Page 1 of 1

A few questions about the mandolin family

PostPosted: Mon Aug 20, 2018 11:06 am
by Mark Wybierala
1. Is there a reason why the fretboard width is typically quite narrow? The same question would apply to violins. I find it difficult to navigate. Is this just tradition or is there a technical reason for this?

2. I've built a number of electric octave mandolins and mandolas. I typically split the 3rd and 4th string pairs as octaves instead of being a pair in unison and I always like the result. I don't see this being done by others. Is it done by others?

3. Is there a reason that I don't see raduised fretboards on mandolins?

Re: A few questions about the mandolin family

PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2018 5:38 am
by Chris Reed
1. Tradition. But mandolin and violin are strung at the same pitches, and quite a few players play both, so that might explain the similar neck width.

2. Don't know, but why not?

3. Some mandolins do have radiused fretboards, but on a narrow fretboard the radius makes much less difference to playability. Even on ukuleles, which usually have wider fretboards, radiusing is uncommon but not unknown.

Re: A few questions about the mandolin family

PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2018 12:22 pm
by Clay Schaeffer
1. Another reason may be that mandolins are tuned in fifths, which makes chords "longer", so a narrower fingerboard helps keep the stretches more manageable. Melodic lines played on mandolins are sometimes very fast, so less distance between the notes might be an advantage. But mostly as previously stated the similarity with the violin may be the biggest reason.

2. I build octave mandolins and generally don't split the pairs. I build double strung tenor guitars and usually use octave pairs for the lower three pairs. I am looking for a different sound from the two types of instruments and that is what works for me.

3. I believe Radiusing is done to facilitate barre chords on wider fingerboards, so may not be needed for mandolins.

Re: A few questions about the mandolin family

PostPosted: Sat Sep 22, 2018 1:33 pm
by Mark Wybierala
I fully understand the distance issue as I'm trying to improve my skills by doing on-line mandolin lessons using both my electric mandolas and octave mandolins with the wider string spacing. I've built electric mandolins but they all sell too fast for me to ever manage to keep one for any length of time. Its the fret spacing of 20 to 25.5" scales that really prohibit emulating a lot of the mandolin acrobatics but there's always a way around these things. Using the on-line mandolin lessons is actually working despite the conflicts.

Re: A few questions about the mandolin family

PostPosted: Tue Oct 16, 2018 7:41 pm
by Clay Schaeffer
Hi Mark,
You might enjoy switching off to a tenor banjo occasionally. They are also tuned in fifths with scale lengths of 20 1/2 to 23 1/2 inches. They have a narrower neck and (usually) lower tension strings. They are usually tuned cgda but shorter scales sometimes tuned gdae or gdad (irish tuning)

Re: A few questions about the mandolin family

PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2018 1:36 pm
by Brendon Foley
1. Tradition. Gibson set the standard with their archtop mandolins 100 or so years ago. The "copied from violin" hypothesis seems valid as Orville Gibson's designs were based on violin design. I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that some modern mandolin builders such as Stefan Sobell have built Mandos with wider necks to improve playability. These tend to be called Celtic Mandolins.

2. If it works for you that's fine, just make sure that buyers feel the same way.

3. It's become quite common for contemporary builders to radius their fingerboards but it's not universal. It's supposed to aid playability but given that Mando players don't generally play barre chords (well, I don't anyway) I don't see the point of it. It depends on what the player prefers I guess.

Re: A few questions about the mandolin family

PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2018 3:59 pm
by Mario Proulx
LOL....!

Kids, the mandolin is an Italian instrument that was around long before Orville Gibson was even born...!

And early Gibson mandolins had fairly wide necks, well over 1-1/4" wide at the nut.

Re: A few questions about the mandolin family

PostPosted: Mon Dec 10, 2018 12:57 am
by Brendon Foley
Hi Mario. From what I said I wasn't meaning to imply that Gibson-style mandos are the only ones out there. I'm well aware of the history of the mandolin and the neapolitan mandolin etc. Maybe I didn't phrase my reply correctly. In my limited experience the a-style and f-style mandolin are the ones that are best-known, at least in folk and bluegrass music. If the early Gibson mandolins had fairly wide fingerboards maybe you can tell us why many of the mandolins I've seen have narrow fingerboards.

Re: A few questions about the mandolin family

PostPosted: Sat May 11, 2019 10:31 am
by John Dallas
Kids, the mandolin is an Italian instrument that was around long before Orville Gibson was even born...!


Very true; but what is perhaps more important for the neck width is that in Italy - and also in Germany, where the mandolin is also a folk instrument - the playing style is usually melodic. That means there's only one string vibrating at a time, so it doesn't matter if the fretting finger impinges on another string. In this context, the narrow neck has the advantage of short distances for the fingers to travel between strings.
Chording is usually left to the guitar, though a mandolinist may occasionally use double stops, like a violinist does.

Cheers,
John