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Mandolins: A Brief Overview

In the United States, we know the mandolin as a back porch instrument used throughout bluegrass, Americana, and folk music. But we aren't the only ones to enjoy the bright, nimble tone of the mandolin; Beethoven played it, and other composers like Mahler, Stravinsky, Vivaldi, and even Mozart incorporated the instrument into their compositions. A member of the lute family, modern mandolins descended from the 16th-century European mandore. Today, mandolin is played all over the world as a part of countless traditions: Irish jigs, American blues, rock, classical, Brazilian folk, and more.

The Basics

A standard mandolin has eight metal strings - coupled into four courses, or pairs. These four courses are tuned to perfect fifths in succession - G D A E - which is also the standard tuning for violins. These strings stretch from the headstock, across the fretted neck, over the bridge, and into the tailpiece. Mandolin soundboards are specially constructed to handle the extreme pressure of these metal strings. Standard soundboards also have one or two sound holes - oval holes, round holes, F-holes, etc. As with acoustic guitars, a mandolin's tone is shaped by its build, sound hole(s), and type(s) of wood used. Mandolins are strummed or plucked either by hand, or with the use of a plectrum.

Mandolins come in many different shapes and sizes. Three of the most common builds include: flat-backed (common in Brazilian and English folk), round-backed or Neapolitan (common in European classical music), and carved top (common in American bluegrass and folk). You can also find mandolins with four strings, six strings, twelve strings, and even sixteen strings. The mandolin family includes piccolo, alto, tenor, bass, and even contrabass models - but the standard (and most common) mandolin is the soprano model, with a scale length of around 14 inches. Acoustic-electric mandolins allow players to plug into an amp or mixer, while resonator mandolins rely on metal cone resonators - instead of traditional soundboards - for a louder, modified tone.

A Few Notable Models

Industrie Music carries a broad selection of mandolins - for beginners, seasoned performers, and anyone in between. The Epiphone MM-30S is a great place to start: with a mahogany body and neck, and an antique sunburst finish. The MM-30S is an A-style model; A-style mandolins have pear-shaped bodies, while F-style mandolins have a more asymmetrical design, featuring an ornamental "scroll" flourish. The Gretsch G9350 Park Avenue is an acoustic-electric mandolin with a distinctive F-style body and solid spruce top.

Washburn is a longtime producer of high-quality mandolins, and their M118SW Florentine Cutaway model is no exception. Its distressed matte finish, ebony fingerboard, and twin F-holes give the M118SW a dark, antique charm. Sweetwater also carries mandolin accessories like carrying cases, tuners, straps, mandolin strings, stands, etc. If you're looking to expand your stringed repertoire, step back into history with the incomparable tone of a mandolin. If you can't decide which model is right for you, our Sales Engineers are standing by with friendly, expert advice.

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