Once upon a time, when I was thirteen, my family decided that it would be a healthy thing if I went on a road trip to a summer camp halfway across the country. I thought at the time that it was a horrible idea. So did my cousin, since he was the one I would be hitching a ride with. He was moving to California for a couple of years and wanted to take his worldly possessions with him in a truck across the country, very convenient, my parents thought. So they offered to give him gas money if he took me.
No matter how much I whined and how many tantrums I threw there was no changing my fate. One side had been bribed by the other, the system was corrupt and I had to chance of appeal. On an early June morning a truck, loaded with clothes, sports equipment, a couch (I have no idea why he was bringing a couch) a guitar, a drumset and a mandolin, pulled up to my apartment building. My cousin had arrived, loaded with caffeine and excitement for the sunny side of California. I on the other hand had been loaded with a bad mood and sleep deprivation, which persisted through the trip (Oh teenage years).
Until, sometime when we entered Colorado, I fell asleep to the Grateful Dead. We had arrived by the time I had woken up and I had warmed to the idea of a summer camp. My cousin has warmed up to me too. As he dropped me off he told me that he would visit me and that the song I liked was called Friend of the Devil. “This is the only and the best mandolin I have. Take it.”
Table of Contents
- What Is The Best Mandolin
- Kentucky KM-1050 Master F-model Mandolin
- Gold Tone GM-70 F-Style Mandolin
- The Loar LM-500-VS Contemporary F-Style Mandolin
- Eastman MD315 Classic Finish F-style Mandolin
- Seagull S8 Mandolin SG, Burnt Amber Burnt Umber
- Kentucky KM-140 Standard A-model Mandolin
- Rogue Learn-the-Mandolin Package Sunburst
- Luna Folk Series Trinity A-Style Mandolin
- Epiphone MM-30S “A-Style” Mandolin
- Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin Sunburst
- History of Mandolin
- Types of Mandolin
- Mandolin Parts
What Is The Best Mandolin
|Kentucky KM-1050 Master F-model Mandolin||(5 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Gold Tone GM-70 F-Style Mandolin||(5 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|The Loar LM-500-VS Contemporary F-Style Mandolin||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Eastman MD315 Classic Finish F-style Mandolin||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Seagull S8 Mandolin SG, Burnt Amber Burnt Umber||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon|
|Kentucky KM-140 Standard A-model Mandolin||(4.7 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Rogue Learn-the-Mandolin Package Sunburst||(4.7 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Luna Folk Series Trinity A-Style Mandolin||(4.7 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Epiphone MM-30S "A-Style" Mandolin||(4.6 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin Sunburst||(4.6 / 5)||Check on Amazon
History of Mandolin
The history of the mandolin begins in the same place as the history of traveling musicians and bards that your imagination is fueled by. Italy, the birthplace of so much of the western culture we take granted for, is the birthplace (as far as we know) of the first steel-strung mandolins. We can’t know for sure because there might have been other places with the instrument, but we have to get most of our history from the literature of the world. And the historical literature of the world is not always the most reliable source, but that is not what we are here to discuss.
The mandolin is the direct successor of the lute, the legendary instrument that has saturated popular culture representations of the musicians from the middle ages. The Mandolin became extremely popular in the 17th and 18th centuries when musicians started traveling with the instrument and teaching how to play it, while also performing concerts. The instrument was referred to as the Neapolitan Mandolin at the time because it originated in Naples. They were easy to recognize because of their almond-shaped body, and bowl-shaped backs. The popularity of the instrument persisted into the 20th century, whence it arrived in the United States of America.
The shape of the mandolin went through changed over time, into the shape that is popular today. The modern flatback, carved shape of the mandolin that you often see is the result of the hard work put into the design by the Gibson Company. I guess we should thank them because the bowl-back mandolin is not the most comfortable to play. These instruments were first sold by dealers, who were also teachers, to their students. Those who would buy the instrument would often become part of the mandolin orchestra.
Up to twenty performers could be part of the orchestra, all of them having a unique “representative” of the mandolin family, because the mandolin family is rather large, with a diverse set of sounds that can work together, under right direction, to produce beautiful compositions. This practice quickly died down after the 1920s though as the new age of music arrived. The mandolin found widespread use in many new genres.
One of the genres to adopt the mandolin the fastest was Bluegrass. Thanks to Bill Monroe, the so-called father of bluegrass, which is a rightful name really, the mandolin became the favored instrument by many bluegrass players. His performances on the radio inspired people around the south and the US to adopt the instrument and his style of play. The instrument came into wide demand for the bluegrass players, from which it bled into the country music scene.
Even today you will find the instrument being used by bluegrass and country musicians. The success of the instrument in these genres translated into interest from musicians in other genres. You could eventually find the Mandolin being used in Folk music, Jazz music and even Rock and Roll. What you might find the most surprising is that before any of these genres adopted the mandolin, the instrument was already in wide use among classical musicians and composers. Beethoven, Vivaldi, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and so many others were composed specifically for this unique and beautiful instrument.
Types of Mandolin
Despite the mandolin referring to one popular instrument that we often think of when talking about the instrument, the name may refer to a number of instruments that belong to the mandolin family. Some of these instruments are less in use than others, but all of them have something to offer to musicians looking for diversity in their sound and music.
The Mandolin – The one and most famous member of the family, this instrument is the Soprano instrument of the family. It is the most widely used one in the popular culture and the favorite of many.
The Mandola – The mandola is slightly larger than the mandolin as is tuned a fifth below the mandolin. Tuned slightly differently, this instrument offers a beautiful sound to anyone brave enough to venture slightly beyond the mainstream.
The Octave Mandolin – Similar to many ways to the mandolin, this instrument is always tuned an octave below it and provides a deeper, warmer sound. Fun times for fun players looking for a deeper sound.
The Mando-Cello – The name of this instrument tells everything you need to know about it – larger and a much lower tuning, this large instrument is fun to play but takes a lot of time and practice to learn.
The Mando-Bass – You remember how I mentioned that there used to be mandolin orchestras once upon a time? Well, the Mando-Bass was produced specifically for the use of these orchestras, only having four strings, being very large and heavy and low in sound. You won’t encounter too many of these nowadays, but if you do, might be worth attempting to grab a hold and play. Just don’t be a bad person about it.
The mandolin is composed of several parts that will remind you of the cousin instrument: the guitar. This makes sense since both of these instruments come from the same origin and are both stringed instruments. The fact that the mandolin is closer related to the lute does mean that it is different from the guitar, not only in size and number of strings. The mandolin is made up of several components that the knowledge of can help you pick the best one for you
Headstock – The part that most of the stringed instruments have, the headstock is an important part of the instrument that houses the tuning pegs.
Tuning Pegs – Where you get to tune your mandolin. You have eight of them on the average mandolin. Tuned in pairs that sound identical, these really should be very sturdy and tuning steady.
Nut – On the bottom of the headstock, just like in the guitar, it keeps the strings raised off of the fretboard and the body.
Neck – Extending from the body of the mandolin. Sometimes has a metal truss rod for strength and to allow adjustments. The topside has the fretboard located on it. This is where you will be controlling the chords and tones of the instrument. This is also where the metal frets are embedded, so you can keep track of the finger location.
Body – The body of the mandolin is made up the same way as that of the guitar – top, back and sides. The top side of the mandolin is responsible for most of the sound that the instrument produces. The woods used for making this part of the guitar are decisive in what the guitar will sound like tonally.
Sound Hole – There are several shapes that are popular with the instrument, F holes and Oval being most common.
Bridge – Where the vibration of the strings is transferred to the top wood of the body, it is usually made of wood.
Tailpiece – This is where the strings of the instrument are anchored. Usually made of ornate metals, but other possibilities exist.
It is strange how expectations of things don’t always come as true as you thought they would. On the road trip I dreaded so much, me and my cousin had to stop several times, taking breaks in between hours upon hours of driving. Sometimes we would stop at a motel, sometimes we would take a turn off of the highway, onto a small road and end up at a camping site.
We did not do too much sightseeing. Most of the things we saw passing by in cars. The most beautiful things we saw were the woods and the fields and the open county. The most enjoyable thing we did though was that one time when we stopped at a camping site. The world had been whizzing by for an extra amount of hours, since we did not want to stop in the rain. When we finally found dry ground we stopped and we set up a camp under the setting sun.
The fire pit was lit and me, my cousin and a middle-aged husband and wife sat around the fire, making s’mores, listening to my cousin play his mandolin. The old man mentioned that a long time ago he spent some time traveling around with the Grateful Dead and that was where he met his wife. The old man picked up the guitar that my cousin had and he started playing too. Before you knew it, I was listening to a performance of the Grateful Dead.
It was a peaceful night, with the fire crackling, the s’mores melting, the darkness encroaching, but it wasn’t scary. The old wife’s singing and the harmonic combination of the guitar and mandolin created a sense of mystery. As if the stars were pushing down, attempting to rip themselves off the sky and down to us. I dreamt they did. The summer would be a lot of that. Me at a campfire, the mandolin at my side, people singing and eventually a good night’s sleep, with the stars pouring down into my mind. That was one of the best mandolin-fueled summers in my life.