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Thread: why do mandolins have carved top?

  1. #1
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    Default why do mandolins have carved top?

    Possibly dumb question, but I've seen seen an explanation of this before. Why do some mandolin have a carved top? What is the benefit of a carved top over a flat top from a sound perspective?

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: why do mandolins have carved top?

    1. Mandolins basically have carved tops, historically, because Orville Gibson, back in the 1890's, thought the violin was "the king of instruments," and that a mandolin with a carved, graduated top, like a violin's, would sound better than the flat or canted (bent) tops that were standard on mandolins. His mandolins also had carved backs, again similar to violins. His designs caught on, and other makers emulated them.

    2. Whether flat top or carved/arched top mandolins sound "better" is a matter of taste -- what kind of music you play, what kind of sound you like. They do sound different.

    That's my very shorthand summary.
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  5. #3
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    Default Re: why do mandolins have carved top?

    Has anyone ever come across a flat-topped violin?

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    Registered User Cobalt's Avatar
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    Default Re: why do mandolins have carved top?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    Has anyone ever come across a flat-topped violin?
    Sure. I once saw one of triangular design, a tapering shape with flat top and bottom as well as sides. It was certainly playable and sounded ok in the context of an informal jam.

    There's also this gem:

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    Default Re: why do mandolins have carved top?

    Carved top provides its own bracing, to some degree at least, permitting heavier stringing without additional risk of collapse. This would seem to encourage more volume. For the most part, carved mandolins retain far more wood mass than the violins which sparked their design, which creates a filter of sorts, damping higher frequencies.

    It's interesting to note that most bowlback mandolins are built with arched tops as well, for the same purpose: increased strength and correspondingly louder sound. This approach in bowlbacks creates lighter instruments, which are capable of superior high-frequency response. The shape of the bowl also decreases the contact of the instrument body with that of the player, again decreasing the damping of higher frequencies.

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