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Thread: Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

  1. #1

    Default Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

    Hi everyone, new member here with a multi-part question about which instrument would best suit my needs. I'm in an Irish band (emphasis on the "ish"), we play primary pub songs/folk songs, not really much ITM. Currently we have a fiddle, piccolo, guitar, and myself on 5-String banjo (sacrilege, I know!).
    Lately I've been getting an itch to pick up a new instrument to try and swap out the banjo for some of our songs. I was first drawn to the irish bouzouki, since I'm primarily doing accompaniment. My understanding is that the octave mando is better for melody, which I really won't be doing at all. But I've recently also been enticed by the mandola. I'm wondering which will fit better for our overall sound? With the guitar and bouzouki basically produce the same deeper sound and sort of wash each other out? I like the high notes I get with the banjo, would the mandola be a better middle ground between guitar and the fiddle/piccolo? Can I wail on either instrument like I tend to do on banjo?
    Also, regarding fingering and chords, which might be easier to retrain my brain? I should mention I've borrowed a mandolin from a friend, to start learning GDAE and GDAD chords.

    Oh, and I looked into citterns, but they seem very tricky to purchase.

    Any advice is appreciated, and thanks for reading this far!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

    For examples of bouzouki and guitar - try the Bothy band or anything Donal Lunny, for mandola might be harder to find but Andy Irvine would be a good place to start.

    The bouzouki has that "double course" ring to it that usually works rhythmically with the guitar or in place of the guitar, bouzouki can do melody as well.

    Mandola shares some of the same sonic space as guitar, but IMHO compliments the guitar nicely, and can do both melody and chords.

    Neither is tuned like a 5 string banjo, so the zouk might be easier to adapt to and while it doesn't have a drone string it is generally arranged to provide some "drone" effect.

    While I am currently totally obsessed with mandola - playing some Irish on it, I would lean towards the zouk in your case.
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    Registered User meow-n-dolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

    I tend to generally agree TMSWEENY re the attributes and likely "best placement" for those particular instruments. I own all of the "mando-family" including the OM and 'cello. The zouk can definitely either replace the guitar, or compliment it, with both melody and chording. And better so than the OM, IMHO.

    But I would place the mandola in "first place" within a grouping which includes a guitar and a fiddle. It's a tenor instrument, and fills that gap. It can do a decent job on rhythm, similar to that role for the mandolin in bluegrass, though not as nicely as the zouk, and also crank out leads well. I found that "readjusting" my mind to the mandola was relatively easy. On the other hand, I think the zouk as nearly as essential to Irish music as is the fiddle, pipes, or concertina.

    In short, I don't think you can possibly go wrong with either.

  4. #4
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

    I would vote for mandola, as well; its voice is somewhere around the 5-string's, so you'd be playing in familiar territory, above the guitar and below the fiddle/piccolo, and you could combine chords with doing some counter-melodies and harmonies.

    I've posted this MP3 about a half-dozen times, so I apologize. It's an old "live" recording of my band Innisfree (which partially explains the haphazard engineering -- right off the PA), and illustrates how the Sobell mandola I'm playing interacts with Mark Deprez's lead mandolin-banjo. I'll play some chords, but mainly I'm working in harmonies below the lead. I find this role for the mandola very satisfying. Even if you're just playing rhythm chords, you won't be encroaching into the guitar's space much, and the tonal quality of mandola chords differs enough from guitar chords, that you won't be just duplicating.

    If you do go for bouzouki, be aware that most instruments sold to Celtic players as bouzoukis are just longer-necked octave mandolins, not tuned or played like the traditional Greek bouzouki. So there's a good deal of overlap between the two instruments.

    Notes on the MP3: the tunes are Irish Washerwoman/Swallowtail Jig/Saddle the Pony, three jigs, and the other musicians are Barbara Jablonski on hammered dulcimer and Kathleen Cappon on 12-string guitar.
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    Default Re: Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

    Quote Originally Posted by UncleFergus View Post
    I'm in an Irish band (emphasis on the "ish")..
    Brings back good memories! We played a lot of pub style back in the day and from my recollection, if we played fast, with a good beat, and lots of energy and enthusiasm, no one would worry about whether a 23.5 scale mando thing is long scale OM or a short scale bouzouki. So I think in most respects, you would be free to choose the available instrument that speaks to you. Mandola, OM, or Zouk would all fit into a pub style band.

    If you felt like working your way into sessions, zouk might be the best choice.

    I messed up my back a few years ago and the long scale instruments are harder to play so I've been looking at mandola as an accompanying instrument for tunes and songs. I think it works too. Look at Brian Mcdonagh from Dervish. Occasionally Owen Marshal uses mandola to accompany as well. And here's a video of John Doyle on long scale mandola, first on lead, then rhythm.

    Have fun!
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    Registered User bbcee's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

    I've been playing my mandola with the lower two string pairs having one string replaced with a thinner one & tuned up the octave. It produces a sort of 12-string-ish or "soprano bouzouki" sound, and for rhythm it fits in really nicely around the guitar and other instruments without being muddy. A really pleasant surprise.

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    Registered User Marcus CA's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

    Quote Originally Posted by UncleFergus View Post
    I'm wondering which will fit better for our overall sound? Would the guitar and bouzouki basically produce the same deeper sound and sort of wash each other out? I like the high notes I get with the banjo ...
    Here are a couple of samples of the masters isolating those instruments. In the first one, I'm not sure if Irvine is playing a mandola or a mandolin, but I think that he's keeping it in the mandola range by playing basically on the lower strings.



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    Default Re: Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

    My Weber Bitterroot OM has a shorter (20 inch) scale, which makes melody playing accessible, but it’s also a rhythm machine when strung with EJ 72 mandola strings. And, capo at the 5th fret and you get a mandola (well, with more volume and sustain from the larger body). I like it a lot, so that’s my vote. But, if you’re only playing rhythm, go bouzouki. All three of these overlap with the guitar’s range, so that’s something you’ll have to figure out regardless, but the double courses and smaller bodies give them a different timbre, so, there’s space there.

    My only trip to The Music Emporium (so far) was to check out a Kimble mandola. It was an extraordinarily good instrument, but wasn’t different enough from mandolin or produce deep enough tones for my ear, so I passed. But, I did play a Girouard GBOM that was also spectacular and, with a 20 inch scale length gave me melody playability with low end thump. I planned to buy it when I got home to avoid flying with it, but someone beat me to it, hence the Weber purchase.

    Good luck!
    Chuck

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    Registered User Steve Baker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

    Another option to consider gets you two instruments in one. My Fylde short-scale bouzouki absolutely sparkles as a mandola when I put the capo on the 5th fret. Instant mandola tuning. FWIW
    Steve


    Quote Originally Posted by UncleFergus View Post
    Hi everyone, new member here with a multi-part question about which instrument would best suit my needs. I'm in an Irish band (emphasis on the "ish"), we play primary pub songs/folk songs, not really much ITM. Currently we have a fiddle, piccolo, guitar, and myself on 5-String banjo (sacrilege, I know!).
    Lately I've been getting an itch to pick up a new instrument to try and swap out the banjo for some of our songs. I was first drawn to the irish bouzouki, since I'm primarily doing accompaniment. My understanding is that the octave mando is better for melody, which I really won't be doing at all. But I've recently also been enticed by the mandola. I'm wondering which will fit better for our overall sound? With the guitar and bouzouki basically produce the same deeper sound and sort of wash each other out? I like the high notes I get with the banjo, would the mandola be a better middle ground between guitar and the fiddle/piccolo? Can I wail on either instrument like I tend to do on banjo?
    Also, regarding fingering and chords, which might be easier to retrain my brain? I should mention I've borrowed a mandolin from a friend, to start learning GDAE and GDAD chords.

    Oh, and I looked into citterns, but they seem very tricky to purchase.

    Any advice is appreciated, and thanks for reading this far!

  13. #10
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

    With all the conditions given in the OP, I'll say go for bouzouki. With banjo experience in the scale length and open tunings, it's a small step for one player and a big leap for the band
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    Default Re: Bouzouki, OM, or Mandola?

    The band's arrangements have an effect on the sound. Are you going to play harmony with the fiddler? Or will that be the guitar player? Will you 'double' the lead melody with the fiddle, or do chords and 'up beats' against the guitar rhythm? How about some cross picking arpeggio 'fill', like a bluegrass banjo?

    Also if the intent is to be a 'folk band' more than an Irish band, then a bouzouki will sound Irish (or Greek) trying to play another style.
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