a question of strings

a question of strings

Hi all, I am looking to find out the difference between a mandolin or octave mandolin and an Irish bouzouki. Are the strings different? I have heard that a mandolin is tuned the same as a violin, but not sure of a bouzouki. What are the strings for each instrument. Thanks. Lowhistle

Re: a question of strings

yes mandolin and fiddle are tuned the same, DGAE, and octave mandolin as the name implies an octave below that, also the same as an Irish tuned tenor banjo. Bouzoukis can be tuned variously - i play a short scale zouk that i tune DGAE like an octave mandolin but thats not typical - most zouks are longer scale with lighter strings. i will leave it to those guys to explain further!

Re: a question of strings

Christy, thanks for the quick response. I am curious about the longer neck zouks. Lowhistle

Re: a question of strings

Longer scale Irish bouzoukis are most commonly tuned in the "Leave it to Beaver tuning" (GDAD), but many players will play around with different tunings (ADAD, GDAE, DADA, CGDA, etc). Even when tuned to GDAE, they’re still going to be an octave lower than the fiddle and mandolin. And there are certainly instruments in that family with different numbers of courses. Greek bouzoukis are often just 3 courses (6 strings), which might be tuned ADA, DAD, DAE, or any number of other tunings. There are also lots of 5 course (10 string) versions - often referred to as a "Cittern" (although, there is plenty of debate about that), and again, the tunings will vary widely, like DGDAE, CGDAD, GDAEA, etc… To complicate matters even more, some players like to string their instruments with "octave" strings on some of the courses, much like a 12 string guitar, where for instance, the lower strings might be strung with a low G and a high G on the same course…

As far as the strings themselves, the longer the scale, the smaller diameter the string needs to be to play at a certain note with the same tension. But other than that, string material, octave stringing, string gauges, and tunings are all pretty much personal choices…

Re: a question of strings

Try: http:/www.ceolas.org/instruments/cittern.html for information

Here’s what I have personally dealt with on my various instruments:
Cittern (tuned CFCGC yielding DGDAD when capo’d at the 2nd fret):
.011
.017
.032W
.042W
.054W

You don’t get to use that low string much so…

Tuned FCGCG and capo’d at 2nd fret for GDADA :
.006
.011
.016
.028W
.040W

String gauges from the web for cittern:
.009
.014
.021W
.032W
.047W

Irish Bouzouki strings:
D’Addario __ Elixir ____ Paul Doyle _____ Mine _______ La Bella
.011_______ .011 ________ .012 _______ .011 _______ .011P
.016_______ .018 _______ .022 _______ .016 _______ .017P
.028W_____ .032W _____ .032W ______ .032W _____ .032W
.040W_____ .042W _____ .044W ______ .042W _____ .042W

Tenor Banjo strings:
Clareen _________ GHS Custom Stainless Celtic __ John Pearse 2020H
.012 ____________ .014 __________________ .013
.017W __________ .024W _________________ .020W
.026W __________ .032W _________________ .028W
.036W __________ .042W _________________ .040W

Re: a question of strings

sorry meant to write GDAE in my post, not DGAE

Re: a question of strings

ps i’m using 13/13, 17/17, 30/13 and 43/17 on my zouk - currently D’Addario but i have used Elixir, D’Aquisto and John Pearse before now

Re: a question of strings

@Reverend: being of the continental cultural background, what does the Leave it to Beaver reference mean? It’s an old television show, Wikipedia says. Gee, dad? Something like that?

Re: a question of strings

Rev, I’ve not heard that term before, but it left me laughing with tears in my eyes!

Re: a question of strings

Strings for my Sobell, short scale (20.5"), large body (same lower bout as his other bouzouki’s), Octave Mandolin (name for it in 1990), tuned GDAE are; .049W, .035W, .023w, .013P . Wound strings are Phosphor Bronze. The instrument sounded perfect when I first played it with those strings and sounds perfect today - no reason to try any other string material or guage.

Re: a question of strings

Thank you all for the very informed information, but I must not have made myself clear in my original question. When you buy strings for a guitar they are E,A,D,G,B and E. What are the strings for a bouzouki (or are there no standard strings when playing an open note)? Thanks, and sorry for the confusion. Lowhistle

Re: a question of strings

There is no standard, there isn’t a standard as to what to name the instruments either. What you have been given are various gauges for various tunings and scale length of the instrument. As you go longer the string size will decrease for a given tuning. Also, your preposition that guitar strings are for a given note - they aren’t. The standard is EADGBE but lots of folk’s tune DADGAD, DADGBE, or DADGBD with the same string gauge. You can do this because a string can usually be detuned a whole step and still play OK. I use medium gauge strings on my guitar but will frequently tune in a Drop D tuning or DADGAD and it works OK, whereas if I was using light gauge strings in normal tuning I would probably have to change string gauge for a drop D tuning.

On my CBOM instrument (Cittern, Bouzouki, Octave Mandolin) if I were to tune GDAD instead of GDAE I might use a .014 for my D string. That would work with my scale length (20.5") but I would decrease the gauges of all strings if I was playing a 23" or 25" scale length, 4 course CBOM instrument.

The answer, as is usually the case, is "it depends".

Re: a question of strings

I don’t understand the problem. Though I agree with what Steve Wilson just said as well as all the previous technical advice, just buy a set of commercial Irish bouzouki strings. I have a long scale bouzouki and an octave mandolin and I have never had to think about it. I just go on-line and buy the appropriate strings.

Posted by .

Re: a question of strings

Lowhistle, is your question hypothetical or are you seriously contemplating buying a zouk and want to know how to tune it?

Re: a question of strings

Christy, I am thinking of buying my brother a bouzouki for Christmas in order for him to play along with me. He has a guitar, but I thought a zouk would be a nice change of pace. I was trying to figure out what would be needed in order for him to begin playing a new instrument. I was confused because I know nothing of string instruments. I guess I am looking for as much info on tuning a zouk as I can get.

Re: a question of strings

LoWhistle, has your brother actually expressed an interest in learning how to play a mandolin-family instrument like the ‘zouk? Please realize it’s a very different beast, that will require learning different chord shapes and scale patterns than guitar.

There is a trick where you can think about the chords as being upside down compared to guitar, but it’s still not an easy transition. For melody playing it’s even worse, due to the finger-stretch required when the strings are a 5th apart instead of a 4th like guitar. That’s why many of us who play mostly melody will use the shorter scale octave mandolins instead of a bouzouki.

If your brother is strongly motivated to learn an instrument from a very different string family, then go for it. I wouldn’t suggest buying him one just to get a "change of pace," especially if he hasn’t express a prior interest, because he may not be motivated enough to do the work.

Re: a question of strings

I’m with Conical bore on that one. I would not purchase an instrument just for a change of pace unless your brother has mentioned the possibility of doing so. You can buy a beginners bouzouki for around $400 USD and I’ve done so myself when I became interested. It took about a month to realize that an instrument in that price range can be really inhibitive for learning or at least providing some reasonable tone. You may be dooming your brother to the inevitable and costly upgrade path if he becomes truly involved with it. Of course one thing you don’t have to deal with initially is that any new bouzouki you purchase - comes with strings! ;^)

Re: a question of strings

One of the Greek tunings is CFAD - capo on the 2nd fret and you have DGBE, the top 4 strings of a guitar. Its not a tuning i would want to use for a zouk, but could work for ‘the brother’ ?

Re: a question of strings

DGBE by way of CFAD with capo at the 2nd fret is an interesting idea!

One potential problem might be that beginner to intermediate guitar players tend to use chord shapes with roots on the E and A strings, which are missing in that tuning. It might require re-learning chord shapes to include the root, unless the guitarist is already fluent with chord inversions. And if you’re going to re-learn chord shapes anyway, then you might as well just learn the basic bouzouki chords in GDAD or GDAE.

Re: a question of strings

If you want your brother to do a "change of pace" give him a gift certificate to someone who can teach him DADGAD tuning and ITM accompaniment in that tuning on guitar.

Re: a question of strings

All very good suggestions. My brother has played mandolin in the past, but kind of gave up on it because of the small spacing on the neck due to broken fingers. He thought an octave mandolin or bouzouki would be worth investigating. Regarding the other tunings that were suggested, he still likes to sing and is not fully committed to ITM. I will print this thread of suggestions and discuss with him. Thank you all.

Re: a question of strings

As now a fairly long-term ‘zouk player I ask "What is this about having to throw your fingers about a lot ?"
Does Eric Clapton say "I can’t play this, I’ll have to move my hand up the fingerboard !" ?
No, he just moves his hand up the neck where needed.
I think this all comes from mando- and banjo-pickers thinking that all the required notes lie under the fingers in first position.