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Guide to Mandolins

Mandolin : What is it?

Mandolins

Mandolins are string instruments with teardrop-shaped bodies and eight metal strings. The strings are arranged in four pairs, known as courses, and are usually tuned in fifths. This means that the difference in pitch from one course to another is roughly equivalent to seven piano keys.

Mandolins produce a very sweet sound, typically the highest pitch in a mandolin ensemble. Like other plucked instruments, their notes have poor sustain; that is, their notes do not hold as long as they do on violins and bowed instruments. This is usually remedied by a technique called a tremolo, where the courses are plucked in rapid succession to better sustain the notes. 

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Types of Mandolins

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Kinds of Mandolins include the following:

Italian mandolins

  • Italian mandolins have flat fronts, rounded backs, and longer necks.
  • An oval sound hole at the front provides resonance and enhances volume.
  • They are commonly used in mandolin concertos, classical music, and Italian lyric songs.
  • They are usually played in melodies instead of chords, either one note at a time or in two-part harmonies.


A-Style flat backs

  • These mandolins are made from curved panels, giving them a slightly rounded overall shape.
  • This shape provides a fuller and deeper sound than Italian mandolins.
  • They are bigger than Italian mandolins and have wider necks, allowing users to play both chords and melodies.


F-style flat backs

  • These mandolins are shaped like electric guitars and have f-shaped sound holes.
  • They have strong, clear tones and more solid rhythms.
  • They are most commonly used in bluegrass music.

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Choosing Mandolins (Buying tips)

Soundboard: Choose a mandolin with a thick, curved soundboard or front panel. This will greatly reduce the tension exerted by the strings on the body. Make sure there are no warps, dents, or caved-in spots on the surface.

Action: Action refers to the distance between the string and the fingerboard. A low-action string setup provides easier fretwork and may be ideal for beginners and children. For serious or professional use, choose a higher-action mandolin for better pitch control.

Wood quality:
Choose a mandolin with light spruce soundboard for excellent resonance and durability. Be sure to check the authenticity of the wood – some models are made of low-quality plywood with a spruce-like polish.

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