Electric Mandolin Strings

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Neil Cawley
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Electric Mandolin Strings

Post by Neil Cawley »

I purchased an electric ukulele, four strings, 17 inch scale length and I want to string and tune it like a mandolin. I tried using medium to light strings but keep breaking the E string during tuning. The string is breaking in tension between the nut and the bridge. The string I was using was 0.011" in diameter. My research on the web indicates I should try a 0.009" string. Anyone have experience with this kind of tuning?


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Bob Gramann
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Re: Electric Mandolin Strings

Post by Bob Gramann »

My mandolins have .09” strings in that position. But, they have about a 13.5” scale and the E strings are pretty tight at E. You may be asking too much of any string to go to E on a 17” scale. With plain steel strings, most will break around the same pitch regardless of diameter. I ran this experiment trying to add a high A string to a 25.4” scaled guitar. It couldn’t be done.

Neil Cawley
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Re: Electric Mandolin Strings

Post by Neil Cawley »

Bob, I think you are right. I went to Guitar Center today to get strings. Talked to the folks there and we tried .009 and .010 strings, BOING with both. I am going to look into tuning as an octave mandolin or a mandola. The guy at the store suggested 0.040, 0.030, 0.020, and 0.012 strings for an octave mandolin tune. Any thoughts on this? I am starting to get quite a collection of strings.

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Bob Gramann
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Re: Electric Mandolin Strings

Post by Bob Gramann »

I’ve never worked that tuning on that scale length. If you poke around a bit on the D’Addario website you can find their string tension calculator. Make some assumptions about what tension you would like (compare to accepted tensions on other instruments with a similar scale length) and play with the equation until you get an idea of what to try. They also have a pdf document with the tensions of their various string sets. You can use that to get the weight of a string of a given diameter. You will need that value for the equation. The calculations will get you in the ballpark. The fine tuning might require some trial and error. I put their equation into a spreadsheet so the calculations would be automatic and the results would be kept for later comparison. I use it when I design a new instrument.

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Bryan Bear
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Re: Electric Mandolin Strings

Post by Bryan Bear »

Depending on what you intend to use this for, you could consider tuning a full step down then capoing up to the second fret. On a 17' scale the second fret will be at 14.91" which is well withing mandolin scale range.
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Neil Cawley
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Re: Electric Mandolin Strings

Post by Neil Cawley »

That is a good idea, thanks Bryan. I will try that.

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Bryan Bear
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Re: Electric Mandolin Strings

Post by Bryan Bear »

That was a type-o in my post. The capoed scale would be 14.191" not 14.91". . .
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Neil Cawley
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Re: Electric Mandolin Strings

Post by Neil Cawley »

So an update on my project. Tuned the ukulele like a octave mandolin, terrible sound. Looked at moving the bridge forward to get the 14 inch scale length and realized the frets are further apart on a ukulele than the mandolin. So I am going to string it as a ukulele and play with that. Maybe buy a Eastwood Mandocaster later on.

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Andrew Porter
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Re: Electric Mandolin Strings

Post by Andrew Porter »

In "The Hammered Dulcimer" by Howard Mitchell, he experimented and found for a fixed string length, plain strings of the same composition, all broke at approximately the same pitch regardless of gauge. As you increase the gauge you increase the mass lowering the pitch for a given tension necessitating an increase in tension for the same note.
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Bryan Bear
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Re: Electric Mandolin Strings

Post by Bryan Bear »

Neil Cawley wrote:So an update on my project. Tuned the ukulele like a octave mandolin, terrible sound. Looked at moving the bridge forward to get the 14 inch scale length and realized the frets are further apart on a ukulele than the mandolin. So I am going to string it as a ukulele and play with that. Maybe buy a Eastwood Mandocaster later on.
This is what I was talking about with the capo on the second fret. You can't move the bridge because the frets will not be placed correctly relative to the new scale length. But. . . you can shorten the scale from the nut end by using a capo. At the second fret your new scale length is jut a bit over 14" you should be able to tune to mandolin range from there. You can't get to octave mandolin range thought because you can't lengthen the scale, you can only use heavier strings but I think you are too far out of range for that to be practical.
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