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Thread: Nylon String Mandolin?

  1. #1

    Default Nylon String Mandolin?

    I'm 69, have hand issues, and can no longer play a steel-string mandolin. Does anyone have a nylon string mandolin for sale or know a luthier who makes nylon string mandolins? I want to keep making music as long as I can, and I'm hoping a nylon-string mandolin will allow me to do this.

    Any information or suggestions you might provide would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks so much!

    Stephen

  2. #2
    Market Man Barry Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Aquilla was making nylon string sets
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  4. #3

    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    You can tune a soprano ukulele like a mandolin. It doesn't have the typical double string sound, but it seems better than giving up completely. I like mine and see it as a nice alternative to a real mandolin.
    Aquila makes a set of strings to tune a ukulele GDAE

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    Registered User Jude Reinhardt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Have you tried GHS Ultralite strings? The E strings are .009 and I think the G's are .032. I'm using them on my Big Muddy and they allow my 79 year old hands to keep playing. You might also just use half of a set and make a four stringer out of your mando. Two sets of strings for the price of one.

    Jude

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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    A mandolin made specifically for nylon strings is a rare bird. I had one but sold it a couple of years ago to a fellow forum member. Don't know if he would be willing to let it go or not. He will chime in if he wants to be known, I'm sure.

    The mandolin was made by luthier Walt Kuhlman, aka Gypsy, and to my knowledge he only made two, the prototype (mine) and a custom 10 string. The secret to their sound was that Walt braced them like a classical guitar, with fan bracing. He also put together a custom string set. 2 lower string courses were from a classical guitar set, A and D I think, and the upper two were from a concert use set, E and A. I tried the Aquila mandolin set on it and it sounded awful. I found it really needed Walt's set to sound good.

    If that Aquila set sounded bad on a mandolin made for nylon strings, I believe it would sound even worse on one designed for steel strings, although I admit I never tried it.

    Maybe you could try Walt's set on an X braced oval hole, like a Big Muddy or something like it. It may work ok. If memory serves, it would be 1st course A from a concert uke set tuned to E, 2nd course E from a concert uke set tuned to A, 3rd course D from a classical guitar set tuned to D, and 4th course A string from a classical guitar set tuned to G.
    Don

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    Barn Cat Mandolins Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Hello Stephen,

    Sorry to learn that hand problems are keeping you from playing. I am the person who bought Walt Kuhlman's Gypsy nylon-strung mandolin from Don. That was a nice really instrument and was certainly easy on the fretting hand. I have since sold it to another Cafe member.

    I would recommend you try an Army/Navy-type Flat top such as the ones made by Terry Majewski (Crystal Forest mandolins), but string it with the following:

    G= D’Addario Classical Nylon Classical Guitar J2705 A=5th string (wound)
    D= D’Addario Classical Nylon Classical Guitar J2704 D=5th string (wound)
    a=D’Addario Pro-Arte’ Concert Ukulele J92 E string
    e= D’Addario Pro-Arte’ Concert Ukulele J92 A or G string (they are the same gauge)

    Keep the strings in two courses (don't make them singles). These strings can be purchased easily from Cafe sponsors. Feel free to PM me if you need more information.

    A/N flat-tops are easy to come by from several lutihers, are relatively affordable and are pleasing to play. I happen to really like the ones from Crystal Forest because I think they are the best looking ones out there and are really well made but others are also good. If you were to order one new, Terry is a great guy to deal with.

    Having messed around with nylon strings a bit, I think this will yield satisfactory results especially when played with a relatively thin pick. It will actually be a fun instrument to play and will sound different, but good. I also think it will be very easy on your hands, even easier than playing with light-gauge metal strings.

    That's my two-cents worth.

    Best wishes,

    Bob
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Hey Bob! I thought maybe you would chime in. Sounds like your answer parallels mine.

    Like you, I think Walt's string set would work on an X braced or ladder braced flat top. I wouldn't think they would do on a carved top instrument. I never tried them on anything other than the Gypsy but it's just a feeling. Wouldn't cost that much to try it out.

    At times I really miss that Gypsy. It was just a victim of thinning my herd, a process which continues.
    Don

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    Registered User Rodney Riley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    http://hoffmannlutherie.com/

    Jerry has made at least 2 nylon stringed mandos. An A-style and my M-style. Very easy to play. He has pictures of it. Just look for the 8 stringed one.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    If it were me, and dealing with that problem, I think I'd lean towards the Ukulele tuned GDAE example above. It sounds pretty good in that clip, and you'd have an instrument braced for the lighter strings so it should have good volume.

    The main concern I'd have with double course nylon strings is tuning stability. I have a nylon string guitar, and it's sometimes a challenge to keep in tune compared to my steel string guitars. And that's only single course strings, without the the requirement for perfect unison pitch between strings.

    For those of you who have played a nylon string mandolin with 8 strings, what was your experience there? How easy were the double course strings to keep in tune?

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    Registered User Rodney Riley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Once the strings settle in on my Boat Paddle, it stays tuned just as good as my Weber and my Godin. The Godin goes sharp after sitting unplayed. All three are even across the strings. If 1 string is sharp, they're all sharp, if flat, all strings are flat. Very blessed that all three are so stable.

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    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    A mandolin made specifically for nylon strings is a rare bird.
    I have a nylon-strung mandola made for me by the late great Ted Beringer...it's a wonderful instrument.
    You can see a pic of the instrument and here it in action here....

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  21. #12

    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Thanks, Barry. Happy playing!

  22. #13

    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Thanks, Don, for taking time to share all this-- much appreciated!

    - - - Updated - - -

    Thanks, Bob, for taking time to share all this-- much appreciated!

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    Barn Cat Mandolins Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    For those of you who have played a nylon string mandolin with 8 strings, what was your experience there? How easy were the double course strings to keep in tune?
    The main problem I have had is the initial settling-in after changing strings, which can go on for a few days. Early in this time (first day), you might not even make it through whole songs without going out of tune. Once they settle in, though, they become manageable to the point that maintaining unison in a course is OK.

    The reason I recommend sticking with two strings to a course is volume. Without two strings per course, the instrument might sound a bit anemic. That would, however, depend on the individual instrument, so experimentation is probably called for.
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  25. #15
    Market Man Barry Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    I have arthritis myself. My left pinky has been broken many times (first time was wiping a car door jam and the door closed) when I was detailing cars. After that break I seemed to catch it on mirrors and door handles a lot. I closed my detailing business a few years back and I could barely get through 3 songs without pain. I even used hockey tape and cut the tips off rubber gloves to put on... it was bad. I even went to my doc and asked about lopping it off the pain was so much.

    I found a product that is all natural called liga-joint. it's a mix of things like glucosamine and such. I play up to 5 hrs in a day now and rarely does my finger swell out. I buy it from a place called national nutrition. I take 2 pills every morning. I don't like pharmacy stuff if I can help it. It got my mother off her super strong anti inflammatory pills too. So I am a firm believer.
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    Registered User shiloh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Hi Stephen,
    I'm sorry to hear about your situation. I had to give up on all steel strings about 18 months ago. I've been searching desperately for an answer. Another builder is Bill Griffin (search his name or Mandolele on YouTube or Google). His instruments look like a mandolin and they are built similar to an F5 (neck profile, etc). They are only single strings and sell for about $2,600 or so?
    I have some nylon strings on a flat Weber Aspen. The E strings keep breaking and it's difficult to tie the strings on to the tailpiece. I'm thinking of trying to find a luthier to build a different tailpiece for me, change the bridge, and file the nut slots. I'm not overly crazy about it the way it is now, though. If I had an extra $2,600 I'd buy a mandolele.
    There is also a gentleman in New Zealand (?) who makes double-string mandolins. I forget his name but search "carbon string mandolin" on YouTube. I really wanted to buy from him but I just wasn't sure how the neck profile would be, and I didn't want to take the chance considering the instrument is coming from so far away. (My hand cannot play a big fat bulky neck.)
    I did buy the Aquila strings for soprano 'ukulele and tuned it like a mandolin. It has no volume and, because I bought an inexpensive uke the neck is fat and the body is deep, but I can still practice mandolin pieces. It's just not ideal, and it was an experiment.
    Let me know what you decided. I'm open to any suggestions as well.

    Jill
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  29. #17
    Registered User shiloh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Another thought - try the Thomastik strings. They have less tension. And a 13" scale mandolin. All would make it easier. I have a Lyon & Healy which I use Thomastik strings on but, again, my issue is that I can't play steel strings (weird health issue).

    Jill
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    I have an old Supertone cant top mandolin from the 20's with a 13" scale. I have light strings on it and it plays very easy. A Martin cant top would be a very similar mandolin and with light strings should play very easy.
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  33. #19

    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Hi Jill: Thanks so much for taking the time to write. I've been in touch with Bill Griffin and may buy one of his mandoleles. At present, I'm playing a Kiwaya soprano uke in GDAE (with Aquila Soprano Fifths). It allows me to play the mando repertoire, but the volume is weak and in a jam situation, no one can hear me-- which is probably a blessing for the other players! Hope you find an instrument that will work for you. Thanks, again, and all best, Stephen

  34. #20
    Registered User shiloh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Stephen, if you buy a mandolele would you please let me know? I don't know of anyone who has played one other than Bill himself. Thanks!
    Jill

  35. #21

    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    I play a 5-string nylon mandolin that I made. I play it like a violin-tuned tiny classical guitar with my nails.

  36. #22

    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Thanks for sharing. Glad you have an instrument that works for you. Enjoy!

  37. #23
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    I recall a vendor at a festival who was restringing vintage banjolins with nylon. 8 strings. Very nice sound as I remember.
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    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    There are 8-string ukuleles, but I think the lower courses are typically strung in octaves. I may be tempted one day, but I'm having too much fun right now with my fifths-tuned baritone and tenor.

    Also, I believe from what I've read that fluorocarbon strings are much more stable than plain nylon. They feel very similar, but a tad thinner for the same pitches.

    bratsche
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    Default Re: Nylon String Mandolin?

    Thanks for responding-- much appreciated!

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