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Thread: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

  1. #1
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    Default 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    What do yall think, 4 or 8 string mandolin? Are there any 4 strings that are decent?

  2. #2
    Mandolin Player trodgers's Avatar
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    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    I consider the 8 string to be the "true mandolin." The double courses are a necessary part of what defines the family of instruments.

    Four stringers have their place in specialty applications such as slide or in a rock-ish electric environment.
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  3. #3
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    I agree.

    Now if you were talking an electric mandolin, like a Fender MandoStrat or something, I would go with four strings, because my experience is that amps and effects pedals are really finicky about unison strings. But, even here, many disagree and there are many 8 string emandos out there.
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    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    For me double strung strings is part of the sound and the technique that makes a mandolin a mandolin.

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  7. #5

    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    Agree 100%. If acoustic-8 strings. If electric- 4 strings although I think the Ovation 8 string electric mandolins have been well received over the years in terms of great pick up and no feedback. No doubt other 8 string electric mandolins can work but, to me, a mandolin is acoustic and 8 strings. End of.

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  9. #6

    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    Without the doubled strings, a mandolin doesn't have much power IMO. You can hear this quite easily when you break a string in performance and have to keep going (or if you try playing a little without the double courses while restringing).

    OTOH, I have an octave mandolin, and recently I tried removing four of the strings. For some kinds of playing I found I preferred this (essentially a tenor guitar) to the double courses of an octave mandolin. In particular IMO, the doubled strings on an octave mandolin don't reward strumming of entire 4 note chords - the result can be muddy and jangly. A tenor guitar (or octave mandolin strung with only 4 strings) sounds great strummed, but also allows you to play fiddle tunes or breaks in songs more easily than on a guitar.

  10. #7
    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    If you want it to sound like like a loud mandolin, get an 8 string. If you want to bend strings and use effects for rock and blues, get a 4 string.
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  11. #8
    Registered User TonyEarth's Avatar
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    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    On a more serious note, I'm not sure I've seen a 4-string mandolin besides those newer "Mandolindo"s, which can sound kinda neat from the demos I've seen. I'd kind of consider a 4-string acoustic a whole different beast from what I think of as a "mandolin." That said, there are few things I love more than rockin out on my 4-string electric.

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    Gibson F5L Gibson A5L
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    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    Well .... one of each would likely be the best. A Fender Mandocaster and a Gibson EM 200 Florentine...... mandolin cases are small and imminently hide-able. R/
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  13. #10
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    Interesting discussion. There seems to be a near-consensus that 12 strings, as found on a mandriola, are too many -- jangly, not a clear sound for melody playing, hard to keep in tune. OTOH, four strings are too few -- not enough volume, not "a true mandolin," unless you're electric. (Do I detect the Goldilocks syndrome?)

    There are reasons for "tradition," why long-standing designs are the way they are. Not to reason in a circular fashion, but one of the reasons is "tradition" -- we're familiar with particular designs, so we sorta assume they're optimal, without thinking that much about them. When we see an "outside the box" modification, we may look at it with suspicion, at least at first.

    Four-string mandolins have been around for years, mainly electric models. Graham McDonald's The Mandolin; A History shows Cremonese and Milanese early-19th-century instruments with four and six single-string courses. Standardizing on four double courses -- eight strings -- is attributed to the later years of that century.

    Another reason for "tradition," of course, is that traditional designs work -- not just that we're familiar with them. "They'll do, 'til something better comes along," or words to that effect. For example, we might conclude that Orville Gibson invented a "better" mandolin, and largely superseded (at least in this country) the designs that preceded him.

    All my mandolins have four double courses, and I've yet to decide that single or triple courses would be an improvement. Still, YMMV, as we often say.
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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    A cavaquinho is four strings, as is a ukulele, and they sound small. Domra is also single-strung. The doubled strings add some loudness, but also add stability to the tone, as the strings in a pair affect each other. This changes the attack envelope.

    When I ordered my first Buchanan 10-string I considered asking for a 5-string version. (I thought better of it.) After receiving my mandolin and enjoying it for a while I tried it with only single strings. That test confirmed my choice.

    I also had an electric 10-string made, and after enjoying that, and finding my 5-string Ryder electric sounding small-toned in comparison, I converted that to a 10-string. (Btw, bending is not difficult but a certain technique is used.)

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  15. #12

    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    At least one of each, there is no need to choose. I have two eight strings and a four string electric.

  16. #13

    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    If you go for a popular vote, I think you'll find that the most common response will be double courses for acoustic and single for electric. I prefer single courses in either, but single courses in acoustic will certainly limit your selection. Jazzbo tends to be brought up any time the question is posed. If you're a straight up bluegrasser, eight strings is going to be expected. If you want to bend strings in a rock/jazz sort of way, four or five is likely to be your preference. I have barely picked up any double-coursers since I built my first four-string.

  17. #14

    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....


    Our new Mandolindo design attempts to pack quite a punch with only four strings. A lot of great music has been made on four string electric mandolin, we are excited to add this to the mandolin spectrum for those who love acoustic tone and tend not to arrive at jam sessions with the amplifier in tow.

    This is our Signature Artist Justin Branum playing an Engelmann Spruce over Indian Rosewood “Artist” model:

  18. #15
    Registered User red7flag's Avatar
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    Default Re: 4 string or 8 string that's the question....

    Every electric 4 string mandolin I have heard, small sample size (maybe 5) sounds like an electric guitar played up the neck. Every 8 string I have heard played to a mic, sounds like a mandolin. A friend of mine, Tim May makes 4 string octave mandolins that have plenty of volume and presence. (They are beautiful too).

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