mandola Tuning

mandola Tuning

I have a mandola, that should be tuned ADGC using string gauges 14 24 36 48. Nut to bridge measures 17".
I would like to tune it to EADG but I am not sure what gauge of string to use for best result, what would you suggest.

Posted by .

Re: mandola Tuning

Is this an octave mandolin (normally tuned gdae, an octave down from a normal mandolin) or a mandola,( normally tuned cgda, gda same pitch as a fiddle or mandolin)?

Posted by .

Re: mandola Tuning

If you want to take it down to an octave below mandolin, the problem is that you lose a lot of top overtones in the sound, as you need much heavier strings. You may also need to widen the slots in the nut.
The usual nomenclature is that you list the notes from the fattest string, the bass one. Hence guitar tunings like DADGAD, etc..

Re: mandola Tuning

Thanks for the replies
The label in side actually says Tenor Mandolin, Viola Scale ADGC
String gauge 48,36,24,14
Can this be tuned to GDAE and if so what would be the best gauge of strings to use.

Posted by .

Re: mandola Tuning

Realistically speaking, no, you can’t tune it to GDAE. As Guernsey Pete pointed out, the stings would have to be so heavy that it would not sound very pleasing at all.

There is another option however. Quite an elegant one at that. I learned this from Brian McDonagh, the mandola player from Dervish. Brian tunes to CGDG (instead of CGCA) and capos at the 2nd fret for most tunes, yielding a DAEA tuning. (Actually, since Dervish play 1/2 step sharp, he capos at 3, but for the sake of the discussion, lets assume he’s tuning normally.)

Here is the interesting thing about this tuning. Mandolins, fiddles and octave mandolins are typically tuned GDAE, but the tunes are largely played only on the D, A & E strings. So Brian has these notes for the lower three strings on his mandola (capoed at the 2nd fret) for playing melodies. The tuning has the same intervals as the bouzouki tuning of GDAD, so he can also do bouzouki style playing and bouzouki chords for accompaniment.

If this is good enough for Dervish, I’d say give it a try.

Re: mandola Tuning

Correction. I meant that Brian tunes to CGDG instead of the standard mandola tuning of CGDA.

Re: mandola Tuning

Looks like the label inside has the strings listed in reverse order to that that usually used - ADGC - instead of CGDA but the string thicknesses in the right order, so the C would be 48 etc.

Posted by .

Re: mandola Tuning

This is an AWESOME idea, thanks! I wonder if the guitar capo i have fits, it always looked on the small side.

Now to learn some bouzouki chords…

Re: mandola Tuning

Someone’s just given me a bouzouki (wonder what I’ve done to upset them!) and I haven’t a clue what to do with it … only suggestion I’ve had so far was ‘hang it on the wall’.

Posted by .

Re: mandola Tuning

"Realistically speaking, no, you can’t tune it to GDAE. As Guernsey Pete pointed out, the stings would have to be so heavy that it would not sound very pleasing at all."

Actually, mandolas and octave mandolins both vary quite a bit in scale length - mandolas range from about 400mm to almost 500mm, whilst octave mandolins range from about 500mm to 600mm (longer that that and it would probably be called a bouzouki) So there are instruments that could conceivably function as either. Bill - What is the scale length of your mandola?

N.B. In case you don’t know, the scale length is measured from the top of the fingerboard (the end nearest the tuners) to the bridge - i.e. the ‘speaking length’ of the string.

Re: mandola Tuning

This discussion has totally confused me. You have a mandola tuned CGDA and you want to retune to GDAE. Why do you need heavier strings? You already have the G, D & A in the original tuning, so why can’t you just shift those strings along and add a lighter E string, to end up with the original gauges plus one lighter string: G = 36, D = 24, A = 14, E = 11

I guess for this option you may have to get a new nut, as each slot in the original nut will be cut for heavier strings, and you may get some buzzing and rattling, but you may not. Worth a try? I don’t know. Please let me know if I’m talking rubbish.

Re: mandola Tuning

…Inevitably a longer scaled octave mandolin will have a better tone than a shorter scaled one. Thick, short strings are stiff and therefore behave differently from longer, thinner, more flexible ones, producing inharmonic overtones and thus a less ‘clean’ sound. You will probably also find problems with the intonation.

Re: mandola Tuning

To sum up, I’d say that the scale length of this instrument is too short for octave mandolin tuning GDAE and too long for mandolin tuning gdae. I think the options are (a) try the McDonagh tuning experiment or (b) get an octave mandolin or (c) capo and 3rd fret and find someone with b flat pipes to play with.

Re: mandola Tuning

Dave may be right.
I also go on the CBOM forum ( Citterns, Bouzoukis, and Octave Mandolins ) and I seem to remember that the consensus on tuning a longer-scale instrument up to mandolin pitch was that the top strings you might need will be too thin to take the tension on, at least, the longer scale ‘modern’ mandola/tenor mandola. You might get away with it on yours, but don’t quote or blame me on that one.

Re: mandola Tuning

Two more options:
John Doyle tunes his mandola DGDA - that is, raising only the bottom strings a whole tone.
Andy Irvine told me he tunes his DAEA, raising the bottom three pairs a whole tone.
Neither tuning results in even fifths, but both (and Brian’s, too) use the common notes for ITM, and work well for both chords and melody.

Re: mandola Tuning

"You have a mandola tuned CGDA and you want to retune to GDAE. Why do you need heavier strings? You already have the G, D & A in the original tuning, so why can’t you just shift those strings along and add a lighter E string, to end up with the original gauges plus one lighter string: G = 36, D = 24, A = 14, E = 11"

Yes, you’ve got a little confused there, Joel (it’s easily done). The G, D and A on a mandola (CGDA) are the same pitch as the G, D and A on a mandolin, i.e. an octave above the G, D and A on an octave mandolin. So, that’s why you can’t just move the strings across. If you have your mandola strung with light stings, you might just get away with moving them across *the other way*, so your C becomes your D, your G becomes your A and your D becomes your E. The main problem is the low G string, which would have to be a very heavy gauge for its length.

Re: mandola Tuning

Sometimes I put on a set med. mandolin strings (.040 to .012) on my mandola and tuned it to DAEB.

I place a capo at the fifth fret to get GDAE tuning. It works for me.

Re: mandola Tuning

The Celtic Star brand of instruments sells a 17 inch scale length mandola tuned to GDAE with heavier strings.

A fellow session bought one and I have played it - it sounds really bad as in dogs—t.

He has since re-strung it with regular mandola strings tuned to CGDA and it sounds great.

Re: mandola Tuning

Correction: A fellow session player bought one……………

Re: mandola Tuning

ragaman: thanks for clearing that up for me! I had no idea that those strings have the same pitch as the mandolin. It make sense now. Joel

Re: mandola Tuning

I tune my mandola CGAE with a capo on 2. Works great for the common keys, even better it makes the others easy.

I use a shrub banjo capo.

Sometimes I capo the bouzouki wirh a shrub guitar capo. Works fine.

Re: mandola Tuning

correction: CGDA

Re: mandola Tuning

Just got a mandola for Christmas, its tuned gdae, I’m into playing chords and singing so for starting out its really for strumming is gdae the best tuning to use for this purpose,

Re: mandola Tuning

Fergal, is it an octave mandola/in (one octave below a mandolin)?? Or do you have it tuned in the range of a regular mandolin? A "mandola" can be two different things depending on who is saying it. In some places a "mandola" is the instrument meant to be tuned an octave below a mandolin, which is what would more sensibly be called an "octave mandolin" (for obvious reasons) in some other places. A "mandola" can also refer to the smaller instrument usually tuned a fifth below a mandolin in CGDA, which is often called a "tenor mandola" in places that call an octave mandolin a "mandola". Yes, the terminology gets confusing.

If you in fact have an octave mandola/in, and are tuning your instrument a full octave below a mandolin, you could try GDAD if you are only doing strummy stuff and not playing tunes on it. Having that high E string tuned down to a D gives you the ability to use that as a drone and use different chords. Of course, GDAE can work too, but GDAD is more preferred by most chord players. GDAD, however, prevents playing some tune melodies for some people, depending on your scale length. It makes the high B note all the way over on the 9th fret, keep in mind! This is why melody players often use GDAE, and accompanists usually use GDAD, but you will find a number of different tunings besides those used by each, those are just the most common ones. Each has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.

The best way to get the best of both worlds is to get a 5 course instrument and tune it GDADA (if it’s a shorter "octave mandolin" sized [20-22.5 inches or so, roughly], rather than a longer bouzouki sized one, anyway), in my personal opinion. This allows the full chords and all the perks of GDAD tuning, but puts that high B on the second fret of your highest string, instead of the 9th fret of the D, making melody playing very easy, as well. Not sure why 5 course instruments aren’t more common than 4 course instruments, to be honest.