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Mandolin mf.jpg
An American A-style mandolin, with F-holes
String instrument

String instrument

Plucked string instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification321.321-6
(Composite chordophone sounded by a plectrum)
DevelopedMid 18th century from the mandolino
Playing range
Range mandolin.PNG
(a regularly tuned mandolin with 14 frets to body)
Related instruments
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This article is about the musical instrument. For the cooking tool, see Mandoline.
Mandolin mf.jpg
An American A-style mandolin, with F-holes
String instrument

String instrument

Plucked string instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification321.321-6
(Composite chordophone sounded by a plectrum)
DevelopedMid 18th century from the mandolino
Playing range
Range mandolin.PNG
(a regularly tuned mandolin with 14 frets to body)
Related instruments

A mandolin (Italian: mandolino) is a musical instrument in the lute family (plucked, or strummed). It usually has four courses of doubled strings. The (usually) two strings in each course are tuned in unison. The courses are tuned in a succession of perfect fifths, and plucked with a plectrum (pick). It is the soprano member of a family that includes the mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello, and mandobass. It descends from the mandore.

There are many styles of mandolin, but three are common, the Neapolitan (bowl-backed) mandolin, the carved-top mandolin and the flat-top mandolin. The carved-top or arch-top mandolin has a much shallower, arched back, and an arched top—both carved out of wood. The flat-top mandolin is similar to a guitar, using thin sheets of wood for the body, braced on the inside for strength. Each style of instrument has its own sound quality and is associated with particular forms of music. Neapolitan mandolins feature prominently in European classical music and traditional music. Carved-top instruments are common in American folk music and bluegrass music. Flat-top instruments are less specific to a music genre but are commonly used in Irish and British folk music.

Other mandolin varieties differ primarily in the strings, and include Milanese, Lombard, Brescian, and other six-course types, as well as four-string models (one string per course), and the Sicilian twelve-string (three strings per course) model. There have also been made instruments with sixteen-strings (four strings per course).

Much of mandolin development revolved around the soundboard (the top). Pre-mandolin instruments were quiet instruments, strung with as many as six courses of gut strings, and were plucked with the fingers or with a quill. However, modern instruments are louder—using four courses of metal strings, which exert more pressure than the gut strings. The modern soundboard is designed to withstand the pressure of metal strings that would break earlier instruments. The soundboard comes in many shapes—but generally round or teardrop-shaped, sometimes with scrolls or other projections. There is usually one or more sound holes in the soundboard, either round, oval, or shaped like a calligraphic F (f-hole). A round or oval sound hole may be covered or bordered with decorative rosettes or purfling.[1][2]


Schematic drawing of a bowlback mandolin

A mandolin typically has a hollow wooden body with a tailpiece that holds one end of the strings, a floating bridge, a neck with a flat (or slight radius) fretted fingerboard, a nut, and mechanical tuning machines to accommodate metal strings.

Like any plucked instrument, mandolin notes decay to silence rather than sound out continuously as with a bowed note on a violin. Its small size and higher pitch make mandolin notes decay faster than larger stringed instruments like guitar. This encourages the use of tremolo (rapid picking of one or more pairs of strings) to create sustained notes or chords. The mandolin's paired strings facilitate this technique: the plectrum (pick) strikes each of a pair of strings alternately, providing a more full and continuous sound than a single string would.

Various design variations and amplification techniques have been used to make mandolins comparable in volume with louder instruments and orchestras, including the creation of mandolin-banjo hybrid with the louder banjo, adding metal resonators (most notably by Dobro and the National String Instrument Corporation) to make a resonator mandolin, and amplifying electric mandolins through amplifiers.



1920s Mandola built in Rome by Luigi Embergher
Carved (arch-top) and Neapolitan (round-backed) mandolins—back and front

Bowlback mandolins (also known as roundback), while used worldwide are most commonly manufactured in Europe, where the long history of mandolin development has created local styles.

Neapolitan and Roman styles[edit]

The Neapolitan style has an almond-shaped body resembling a bowl, constructed from curved strips of wood. It usually has a bent sound table, canted in two planes with the design to take the tension of metal strings. A hardwood fingerboard sits on top of or is flush with the sound table. Very old instruments may use wooden tuning pegs, while newer instruments tend to use geared metal tuners. The bridge is a movable length of hardwood. A pick guard is glued below the sound hole under the strings.[3][4][5] European roundbacks commonly use a 13-inch scale instead of the 13.876 common on archtop Mandolins.[6]

Intertwined with the Neapolitan style is the Roman style mandolin, which has influenced it.[7] The Roman mandolin had a fingerboard that was more curved and narrow.[7] The fingerboard was lengthened over the sound hole for the e strings, the high pitched strings.[7] The shape of the back of the neck was different, less rounded with an edge, the bridge was curved making the g strings higher.[7] The Roman mandolin had mechanical tuning gears before the Neapolitan.[7]

Prominent Italian manufacturers include Vinaccia (Naples), Embergher (Rome), and Calace (Naples).[8] Other modern manufacturers include Lorenzo Lippi (Milan), Hendrik van den Broek (Holland), Brian Dean (Canada), Salvatore Masiello and Michele Caiazza (La Bottega del Mandolino), and Ferrara, Gabriele Pandini.[6][9]

In the United States, when the bowlback was being made in numbers, Lyon and Healy was a major manufacturer, especially under the "Washburn" brand.[8] Other American manufacturers include Martin, Vega, and Larson Brothers.[8]

German manufacturers include Albert & Mueller, Dietrich, Klaus Knorr, Reinhold Seiffert and Alfred Woll.[6][8] The German bowlbacks use a style developed by Seiffert, with a larger and rounder body.[6]

Japanese brands include Kunishima and Suzuki.[10] Other Japanese manufacturers include Oona, Kawada, Noguchi, Toichiro Ishikawa, Rokutaro Nakade, Otiai Tadao, Yoshihiko Takusari, Nokuti Makoto, Watanabe, Kanou Kadama and Ochiai.[11][12]

Milanese and Lombardic styles[edit]

Another family of bowlback mandolins came from Milan and Lombardy.[13] These mandolins are closer to the mandolino or mandore than other modern mandolins.[13] They have 6 strings, 3 treble and 3 bass.[13] The Lombardic mandolins were tuned g b e' a' d" g". A developer of the Milanese stye was Antonio Monzino (Milan) and his family who made them for 6 generations.[13]


At the very end of the nineteenth century, a new style, with a carved top and back construction inspired by violin family instruments began to supplant the European-style bowl-back instruments, in the United States. This new style is credited to mandolins designed and built by Orville Gibson, at Kalamazoo, Michigan luthier who founded the "Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co., Limited" in 1902. Gibson mandolins evolved into two basic styles: the Florentine or F-style, which has a decorative scroll near the neck, two points on the lower body, and usually a scroll carved into the headstock; and the A-style, which is pear shaped, has no points, and usually has a simpler headstock.

These styles generally have either two f-shaped soundholes like a violin (F-5 and A-5), or an oval sound hole (F-4 and A-4 and lower models) directly under the strings. Much variation exists between makers working from these archetypes, and other variants have become increasingly common. Generally, in the United States, Gibson F-hole F-5 mandolins and mandolins influenced by that design are strongly associated with bluegrass, while the A-style is associated other types of music, although it too is most often used for and associated with bluegrass. The F-5's more complicated woodwork also translates into a more expensive instrument. In Ireland and Britain, flat top and back instruments are often used.

Internal bracing to support the top in the F-style mandolins is usually achieved with parallel tone bars, similar to the bass bar on a violin. Some makers instead employ "x-bracing," which is two tone bars mortised together to form an X. Some luthiers now using a "modified x-bracing" that incorporates both a tone bar and x-bracing.

Numerous modern mandolin makers build instruments that largely replicate the Gibson F-5 Artist models built in the early 1920s under the supervision of Gibson acoustician Lloyd Loar. Original Loar-signed instruments are sought after and extremely valuable. Other makers from the Loar period and earlier include Lyon and Healy, Vega, and Larson Brothers. Some notable modern American carved mandolin manufacturers include, in addition to Gibson, Weber, Monteleone, and Collings. Mandolins from other countries include The Loar (China), Michael Kelly (Korea), Eastman (China), Kentucky (China), Heiden (Canada), Gilchrist (Australia) and Morgan Monroe (China).



Other American-made variants include the mandolinetto or Howe-Orme guitar-shaped mandolin (manufactured by the Elias Howe Company between 1897 and roughly 1920), which featured a cylindrical bulge along the top from fingerboard end to tailpiece; the Army-Navy style with a flat back and top; and the Vega mando-lute (more commonly called a cylinder-back mandolin manufactured by the Vega Company between 1913 and roughly 1927), which had a similar longitudinal bulge but on the back rather than the front of the instrument.

Banjolin or mandolin-banjo[edit]

The mandolin was given a banjo body in an 1882 patent by Benjamin Bradbury of Brooklyn and given the name banjolin by John Farris in 1885.[14] Today banjolin describes an instrument with four strings, while the version with the four courses of double strings is called a mandolin-banjo.

Electric mandolin[edit]

As with almost every other contemporary string instrument, another modern variant is the electric mandolin. These mandolins can have four or five individual or double courses of strings.

Mandolin family[edit]

1920 Gibson F-4 mandolin, 1917 Gibson H-2 mandola, 1924 Gibson K-4 mandocello, and 1929 Gibson mando-bass, from Gregg Miner's collection
L-R - Banjo-mandolin, standard mandolin, 3-course mandolin, Tenor mandola.
1930 National Triolian resonator mandolin & 1926 Paramount Style A Banjo Mandolin

The mandolin is the soprano member of the mandolin family, as the violin is the soprano member of the violin family. Like the violin, its scale length is typically about 13 inches (330 mm). Modern American mandolins modeled after Gibsons have a longer scale, about 13-7/8" (352 mm).

Other members of the mandolin family are:

Use of the mandolin also spread into Afghanistan and the mandolin is often used in Afghan popular music.


A variety of different tunings are used. Usually, courses of 2 adjacent strings are tuned in unison. The most common tuning by far, GDAE, is the same as violin tuning:

Note that the numbers of Hz shown above assume a 440 Hz A, standard in most parts of the United States. Some players use A's up to 10 Hz above or below a 440, mainly in other parts of the world.

Mandolin fretboard.png

Other tunings exist, including "cross-tunings," in which the usually doubled string runs are tuned to different pitches. Additionally, guitarists may sometimes tune a mandolin to mimic a portion of the intervals on a standard guitar tuning to achieve familiar fretting patterns.


1787 depiction of Luigi Bassi in the role of Don Giovanni serenading with a mandolin in Mozart's opera.

Mandolins evolved from the lute family in Italy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the deep bowled mandolin, produced particularly in Naples, became common in the nineteenth century. The original instrument was the mandore, which evolved in the fourteenth century from the lute. Over time and as the instrument spread around Europe, it took on many names and various structural characteristics. The instrument is also very popular in Goa, India (a former Portuguese colony).


Further back, dating to around 15,000 BC to 8000 BC, single-stringed instruments have been seen in cave paintings and murals. They were struck, plucked, and eventually bowed. From these, the families of stringed instruments developed. Single strings were long and gave a single melody line. To shorten the scale length, other strings were added with a different tension and pitch so one string took over where another left off. In turn, this led to being able to play dyads and chords. The bowed family became the rabob, and then the rebec fiddle, evolving into the modern violin family by 1520 (incidentally also in Italy). The plucked family led to lute-like instruments in 2000 BC Mesopotamia, and developed into the oud or ud before appearing in Spain, first documented around 711 AD, courtesy of the Moors.

Over subsequent centuries, the strings were doubled to courses, and eventually (in Europe) frets were added, leading to the first lute appearing in the thirteenth century. The history of the lute and the mandolin are intertwined from this point. The lute gained a fifth course by the fifteenth century, a sixth a century later, and up to thirteen courses in its heyday. As early as the fourteenth century a miniature lute or mandore appeared and used throughout Western Europe. Like the mandola, it had counterparts in Assyria (pandura), the Arab countries (dambura), and Ukraine (kobza-bandura).

Development in Italy, birth of Neapolitan mandolin[edit]

The mandore was not a final form, and the design was tinkered with wherever it was built. The Italians redesigned it and produced the mandolino (a small catgut-strung mandola with six strings tuned g b e' a' d g sometimes called the Baroque mandolin or cat-banjo and played with a quill, wooden plectrum or finger-style). The mandolino was sometimes called a mandolin in the early eighteenth century (around 1735) Naples. At this point, all such instruments were strung with gut strings.


The first evidence of modern steel-strung mandolins is from literature regarding popular Italian players who travelled through Europe teaching and giving concerts. Notable are Signor Leone and Giovanni Battista Gervasio, who travelled widely between 1750 and 1810.[2][15] This, with the records gleaned from the Italian Vinaccia family of luthiers in Naples, Italy, led some musicologists to believe that the modern steel-strung mandolin was developed in Naples by the Vinaccia family. Gennaro Vinaccia was active c. 1710 to c. 1788, and Antonio Vinaccia was active c. 1734 to c. 1796.[16] An early extant example of a mandolin is one built by Antonio Vinaccia in 1772, which resides at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England.[17] Another is by Giuseppe Vinaccia, built in 1763, residing at the Kenneth G. Fiske Museum of Musical Instruments in Claremont, California.[18] The earliest extant mandolin was built in 1744 by Gaetano Vinaccia. It resides in the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Brussels, Belgium.[4]

Gaetano's son, Pasquale Vinaccia, modernized the mandolin, adding features, creating the Neapolitan mandolin c. 1835.[19] Pasquale remodeled, raised and extended the fingerboard to 17 frets, introduced stronger wire strings made of high-tension steel and substituted a machine head for the friction tuning pegs, then standard.[19][20] The new wire strings required that he strengthen the mandolin's body, and he deepened the mandolin's bowl, giving the tonal quality more resonance.[19]

Calace, Embergher and others[edit]

Other luthiers who built mandolins included Raffaele Calace (1863 onwards) in Naples, Luigi Embergher[21] (1856–1943) in Rome and Arpino, the Ferrari family (1716 onwards, also originally mandolino makers) in Rome, and De Santi (1834–1916) in Rome. The Neapolitan style of mandolin construction was adopted and developed by others, notably in Rome, giving two distinct but similar types of mandolin – Neapolitan and Roman.[22]


Many classical composers composed works specifically for the Mandolin. Beethoven composed mandolin music[23] and enjoyed playing the mandolin.[24] The opera Don Giovanni by Mozart includes mandolin parts, including the accompaniment to the famous aria Deh vieni alla finestra. Also very well known are the mandolin concerti by Vivaldi. Gustav Mahler used the mandolin in his Symphony No. 7, Symphony No. 8 and Das Lied von der Erde. Some 20th-century classical composers also used the mandolin as their instrument of choice (amongst these are: Schoenberg, Webern, Stravinsky).

Rising and falling fortunes and the Golden Age[edit]

Following the invention of the "Neapolitian" mandolin around 1744, the mandolin grew increasingly popular over the next 60 years. After the Napoleonic Wars of 1815, however, its popularity began to fall. The 19th century produced some prominent players, including Bartolomeo Bortolazzi of Venice and Pietro Vimercati. However, professional virtuosity was in decline, and the mandolin music changed as the mandolin became a folk instrument; "the large repertoire of notated instrumental music for the mandolino and the mandoline was completely forgotten". The export market for mandolins from Italy dried up around 1815. Salvador Léonardi mentioned this decline in his 1921 book, Méthode pour Banjoline ou Mandoline-Banjo, saying that the mandolin had been declining in popularity from previous times.[25]

The Mandolin "Estudiantina" of Mayenne, France around 1900 when Mandolin orchestras were at the height of their popularity.

Then, beginning in the 1880s, the instrument's popularity rebounded. Many people in Europe and the United States became aware of the instrument after the performing group Estudiantes Españoles (Spanish Students) toured.[26] They danced and played bandurria, which became confused with the mandolin.[26] Along with the energy and awareness created by the day's hit sensation, a wave of Italian mandolinists traveled Europe in the 1880s and 1890s and in the United States by the mid-1880s, playing and teaching their instrument.[27] The instrument's popularity continued to increase during the 1890s and mandolin popularity was at its height in "early years of the twentieth-century."[28] Thousands were taking up the instrument as a pastime, and it became an instrument of society, taken up by young men and women.[28] Mandolin orchestras were formed worldwide, incorporating not only the mandolin family of instruments, but also guitars, double basses and zithers.

That era (from the late 19th-Century into the early 20th-Century) has come to be known as the "Golden Age" of the mandolin.[29] The term is used online by mandolin enthusiasts to name the time period when the mandolin had become popular, when mandolin orchestras were being organized worldwide, and new and high-quality instruments were increasingly common.

After World War I, the instrument's popularity again fell, although gradually.[30] Reasons cited included the rise of Jazz, for which the instrument was too quiet. Also the changing pace of life was cited, as people became busier and as modern conveniences (phonograph records, bicycle and automobiles, outdoor sports) competed with learning to play an instrument for fun.[30] The second decline was not as complete as the first. Thousands of people had learned to play the instrument. Even as the second wave of mandolin popularity declined in the early 20th Century, the new versions of the mandolin began to be used in new forms of music.[31] Luthiers created the resonator mandolin, the flatback mandolin, the carved-top or arched-top mandolin, the mandolin-banjo and the electric mandolin. Musicians began playing it in Celtic, Bluegrass, Jazz, and Rock-n-Roll styles — and Classical too.

The mandolin orchestras that play classical remain especially popular in Japan and Germany, and exist throughout the United States, Europe and the rest of the world. They often perform works composed for mandolin family instruments, or re-orchestrations of traditional pieces. They tend to consist of first and second mandolins, mandolas (either octave mandolas, tuned an octave below the mandolin, or tenor mandolas, tuned like the viola), and mandocellos (tuned like the cello). These are also may be used as quartets composed of two mandolins, tenor mandola, and mandocello.

Main article: Mandolin orchestra

Mandolin traditions in Italy and worldwide[edit]

Italian mandolin virtuoso and child prodigy Giuseppe Pettine (here pictured in 1898) brought the Italian playing style to America where he settled, as a mandolin teacher and composer. Pettine is credited with promoting a style where "one player plays both the rhythmic chords and the lyric melodic line at once, combining single strokes and tremolo."[32]

The international repertoire of music for mandolin is almost unlimited, and musicians use it to play various types of music. This is especially true of violin music, since the mandolin has the same tuning of the violin. Following its invention and early development in Italy the mandolin spread throughout the European continent. The instrument was primarily used in a classical tradition with Mandolin orchestras, so called Estudiantinas or in Germany Zupforchestern appearing in many cities. Following this continental popularity of the mandolin family local traditions appeared outside of Europe in the Americas and in Japan. Traveling mandolin virtuosi like Giuseppe Pettine, Raffaele Calace and Silvio Ranieri contributed to the mandolin becoming a "fad" instrument in the early 20th century.[32] This "mandolin craze" was fading by the 1930s, but just as this practice was falling into disuse, the mandolin found a new niche in American country, old-time music, bluegrass, and folk music. More recently, the Baroque and Classical mandolin repertory and styles have benefited from the raised awareness of and interest in Early music, with media attention to classical players such as Israeli Avi Avital.

Latin American Jazz musician playing a mandolin.


See Australian mandolinists

The earliest references to the mandolin in Australia come from Phil Skinner (1903–1991). In his article "Recollections"[33] he mentions a Walter Stent, who was “active in the early part of the century and organised possibly the first Mandolin Orchestra in Sydney.”

Phil Skinner played a key role in 20th century development of the mandolin movement in Australia, and was awarded an MBE in 1979 for services to music and the community. He was born Harry Skinner in Sydney in 1903 and started learning music at age 10 when his uncle tutored him on the banjo. Skinner began teaching part-time at age 18, until the Great Depression forced him to begin teaching full-time and learn a broader range of instruments. Skinner founded the Sydney Mandolin Orchestra, the oldest surviving mandolin orchestra in Australia.[34]

The Sydney Mandolins (Artistic Director: Adrian Hooper) have contributed greatly to the repertoire through commissioning over 200 works by Australian and International composers. Most of these works have been released on Compact Disks and can regularly be heard on radio stations on the ABC and MBS networks. One of their members, mandolin virtuoso Paul Hooper, has had a number of Concertos written for him by composers such as Eric Gross. He has performed and recorded these works with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. As well, Paul Hooper has had many solo works dedicated to him by Australian composers e.g., Caroline Szeto, Ian Shanahan, Larry Sitsky and Michael Smetanin.

In January 1979, the Federation of Australian Mandolin Ensembles (FAME) Inc. formed. Bruce Morey from Melbourne is the first FAME President. An Australian Mandolin Orchestra toured Germany in May 1980.

Australian popular groups such as My Friend The Chocolate Cake use the mandolin extensively. The McClymonts also use the mandolin, as do Mic Conway's National Junk Band and the Blue Tongue Lizards. Nevertheless, in folk and traditional styles, the mandolin remains more popular in Irish Music and other traditional repertoires.


In the early 20th century several mandolin orchestras (Estudiantinas) were active in Belgium. Today only a few groups remain: Royal Estudiantina la Napolitaine (founded in 1904) in Antwerp, Brasschaats mandoline orkest in Brasschaat and an orchestra in Mons (Bergen).


See Brazilian mandolinists
Brazilian Mandolin virtuoso Hamilton de Holanda playing a ten-string bandolim

The mandolin has a long and rich tradition in Brazilian folk music where it is called bandolim, especially in the style called choro. The composer and mandolin virtuoso Jacob do Bandolim did much to popularize the instrument through many recordings, and his influence continues to the present day. Some contemporary mandolin players in Brazil include Jacob's disciple Déo Rian, and Hamilton de Holanda (the former, a traditional choro-style player, the latter an eclectic innovator).

The mandolin came into Brazil by way of Portugal. Portuguese music has a long tradition of mandolins and mandolin-like instruments (see, for example, the Portuguese guitar).

In Brazilian music, the mandolin is almost exclusively a melody instrument. The cavaquinho, a steel stringed instrument similar to a ukulele provides chordal accompaniment. The mandolin's popularity has risen and fallen with instrumental folk music styles, especially choro. The later part of the 20th century saw a renaissance of choro in Brazil, and with it, a revival of the country's mandolin tradition.

Czech and Slovak republics[edit]

See Czech mandolinists, Czech bluegrass
A woman playing a bowlback mandolin in Germany in 1952.

From Italy mandolin music extended in popularity throughout Europe in the early 20th century, with mandolin orchestras appearing throughout the continent.

In the 21st century an increased interest in bluegrass music, especially in Central European countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic, has inspired many new mandolin players and builders. These players often mix traditional folk elements with bluegrass.


The mandolin has a long tradition in the Ionian islands (the Heptanese) and Crete. It has long been played in the Aegean islands outside of the control of the Ottoman Empire. It is common to see choirs accompanied by mandolin players (the mandolinátes) in the Ionian islands and especially in the cities of Corfu, Zakynthos, and Kefalonia. The evolution of the repertoire for choir and mandolins (kantádes) occurred during Venetian rule over the islands.

On the island of Crete, along with the lyra and the laouto (lute), the mandolin is one of the main instruments used in Cretan Music. It appeared on Crete around the time of the Venetian rule of the island. Different variants of the mandolin, such as the "mantola," were used to accompany the lyra, the violin, and the laouto. Stelios Foustalierakis reported that the mandolin and the mpoulgari were used to accompany the lyra in the beginning of the 20th century in the city of Rethimno. There are also reports that the mandolin was mostly a woman's musical instrument. Nowadays it is played mainly as a solo instrument in personal and family events on the Ionian islands and Crete.


See Indian mandolinists

Mandolin music was used in Indian Movies as far back as the 1940s by the Raj Kapoor Studios in movies such as Barsaat. The movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) used mandolin in several places. Adoption of the mandolin in Carnatic music is recent and involves an electric instrument. U. Srinivas has, over the last couple of decades, made his version of the mandolin very popular in India and abroad. Many adaptations of the instrument have been done to cater to the special needs of Indian Carnatic music. This type of mandolin is also used in Bhangra, dance music popular in Punjabi culture.


See Italian mandolinists

Important performers in the Italitan tradition include Raffaele Calace (luthier, virtuoso and composer of 180 works for many instruments including mandolin), Pietro Denis (whole also composed Sonata for mandolin & continuo No. 1 in D major and Sonata No. 3), Giovanni Fouchetti, Gabriele Leone, Carlo Munier (1859-1911), Giuseppe Branzoli (1835-1909), Giovanni Gioviale (1885-1949) and Silvio Ranieri (1882-1956).[31][35]

Antonio Vivaldi composed a mandolin concerto (Concerto in C major Op.3 6) and two concertos for two mandolins and orchestra. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart placed it in his 1787 work Don Giovanni and Beethoven created four variations of it. Antonio Maria Bononcini composed La conquista delle Spagne di Scipione Africano il giovane in 1707 and George Frideric Handel composed Alexander Balus in 1748. Others include Giovani Battista Gervasio (Sonata in D major for Mandolin and Basso Continuo), Giuseppe Giuliano (Sonata in D major for Mandolin and Basso Continuo), Emanuele Barbella (Sonata in D major for Mandolin and Basso Continuo), Domenico Scarlatti (Sonata n.54 (K.89) in D minor for Mandolin and Basso Continuo), and Addiego Guerra (Sonata in G major for Mandolin and Basso Continuo).[31][36]

More contemporary composers for the mandolin include Giuseppe Anedda (a virtuoso performer and teacher of the first chair of the Conservatory of Italian mandolin), Carlo Aonzo and Dorina Frati.


See Irish mandolinists

The mandolin has become a more common instrument amongst Irish traditional musicians. Fiddle tunes are readily accessible to the mandolin player because of the equivalent tuning and range of the two instruments, and the practically identical (allowing for the lack of frets on the fiddle) left hand fingerings.

Though almost any variety of acoustic mandolin might be adequate for Irish traditional music, virtually all Irish players prefer flat-backed instruments with oval sound holes to the Italian-style bowl-back mandolins or the carved-top mandolins with f-holes favoured by bluegrass mandolinists. The former are often too soft-toned to hold their own in a session (as well as having a tendency to not stay in place on the player's lap), whilst the latter tend to sound harsh and overbearing to the traditional ear. The f-hole mandolin, however, does come into its own in a traditional session, where its brighter tone cuts through the sonic clutter of a pub. Greatly preferred for formal performance and recording are flat-topped "Irish-style" mandolins (reminiscent of the WWI-era Martin Army-Navy mandolin) and carved (arch) top mandolins with oval soundholes, such as the Gibson A-style of the 1920s.

Noteworthy Irish mandolinists include Andy Irvine (who, like Johnny Moynihan, almost always tunes the top E down to D, to achieve an open tuning of GDAD), Paul Brady, Mick Moloney, Paul Kelly, and Claudine Langille. John Sheahan and the late Barney McKenna, respectively fiddle player and tenor banjo player with The Dubliners, are also accomplished Irish mandolin players. The instruments used are either flat-backed, oval hole examples as described above (made by UK luthier Roger Bucknall of Fylde Guitars), or carved-top, oval hole instruments with arched back (made by Stefan Sobell in Northumberland). The Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher often played the mandolin on stage, and he most famously used it in the song "Going To My Hometown."


Instruments of the mandolin family are popular in Japan, particularly Neapolitan (round-back) style instruments. Morishige Takei (1890–1949), who studied Italian in Tokyo College of Language and was a member of the court of Emperor Hirohito, established the mandolin orchestra in the Italian style before World War II. The military government could not persecute Japanese mandolinists by the authority of Takei[citation needed] and Italy as the Axis. So the Japanese mandolin orchestras continued to perform old Italian works after World War II, and they are prosperous today. In addition, Jiro Nakano (1902–2000) arranged many of the Italian works for regular orchestras or winds composed before World War II as new repertoires for Japanese mandolin orchestras.

Original compositions for mandolin orchestras were more and more composed after World War II. Seiichi Suzuki (1901–1980) who composed music for early Kurosawa films and Tadashi Hattori (1908–2008), Hiroshi Ohguri (1918–1982) who was influenced by Béla Bartók composed many symphonic works for Japanese mandolin orchestras.Yasuo Kuwahara (1946–2003) used German techniques. Many of his works were published in Germany.

Japanese mandolin orchestras consist of up to 40 or 50 members, and often include wind or percussion instruments.

New Zealand[edit]

The Auckland Mandolinata mandolin orchestra was formed in 1969 by Doris Flameling (1932–2004). Soon after arriving from the Netherlands with her family, Doris started teaching guitar and mandolin in West Auckland. In 1969, she formed a small ensemble for her pupils. This ensemble eventually developed into a full size mandolin orchestra, which survives today. Doris was the musical director and conductor of this orchestra for many years. The orchestra is currently led by Bryan Holden (conductor).

The early history of the mandolin in New Zealand is currently being researched by members of the Auckland Mandolinata.


The bandolim (Portuguese for "mandolin") was a favorite instrument within the Portuguese bourgeoisie of the 19th century, but its rapid spread took it to other places, joining other instruments. Today you can see mandolins as part of the traditional and folk culture of Portuguese singing groups and the majority of the mandolin scene in Portugal is in Madeira Island. Madeira has over 17 active mandolin Orchestras and Tunas. The mandolin virtuoso Fabio Machado is one of Portugal's most accomplished mandolin players. The Portuguese influence brought the mandolin to Brazil.


See Romanian mandolinists

United Kingdom[edit]

See British mandolinists

The mandolin has been used extensively in the traditional music of England and Scotland for generations. Simon Mayor is a prominent British player who has produced six solo albums, instructional books and DVDs, as well as recordings with his mandolin quartet The Mandolinquents. The instrument has also found its way into British rock music. The mandolin was played by Mike Oldfield (and introduced by Vivian Stanshall) on Oldfield's album Tubular Bells, as well as on a number of his subsequent albums (particularly prominently on Hergest Ridge (1974) and Ommadawn (1975)). It was used extensively by the British folk-rock band Lindisfarne, who featured two members on the instrument, Ray Jackson and Simon Cowe, and whose "Fog on the Tyne" was the biggest selling UK album of 1971-1972. The instrument was also used extensively in the UK folk revival of the 1960s and 1970s with bands such as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span taking it on as the lead instrument in many of their songs. Maggie May by Rod Stewart, which hit No. 1 on both the British charts and the Billboard Hot 100, also featured Jackson's playing. It has also been used by other British rock musicians. Led Zeppelin's bassist John Paul Jones is an accomplished mandolin player and has recorded numerous songs on mandolin including Going to California and That's the Way; the mandolin part on The Battle of Evermore is played by Jimmy Page, who composed the song. Other Led Zeppelin songs featuring mandolin are Hey Hey What Can I Do, and Black Country Woman. Pete Townshend of The Who played mandolin on the track Mike Post Theme, along with many other tracks on Endless Wire. McGuinness Flint, for whom Graham Lyle played the mandolin on their most successful single, When I'm Dead And Gone, is another example. Lyle was also briefly a member of Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance, and played mandolin on their hit How Come. One of the more prominent early mandolin players in popular music was Robin Williamson in The Incredible String Band. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull is a highly accomplished mandolin player (beautiful track Pussy Willow), as is his guitarist Martin Barre. The popular song Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want by The Smiths featured a mandolin solo played by Johnny Marr. More recently, the Glasgow-based band Sons and Daughters featured the mandolin, played by Ailidh Lennon, on tracks such as Fight, Start to End, and Medicine. British folk-punk icons the Levellers also regularly use the mandolin in their songs. Current bands are also beginning to use the Mandolin and its unique sound - such as South London's Indigo Moss who use it throughout their recordings and live gigs. The mandolin has also featured in the playing of Matthew Bellamy in the rock band Muse. It also forms the basis of Paul McCartney's 2007 hit "Dance Tonight." That was not the first time a Beatle played a mandolin, however; that distinction goes to George Harrison on "Gone Troppo," the title cut from the 1982 album of the same name. The mandolin is taught in Lanarkshire by the Lanarkshire Guitar and Mandolin Association to over 100 people. Also more recently hard rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures have been playing a song based primarily using a mandolin. This song was left off their recent debut album, and features former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.[citation needed]

In the Classical style, performers such as Hugo D'Alton, Alison Stephens and Michael Hooper have continued to play music by British composers such as Michael Finnissy, James Humberstone and Elspeth Brooke.

United States[edit]

See American mandolinists, American bluegrass mandolinists, Canadian mandolinists, and Canadian bluegrass mandolinists
Native American girls' mandolin orchestra, 1905

Mandolin orchestras and classical-music virtuosos[edit]

The mandolin's popularity in the United States was spurred by the success of a group of touring young European musicians known as the Estudiantina Figaro, or in the United States, simply the "Spanish Students." The group landed in the U.S. on January 2, 1880 in New York City, and played in Boston and New York to wildly enthusiastic crowds. Ironically, this ensemble did not play mandolins but rather bandurrias, which are also small, double-strung instruments that resemble the mandolin. The success of the Figaro Spanish Students spawned several groups who imitated their musical style and colorful costumes. In many cases, the players in these new musical ensembles were Italian-born Americans who had brought mandolins from their native land. Thus, the Spanish Student imitators did primarily play mandolins and helped to generate enormous public interest in an instrument previously relatively unknown in the United States.[32]

Valentine Abt posing with a Gibson mandolin in a 1912 endorsement advertisement for the instrument. Abt called the Gibson Company "the pioneer of plectrum instrument making in America" and mentioned its carrying power. He also talked about his New York Plectrum Orchestra's use of four Gibson Mando-Basses, saying they had a deep, prolonged voice.[37]

Mandolin awareness in the United States blossomed in the 1880s, as the instrument became part of a fad that continued into the mid-1920s.[27][28][29] Instruments were marketed by teacher-dealers, much as the title character in the popular musical The Music Man.[38] Often, these teacher-dealers conducted mandolin orchestras: groups of 4-50 musicians who played various mandolin family instruments. However, alongside the teacher-dealers were serious musicians, working to create a spot for the instrument in classical music, ragtime and jazz. Like the teacher-dealers, they traveled the U.S., recording records, giving performances and teaching individuals and mandolin orchestras. Samuel Siegel played mandolin in Vaudeville and became one of America's preeminent mandolinists.[39] Seth Weeks was an African American who not only taught and performed in the United States, but also in Europe, where he recorded records.[40][41] Another pioneering African American musician and director who made his start with a mandolin orchestra was composer James Reese Europe. W. Eugene Page toured the country with a group, and was well known for his mandolin and mandola performances.[42][43] Other names include Valentine Abt, Samuel Adelstein, and Aubrey Stauffer.[39]

The instrument was primarily used in an ensemble setting well into the 1930s, and although the fad died out at the beginning of the 1930s, the instruments that were developed for the orchestra found a new home in bluegrass. The famous Lloyd Loar Master Model from Gibson (1923) was designed to boost the flagging interest in mandolin ensembles, with little success. However, The "Loar" became the defining instrument of bluegrass music when Bill Monroe purchased F-5 S/N 73987[44] in a Florida barbershop in 1943 and popularized it as his main instrument.

Mandolin family instruments built by Gibson. The mandolin orchestra was the market for many of these.

The mandolin orchestras never completely went away, however. In fact, along with all the other musical forms the mandolin is involved with, the mandolin ensemble (groups usually arranged like the string section of a modern symphony orchestra, with first mandolins, second mandolins, mandolas, mandocellos, mando-basses, and guitars, and sometimes supplemented by other instruments) continues to grow in popularity. Since the mid-nineties, several public-school mandolin-based guitar programs have blossomed around the country, including Fretworks Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra, the first of its kind. The national organization, Classical Mandolin Society of America represents these groups. Prominent modern mandolinists and composers for mandolin in the classical music tradition include Samuel Firstman, Howard Fry, Rudy Cipolla, Dave Apollon, Neil Gladd, Marilynn Mair and Mark Davis (the Mair-Davis Duo), Norman Levine (who founded the Classical American Music Society), Brian Israel, David Evans, Emanuil Shynkman, Radim Zenkl, Evan Marshall, David Del Tredici and Ernst Krenek.[45]

Bluegrass, Blues, and the jug-band[edit]

The F-model Mandolin invented by Gibson is characterized by the curled scroll on the upper side of the instrument. This F-4 Gibson was built in 1916. The F-4 has an oval soundhole whereas the F-5 model has two f-shaped soundhole like those of a violin.

Single mandolins were first used in southern string band music in the 1930s, most notably by brother duets such as the sedate Blue Sky Boys (Bill Bolick and Earl Bolick) and the more hard-driving Monroe Brothers (Bill Monroe and Charlie Monroe). However, the mandolin's modern popularity in country music can be directly traced to one man: Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music. After the Monroe Brothers broke up in 1939, Bill Monroe formed his own group, after a brief time called the Blue Grass Boys, and completed the transition of mandolin styles from a "parlor" sound typical of brother duets to the modern "bluegrass" style. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1939 and its powerful clear-channel broadcast signal on WSM-AM spread his style throughout the South, directly inspiring many musicians to take up the mandolin. Monroe famously played Gibson F-5 mandolin, signed and dated July 9, 1923, by Lloyd Loar, chief acoustic engineer at Gibson. The F-5 has since become the most imitated tonally and aesthetically by modern builders. Monroe's style involved playing lead melodies in the style of a fiddler, and also a percussive chording sound referred to as "the chop" for the sound made by the quickly struck and muted strings. He also perfected a sparse, percussive blues style, especially up the neck in keys that had not been used much in country music, notably B and E. He emphasized a powerful, syncopated right hand at the expense of left-hand virtuosity. Monroe's most influential follower of the second generation is Frank Wakefield and nowadays Mike Compton of the Nashville Bluegrass Band and David Long, who often tour as a duet. Tiny Moore of the Texas Playboys developed an electric five-string mandolin and helped popularize the instrument in Western Swing music.[46]

Other major bluegrass mandolinists who emerged in the early 1950s and are still active include Jesse McReynolds (of Jim and Jesse) who invented a syncopated banjo-roll-like style called crosspicking—and Bobby Osborne of the Osborne Brothers, who is a master of clarity and sparkling single-note runs. Highly respected and influential modern bluegrass players include Herschel Sizemore, Doyle Lawson, and the multi-genre Sam Bush, who is equally at home with old-time fiddle tunes, rock, reggae, and jazz. Ronnie McCoury of the Del McCoury Band has won numerous awards for his Monroe-influenced playing. The late John Duffey of the original Country Gentlemen and later the Seldom Scene did much to popularize the bluegrass mandolin among folk and urban audiences, especially on the east coast and in the Washington, D.C. area.

American mandolin player Chris Thile

Jethro Burns, best known as half of the comedy duo Homer and Jethro, was also the first important jazz mandolinist. Tiny Moore popularized the mandolin in Western swing music. He initially played an 8-string Gibson but switched after 1952 to a 5-string solidbody electric instrument built by Paul Bigsby. Modern players David Grisman, Sam Bush, and Mike Marshall, among others, have worked since the early 1970s to demonstrate the mandolin's versatility for all styles of music. Chris Thile of California is a well-known player, and has accomplished many feats of traditional bluegrass, classical, contemporary pop and rock; the band Nickel Creek featured his playing in its blend of traditional and pop styles, and he now plays in his band Punch Brothers. Most commonly associated with bluegrass, mandolin has been used a lot in country music over the years. Some well-known players include Marty Stuart and Vince Gill.

Mandolin has also been used in blues music, most notably by Ry Cooder, who performed outstanding covers on his very first recordings, Yank Rachell, Johnny "Man" Young, Carl Martin, and Gerry Hundt. It saw some use in jug band music, since that craze began as the mandolin fad was waning, and there were plenty of instruments available at relatively low cost.

Rock and Celtic[edit]

The mandolin has been used occasionally in rock music, first appearing in the psychedelic era of the late 1960s. Levon Helm of The Band occasionally moved from his drum kit to play mandolin, most notably on Rag Mama Rag, Rockin' Chair, and Evangeline. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull played mandolin on Fat Man, from their second album, Stand Up, and also occasionally on later releases. Rod Stewart's still-played 1971 No. 1 hit Maggie May features a significant mandolin riff in its motif. David Grisman played mandolin on two Grateful Dead songs on the American Beauty album, Friend of the Devil and Ripple, which became instant favorites among amateur pickers at jam sessions and campground gatherings. John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page both played mandolin on a few Led Zeppelin songs. Dash Croft of the soft rock duo Seals and Crofts extensively used mandolin in their repertoire during the 1970s.

Some rock musicians today use mandolins, often single-stringed electric models rather than double-stringed acoustic mandolins. One example is Tim Brennan of the Irish-American punk rock band Dropkick Murphys. In addition to electric guitar, bass, and drums, the band uses several instruments associated with traditional Celtic music, including mandolin, tin whistle, and Great Highland bagpipes. The band explains that these instruments accentuate the growling sound they favor. The 1991 R.E.M. hit "Losing My Religion" was driven by a few simple mandolin licks played by guitarist Peter Buck, who also played the mandolin in nearly a dozen other songs. The single peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (#1 on the rock and alternative charts),[47] Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars and The Black Crowes has made frequent use of the mandolin, most notably on the Black Crowes song "Locust Street." Armenian American Rock group System of A Down makes extensive use of the mandolin on their 2005 double album Mezmerize/Hypnotize. Pop punk band Green Day has used a mandolin in several occasions, especially on their 2000 album, Warning. Boyd Tinsley, violin player of the Dave Matthews Band has been using an electric mandolin since 2005. Frontman Colin Meloy and guitarist Chris Funk of The Decemberists regularly employ the mandolin in the band's music. Nancy Wilson, rhythm guitarist of Heart, uses a mandolin in Heart's song "Dream of the Archer" from the album Little Queen, as well as in Heart's cover of Led Zeppelin's song "The Battle of Evermore." "Show Me Heaven" by Maria McKee, the theme song to the film Days of Thunder, prominently features a mandolin.


As in Brazil, the mandolin has played an important role in the Music of Venezuela. It has enjoyed a privileged position as the main melodic instrument in several different regions of the country. Specifically, the eastern states of Sucre, Nueva Esparta, Anzoategui and Monagas have made the mandolin the main instrument in their versions of Joropo as well as Puntos, Jotas, Polos, Fulias, Merengues and Malagueñas. Also, in the west of the country the sound of the mandolin is intrinsically associated with the regional genres of the Venezuelan Andes: Bambucos, Pasillos, Pasodobles, and Waltzes. In the western city of Maracaibo the Mandolin has been played in Decimas, Danzas and Contradanzas Zulianas; in the capital, Caracas, the Merengue Rucaneao, Pasodobles and Waltzes have also been played with mandolin for almost a century. Today, Venezuelan mandolists include an important group of virtuoso players and ensembles such as Alberto Valderrama, Jesus Rengel, Ricardo Sandoval, Saul Vera, and Cristobal Soto.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Musical Instruments, A Comprehensive Dictionary," by Sibyl Marcuse (Corrected Edition 1975)
  2. ^ a b "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition," edited by Stanley Sadie and others (2001)
  3. ^ Tyler, James and Sparks, Paul (1996) "The Mandolin: Its Structure and Performance (Sixteenth to Twentieth Centuries)," Performance Practice Review: Vol. 9: No. 2, Article 5. Available at:
  4. ^ a b The Early Mandolin by James Tyler and Paul Sparks (1989)
  5. ^ The Classical Mandolin by Paul Sparks (1995)
  6. ^ a b c d Graham McDonald, Mandolin Cafe Forum, Who are the top classical builders?
  7. ^ a b c d e Paul Sparks, The Classical Mandolin, page 37-38.
  8. ^ a b c d Eugene Braig, Mandolin Cafe, Mandolin Glossary.
  9. ^ Jim Garber, Mandolin Cafe Forum, Who are the top classical builders?
  10. ^ The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) forum, Mandolin (neapolitan, Round Back, Bowl Back...), February 2, 2009.
  11. ^ Hiin (username), Mandolin Cafe, Who are the top classical builders?
  12. ^ Dave Hynds, Japanese Mandolin Makers
  13. ^ a b c d Milanese and Lombardic Mandolin Makers
  14. ^ The Irish Tenor Banjo by Don Meade
  15. ^ The Classical Mandolin by Paul Sparks, page 218
  16. ^ "Embergher History". Retrieved 2012-10-12. 
  17. ^ Description of item in museum, Neapolitan mandolin, Place of origin: Naples, Italy (Made) Date: 1772 (Made) Artist/Maker: Vinaccia, Antonio
  18. ^ "CIMCIM International Directory of Musical Instrument Collections". Retrieved 2012-10-12. 
  19. ^ a b c Paul Sparks, The Classical Mandolin, Oxford University Press, pages 15-16, 206.
  20. ^ Zarh Myron Bickford, The Bickford Mandolin Method, Carl Fisher, Inc., New York, 1920, page 5.
  21. ^ The Embergher mandolin, Ralf Leenen and Barry Pratt, 2004. ISBN 9073838312, 9789073838314
  22. ^ Sparks, Paul (2005). The Classical Mandolin. Oxford University Press. 
  23. ^ Program for a recital given at the Boston Early Music Festival in June of 2007
  24. ^ "DawgTab". Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  25. ^ Salvador Léonardi, Méthode pour Banjoline ou Mandoline-Banjo, Paris, 1921
  26. ^ a b [Sparks, Paul, The Classical Mandolin, pages 21-29]
  27. ^ a b [Sparks, Paul, The Classical Mandolin, chapters 2,3]
  28. ^ a b c [Sparks, Paul, The Classical Mandolin, page96]
  29. ^ a b The Classical Mandolin Society, Classical Mandolin - A (Very) Brief Overview
  30. ^ a b [Sparks, Paul, The Classical Mandolin, pages 153-154]
  31. ^ a b c Ian Pommerenke, The Mandolin in the early to mid 19th Century, Lanarkshire Guitar and Mandolin Association Newsletter, Spring 2007.
  32. ^ a b c Jean Dickson, University at Buffalo (SUNY), Mandolin Mania in Buffalo’s Italian Community, 1895 to 1918, published in Journal of World Anthropology: Occasional Papers: Volume II, Number 2.
  33. ^ Recollections - by Phil Skinner. FIGA magazine Jan. Feb. 1981 (Fretted Instrument Guild of America)
  34. ^
  35. ^ Ian Pommerenke, The Mandolin the early 18th Century, Lanarkshire Guitar and Mandolin Association Newsletter, November 2006.
  36. ^ Frances Taylor, mandolinist, Italian Mandolin Sonatas, Claudio Records.
  37. ^ The Crescendo, Jan 1912, page 1, advertisement for Gibson by Valentine Abt.
  38. ^ Greg Miner,, Gibson Mandolin "Orchestra"
  39. ^ a b Sparks, Paul (1995). The Classical Mandolin. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 120–132, 223. ISBN 978-0-19-517337-6. 
  40. ^ Oxford African American Center, Weeks, Seth
  41. ^ Henry T. Sampson, reprint of Banjo World, Vol. 8, No. 73, December, 1900, p. 20, in his book Blacks in Blackface: A Sourcebook on Early Black Musical Shows, Scarecrow Press, Oct 30, 2013, pages 1439-1440.
  42. ^ University of Iowa Digital Collections, concert announcement for W. Eugene Page and Florence Phelps McCune"Announcement". Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  43. ^ Semi Weekly Iowa State Reporter, Waterloo, Iowa, July 3, 1900, page 5."OF OUR CHAUTAUOUA". Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  44. ^ "Gibson F5 Mandolin #73987 Signed by Lloyd Loar July 9, 1923". The Mandolin Archive. Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  45. ^ Sparks, Paul (1995). The Classical Mandolin. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 177–180. ISBN 978-0-19-517337-6. 
  46. ^ "Tiny Moore". 1987-12-15. Retrieved 2012-10-12. 
  47. ^ Billboard Hot 100

Further reading[edit]

Chord dictionaries

Method and instructional guides

External links[edit]