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Thread: What is that little instrument?

  1. #1
    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default What is that little instrument?

    I know there are many stories on the Cafe regarding this question. I just had my own experience with it. Wanted to pass it on, but can't find the old threads.

    I was at a local well-known music venue two weeks ago to see a popular local bluegrass band. There were also a gospel and a country band playing that night. After the first bluegrass song, a lady on the row in front of me turned and said she was with a group from a retirement home, first time visiting this venue, and she said she had never heard bluegrass music before. I was astonished, but they all seemed to be excited like it was new.

    A few songs later, she turned to the lady next to me and asked: "What is that little instrument that man is playing?" More astonishment. It just so happened that the lady next to me is the significant other of the man who was playing, so she was more than happy to explain what a mandolin is.

    This past weekend, my bluegrass band played the venue. There was another crowd from an assisted living home visiting. It was fun to introduce the instruments along with the players, including that other little-known instrument - the banjo. The mandolin player received the most and the loudest applause from the audience!
    Tom

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    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    My wife and I played in the showcase at Sweetwater last week. While we were waiting to go onstage, a young feller (about 14) in the green room with us asked, with some excitement in his voice, "Is that a mandolin?" When I said it was, he said, "Cool!" There's a few people out there who recognize them.

    D.H.

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  5. #3
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    I actually had a similar experience. I was in an airport in Moscow when a fellow passenger (Yes, I DID resist referring to her as a fellow traveler) asked me about what was in the tiny little guitar case I was carrying. Without a moments hesitation I blurted out, “It’s a Less Paul”. She never even batted an eye, she just nodded.
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    Registered User Ky Slim's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    I often play for bus coach tour groups that come thru eastern Ky from all around the country. The dobro gets a fair share of "what's that thing?" interest but the mandolin probably gets the most questions by far.

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    Registered User haggardphunk's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    I took my 2 year old to see a bluegrass band last week and when she was the mandolin she shouted "Daddy, it's your mandolin!"

    In fact, she could name all of the instruments execpt the banjo.
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    Registered User haggardphunk's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    'nother story: I recently flew with mine and before the case went through the scanner the TSA woman said "Is there a mandolin in there?"

    I said yes, not many people guess that correctly. She then told me she recently discovered the music of Billy Strings and now she loves bluegrass. Good job, Billy (and Jarrod)
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  11. #7
    Registered User Dan Adams's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    Most of my questions come when passing through TSA. The case will then get passed back and forth through the scanner. Very rarely do I have to take the instrument out of the case.
    Play em like you know em!

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    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    I went through airport security in Austin after SXSW years ago behind David Byrne, who, when the agent asked me what was in the case, opined that it's always the mandolin players who cause trouble.

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  14. #9
    Registered User haggardphunk's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric F. View Post
    I went through airport security in Austin after SXSW years ago behind David Byrne, who, when the agent asked me what was in the case, opined that it's always the mandolin players who cause trouble.
    A+ story
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    Registered User TheMandoKit's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    I was once asked if I was "playing a little banjo." I replied I would prefer as little banjo as possible.
    Kit
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  18. #11
    Registered User TheMandoKit's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric F. View Post
    I went through airport security in Austin after SXSW years ago behind David Byrne, who, when the agent asked me what was in the case, opined that it's always the mandolin players who cause trouble.
    I always thought Byrne was insightful...
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  20. #12
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    It comes as a surprise but its true. Most folks in the general population have not knowingly listened to bluegrass music, or know a mandolin from a Mandalorian.

    I think it is partly artifact of the internet that we are surprised.

    We are able to contact mandolinners from all over the world as easily as if they were next door. Almost 63,000 mandolinners at our fingertips, and that is only the membership here. So it is difficult to keep in mind that the mandolin is, in reality, a minority instrument, a unique little musical anomaly, doubtlessly played by folks who did not have the opportunity to play a real instrument, like guitar or piano or trombone.

    Our digital immersion in bluegrass music culture is also confusing, because it can seem like everyone we know is aware of it. Most folks figure if there is a banjo in the band, it is bluegrass.

    Heck we are a minority just for playing music. "Isn't that something musicians do?" my nephew asked me.
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  22. #13
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    Thanks JeffD,
    I did a Wiki search for Mandalorian (I knew what it was, I was just curious about what it was… that I knew) and Wiki wanted me to give them 12 dollars.
    I guess they figured that if I didn’t even know what a Mandalorian was then…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mandalorian

  23. #14
    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    , doubtlessly played by folks who did not have the opportunity to play a real instrument, like guitar or piano or trombone.
    Tom

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  24. #15

    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    “Elf guitar” is my usual response when they ask me if it’s a ukulele.

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    Registered User tjmangum's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    Last summer we made a whirlwind trip to see family in Colorado, Texas and Nevada. I brought a mandolin along for 8 different airline legs and 5 different hotel - motel stays. I had 3 "What is that? A violin - viola?" 4 "What's in the case?" and one "Are you going to a music camp?"
    Most, when I said "it's a mandolin", responded with a blank "Oh". One older fellow did say, "You mean like Ricky Skaggs plays?"
    At least no one accused me of having a ukulele!
    " Give me some words I can dance to and a melody that rhymes" - Steve Goodman

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    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    I've had people at pubs me what my mando was. It's also been called a uke. I even had an African band leader who called it "that little thing."

    No surprise that someone from a nursing home wouldn't know bluegrass music.

    When I first moved to very white Maine, I was browsing CDs and cassettes at a mall. I young guy came over where I was browsing and asked me what soul music is. The same week, I went to the deli counter at the supermarket and asked for lox. The counter guy said, "Like for bicycles?"

    We all know different thngs.
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  30. #18
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    When I expanded my zoo of instruments by a resonator tenor guitar, I expected a tsunami of questions like that (that a banjo? why are strings missing on your guitar?), but no, total silence. They probably think it's "just some kind of guitar".

    Simon DS and myself had a collection of rare instruments recently in a collaboration video, featuring creatures great and small, for instance a tiny banjolele and a bicycle.
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

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  32. #19
    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    Simon DS and myself had a collection of rare instruments recently in a collaboration video, featuring creatures great and small, for instance a tiny banjolele and a bicycle.
    That should raise lots of questions.

    Great music!
    Tom

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  34. #20
    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    When I expanded my zoo of instruments by a resonator tenor guitar, I expected a tsunami of questions like that (that a banjo? why are strings missing on your guitar?), but no, total silence. They probably think it's "just some kind of guitar".

    Simon DS and myself had a collection of rare instruments recently in a collaboration video, featuring creatures great and small, for instance a tiny banjolele and a bicycle.
    I enjoyed that!

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  36. #21
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    Ha, ha, yes it was fun, I love the little banjolele, and the cycling too.
    Half way down the hill I realised that though the brakes work well, I really need two hands to operate them.
    So speeding along I thought do save the expensive little instrument in my right hand, drop it and save myself or do nothing and see what happens?

  37. #22
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    My pal Tom Rozum sent me an email containing a graphic featuring "The Mandalorian" (maybe he spelt it Mandoloarian...?) and I did not get the reference, presuming it was some thing he made up entirely...yes, I live in a cave...
    too many strings

  38. #23
    === High Strung === gfury's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    It's a chick magnet too. (apologies in advance to the gals on the forum)

    I've had women come up to me on several occasions after gigs to say how they love the sound of the mandolin. Not so much with the guitar player.

    However, I guy approached the band after a recent gig and said "I have a question for the ukulele player"

  39. #24
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    Problem I run into is that mandolins come in such a variety of shapes. I'll be playing an F-model or a newer "pancake," and someone will ask what it is, and when I say "mandolin," the person says, "Oh, my grandpa played the mandolin, but it didn't look like that."

    Presumably Grandpa had a bowl-back, and I have one that looks quite different. Were I playing a bowl-back, the questioner would probably have recognized it.

    And don't even ask about how to explain what is a mandola, and why it isn't a mandolin, but kinda looks like one only bigger, and sounds like one only lower. Ditto for octave mandolin, mandocello, and so on. In my Celtic group I'm only playing mandola and octave, and if you think that mandolin is relatively unrecognized among average audience members, try to explain those.
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  41. #25
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is that little instrument?

    i was playing at a session a couple of weeks ago and someone walked into the store and listened for a few minutes and spoke to the owner, who then asked if i was playing a mandolin (yes) and then said his customer wondered if he could try it. which is ordinarily something i wouldn't do but the owner said the customer played one so I was game ... until he asked me how it was tuned. 'standard tuning, like a violin ... GDAE' which made me wonder what he had played ... he sat in and strummed a few strings, played a little bit with the frets to get some double stops and then gave it back. It was kind of odd, made me wonder what, if any, mandolin he was used to.
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