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Thread: Vintage tuning for (formerly compromise) vintage instrument?

  1. #1
    Registered User verbs4us's Avatar
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    Default Vintage tuning for (formerly compromise) vintage instrument?

    The 1914 Gibson mandola I inherited from dad was a bad shape when I got it. The top had sunken and one of the sides was coming apart. My luthier did magic and turned potential kindling back into a vital instrument. The neck was in good shape, but he added a light brace under the bridge to prevent further sinking, restored the original curvature to the top and reglued everything. Now, after a few years, it needs a new set-up to prevent buzzing around the 8th fret. I don't think the top has sunk but will have Brooklyn Lutherie take a look. Should a delicate instrument regularly live at A-440 or some lower tuning--420 or 390? Using the lightest gauge strings I can find. When I gig, I bring it up to concert pitch, but my understanding is that these instruments were designed before 440 was the standard and they do better with less tension. Thoughts?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Vintage tuning for (formerly compromise) vintage instrument?

    Out of curiosity, what strings have you been using since the first repair?
    ----

    Playing a funky oval-hole scroll-body mandolin, several mandolins retuned to CGDA, three CGDA-tuned Flatiron mandolas, two Flatiron mandolas tuned as octave mandolins,and a six-course 25.5" scale CGDAEB-tuned Ovation Mandophone.

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  3. #3
    Teacher, repair person
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    Default Re: Vintage tuning for (formerly compromise) vintage instrument?

    I have had good results on mine with the following string set: 12 - 20 - 32 - 49 or 50.
    I make up my own sets. The D'Addario mandola sets are too heavy for the old Gibsons.
    Mine doesn't get much play, so I de-tune it one step if it goes into the case for a long time.

    A-440 standard pitch was universalized after these instruments were built. People were probably freer about what they tuned these instruments to. 390 would have been considered quite low.

    But you can tune it anyway you like as long as you don't overload it. Tuning low is not going to hurt the instrument, as long as it is structurally sound. If you like, you can use a capo to bring it to concert pitch.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Vintage tuning for (formerly compromise) vintage instrument?

    While A-440 as a standard post dates this instrument, circa A-440 was is general use before that. String gauge makes more difference than slight frequency variations.

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  6. #5
    Registered User verbs4us's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vintage tuning for (formerly compromise) vintage instrument?

    I started the J-72s but I think they are too heavy overall. Switched to John Pearse octave mandolin strings (0.012, 0.021, 0.032 and 0.045)

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Vintage tuning for (formerly compromise) vintage instrument?

    Those should be ok at standard pitch. If you're worried about it, you can drop it a step before it goes in the case.

  8. #7

    Default Re: Vintage tuning for (formerly compromise) vintage instrument?

    I originally based my mandola string tension on the GHS A240 Phosphor Bronze Ultra Light Mandolin set. That set worked well on quite a few of my mandolins, and I decided to go lighter across the board. I was surprised that no instrument volume was really lost, but my amazing instrument tech Cat figured that the heavier strings were overloading the soundboard and choking the volume.

    Anyway, my mandolas are now strung .012 - .016 - .024 - .038. They are well set up, and can be played chord-melody all the way up the fretboard.

    I originally bought a set of individual ball-end strings and crushed the ball to remove it (covered in a few topics here, post if a search doesn't turn the info up easily for you). Now I buy bulk ball-end strings from Just Strings. I have 14" scale-length instruments tuned as either mandolins or mandolas, and 17" scale instruments tuned as either mandolas or octave mandolins, so bulk strings are the best and least expensive solution for making up sets, normally around $6US a set.

    I can see that I'm an outlier regarding string tension. I'm okay with that. I'm often horrified when I see people recommend the equivalent of medium or even heavy strings for delicate instruments, but tastes differ, kust as do efforts at risk mitigation. Me? I don't subject my instruments even temporarily to string tension which is too heavy for continuous use. Why not just avoid trouble, instead of skating on that edge?

    Whatever you decide to do to preserve, play and enjoy your instrument for years to come, good luck!
    ----

    Playing a funky oval-hole scroll-body mandolin, several mandolins retuned to CGDA, three CGDA-tuned Flatiron mandolas, two Flatiron mandolas tuned as octave mandolins,and a six-course 25.5" scale CGDAEB-tuned Ovation Mandophone.

    Love mandola?
    Join the Mandola Social Group!

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