How to evaluate an Irish bouzouki or Irish Octave mandolin

How to evaluate an Irish bouzouki or Irish Octave mandolin

Hi,
Having eared Cyrill O’Donohue playing six mounth ago, I think I am ready for a octave mandolin or a irish bouzouki.

The problem is that in this side of Canada shopping for some Irish instruments like mandola, octave mandolin or irish bouzouki is a real “task mission”. There is no store around that keep these kind of instruments in stock. So there is no way for easy “try, compare and buy”.

The only bouzouki around is owned by a fellow musician and is made by a local luthier. I will visit this musician very soon but want to be prepare with some check list to do. The purpose is to evaluate if I will ask the luthier to build one for me.

Here two questions:
1- Is it normal that sometimes, while playing hard, there is some kind of fuzz coming for unison strings knocking together?
2- When I listen to mp3 instruments sample in the internet. It seems that the sound is rough enough or less clean for a bouzouki than for an octave mandolin, and even rougher while compare to a mandola. Is it normal?

I planned to check the sound and feeling with some chords and melodies with and without capo. But I have to figure out how to do that, taking account that this will be not like playing mandolin as I used to do.

Thanks to give some hints and hope everybody is well.

Laurent

Re: How to evaluate an Irish bouzouki or Irish Octave mandolin

Welcome to thesession!

I play an octave mandolin (Weber Yellowstone archtop, 22“ scale), although it’s not my primary instrument so it doesn’t get as much use as it should. For your first question, no, it isn’t normal to hear a fuzz or buzzing from the strings knocking together if you’re playing hard. At least what I’d consider the normal range of ”hard" when picking individual notes or strumming. There is a distinctive sound with bouzoukis and OM’s from the double courses always being slightly out of unison pitch, but that’s not an actual buzzing.

The first thing I’d suspect when strings are buzzing against each other with hard playing is that the string tension is too low, making them too flexible. There is no standard set of strings for bouzoukis and octave mandolins because the instruments can vary so much in scale length. The first thing I’d try is using slightly heavier gauge strings for the pairs that buzz the most. It could also be that the string pairs are spaced too close together in the nut or bridge slots, but a quality instrument shouldn’t have that problem.

As for your second comment about bouzouki roughness… to my ears, the distinctive sound of a ’zouk compared to an OM is a bit more “jangly” or “shimmering” tone (these terms are all subjective and approximate), due to the longer scale and lighter-gauge strings. An OM sounds a bit more punchy and direct, at least in the archtop versions I’m familiar with. Every maker has a different distinctive tone with their instruments though, and in the case of bouzouki vs. OM, we might also be comparing a flat-top bouzouki to either a flat-top OM or a carved archtop like my Weber, which as a slightly darker tone than a typical flat-op OM.

Ideally, try as many different instruments as you can before making the investment. Listen to the sound of both flat-top and carved top instruments, because that’s one of the major construction differences that determines the tone.

Re: How to evaluate an Irish bouzouki or Irish Octave mandolin

i also play a 22‘’ scale instrument I call a short scale bouzouki - its in OM tuning, GDAE and i can use it for chording or melody playing. No it doesnt buzz or rattle even when played hard, because i had it set up by a pro luthier. its only difference from an OM is the octave tuning on the G and D courses, which is why i think of it as a zouk rather than an OM. If your planning to play tunes, 22-23‘’ is really max. scale unless you have an unusually long reach - with a 22‘’ scale i can just about reach top ‘b’ with my pinkie without moving out of 1st position. Good luck!

Re: How to evaluate an Irish bouzouki or Irish Octave mandolin

String clash does happen when you over-play a double strung instrument. Some bouzouki players accept it as part of the gritty, folksie nature of the instrument. But if it’s only happenning at the loud end of your playing spectrum you can get rid of it by re-notching the bridge saddle to increase the string spacing slightly. In more extreme cases you might need to move to heavier strings.

Re: How to evaluate an Irish bouzouki or Irish Octave mandolin

Good spectrum of comments to take account.
Thanks Conical, Christy and Mark.

Re: How to evaluate an Irish bouzouki or Irish Octave mandolin

One thing I might suggest Laurent is to check the fingerboard feel. How does it fit your hand?
The width and “feel” of the fingerboard under your fingers can vary widely between different instrument builders.
I have a zouk made by Phil Crump from California and one made by Dave Shapiro from County Clare.
The fingerboards of these two are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Crump board is wider, more “heft” to the instrument on the whole.
The Shapiro fingerboard is narrower, the instrument lighter.
Both are nicely toned instruments but I prefer the feel of the Shapiro. Others may prefer the Crump.
You should try to play several before making your own decision. Bonne chance! 🙂

Re: How to evaluate an Irish bouzouki or Irish Octave mandolin

The “feel” of the neck is to be included with my comment above.

Re: How to evaluate an Irish bouzouki or Irish Octave mandolin

Thanks you very much BillScates for your comments.

The area here if plenty of guitar makers and there is lot of guitars to tried, but for bouzoukis there is only one I can have “live” access. For all the others, I have to figured out from the sound samples in the internet or on the reputation of the maker. Nevertheless, the comments people leave for me here help to decided to forget for the bouzouki I recently tried.

From internet samples it seems that for low to medium end products, the Gold Tone OM-800+ has a slightly better sound that Trinity College bouzouki and octave mandolin. If ever I want, a very good quality product made in Canada, and ready to pay the price, it seems that I may deal with Lawrence Nyberg from B.C.

Laurent