Many believe mandolins originally evolved from the Lute family on Italian soil during the 17th and 18th centuries, and the deep-bowled mandolin produced in Naples became the most common type in the nineteenth century. The original instrument was the called a mandola (mandorla is "almond" in Italian, a refrence to the instrument's body shape) and later evolved and transitioned in the fifteenth century from the lute. As the mandola become smaller, it became known as a mandolina.
Reaching back ever farther in history, around 5,000 BC to 8,000 BC, single stringed instruments have been seen in cave paintings. They were played with a bow, or struck and plucked. From these, the families of instruments began to branch off into their somewhat primal forms of the instruments we know today. Single strings were long and gave a single melody line. In order to make the playing of the instrument more scales were shortened drastically and other strings were added with a different tensions to create different sounds. In turn, this led to being able to play diads and chords. The bowed family became the rabob, rebec and then the fiddle becoming the violin and modern family by 1520 (incidentally also in Naples). Instruments that were commonly plucked led to lute-reminiscent instruments in 2000 BC Mesopotamia, followed by appearing in Spain in 711 courtesy of the Moors.
In the following centuries frets were added and the strings doubled to courses, leading to the first full-fledged Lute appearing in the 13th century. The history of this elusive string instrument and the mandolin are deeply intertwined from this point on. The lute gained a fifth course by the 15th century and up to thirteen courses in its heyday. As early as the 14th century a miniature mandola called a mandora appeared. The name has really evolved, right? Similar to the mandola, it had counterparts in Assyria (pandura), the Arab countries (dambura), and Ukraine (kobza-bandura). From this, the mandolino, a smaller mandola with six strings tuned g b e' a' d g and sometimes called the Baroque mandolin was played with a quill and believed to be of Italian creation. The mandolino was sometimes called a mandolin in the early eighteenth century (around 1735) Naples, which is where the name we know today came into play.
If you are well-past the beginner stage of playing the mandolin you may be starting to think about the affect the type of strings you play with have on your music. This may lead you down the rabbit hole of tirelessly comparing two of the most popular options for mandolin strings: phosphor bronze or coppper wound.
While reading other opinions and experiences on this topic its important to remember the ultimate choice should be what feels and sounds right to you; so make sure to try out each type of string first.
To begin with, the phosphor bronze 80/20 strings produce a crisp, bright, and projecting tone that many mandolin enthusiasts love. They are often heard in early bluegrass, as well as 50s and 60s acoustic music.
Copper mandolin strings have a fuller and darker sounding tone than 80/20 strings and add a bit of warmth. The added copper wind gives a bit more tonal softness compared to other string types and the pick attack is generally less pronounced than in brighter strings.
Ultimately, for a brighter and crisper sound one should lean towards bronze, where as copper producer a darker tonal sound that is far more full and rich.
If you would like to check out our selection of low-cost, high quality mandolin strings please click the button below to view our shop.
Sometimes we can't afford the luxury of taking a mandolin class or, even more expensive, hriing a private tutor. Fortunately, the internet is a wealth of free resources where you can learn just about anything. Here is a quick list of freesources online where you can quickly or slowly teach yourself to strum along to all your favorite mandolin songs. We hope you enjoy!
Probably the most popular choice and I could not recommend it more. Free weekly video classes and endless resources. Visit https://www.mandolessons.com/
2. Mandolin Compass
A very similiar mandolin resource to MandoLessons. Visit http://mandolincompass.com/
3. Bradley Laird
Another online video teacher with a massive amount of free online resources for learning the strings. visit http://www.bradleylaird.com/playthemandolin/
4. TuneFox for Mandolin
Set up like a school course and well-broken down written resource with other video resources linked. Always free. Visit https://www.tunefox.com/lessons/mandolin/
And thats just to name a few. You can always do your own Google search or ask around on popular mandolin forums to get other player's perspectives on which free courses are the most thorough and rewarding.
So, you've decided to play mandolin. You've got your mandolin, you're strumming along, doing chops...and oh no! The first string break. Now what? Well, of course, its time to buy a new set of strings. Before we start thinking about where to buy, we need to figure out what to buy. And its pretty hard to know what to buy when you just started playing.
So we created this simplified beginner's guide to mandolin strings to helping you on your string shopping experience.
You have three basic attributes of a set of mandolin strings (8 strings, tuned GDAE). These will all effect the sound of your mandolin in different ways. They are as follows:
1. String Gauge
Mandolin string gauges (how thick the strings physically are) are usually either light, medium or heavy. You may find a few labeled between the two, such as medium-heavy. The heavier (thicker) your string is, the louder the sound the mandolin will produce. So of course they seem preferable, right? Well, if you're a beginner, probably not. They have more tension, so they are harder to press down on. It also often labors the tempo of playing, especially if you are inexperienced. Unless you have played string instruments before, you likely won't have the finger strength to produce clear notes. I always say start with light strings, and work your way up.
2. String Material
Your top two sets of strings, so your top four strings (GG, DD) will be made of steel wrapped most commonly in bronze phosphor, copper or nickel, while your bottom two sets of high strings (AA, EE) will be made completely of stainless steel or something similar. Some are even made completely of steel. Which metal type the mandolin strings are made of heavily influences the overall tone of the sound. For example, bronze is excellent for mellow celtic accompaniments, while copper is better for bright bluegrass. Packages of strings will often tell you the best type of music to be played with the strings, and you can research your preferred style of music and what string composites they are most played with. But an overall pleaser is always copper; it seems to work for almost all genres and tones.
Here is a good snippet from themandolintuner that explains it well:
3. String Construction:
This one is fairly simple, its a choice between round-top of flat-top and it absolutely depends on what you want to play. For faster picking styles, flat-top adds ease of playing. However, round-top strings are amazing for playing chords and chops. They create a smoother, fuller sound but are much harder on the fingers. They also tend to be a fair amount cheaper.
All brands have their own codes for the combination of these three aspects of a set of mandolin strings. Codes like "AM101" or "EJ74". These are brand-specific and do not cross over to other brands, and really aren't worth concerning yourself with. Read packaging carefully to figure out string length, composite, etc.
Well, there you have it. You are all equipped to set out on your hunt for the perfect set of mandolin strings. Happy hunting!
Okay, so you've listened to enough bluegrass, or maybe celtic folk music, and decided you want to play the mandolin. Congratulations! The mandolin is a unique and fun instrument with a rich sound that accompanies so many other instruments so well, and can also be played on its own. Weather you are back-country or a backpacker, the mandolin is always a rewarding instrument.
The only problem with learning the mandolin is also one of the greatest draws to playing it: its uniqueness. Although its fun to play something other people often don't know, its hard to find someone to teach you to play if few people know how. Luckily, we have a few tips here, a lot of them from personal experience, to get you started.
So how do you get started?
First off, get a mandolin(duh). If you already have come across or purchased a mandolin, great! You can skip to the next part. However, if your decision to play is freash and you don't have a set of eight strings yet, here are the four ways to go about scoring one:
1. Borrow a mandolin
We are often inspired by the people we surround ourselves with. If you have a friend who plays mandolin that made you want to play, ask them to borrow theirs. If you're short on cash and have good social connections, this is the perfect option. Even if you don't currently know anyone who plays, never be afraid to ask around or post on social media. You may be surprised with the results; musicians are often excited to encourage new musicians and have spare instruments laying around.
2. Rent a mandolin
If you're not sure about the mandolin being for you yet but want to put in some cash on trying a good one, check out some local rental services. Long and Mcquade offers instrument rentals as an example. This is often extremely cost effective and an amazing opportunity to play around and find the right instrument for you.
3. Buy a new mandolin
Of course, this is the most obvious way to approach it. I always suggest if you have a little more money to go to a local shop and talk to someone and test out the instrument before you buy, however there are always cost-effective options online that are darn good. Even the wish app has deals on mandolins!
4. Buy a used mandolin
If you are a fan of discounts and eco-friendly living, this is definitely the option for you. I suggest checking your local online classifieds (craigslist, kijiji, used, etc) and never forget about your local pawn shop. Also, check local thrift stores, although finding one can be rare; try leaving your name and phone number in case they get a mandolin in stock. It will definitely be a waiting game, but for under a hundred bucks you could end up with a vintage mandolin to make all your friends jealous.
Once you have a mandolin, you need to learn to play. Of course its no use otherwise, other than being an expensive paperweight. Here are your options for learning how to strum and pluck those eight strings all the way to twangy glory:
1. Self Teaching With Books
2. Hire a private tutor
You can look up any local music schools you have as well as instrument shops that offer lessons. Don't forget to use local classifieds as well; even if you don't find any listings, you can always post one asking if anyone who has the skill to play mandolin has the time to tutor. Another option if you are more remote or even want to save money is online tutoring. There are tons of great websites for every type of tutor, including music tutors. Try searching around for online teachers.
3. Use Youtube/Video Courses
There are hundreds upon hundreds of free and cheap video courses and classes online that are professional and easily accessible, some even live. A quick youtube search will show you mandolin lessons are abundant, and free live classes occur often. With one of these you can learn mandolin at any pace you want.
4. Find a local music class
If you can't quite afford a private tutor but still want some professional training, research music schools and group classes in your area. There may even be free class/workshops available as promotions for companies or to support mental health. I'd also recommend contacting any local music schools to see if they have any mandolin classes open to the public, or if you can enroll.
5. Ask a friend who plays
As discussed earlier, you may have someone in your life who currently plays mandolin that in part or in full inspired you to learn. It may be nerve-racking for some, but asking them is your best option. You'd be surprised how willing practiced musicians are to pass down knowledge to new ones. Not to mention you can count on a friend or family member to teach you with your best interest in mind- and more often than not, for free!
Thats it. Good luck learning to play, I know you'll be a star!