Andy’s Instruments #3: Octave Mandola

After the synthesiser phase I went through just before Christmas, I’m back playing (mostly) acoustic instruments. I find mandolins to be a bit fiddly sometimes, so I thought I’d get a bigger version of the mandolin, the mandola. Except I’ve never seen a left-handed version of one, but I did find a lefty octave mandola (aka octave mandolin*). So I bought that.

An octave mandola is tuned the same as a mandolin, but an octave lower. Mandolins are tuned the same as violins, so the octave mandola is between a viola and a cello in pitch. The tuning is not the same as guitar tuning, so it takes a bit of mental adjustment to play if you’re coming to mandolin playing from guitar, as I am**. None of the usual chord shapes or scale shapes work.

Another big difference is that mandolin family instruments have 8 strings, 4 courses of 2 strings tuned in unison. That can be quite painful on the fingertips to start with. And can take an age to tune up.

Anyway, here is me improvising/twiddling. Sorry for the darkness and bad framing!

I’ve not given up on the synths, my next move will be trying to include them on recordings made with the octave mandola. That should be quite interesting.


*The reason for the confusion (short version): When Gibson made mandolins in the early 20th century, they made a larger version tuned a fifth lower (C-G-D-A-instead of G-D-A-E) which is the same as a viola, and they called it a Mandola. In Europe, there already had been a Mandola (mandolina means ‘little mandola’) so the C-G-D-A instrument became known as an alto-mandolin. In UK and Ireland, the smaller instrument is often known as Tenor-Mandola, the large as Octave -Mandola.  I hope that’s all clear now.

**After a month of playing nothing but mandolin instruments, the guitar suddenly seems huge.


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