This article compares and explains the various types of mandolins at length, giving you a clear guide to completely understanding the differences between them.
Unless you study carefully or with an expert or trainer’s help, when purchasing a mandolin, you may end up getting a wrong instrument that sounds like a tin can strung with barbed wires.
How Many Types of Mandolins Are There?
There are two main types of mandolins, Classical and Bluegrass, which are further categorized into various models based on body shapes, styles, and soundhole. Bluegrass mandolins are broken down even more into a-style and f-style.
#1 Classical/Bowl-Back Mandolin
These mandolins with round backs have similar features to their original Italian kinds and also the traditional lutes.
Since bowl back mandolins have big voluminous bowl backs, they produce a rounder deeper tone than their modern counterparts. They are familiar with musicians who play historical kinds of music, renaissance, classical, and baroque.
This mandolin has a round bowl which makes it perfect to handle. Some people frequently call it watermelon. They have deeper tones as a result of the deep bowls. Despite being traditional mandolins, their prices are quite high.
#2 Bluegrass Mandolin
These mandolins were developed in America from classical types. Due to their use in varied music, they are created adopting two unique body styles and are either the A-style or the F-style.
The two styles in bluegrass mandolins have flat back, which makes them have a lower production cost and hence less expensive compared to the classical bowl-back mandolins.
The bluegrass that came in the late 19th century in two Gibson models, these are the mandocello or the A-style and Mandobass commonly the F-style. Many mandolists believe that F-style is a better choice for its balance while playing.
The backs and tops of these mandolins are customarily carved from a solid wood preferably from spruce and maple. The bluegrass mandolin has two comes in two styles, as shown below. The phoenix Standard and phoenix neoclassical are a good choice here.
The style describes all other oval bodied or the teardrop-shaped mandolins that are not either F-style or the bowl back.
This style grew after Gibson’s productions in the 20th century. Many come with curved tops and backs where others have arched back resembling a violin.
A-style models are more like guitar profiles, although to differentiate them from the bowl back types, we describe those with arched backs as having flatbacks. The A-style mandolins do not have scrolls that make them easier to build hence less expensive.
They are common with Celtic musicians, folk, Irish, and classical music. Examples of A-style mandolins are; Rogue RM100, Ibanez M510, and Loar Grassroots Series.
This type of mandolin has a more profound and broader body type, and the sound hole is round. Spruce and cedar commonly used for the top while mahogany, rosewood and walnut are preferred for the sides. The backs and tops are mostly flat and not curved.
The A-shape style derives its name from its shape. This device has a simple design which makes it cheaper in terms of price.
This style of mandolins was first produced by Gibson in the early 19th and was their top model. The design took an elegant and smooth, attractive look. In early 1925 Lloyd Loar, a Gibsons acoustic engineer designed the F-5 under Gibson’s supervision, and that was their most renowned F-style model.
Even today, the f-style mandolins with Loar’s signature are the most expensive and loved models. All the other modern F-style mandolins are close replicas with either two f-holes of the F-5 or one oval soundhole.
Also referred to as Florentine mandolins, the F-style mandolins are most favorite of all the bluegrass mandolins and are familiar with the country, bluegrass, and root players.
Examples of F-style types are Ibanez M522, Eastman MD315, and more.
Types of Sound Holes
Mandolins typically have two sound holes which determine the type of sound produced. The two are oval-shape and F-shaped.
These mandolin’s neck joints are typically ten frets. They usually have a warmer tone, and most people describe them as tubby. Oval shaped mandolins mostly blend with folk music as well as Celtic music.
F-shaped, on the other hand, are brighter with volume. They are mostly preferred by folk and country music mandolin players.
Mandolin Variations: Octave, Electric, Mandocello
There are three common variations of mandolins that is; Electric mandolin, Octave mandolin, and mandocello.
Electric mandolin. For electric mandolin, there can either be acoustic or semi hallow mandolin.
Acoustic mandolins have a bridge that is mounted with piezoelectric pickups, which converts the vibrations of the strings to electrical impulses. The electrical signals produced are amplified sent through to the external sound system.
Semi-hollow electric mandolin. They have features like guitar counterparts. It has wood blocking at the center that runs via body interiors.
Construction Methods and Wood in Mandolin
Most mandolin tops or soundboards use spruce wood for construction. It has dense grains and offers a beautiful and articulate response in mandolins as it works for violins or guitars.
Since spruce is very rare or costly to find, most manufacturers, instead of spruce, use mahogany or cedar, which causes some deeper tone.
Best quality mandolins have soundboards hand-carved from spruce. Though most bluegrass mandolins have arched tops, most players fancy those with arched top.
More affordable mandolins have laminate tops with wood layers pressed together. Laminates come with thin veneer tops.
Although most professional mandolinist prefers spruce tops, the laminate helps regulate mandolin’s price while still producing a pleasant sound.
Mandolins fretboards comprise of either ebony or rosewood because both are hardwoods that producers ease to finger fretting.
For maximum rigidity, mandolin necks are made using mahogany or maple. The neck may involve more than one wood glued together.
For intonation and playability adjustments, mandolins neck may have a mental embedded on it.
Mandolins bridge involves ebony or rosewood fasted by a string and an electronic pickup strings for amplification. Mandolins hardware comprises tuners and tailpiece for tuning the machines.
A Brief History Of The Types Of Mandolins
Mandolins are the descendants of the lute family, and various types advanced from the classical mandolin, also referred to as the Neapolitan mandolin.
The classical mandolins that are played even today were first developed in Naples, Italy in the 18th century are popular with folk and other traditional music.
In the late 19th century, the popularity of mandolins grew, leading to the development of modern mandolins with different body shapes and designs that we have today.
The creation started in the USA when luthiers designed the arched top and flatback mandolins.
Orville Gibson and Lloyd Loar, his acoustic engineer, are the key features credited with developing modern mandolins that are associated with a jug band, country, blues, and bluegrass music.
The two are responsible for the creation of the F- style and A-style mandolins.
The first wave saw Vinnacia family design the metal string mandolin using tree brass strings, a single gut and friction tuning pegs set on a fingerboard in the seventeenth century.
The mandolin became popular mostly in the streets where young men used it for courting while some musicians took it to the street concert halls for more than half a decade.
The instrument disappeared during the Napoleonic wars of 1815. It was until the year 1835 when Pasquale Vinnacia did some modifications to the family’s invented device coming up with the Neapolitan Mandolin.
Second Wave/Golden Age Of Mandolins
During the 18th century, a group of sixty-four students from various colleges in Madrid toured France capital Paris.
The group had gone to Paris for Carnival and played flutes, violins and guitars. The first group of students received a lot of applause from Paris arousing the second group of students who visited the capital.
Alongside other instruments, the mandolin was present, which confused the latter group.
Following these groups hit the created awareness about the mandolin a band of mandolin players from Italy toured Europe and America to popularize their instrument.
The instrument later declined during the first world war but many people had learnt how to play which has given it a come back in the recent years.
Different mandolin family members have always had disputes despite having various names, bringing a lot of confusion in this family.
The simplest way to stay out of the argument is to check the mandolin’s scale length, which is the distance between the nut and the bridge, in other words, the string length that can vibrate.
The rule of tuning a mandolin from bass to treble is GDAE.
These are just basic information and things that you will be checking anytime you go shopping for a quality mandolin.
There is no specific order to follow when shopping for a mandolin; all you need to do is know your budget and listen to people’s opinions, google information and you will be the ultimate judge.
Moreover, reading reviews from reputable sites online can give you a reliable pinpoint to lead you to the right instrument. Find the best beginner mandolins here.
We hope you found this helpful in understanding all the different types of mandolins that there are on the market.