mandolins ATLAS of Plucked Instruments

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mandolins

On this page you find the instruments of the mandolin type, with their much confusing names; therefore I am not sure that all names here are correct.

First the historical gut-string mandolinos, starting with the gittern from the Middle Ages, to the 1900s - when they more or less disappeared.

Then the separate variety of steel-string mandolins, with a variety of names.

For a short story about the history of the mandolinos and mandolins see McDonald.


Related instruments are the steel-string cittern, which you can find on the next page.

 

top mandolinos
gittern
example :
custom made
by James Bisgood,
UK 1983
L=500 B=130 H=50mm
scale 320mm
You Tube
gittern

The gittern is a small medieval lute-like instrument. It can be recognized on old pictures by its smaller size, carved body, and sickle shaped tuning head.
Other spellings are : guittern or quintern.

The gittern is carved from one block of wood, with a thin wooden front and a sickle shaped peghead. The soundhole is covered with a rosette (as were all early instruments) usually with delicate wood/ parchment cuttings. Although flush with it, the fingerboard is usually made of different wood from the (soft) front. The frets are tied on gut.

The open peg head has pegs on both sides, and the end of the peghead is often decorated with a carving of an animal head. The strings are fastened to the bridge, which is glued to the front. The gittern was made in several sizes.

It has 3 or 4 courses of gut strings which could be tuned like d' g' d'' g''.
Playing is with a quill plectrum, to accompany singing.

The name of the "gittern" went to the small 4-course renaissance guitar (see guitars1), while the shape was used for mandolinos (see under).

Notice the similarity with the original Arabian lute gabusi or qanbus (see Africa) : carved from one piece of wood, pear shaped, sickle shaped peghead, 4 courses.

 


left : the carved head of the example gittern

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mandore
example :
from Museum V&A, London
L= B= H=mm
scale mm
You Tube
mandore (also another general name for the gut-string mandolinos)

During the Renaissance the gittern changed : from a carved body to a small lute-like body (made of staves). It resembles very much a small lute, with a carved rosette, bridge glued to the front, fingerboard flush with the front and tied-on gut frets. Examples in museums show a wide variety in body shape.

The mandore is much smaller than a lute (about half the stringlength) and the peghead is sickle-shaped, usually ending in a square on the front.

It has usually 4, but sometimes up to 6 gut courses and was played (like the lute) with the fingers, not with a plectrum. Tuning would be c' g' c" g", or g d' g' d".

In France this instrument was called mandore and in Italy mandola.

 

 

Note that the name mandola was later also used for a larger size mandolin and that the name mandore later was used for a French mandolino. And in the 18th century in Germany a large lute would be called mandora (or gallichon).

 

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(ar)mandolino
example :
custom made
by Luciano Faria,
Brazil 2008
L=540 B=150 H=80mm
scale 330mm
You Tube
mandolino solo
You Tube
Vivaldi concerto
(ar)mandolino

From around 1650s the mandolino developed from the mandore. It is a smaller version of it. Sometimes it is called pandurine or armandolino (after the shape of almonds), and often baroque mandolin (to make clear the difference with the normal mandolin).

In general : a mandolino has a small slender lute-like body with a sickle-shaped tuning-head (ending in a square) with pegs from both sides.
The wide fingerboard is flush with the front and it has tied-on gut frets.

The rosette is carved in the front (or inserted layered parchment), and the bridge is glued to the front. It does not have a scratch-plate.

It usually has 4 to 6 courses of gut strings, with a tuning :
(gg) (bb) e'e' a'a' d"d" g"g".

The mandolino was usually played with the fingers and sometimes with a (wooden) plectrum.

 

This is the type of instrument Vivaldi wrote his mandolin pieces for.

 



(left : from Berlin Museum)

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Milanese mandolino
example : from book by Alex Timmerman
L= B= H= mm
scale ~315mm
You Tube

Milanese mandolino

From around 1750s the mandolino became a bit larger and had only 6 single strings. To set it aside from the double-stringed mandolino this single-string instrument is nowadays called the Milanese mandolino.

The Milanese mandolino has a lute-like body with a sickle-shaped tuning-head (ending in a square) with pegs from both sides.

The wide fingerboard is still flush with the front, and the frets tied-on gut, with some made of wood on the front. It has a carved rosette, and the bridge is glued to the front.

It has 6 gut strings or courses, tuning : g b e' a' d" g".

It was played with the fingers, or sometimes with a plectrum.

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Lombardic mandolin
example :
bought from PamelasMusic 2009
L=540 B=230 H=130 mm
scale 300mm
You Tube

Lombardic mandolin

From the end of 19th century the Milanese mandolin changed into the mandolino Lombardo (also called mandore) : the body became more rounder, and it got a raised fingerboard, with metal frets. Often there is a scratch-plate between soundhole and bridge. The soundhole is often oval, and without a rosette. The peghead is still sickle shaped (ending in a flat ending) and the bridge had the moustaches like the baroque guitar.

The 6 gut strings were still tuned like the old mandolino : g b e' a' d" g".

The Lombardic mandolin was the last of the mandolinos and it became obsolete around 1900.

Lombardic mandolin
(but it may also be called a mandore)

(picture from book by Alex Timmerman)

 

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french mandore
example :
from book Museum Vleeshuis, Antwerpen

L~530mm B= H=mm
scale ~330mm
French mandore

In France in the 19th century another (small) lute-like instrument developed, looking much like the Lombardic mandolin (and comparable with a small German lute-guitar - see lutes).

It was called (again) mandore, however the 6 single strings are in guitar-tuning :
E A d g b e'.

 

 

Notice that there is also a (large) lute-shaped instrument called mandora, which (by accident ?) also had 6 courses/strings and a guitar-tuning (see lutes).

 

 

   
top mandolins
mandolin
example : from book by Alex Timmerman
L=00 B=00 H=00mm
scale ~ 320mm
Genuese mandolin

The Genuese mandolin appeared around 1780 and did not last long.

It has a small lute-like body, with a fingerboard flush with the front, and a flat peghead, with the (12) pegs from behind. The frets are tied-on gut.

The rosette is carved in the front or made of layers of parchment. The narrow bridge is glued to the front, but the strings run over it to small pins at the end of the body. The lower end of the front (from the bridge) is slanting down (like on the mandolin Neapolitan). It has a (usually rectangular) scratch-plate near the bridge.

The 6 gut courses were tuned in guitar-tuning : ee aa dd' g'g' b'b' e"e".

 

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Cremona mandolin
example : from book by Alex Timmerman
L=00 B=0 H=00mm
scale ~320mm
You Tube
Cremona mandolin

The Cremona mandolin (sometimes also called Brescian mandolin) was developed around 1800 by the musician Bortolazzi, and did not last long.

It has a small lute-like body, with a sickle-shaped head, ending in a square. The fingerboard is flush with the front, and it has tied-on gut frets. It often has a carved rosette and the bridge is glued to the front. It does not have a scratch-plate.

The tuning of the 4 gut strings was like a Neapolitan mandolin (or like a violin):
g d' a' e" .

 

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mandolin Neapolitan
example :
from website Bingham
L=0 B=00 H=00mm
scale ~330mm
You Tube
mandolin Neapolitan

In Napels, around the 1750s, the mandolin was developed, not as a continuation of the mandolinos, but more as a relative of the Turkish tanburs and buzoks.

The earliest Neapolitan mandolins were still different from our modern version.
The back of the body was made like the mandolino (with thin wooden staves, glued together at the joints) to form a bowl, like the lute. But as the top stave (around the front) was now wider, the body-shape of a mandolin became much deeper than that of a mandolino. The soundhole did not have a carved rosette anymore.

An important feature is that the front is slanting down from the bridge for re-enforcement against the higher pull of the (metal) strings (as earlier used on the chitarra battente, which also had metal strings - see guitars1). The fingerboard is flush with the front, and has tied-on gut frets. The flat tuning head has 8 pegs from behind, and the strings run over the narrow loose bridge to pins at the end of the body. There is a scratch-plate, usually made of thin tortoiseshell backed with goldleaf.

The mandolin has 4 double courses of metal strings, tuned in the violin tuning :
gg' d'd' a'a' e''e''. In the beginning, as it was difficult to get proper metal strings, the highest string was still made of gut.

It was played with a plectrum.

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mandolin
example :
Musikalia, bought 1995
L=630 B=210 H=150mm
scale 340mm
You Tube
solo mandolin
You Tube
mandolin orchestra
mandolin (modern)

The mandoline neapolitan is nowadays the most popular mandolin. This mandolin exists in several different sizes (like a family), most of them are mentioned on this page. This one is the most often used size : the "soprano" mandolin. It developed around 1850 from the original Neapolitan mandolin, when better metal strings became available.

The main difference is the raised fingerboard, with metal frets running higher up. The tuning pegs are replaced by tuning machines from the back of the flat tuninghead.

The back of the body is made of thin wooden staves, glued together at the joints to form a bowl, like the lute. The front is slanting down from the bridge for re-enforcement against the pull of the metal strings.

The mandolin has 4 double courses of metal strings, tuned in the violin tuning :
gg d'd' a'a' e''e'' .

It is played with a plectrum, often (especially in Italy) with a rapid tremolo to lengthen/bind the notes.

For more information about different types of mandolins see CBOM, and for the family see Banjolin.co.uk.

Different sizes can be used in a mandolin-family orchestra :
- piccolo mandolin (rare)
- mandolin (soprano)
- alto mandolin (rare)
- mandola (
or tenor mandolin)
- octave mandolin (tenor mandola)
- mando-cello
- bass mandolin
- mandolone
(guitar shaped bass)


Here the relative sizes of the family:
- mando-cello
- mandola
- mandolin
- octave mandolin

(picture from Larsonscreations.com)
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Roman mandolin
example :
from website Embergher.com
L=620mm B= H= mm
scale 330mm
You Tube

Roman mandolin

Originally these mandolins were made in the area of Rome, especially by Luigi Embergher (1856-1943), one of the top Italian mandolin makers. He introduced around 1890 some special features to get a very high class instrument, to make it possible for the mandolin to be accepted as an orchestral instrument.

Starting from the modern Neapolitan mandolin, the body became slightly slender and the fretboard rounded, for fast playing. The fingerboard extents to almost over the soundhole, for very high notes on the e"-string.

He used an slotted tuning head (with guitar-like tuning machines), and for some of his models a mandolino-like sickle-shaped head; a shape that for mandolins became known as the "Embergher tuning-head".

His instruments are still very much in demand.

Instruments from Emberghers workshop included :
quartino (c' g' d" a"), terzino (bes' f' c" g"), mandolino (g d' a' e"),
mandoliola (c g d' a'), mandola (G d a e'), mandoloncello (C G d a),
mandolbasso (G' D A e, or E' A' D G) and the mandolinetto (d' a' e" b").


See for lots of information the special site of Embergher.com by the Dutch mandolin-expert Alex Timmerman.

 

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(tenor) mandola
example :
bought via eBay 2007
L=770 B=270 H=160 mm
scale 420mm
You Tube

mandola or tenor mandola or tenor mandolin

The mandola is originally the "alto" of the mandolin family. In mandolin-orchestras they normally use the bowlback shaped body. However nowadays the mandola is often also used in folk /celtic music and the body then resembles more the flat cittern-like shape. Also the F-style and A-style mandolins (see under) are available in mandola sizes.

The mandola has a longer scale than the mandolin (about 450mm), and is usually tuned 7 tones lower : cc gg d'd' a'a' . When used in Irish folk music it can be tuned in a variety of tunings.

left :
a tenor mandola in the cittern-style for Irish folk music

(from website Moonguitar)

 

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octave mandolin
example :
Ashbury 325,
bought via eBay 2009
L=830 B=340 H=75 mm
scale 520mm
You Tube

octave mandolin or octave mandola

The octave mandolin (also called octave mandola) is another member of the mandolin family, and nowadays mainly used in Irish folk music. So although they are sometimes made with bowl-back bodies, most often you will see them with the flat cittern-like body.

The scale is about 520mm, with a tuning one octave lower than the mandolin :
GG dd aa e'e'.

Note that with a scale of more than 600mm the same instrument will be called Irish bouzouki, or Irish cittern (see Ireland) - but the latter often has 5 courses.
left: octave mandolin, right: bouzouki  
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mandocello
example :
right mandocello,
left mandolin,
from website banjolin.co.uk
L= B= H= mm
scale ~650mm
You Tube
mandocello

The mandocello is a large mandolin, and part of the mandolin family. It may also be called : mandoloncello or liuto cantabile.

The body of the mandocello could be with a bowl-back, but as such a large rounded shape is quite difficult to hold, it often has a flat back.

The scale is about 650mm (similar to a guitar), and the tuning is one octave lower than the mandola : CC GG dd aa. Sometimes only one C string is used. If there are 5 courses, it is with an extra top course, tuned e'e'.

The mandocello is played with a plectrum, and mainly used in the mandolin orchestras and in mandolin quartets, to play the bass lines.

from left to right :

* mandolin
* mandola
* octave mandolin
* mondol (size of mandocello)

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mando-bass
example : picture from Palmguitars.com
L=00 B=00 H=00 mm
scale ~1000mm
You Tube

mando-bass

The mando-bass was originally designed in the 1910's by the Gibson firm for use in large mandolin orchestras. It is still popular in the USA.

The mando-bass has a teardrop shape, and a flat front and back. The soundholes are f-shaped. Other models may have a more mandolin-shape body, or a round soundhole.
It has a long guitar-like neck with metal frets. The flat peghead has tuning machines from behind.

The mando-bass has 4 thick strings, that run over a loose bridge to a metal stringholder.

Tuning could be : E' A' D G (like the upright bass).

The mandobass is often played like an upright bass.

 

 

picture from website BBC

 

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mandriola
example :
bought via eBay 2007
L=680 B=275 H=85 mm
scale 335mm
You Tube

mandriola

A mandriola is a mandolin with 4 triple-string courses (12 strings in total). The body can be with a bowl-back, but the back is often flat or slightly rounded.

The mandriola was popular in the early 20th Century, and many were made in Germany. Some mandriolas have even 4x 4 strings (there is no special name for those). The instrument has a relative in the Mexican folk music, where it is called tricordia (or trichordia or tricordio).

Tuning can be with "low octaves", like Ggg dd'd' aa'a' e'e"e", or without any octaves, so : ggg d'd'd' a'a'a' e"e"e", which is sometimes confusingly called "high octaves".

The mandriola is played like a normal mandolin, but gives a much fuller sound.

 

 

 

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flat back mandolin
example :
Musima, bought 1978
L=620 B=270 H=80mm
scale = 330mm
You Tube
flat back mandolin

This mandolin is (like all mandolins) of the same size as the neapolitan mandolin. It does not have a lute-like back, shaped like a bowl, but it is flat, or slightly rounded. The front is also flat, without the slanting bit under the bridge.

This kind of instrument (with slightly different teardrop-shapes) is used in many countries as folk instrument, as it is much easier and cheaper to build.

 

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bluegrass mandolin
example :
Samick model 450,
bought 1998
L= 700 B=260 H=70mm
scale 350mm
You Tube
bluegrass mandolin or f-style mandolin

This special type of mandolin was designed in the early 20th Century by the Gibson factory USA, based on an archtop instrument. It became such a succes that the model is now standard and called : f-style or bluegrass mandolin (after the type of music for which it is most often used).

The body shape is very a-symmetrical, but feels quite balanced anyway. The curl is usually made of solid wood. The front and back are arched and it has f-hole soundholes, all based on the original violin designs. The tuning head has also a scroll.

The bridge is usually in two parts, the top half can be raised or lowered by two big screws.

The sound is slightly jazzier than the round-back mandolins.

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A-style mandolin
example :
Stagg, bought from Musicdiscount24.de 2010
L=690 B=260 H=50mm
scale 355mm
You Tube

A-style mandolin

Another archtop with a special body designed by Gibson, which also became quite popular and therefore a standard shape.

The body usually has f-holes, but some makers use a normal round soundhole instead.

 

 

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mandolin Gelas 1923
example :
bought via eBay 2009
L=620 B=205 H=75mm
scale 340mm
You Tube
mandolin Gelas

In the early 1920 the Frenchman Gelas designed a very special instrument, with a double top.

The body is made in two parts : the real soundbox, whose top is only visible on the bottom half. This box runs all the way to the neck, and has its own soundhole. A second piece of wood (the visible soundboard) runs over the top-half of the box to the neck, without touching the top of the real soundbox.
The side covers the space from the back to the highest of the two tops.
Some models have a flat back, others have a rounded lute-like shape.

The bridge is fixed onto the soundbox, and due to the peculiar angle, the strings in this case are pulling the bridge up, instead of pressing it down on the soundboard, as is usual.

The soundhole is oval.

It seems that Gelas was just the designer, and although his signature is both on the inlay paper and as stamp on the front, the instruments were normally made under licence by other French makers. They were made untill the 1970's.
The same principal of the double top was also used for mandolas and for guitars.

For more information about this mandolin Gelas see MandolinCafe .

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mandolinetto
example :
bought via eBay 2003
L=510 B=120 H=70mm
scale 290mm
You Tube
mandolinetto

Not all mandolins have a lute-like shape : some look like a guitar, or like a banjo. This nice (small) guitar-shaped mandolin, was popular in UK and USA in the first part of the 20th century and for some reason became known as mandolinetto.

It is made just like a small guitar (ukulele size), usually with some fancy plectrum scratch-plate on the front. The soundhole is often oval shaped.

For more information about mandolinettos see MinerMusic .



Note that another small guitar-shaped instrument with 4 courses is the taropatch from Hawaii (see North America).

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mandolin banjo
example :
from website Musikalia
L= B= H=mm
scale ~350mm
You Tube

mandolin banjo

Not all mandolins are in lute-like shapes : some are even shaped like a banjo. This banjo body has a mandolin neck with strings in a mandolin tuning.

It was mainly popular in the UK during the first part of the 20th century.
It is played like a (loud) mandolin (see also the banjo page).

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lyre mandolin
example :
from website Musikalia
L= B= H=mm
scale ~350mm
You Tube

lyre mandolin or harp mandolin

Some mandolins got an unusually body-shape, like those based on instruments made by the Larson Brothers in the USA during the early 1900. The extra arm was probably meant to get some more volume.

Unlike the harp guitars, which had always some extra bass strings on the arm extention, most versions of the harp mandolin had no extra strings (like this modern version made by Musikalia).
Only a few were actually made with 4 bass strings.

 

 

 

picture from website Vintageinstruments.com

   
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