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bellgamin
08-14-2017, 01:09 AM
I have never seen a mandola but I have read about them. If you know anything about mandolas, please give me some advice.

I viewed electric mandola on ebay & amazon. I see that they have eight strings in 4 pairs, something like an 8 string uke. I like the mandola's looks but, if I get one, I want to tune it uke-style.

QUESTIONS:
...would a uke tuned electric mandola be a good novelty or a silly monstrosity?

...would a uke-tuned mandola sound more like a tenor uke or a baritone or ... ?

Jim Hanks
08-14-2017, 02:09 AM
Quick Google say mandola scale is roughly tenor uke scale so the easiest tuning would probably be GCEA with a low G. I think it would mostly sound like an electric tenor.

FiL
08-14-2017, 02:54 AM
Mandola scale lengths are all over the map, from as short as 15.5" to over 18", so check the scale length of the specific instrument you're interested in. Also, mandola nut widths are generally much skinnier than ukuleles, which will make some ukulele chords harder to finger.

That being said, several years ago, I bought a cheap Chinese-made Harmonia "Portuguese" mandola off of eBay specifically because I wanted a steel-string counterpart to my 8-string uke. I don't know what makes it "Portuguese", but it has a very long scale (18.625") and a very wide, uke-friendly nut width (1.5") for a mandola. I use a custom set of mandolin-family strings and tune it a whole step below GCEA (FBbDG), so with a capo on the second fret, it is in GCEA. I think I have it tuned now with octaves on the low pair and unison strings on the other three pairs.

It's an acoustic instrument, though I've added a cheap stick-on pickup. You can hear it a bit in this video:


http://youtu.be/yDUG1LeK_4w?list=PL73VgknTi6zas3Z8IrwqY1e4tCAWlUGG T

I've gone back-and-forth on this instrument, partly because it's a cheap instrument with bad intonation, and partly because I'm more versatile on a uke playing with my fingers than I am on a steel-stringed instrument playing with a pick. I also find that I prefer the sound of my 8-string uke when playing solo, but I like the sound of the uke-tune mandola (I like to call it a tenor bouzouki) when I'm playing in a band.

- FiL

Booli
08-14-2017, 03:55 AM
I've actually gone the other way, i.e., stringing and tuning ukes in fifths, both CGDA, GDAE, and both linear and re-entrant, as well as have converted a 22" scale acoustic guitar to a 4-string tenor guitar which is re-entrant GDAE, and a 25" scale acoustic guitar, also converted to 4-strings, tuned linear GDAE like an octave mandolin.

On both guitars I've got the action pretty low at 2.6mm at the 12th fret to compensate for the higher string tension, and as such 8 steel strings is something that seems like it will be hard to play unless it is set up just right since you are looking at about 170lbs of string tension on a 17" scale mandola.

A few months ago at a local music shop, I messed around a little with a 14" scale mandolin, a Gretsch New Yorker, that was badly in need of a setup and the 30mm/1.25" nut was a nightmare for me and very cramped.

I use my fifths-tuned instruments playing chords, either strummed or fingerstyle and I dont really have an interest in the mando soloing that I often see in bluegrass music.

For me, with these converted guitars, the steel string 5ths tuning is a REPLACEMENT for a 6-string guitar, and has a much more open voicing for chords, and all of the chord shapes are both movable and symmetrical, so playing in different keys is much easier than on uke or guitar in the modified-4ths tunings of those...

Sorry for rambling on, but I do not have an actual answer to the OP's question - maybe there is info to be gleaned in a 'buyers guide' over on the Mandolin Cafe forums?

UkeNukem
08-14-2017, 04:18 AM
In general stringed instruments can be tuned anyway you want, but reality rears it's head on several issues.

What role do you want this hybrid to fill in your musical life? (wall hangers do not need strings)
What is the individual and overall string tension the instrument is designed for?
What types and gauges of strings are available? (loop, ball, or tie?)
Has anyone else tuned it that way before? (I found quite a bit of info about tuning a soprano uke to fifths GDAE on Google)
Do you have the time, patience, experience and money to experiment with strings?

You are on the right track asking on UU because there are many experienced musicians here. Good Luck!

Tootler
08-14-2017, 04:53 AM
The Renaissance cittern was an 8 string, 4 course wire strung instrument roughly the size of a tenor ukulele. It was typically used a reentrant tuning of dBGE. A G6 tuning but with the B & G strings inverted. I'd considered using a tenor mandola as a substitute for a Renaissance cittern for accompanying 17th century broadsides but in the end went for a multistrimg ukulele instead. I now have both 6 string and 8 string tenors which do the duty very nicely. I have the 8 string tuned like a Renaissance Guitar with just the G strings in octaves and the rest in unison.

bellgamin
08-14-2017, 12:21 PM
It's an acoustic instrument, though I've added a cheap stick-on pickup. You can hear it a bit in this....It sings! I like your hat (but a white stetson would go better with that instrument's sound).

@ Booli --- The forum has several posts re fifths tuning, so I am intrigued by your reply here. I assume the sound is distinctly different from a GCEA uke, right? If so, I might want to try 5ths tuning on 1 of my 15 ukes but, first, I have 3 questions:
1- Is there a chord chart anywhere that I can buy for 5ths tuning?
2- Why would one want to tune in 5ths?
3- Would I need different strings on the uke before tuning in 5ths?

(Ummm... you may have concluded that I am a total tyro when it comes to music theory. If so, U R CORRECT!)

@ Bob --- You wrote, in part:
(wall hangers do not need strings) That made me remember an old Henny Youngman 1-liner: "Send me $5 & I'll send you my picture to hang on your wall. Send me $10 & I'll come & hang on your wall in person."

Not all that funny when quoted but, with Henny, it was all about his delivery -- the face, the violin, the gestures, etc.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bottom Line: Based on these comments (plus a few I heard at HMS) I have pretty much been veered away from getting a mandola. I shall widen my search to other weird stringed instruments that might be easily converted to uke tuning/playing. Just for novelty...

Tootler
08-14-2017, 02:15 PM
It sings! I like your hat (but a white stetson would go better with that instrument's sound).

@ Booli --- The forum has several posts re fifths tuning, so I am intrigued by your reply here. I assume the sound is distinctly different from a GCEA uke, right? If so, I might want to try 5ths tuning on 1 of my 15 ukes but, first, I have 3 questions:
1- Is there a chord chart anywhere that I can buy for 5ths tuning?
2- Why would one want to tune in 5ths?
3- Would I need different strings on the uke before tuning in 5ths
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bottom Line: Based on these comments (plus a few I heard at HMS) I have pretty much been veered away from getting a mandola. I shall widen my search to other weird stringed instruments that might be easily converted to uke tuning/playing. Just for novelty...

As someone who goes to UK folk sessions I come across instruments tuned in fifths quite a lot. Mainly fiddle and mandolin but also tenor banjo, Mandola and Octave Mandolin. These instruments are mostly used for melody playing rather than chords, though the larger members of the mandolin family are not infrequently used for song accompaniment. If you want chords for fifths tuning, look up Mandolin chords. You will need to restring your uke for fifths. Aquila make a set of strings for tuning a ukulele in fifths. As a quickie, you can get reentrant cGDA tuning by swapping over the C & G strings of a low G GCEA set and tuning the E string down to D. I've been tempted to try it myself. (CGDA is viola tuning and is sometimes used on the larger members of the mandolin family)

On your last point, I can recommend trying 6/8 string ukes. They do have a sound of their own.

Booli
08-14-2017, 06:02 PM
...
@ Booli --- The forum has several posts re fifths tuning, so I am intrigued by your reply here. I assume the sound is distinctly different from a GCEA uke, right? If so, I might want to try 5ths tuning on 1 of my 15 ukes but, first, I have 3 questions:
1- Is there a chord chart anywhere that I can buy for 5ths tuning?
2- Why would one want to tune in 5ths?
3- Would I need different strings on the uke before tuning in 5ths?
...

I will need some time to organize my thoughts, but then will have a meaningful reply to post, sadly, just not right now...lots going on taking up my forum time in my offline life...please hold on for a bit. :)

Mezcalero
08-14-2017, 06:12 PM
I will need some time to organize my thoughts, but then will have a meaningful reply to post, sadly, just not right now...lots going on taking up my forum time in my offline life...please hold on for a bit. :)

What he said both ways.

I have ukuleles tuned in 5ths CGDA, and I have actually done what you want to do with mandola on my Octave mandolin. I will check my notes on string recommendations for converting uke to 5ths.

Converting mandola to 4ths will likely require buying single strings of the right gauge and tension. The good thing is the high string is already A and the G string in the CGDA configuration will become your low G. I will report back with recommendations.

By the way, I have mine Octave mandolin strung with just four strings. The mandola has a thin width at the nut. Possibly as thin as 1 1/8" depending on the builder. Having just four strings instead of 8 will make it easier to play at first.

kypfer
08-14-2017, 10:01 PM
My mandola has a 19" scale, so closer to my baritone ukulele (20") than my tenor ukulele (17"). The nut width on my mandola is very similar to that of my baritone, at around 1 1/2" and the overall string spacing at the nut is also very similar, around 1 1/8".

My steel-strung mandola is tuned CGDA and plays full resonant chords as well as being a fine melody instrument. My nylon-strung baritone ukulele is tuned GDAE and has very different tonal characteristics.

As others have noted, dimensions are likely to vary between manufacturers, so you really would need to check the specific instrument you are looking at.

Just my tuppence worth ... YMMV :music:

JesterBlod
08-14-2017, 10:19 PM
I had a mandola - I used Tenor Worth Browns. Sounded alright - basically like an 8 string Uke.

bellgamin
08-15-2017, 12:30 AM
I will need some time to organize my thoughts, but then will have a meaningful reply to post, sadly, just not right now...lots going on taking up my forum time in my offline life...please hold on for a bit. :)I pray that all goes well for you.

Ziret
08-15-2017, 06:01 AM
I'm looking forward to Booli and Mezcalero's responses as I love fifths tuning. I have a baritone I'd happily devote to it, a concert I'd reluctantly use, and would also be happy to buy a cheap soprano for that purpose. Any feedback on the simplest and/or most practical choices of instrument and strings are highly appreciated.

Booli
08-15-2017, 08:16 AM
I'm looking forward to Booli and Mezcalero's responses as I love fifths tuning. I have a baritone I'd happily devote to it, a concert I'd reluctantly use, and would also be happy to buy a cheap soprano for that purpose. Any feedback on the simplest and/or most practical choices of instrument and strings are highly appreciated.

Very quick answer on strings:

Soprano - Aquila 30U - GDAE - same as mandolin, but high E5 string snaps easy, took me a week to get it to pitch without snapping, had it on for 6 months, then it just snapped hanging on the wall...maybe sub another string and instead of E5 note, make it an E4 note and use a normal soprano E string?

Concert & Tenor - Aquila 31U - CGDA, works well on both

Baritone - take ANY normal baritone linear string set, with 2 wounds (D & G), flip them so it is G in 4th string and D in 3rd string, then install the B and E strings, but on the B string NEVER tune UP to B3 and ONLY tune up to A3 otherwise if you tune too high and then down, the string will be REALLY floppy and your intonation is shot...so this gives you RE-ENTRANT GDAE octave mandolin.

I am still testing other strings for all the above, and MANY have snapped from excessive tension, or have too poor intonation from too low tension...

I am close to a GDAE linear that intonates well on a 19" baritone, that would look something like this, from the standard D'Addario wound & nylon classical single strings (all wounds are silver-plated copper over nylon silk core, and nylon is standard D'Addario RECTIFIED nylon, and all NORMAL tension):

G2- 0.048" wound
D3- 0.035" wound
A3- 0.020" wound
E4- 0.027" nylon

about 56lbs total string tension which most premade DGBE sets are about 51lbs total string tension.

I read on the Mandolin Cafe forum that the Aquila 31U set can work for GDAE linear tuning on baritone, but have not tried it yet myself, but plan to.

also on tenor the following single classical strings can make a set for CDGA:

C3 -0.035" wound
G3 -0.030" wound
D4 -0.036" nylon
A4 -0.027" nylon

about 47lbs string tension, most premade re-entrant GCEA for TENOR sets are about 42lbs total string tension.

I have not yet finalized a good set yet that I am fully happy with the tension and intonation for CGDA on baritone, but am still 'working on it' and will post when I have something to share....

If you know the tension of comparable fluoro strings to the nylon ones given above, you may be able to subsitute...

DISCLAIMER:
Proceed with caution regarding the above, for if your uke is not made well, or built very lightly, the tension of fifths tuning being higher than normal uke tunings can pull of your bridge or cause other damage.

Pay attention to rotation of your bridge on your uke, aka bellying and dishing and if excessive, detune the strings completely IMMEDIATELY, and try thinner ones, a gauge or two thinner, which will usually give less tension (WITH WORSE INTONATION). I am NOT responsible if you cause your uke to implode, but in most cases, IMHO it is unlikely to happen, but you assume ALL RISK and indemnify me of any claim of harm.

Also, fifths tunings MAY require you to adjust saddle compensation. Blank Nubone saddles are like $8 on ebay or amazon, buy a few and dont wreck your original saddle!

Consider all the above completely experimental and for 'expert use only' LOL.

I provide this info for informational purposes only, and it is not intended as advice.

Proceed at your own risk!

Ziret
08-15-2017, 12:20 PM
TThanks, Booli. I'm thinking about all of this.

Booli
08-15-2017, 06:50 PM
TThanks, Booli. I'm thinking about all of this.

No worries - glad to help.

I should also mention that fellow UU brother SteveZ gave me a tip about taking a standard GCEA set and reversing the G and C strings order so you get CGEA, and this lets you test out a flavor of the sound without piecing together a string set on your own...

Starting with a NEW string set, and when you install the strings, ONLY tune up and NOT PAST D4 on the E string, otherwise if going past the D4 note, or using a set of strings already settled and tuning down, your 'D' string is going to be floppy from having settled to tension at a higher pitch, and in my experience, intonation is going to be at least 15 cents sharp after about the 4th-5th fret and worse up to the 12th fret....and on a 3mm wide saddle, there is simply not enough physical space to compensate the breakpoint of the strings to account for the +15 cents intonation...

- re-entrant G4-C4-E4-A4 strings give you a re-entrant C4-G4-D4-A4, and if you fret 2200 on these strings you get a D-5 chord, and the 4 and 2 strings are unisons, and the 3 and 1 strings are unisons....

- linear or low-G, G3-C4-E4-A4 string sets give you a nicer tone of still re-entrant C4-G3-D4-A4, and is more uke-like to play with the 4th string being able to participate in melody lines, and instead of the chord root being on the 4th string in a lower octave, with the higher octave C4, you get a feeling and sound like it's the third in the scale being the lowest pitched note in the chord, (depending upon chord shape), so by default you are playing an inverted chord when using the 4th string in a triad with only strings 4,3,2,...

I know lots of this re-entrant fifths tuning probably is considered blasphemy by mando, bouzouki and cittern players, but I am not one to conform to convention 'just because that's the way it's always been done', I do what works for me, as per my needs.

Traditionalists have merit of course, but I chose not to follow that path right now.

Were it not for the extreme cost of even the cheapest steel-string cousins of the soprano uke, I might have gotten a vihuela, jarana, or cuatro so as to have a short-scale mando-tuned single course instrument, but putting steel strings on a soprano uke will basically kill it. In my own tests, by the time you approach enough string tension to intonate properly on a 14" scale length, you are going to see EXTREME bridge rotation since the top is not braced for that much tension, AND you also need to have a slanted saddle, or floating bridge (like a banjo bridge or mando bridge) so you can properly align for intonation, which IMHO is simply impossible on a bridge that is parallel to the nut.

These other Portuguese and similar steel string instruments are braced and built heavier, such that you CAN in fact have the saddle parallel to the nut and have about 26lbs of tension in each string to intonate tuned in both 4ths and fifths tunings.

If you put steel strings on a soprano, most of which are built for no more than about 30 lbs of maximum TOTAL string tension, and the set of strings you'd need to approximate decent intonation is going to be about 100lbs of tension, I will almost guarantee you that the instrument will simply collapse and implode, likely within about 15 minutes of being tuned to concert pitch.

There are some YT vids of folks putting steel strings on soprano, but intonation is likely to be very poor if playable at all, only in first position chords, and none of those folks have a follow-up video afterwards, so I expect that the uke eventually imploded or they realized that it wont work long-term and out of shame, never said anything about it again. I am happy to be proven wrong...

But again, all of this is just IMHO, and I am wide open to learn and correct any mistakes or faulty conclusions, so please dont hesitate to educate me if you know better, as I am all for it. :)

PhilUSAFRet
08-16-2017, 02:06 AM
For buying metal strings for any instrument/scale length, I have found D'Addario to be the most helpful string company out there. For non metal strings, has to be Southcoast. D'Addario helped me select the proper strings to tune a mandolin linear gcea, and Southcoast got me hooked up with strings to tune my tenor banjo the same.

Ziret
08-16-2017, 06:54 AM
Thank you! Great advice. I have a beater soprano arriving Friday. Will give this a try.


No worries - glad to help.

I should also mention that fellow UU brother SteveZ gave me a tip about taking a standard GCEA set and reversing the G and C strings order so you get CGEA, and this lets you test out a flavor of the sound without piecing together a string set on your own...

Starting with a NEW string set, and when you install the strings, ONLY tune up and NOT PAST D4 on the E string, otherwise if going past the D4 note, or using a set of strings already settled and tuning down, your 'D' string is going to be floppy from having settled to tension at a higher pitch, and in my experience, intonation is going to be at least 15 cents sharp after about the 4th-5th fret and worse up to the 12th fret....and on a 3mm wide saddle, there is simply not enough physical space to compensate the breakpoint of the strings to account for the +15 cents intonation...

- re-entrant G4-C4-E4-A4 strings give you a re-entrant C4-G4-D4-A4, and if you fret 2200 on these strings you get a D-5 chord, and the 4 and 2 strings are unisons, and the 3 and 1 strings are unisons....

- linear or low-G, G3-C4-E4-A4 string sets give you a nicer tone of still re-entrant C4-G3-D4-A4, and is more uke-like to play with the 4th string being able to participate in melody lines, and instead of the chord root being on the 4th string in a lower octave, with the higher octave C4, you get a feeling and sound like it's the third in the scale being the lowest pitched note in the chord, (depending upon chord shape), so by default you are playing an inverted chord when using the 4th string in a triad with only strings 4,3,2,...

I know lots of this re-entrant fifths tuning probably is considered blasphemy by mando, bouzouki and cittern players, but I am not one to conform to convention 'just because that's the way it's always been done', I do what works for me, as per my needs.

Traditionalists have merit of course, but I chose not to follow that path right now.

Were it not for the extreme cost of even the cheapest steel-string cousins of the soprano uke, I might have gotten a vihuela, jarana, or cuatro so as to have a short-scale mando-tuned single course instrument, but putting steel strings on a soprano uke will basically kill it. In my own tests, by the time you approach enough string tension to intonate properly on a 14" scale length, you are going to see EXTREME bridge rotation since the top is not braced for that much tension, AND you also need to have a slanted saddle, or floating bridge (like a banjo bridge or mando bridge) so you can properly align for intonation, which IMHO is simply impossible on a bridge that is parallel to the nut.

These other Portuguese and similar steel string instruments are braced and built heavier, such that you CAN in fact have the saddle parallel to the nut and have about 26lbs of tension in each string to intonate tuned in both 4ths and fifths tunings.

If you put steel strings on a soprano, most of which are built for no more than about 30 lbs of maximum TOTAL string tension, and the set of strings you'd need to approximate decent intonation is going to be about 100lbs of tension, I will almost guarantee you that the instrument will simply collapse and implode, likely within about 15 minutes of being tuned to concert pitch.

There are some YT vids of folks putting steel strings on soprano, but intonation is likely to be very poor if playable at all, only in first position chords, and none of those folks have a follow-up video afterwards, so I expect that the uke eventually imploded or they realized that it wont work long-term and out of shame, never said anything about it again. I am happy to be proven wrong...

But again, all of this is just IMHO, and I am wide open to learn and correct any mistakes or faulty conclusions, so please dont hesitate to educate me if you know better, as I am all for it. :)

Mezcalero
08-16-2017, 09:33 AM
Here are a few notes I made when I was experimenting with converting tenor ukulele to mandola 5ths tuning:

Since I have had such good success with Thomastik Infeld flat wound strings, I used them in my experiments, but most classical guitar set singles will work for the wound strings.
Low C - Thomastik Infeld CF35 or A string from a classical guitar set
Re-entrant C - Thomastik Infeld - CF27 or any 3rd string from your favorite fluoro/nylon set or you can of course buy singles
G - Thomastik Infeld CF30, or D string from a classical guitar set
D - Savarez Alliance - KF 74A or if you are not concerned about balance, you could tune a C string up or E string down from your favorite fluoro/nylon set.
A - Savarez Alliance - 541R

Here is a sound sample of a Pono Tenor set-up in re-entrant 5ths:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/bpa0s2clzdilwev/Pono%20CGDA%20Sample.wav?dl=0

I'll follow up with the steel string mandola to GCEA tuning recommendations in another post.

SteveZ
08-17-2017, 11:46 AM
When I started tuning ukes to fifths, it was to have a lighter-weight travel alternative to mandolin. I got to like the sound and convenince, so everything got tuned in fifths.

As far as tuning a tenor uke into mandola tuning, having a nylon-stringed alternative to the mandola is handy.