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Thread: Nylon vs Metal string and Type of Picks

  1. #1

    Default Nylon vs Metal string and Type of Picks

    Hello everyone!

    After I heard the recording of the Roberto Valentini's sonatas for mandolin from Anna Schivazappa and Pizzicar Galante, I bought a mandolin and decided to start learning and playing this instrument. I was playing the harpsichord and recorder before, but I have no experience with any plucked string instrument. I have a few questions for the more experienced:

    1. if I want to play mainly early music on the mandolin, do I choose nylon string or metal? Do you have any recommended string to purchase? The mandolin I bought is a neapolitan type mandolin, and it will come with pre-installed metal strings.

    2. What kind of picks shoud I buy for a more "early music" sound? I watched the video from Caterina Lichtenberg (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JofcuQg56-I), where she was using a thick and flexible, rubber liked pick. I also watched a video from Ralf Leenen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwdELWoEHiI), who showed a myriad shapes of picks. It seems that the shape of edge and thickness / stiffness influence the sound a lot. Do you recommend any specific pick?

    3. Anna Schivazappa was playing a lombardic mandolin when recording for the Roberto Valentini's sonatas. The mandolin looks rather like a small lute than a mandolin that I have seen. The strings were also tuned in forth like the lute. I assumed that she also used nylon or gut strings on it. Is it possible to achieve a similar sound on a neapolitan type mandolin with a specific setup (choice of strings and pick)?

    Greeting from Luxembourg.

  2. #2
    Likes quaint instruments poul hansen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nylon vs Metal string and Type of Picks

    I'm just beginning playing classical music on the mandolin but have experimented with the sound and I think that Aquila Red Series Mandolin Strings 1M(on my mandoletto) ,played with a teflon pick takes away the shrillness of the mandolin and gives you a softer sound, suitable for classical music, as I perceive it.

    The sound of the strings is really good but you have to accept that the D pair must be tuned almost every day the first 1o days.

    Pick:
    https://colinayres.square.site/produ...=false&q=false
    I'm not collecting, not collecting, not........OUMM.....
    Kentucky KM-805
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    Mandoline Pochette by Franz Janisch Wien; Unknown Pocket Mandolin
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    Johs Møller 1945;
    Marma Seashell back
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  4. #3

    Default Re: Nylon vs Metal string and Type of Picks

    If you really want a specifically baroque-like sound/function, you may want to obtain a reproduction 5- or 6-course mandolin tuned [g], b, e', a', d", g" and play it punteado (i.e., with the fingertips). I keep such a thing (patterned after Smorsone [1736]) and keep it strung in gut or Aquila Nylgut. Anything else is increasingly distant from faithful facsimile. That said . . .

    1. What mandolin did you score? (I'm a hardware nerd.) These things are built for metal, and the top of a modern Neapolitan mandolin won't be sufficiently activated by the tensions that gut can generate at mandolin scale length. If you do end up keeping conventional metal strings on it, be certain they're of relatively low tension. I like Dogal's "Calace" brand carbon steel, specifically set RW92B "dolce," but they're relatively "bright" and tradionally "Neapolitan" in voice. Many classical players like Thomastik-Infeld's "weich" set. I find their flat-wound tone too "thumpy" for my tastes, but they might represent the kind of compromise that pleases your ear in context. Also, early-string specialist Aquila has begun making a gut-like set, their "Red" set, for modern mandolin. In spite of claims, the diameters are a little greater than steel. Depending on your instrument, the nut slots may need to be filed to accommodate.

    2. Fingers for baroque on gut (check pretty much all the baroque-era iconography to involve fourth-tuned mandolins). However, most players come to baroque-reproduction instruments from modern mandolin and prefer some type of plectrum, and plectra certainly were appropriate by the classical era (i.e., very late 18th c.). Quill of a large feather is most common (although scholar Alex Timmerman argues that that's only appropriate to early Neapolitan mandolins and mostly wire strings). A sliver of cherry may be more appropriate to gut strings, but likely not commonplace until into the classical era; steel strings would be very hard on the material. I've seen lutenist Paul O'Dette use a nylon plectrum by Jim Dunlop in Aquila Nylgut to great effect in playing Vivaldi's RV 425. Much will be prescribed by what interacts with your string choice and technique in a way that pleases your ears and hand. I apply my fingertips to the gut on my 6-course mandolino; a quill to the brass wire, silver-wound silk, and gut (e" only) of my early Neapolitan; a sliver of cherry wood to the gut and silver-wound silk of my mandolino toscano; and Neapolitan-type plectra in turtle-like synthetics (the more rigid the better) to steel on my modern mandolins. Lots of other folks use the stiff rubber favored in German approaches or the elongated plectra that tend to be favored by players of Roman-type mandolins.

    3. Kinda, but I suspect not quite, as discussed above. The function is also quite different regarding string crossings, the resonance of which pitches represent open strings, left-hand fingerings, etc. Perhaps this could be incentive to begin buying . . . even more mandolins!

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    Default Re: Nylon vs Metal string and Type of Picks

    "After I heard the recording of the Roberto Valentini's sonatas for mandolin from Anna Schivazappa and Pizzicar Galante, I bought a mandolin and decided to start learning and playing this instrument. I was playing the harpsichord and recorder before, but I have no experience with any plucked string instrument. I have a few questions for the more experienced"

    Hello Rui,

    As you can see there is expertise here. However, since you live in Luxembourg, my advice is to go local. There are many (many) superb classical mandolinists in your immediate vicinity, many of whom play historical instruments. In particular, I would recommend that you get in touch with Juan Carlos Munoz, one of the world's best players (contemporary and historical mandolins), who teaches at the conservatory in Esch/Alzette (and also directs the mandolin orchestra there, one of the best in Europe). Juan Carlos is the director of Arte Mandoline, a superb period plucked string ensemble, with many recordings (and videos on YouTube). He can be contacted through the Arte Mandoline website (or, I presume, the conservatory), or just go to one of their concerts. Some of the members of his mandolin orchestra play in Arte Mandoline and/or professionally and I am sure would be helpful to you. Anna Schivazappa is based in Paris and I know she teaches privately (and is completely fluent in English or French so take your pick); she has contact information on her website. Immediately across the border in Germany there are many more relevant players to talk shop with.
    Robert A. Margo

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  8. #5

    Default Re: Nylon vs Metal string and Type of Picks

    Thank you for the very informative reply. It is really an eye-opener for me. The mandolin that I bought from a private seller came damaged and unplayable. So I have to send it back and negotiate to get my money back. It wasn't a great experience for my first mandolin.
    Since then I have not yet gotten a new mandolin. So I have not yet experienced the mandolin nor had the chance to experiment with different strings and picks to produce a more "baroque" sound.
    I contacted my local music school, where Mr. Juan Carlos Munoz is teaching there and I am going to have a trial lesson with him in 2 weeks. Maybe there I can find more insight.

  9. #6

    Default Re: Nylon vs Metal string and Type of Picks

    Hello Margora, thank you for your suggestion. I got into contact with Mr. Juan Carlos Munoz who is teaching at my local music school. I am going to have a trial lesson with him in 2 weeks.

  10. #7

    Default Re: Nylon vs Metal string and Type of Picks

    Quote Originally Posted by Rui View Post
    I contacted my local music school, where Mr. Juan Carlos Munoz is teaching there and I am going to have a trial lesson with him in 2 weeks. Maybe there I can find more insight.
    One of the best currently in the early-mandolin business. He's sure to offer relevant insight. I hope you let us know something of your experience.

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