it to an open chord, like CGCG perhaps? Let me see if I can find out more. Meanwhile, this is pretty telling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUxs8OJPyoE&feature=plcp
    .
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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    Thanks. Yes, I watched that video the other day actually.

    I've been listening to Jaadu a lot lately. where he mostly plays bouzouki.
    David A. Gordon

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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    Sounds like ECEC to me. Maybe GCEC? (It's past my bedtime!)
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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Hostetter View Post
    Wow! Not sure I know either. But I know who to ask. Give me a little time. He says he plays buzuk, but all the images show him playing a routine Greek 4-course. It sounds to me like he tunes it to an open chord, like CGCG perhaps? Let me see if I can find out more. Meanwhile, this is pretty telling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUxs8OJPyoE&feature=plcp

    Hey Paul,

    Did you ever learn any more from your friend about this?
    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    Sorry, I found the answer and wrote it down and got distracted. Low to high: GCGC. In other words the upper three courses, the important ones, are in the usual relationships for most trichordio instruments.
    .
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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    Thanks. Might try that.

    I picked up a playable Ozark bouzouki last year in a pawn-shop sort of place. It's quite useful for stuff like this.
    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    I purchased a Bouzouki before I purchased a mandolin.................thanks to Tim O'Brien.............thanks Tim! Both instruments are tuned like a mando.............makes the transition that much easier..............of course you can use the other tunings........but for
    Americana, Bluegrass, Folk...........GDAE tuning works great with the same chord shapes!

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    Default Re: Mandolin, bozouki, octave mandolin questions

    I haven't read the other replies so I risk redundancy and contradiction, tho I do not mean to contend with anyone -- these are just my own subjective views.

    << 1) is it normal to tune a bouzouki in the same manner as a standard mandolin?

    Yes. No. Contemporary "Irish" bouzoukis, as opposed to Greek and other Eastern Mediterranean instruments, are tuned in all manner of different ways. When players come from playing fiddle, mandolin, or being mainly melodic players (as opposed to chordal players) often stay with that standard in order to quote melodies on the E & A strings. But you will find bouzoukis tuned in all manner of ways. You are welcome to explore and find any tuning that you like to use and that suits your music(s) and technique(s).

    << 2) what is the difference between an octave mandolin (which as i understand it, is a big mandolin tuned an octave lower) and a bouzouki?

    Usually the scale length, but again, this is a slippery area. For example, in airports my bouzouki is -always- an octave mandoliln. In general, I've found that octave mandolins have scale lengths in the range of 20" to 23+", and longer scales are often called bouzoukis. I've also found that often when a player tunes a long mandolin instrument in GDAE it is called an octave mandolin.

    << 3) If playing with a guitar, a very loud and deep singer (bordering baritone) , acoustic bass, tribal drum kit (big ol' bongos) and the occasional harmonica, will a bouzouki or octave mandolin cut through the sound effectively or is it likely to get lost?

    This is a very interesting and dynamic question. I've owned a number of octave mandolins and bouzoukis whose makers were concerned with getting the low course to really express low frequencies well, and while it's not exclusive to them, American makers seem to like to do that. When a big mandolin has great bass response it can easily get tangled up with the guitar(s), so either cooperation in the arrangements of the music or close attention and smart playing on the fly are required to separate the big mando from the guitar. There are quite a few big mando instruments that don't have big bass in their voices, and that makes it easier, as does using a capo, which can change both the harmonic range and the timbre or tone of the big mando to differentiate it from the guitar.
    As for the "cut through" part, that's hard to say, but in your list of instrumentation, most of those instruments have pretty serious bass components, and only the guitar is likely to use the same timbre and tangle with an OM or zouk.

    << 4) considering that i currently play tenor uke (usually with a g tuned an octave down) and acoustic guitar, which of these instruments would be the best addition in terms of being able to play a range of sounds? (sorry if that question is a bit ambiguous)

    Yes, I don't understand if by 'which of these instruments' you mean tenor uke & guitar or octave mandolin & bouzouki. If you mean the mandolin family instruments there's not a terrible lot of difference. With the larger bouzouki you'll have access to a bit more low end sound, and you can still capo it up and raise the range & timbre. With an octave mandolin the same is true except possibly you may give up some low sound. Maybe.

    For Greek & eastern Mediterranean instruments most of what I've said doesn't apply, except for the capo part.

    I play a bouzouki (in my profile pic) with a 25.4" scale. When I got it the bass of it scared me, it was huge. Over time I've learned to change that a little with setup and playing techniques but I haven't replaced it nor added a shorter one because I've learned to enjoy it, especially when I'm not playing with a guitarist. When I do play with a guitarist it's a fun challenge to play so that we're augmenting one another, either by listening to each other and working it out as we go, or by working out some arrangements or 'rules' upon which we agree.

    In their upper ranges OMs/zouks can tangle with mandolins and banjos (when there's a banjo I prefer to play guitar for its low
    range clears out of the banjo range), but there are ways to play that get around that pretty well without pain. ;-)

    I hope this helps.

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