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View Full Version : can a mandolin be used as a uke?



jcricket
08-23-2014, 02:30 AM
Hey folks,
I have a friend who is going to give me an old Mandolin. He says it is UGLY. thus it is free. I was wondering, can a person pull off the strings and put a set of high g stings on it. Leave four of the tuning pegs empty. Has anyone tried this?

I won't get the mandolin for a week or so, just thought I would ask and see if it is even worth trying?
thanks in advance
mark

thenewb
08-23-2014, 02:53 AM
You mean put a set of high g ukulele strings?

It's not worth trying. It will sound too quiet. Mandolins have much stronger bracing to withstand 8 steel strings. It similar to putting classical guitar strings on a normal flat top guitar. You'll still get some sound, but I doubt it will sound good.

How about try playing the mandolin instead? It's a great instrument by itself. Just need to learn the fifth tuning. Plenty of resources at www.mandolincafe.com

KnowsPickin
08-23-2014, 02:53 AM
Yes, although what you wind up with is actually very similar to a renaissance "cittern", a predecessor to both the modern guitar and mandolin. It used reentrant tuning like a uke because they had not yet developed wound strings to allow for the lower notes.

A mandola would probably be a better choice due to the slightly longer scale length. A mandola and a tenor uke are both about 17 inch scale. Regardless, you would need to get custom gauged steel strings to use. Standard mandolin or mandola stings would not work at all.

If you planned to use non-reentrant tuning with a low G you could use two sets of guitar strings using only the highest four strings. Guitar strings are ball end, so you would need to crush the ball to get it out of the way. This is not hard. I do it all the time for an Irish Bouzouki I play.

Because you will be playing doubled steel stings instead of single nylon you will be working a lot harder to fret. But you will get a bigger, more interesting sound.

Let me know if you need further info.

SteveZ
08-23-2014, 03:00 AM
Mandolins are built "heavier" than ukuleles, and nylon strings just don't register well. I've tried for the heck of it to string a mandolin with nylon and it sounded lousy.

What could be done, if the goal is four strings "uke" instead of eight strings, is to simply remove the doubled string for each pair, leave the G tuned low (G3), detune the D to C (C4), put the other D into the next slot set and uptune to E (E4), and put one of the removed A strings into the last slot set and tune normally (A4).

If the goal is high-G, then one of the A strings could be placed in a G set slot and uptuned to G (G4).

If you got a second set of mandolin strings you could eight-string it completely in GCEA (high or low G). Am not sure how comfortable the chording would be, but it would make for an interesting experiment with the cost being no more than a couple sets of strings.

I've done the reverse - tuned my ukuleles to GDAE to match what I must do finger-wise with my mandolins, tenor guitar and tenor banjo. The bottom line is you can set up most stringed instruments in many different ways/tuning to fit your situation. However, when it comes to changing instrument parts (including steel strings for nylon and vice versa) it often results in disappointment and/or damage.

Fleapluckin_Flapper
08-23-2014, 06:28 AM
I play (and teach) both mandolin and ukulele (soprano & bari) and can tell you that there's no way you can turn a mandolin into a uke-but it's a fun little instrument! If you want lessons,I teach via Skype so go ahead & PM me. Would love to see a pic of the mando when you get it.

brimmer
08-23-2014, 06:30 AM
Maybe you should learn the mando. Sounds fun to me!

PhilUSAFRet
08-23-2014, 11:35 AM
Short answer, it can and has been done. One problem is the neck width at the nut = 1 1/8" You will play hell fretting many uke chords. Here's other posts on the matter: http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?32896-Can-a-mandolin-be-tuned-to-GCEA-or-DGBE

ScooterD35
08-23-2014, 11:48 AM
I would just sell or trade the Mando in favor of a uke.


Scooter

kypfer
08-23-2014, 12:52 PM
PhilUSAFret wrote :
One problem is the neck width at the nut = 1 1/8" You will play hell fretting many uke chords. ... this may well be a significantly valid point. I have both a mandolin with steel strings, (love the sound, in context) and a soprano ukulele with appropriate Aquila strings tuned GDAE (like a mandolin). Despite there only being 1/8" approx. difference in the overall string spacing, the four-string ukelele can be a LOT easier to play than the mandolin, so I use the ukulele as my "practice" instrument for a new tune, then refine the result on the mandolin proper once I've got reasonably fluent at it.

I think a mandolin strung and tuned as a ukulele may well prove to be the sum of all that is bad about both instruments ... the lack of volume from the nylon strings coupled with the awkwardness of fingering the mandolin. If you've got reasonably slim fingers, the latter may be less of an issue, but I suspect it would always be a quiet instrument without steel strings, at which point it'll possibly sound rather less like a ukulele than you may be happy with.

As others have suggested, learning to play the mandolin can be rewarding in it's own right ;)

YMMV and good luck :)

SteveZ
08-23-2014, 01:19 PM
PhilUSAFret wrote : ... this may well be a significantly valid point. I have both a mandolin with steel strings, (love the sound, in context) and a soprano ukulele with appropriate Aquila strings tuned GDAE (like a mandolin). Despite there only being 1/8" approx. difference in the overall string spacing, the four-string ukelele can be a LOT easier to play than the mandolin, so I use the ukulele as my "practice" instrument for a new tune, then refine the result on the mandolin proper once I've got reasonably fluent at it.

I think a mandolin strung and tuned as a ukulele may well prove to be the sum of all that is bad about both instruments ... the lack of volume from the nylon strings coupled with the awkwardness of fingering the mandolin. If you've got reasonably slim fingers, the latter may be less of an issue, but I suspect it would always be a quiet instrument without steel strings, at which point it'll possibly sound rather less like a ukulele than you may be happy with.

As others have suggested, learning to play the mandolin can be rewarding in it's own right ;)

YMMV and good luck :)

Agree with all of the above.

Have tried modifying mandolins to adapt to softer strings - waste of time. Using ukukeles as a "trainer" for mandolins and tenor guitar/banjo just shows the versatility of ukuleles to not only be a unique stand-alone instrument, but also a conduit to better perform other instruments.

Since finding the ukukele I've become better at mandolin, tenor guitar and tenor banjo - more so than when I rotated among those other three exclusively. It does mean tuning ukuleles to complement the other three, and the ukulele is that adaptable.

So, suggest the OP: 1) get the mandolin set up for play and learn it; 2) turn it into a wall-hanging as they are decirative; or 3) sell or trade it for another ukulele. Also suggest the OP post a picture or two of the mandolin to see what shape it's in.

KnowsPickin
08-23-2014, 02:59 PM
As others have suggested, learning to play the mandolin can be rewarding in it's own right ;)

YMMV and good luck :)

Learning mandolin is a great idea, with one caveat. A regular mandolin is tuned in fifths. You can still play a Gdim chord in standard mandolin tuning, but, it will invert very differently. If you restring it with custom gauged steel strings to allow uke tuning on a mandolin, the shape of the chords will become much different, jazzier. It will allow you to play tighter chords.

I used to do the Renaissance Festival. I played an octave mandolin. If I did it again I'd use both. I'd keep the octave mandolin on which to play lead or backup on fiddle tunes. But I'd also have a mandola tuned like a uke for use accompanying vocals. Both tunings are great, but each has their best use.

As has been discussed, don't even THINK about putting regular nylon uke strings on a mandolin. It will sound like crap. Get custom gauged steel strings to use on a mandolin.

kohanmike
08-23-2014, 07:26 PM
This is off topic, kind of, I'm selling a mandolele I had custom made. It's a tenor ukulele shaped like a mandolin, custom made to my specs by Bruce Wei in Vietnam (it's much better than the ones sold on his eBay site). If anyone is interested, please PM me.

http://www.fairfax67.com/images/Mandolel For Sale.jpg

ichadwick
08-24-2014, 04:52 AM
Yes and with steel strings to boot. But the scale length is not uke-standard; it's sort-of concert scale. And the mandolin neck is very narrow. But no reason you can't play it as a steel-stringed uke. Four or eight strings. Just make sure you get the right gauge strings.

TheCraftedCow
08-24-2014, 05:48 AM
I am stunned by the negative replies you have received about your question. I have two banjo mandolins with 11" tops. One is strung Aquila red single with a low G and the other is strung as 8 string reentrant white Aquila; a 1929 Dobro resonator mandolin strung white Aquila Gg Cc Ee AA; a 1981 Stewart MacDonald A model with a cedar top strung g C E A; and two old tear drops--one a Regal, and the other a hand made rosewood sided beauty, which are both strung g C E A .

Projection of sound does NOT take a back seat to a standard shape ukulele.
How do mandolin players play Irish fiddle tunes if the neck is so narrow and the strings so close? It would be a question of the size and dexterity of your fingers which would be a critical factor in the degree of success you will have with it. They chord well, again, depending on your finger size and dexterity.

By all means, get it, and try it. If it doesn't work for you, I would consider a trade for a standard shape or pineapple shape ukulele for it. If it is a Neopolitan (deep bowl back/ 'tater bug) they don't make a very good 'muke', but I would still trade you. *1-bowl back; 1-A model; 2-solid wood, carved top F models *

SteveZ
08-24-2014, 06:43 AM
I am stunned by the negative replies you have received about your question. I have two banjo mandolins with 11" tops. One is strung Aquila red single with a low G and the other is strung as 8 string reentrant white Aquila; a 1929 Dobro resonator mandolin strung white Aquila Gg Cc Ee AA; a 1981 Stewart MacDonald A model with a cedar top strung g C E A; and two old tear drops--one a Regal, and the other a hand made rosewood sided beauty, which are both strung g C E A .

Projection of sound does NOT take a back seat to a standard shape ukulele.
How do mandolin players play Irish fiddle tunes if the neck is so narrow and the strings so close? It would be a question of the size and dexterity of your fingers which would be a critical factor in the degree of success you will have with it. They chord well, again, depending on your finger size and dexterity.

By all means, get it, and try it. If it doesn't work for you, I would consider a trade for a standard shape or pineapple shape ukulele for it. If it is a Neopolitan (deep bowl back/ 'tater bug) they don't make a very good 'muke', but I would still trade you. *1-bowl back; 1-A model; 2-solid wood, carved top F models *

Let me clarify my comments. Mandolins come in a variety of shapes, sizes and hybrid configurations. The most common on today's market are arch-tops and flat-tops (Army-Navy style). My experiments with various string types involve an f-hole arch-top, an f-hole flat-top and an oval-hole flat-top - all of which did not respond well to nylon strings in any tuning. What kind of mandolin the OP has is still an unknown.

Banjo-hybrids have very good volume response thanks to the sensitivity of most drumheads, and adding a resonator to the instrument usually makes it very loud. I've tried nylon strings on my 17-fret tenor banjo and was satisfied with the result, which also shows how well banjo drumheads respond to various inputs. Bowlbacks and various other mandolin configurations, provided they don't require structured bracing to keep the top strong or are hand-graduated carved, are another breed altogether and each seems a bit unique.

So, just as ukuleles come in a number of sizes, shapes and configurations, so do mandolins. That being said, of the most common mandolins sold new today at music stores and most popular on the used market (arch-tops and A-N style flat-tops), IMHO nylon stings are not very responsive and GCEA chording is more finger-contortive than fifths.

PhilUSAFRet
08-24-2014, 07:05 AM
:agree: with Steve. Glad they work for you however CraftedCow

jcarlos
08-24-2014, 05:49 PM
It works fine, don't let people discourage you from trying new things, I put nylons on a banjo before and the purist flipped out. Heresy they said......Screw those guys, if I listened to them I never would have known how awesome it sounds. The same goes for putting nylons on a mandolin. It will work, but there's things to note, chords will be harder if you have big fingers, and it won't project as loud, and it will be a different tone, don't expect a pure ukulele tone. If you are in an acoustic setting/jam with other louder instruments you won't be heard especially outdoors, same goes for a uke. If you have a small amp with you then its all good. Or you can just go ahead and use the double steel strings if you want to stay acoustic. Here's a video I did a while back with a gcea nylon mando in it,and I have a couple other clips of me just messing around on nylon mandolin on my channel


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0T-9r77Nlic

I Ukulista
08-24-2014, 11:48 PM
I have a 100 year old mandolin that had been used as a Christmas tree decoration before I rescued it. I decided to put 5 strings on it and chose Worth brown FC. It is tuned cCfad (note one re-entrant c and one bass C) I use all my ukulele chord playing shapes and finger pick in F. I am really really happy with the result.