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Thread: Guitar songs on the mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Guitar songs on the mandolin

    Hi all. I've been playing the mandolin for a couple of years, and would like to pose a question: I find that, while I love the mandolin, it perhaps doesn't suit some of my musical needs--e.g., if I wanted to do a cover of, say, some alternative or mainstream artist, where a guitar is the primary accompaniment to voice (e.g., Belle & Sebastian, Mac Demarco). While chords are chords, and though this is banal to say, they are different instruments.

    I have toyed with the idea of buying an octave mandolin and doubling-down on the muscle memory of the mandolin (where possible), while still getting that rich, "bass" sound, as opposed to picking up the guitar.

    So, here's my question, or set of questions:
    1. Would it be worthwhile to adopt an octave mandolin in lieu of a guitar for particular music? Or should I just bite the bullet and learn the guitar where necessary?
    2. Should I embrace the the trebly sound of the mandolin on those songs, and transpose the chords anyway?
    3. Is there something I'm not considering?

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Guitar songs on the mandolin

    I’m on a similar journey, two and a half years into mandolin now and I just picked up a flat top guitar body octave. Game changer! Suddenly all my friends think I can play guitar
    Literally overnight I was able to play most of my songs, with a few adjustments to chord voicings that I couldn’t reach on the octave. There are still a few songs I prefer to play on the regular mandolin but right now the octave is getting about 2/3 of the play time.

  4. #3

    Default Re: Guitar songs on the mandolin

    1 yes.
    2 maybe.
    3 use both.

    Just a couple years in myself and I play and sing "Back in the High Life Again," "Losing My Religion," "Battle of Evermore," and "Blue, Red and Gray" on the Mandolin and "Wish You Were Here," "Silent Night,"and "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" on the octave, all based on what sounds best to me (which often stems from what was used in the original recordings, of course).

  5. #4
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Albany NY

    Default Re: Guitar songs on the mandolin

    Yes you would enjoy the lower guitar (alto and tenor) voice of the octave as well as the longer scale.
    Yes you should investigate playing "guitar tunes" in the soprano voice of the mandolin.
    I'm sure there are a lot of possibilities not all of any of us are ever considering.

    The Octave is not a guitar and the guitar is not an octave. So what can be done on one may present challenges on the other.
    I have made a few attempts and sometimes it works and other times there is something missing, but I probably didn't consider all the possibilities.

    Here is the Eric Clapton part to Blind Faith's "I can't find my way home" on Octave with Frank "frankdolin" DeLorenzo doing the Steve Winwood part on mandolin.

    "Mean Old Timer, He's got grey hair, Mean Old Timer he just don't care
    Got no compassion, thinks its a sin
    All he does is sit around an play the Mandolin"

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  7. #5
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2020
    Surrey, England

    Default Re: Guitar songs on the mandolin

    The octave mando is half way there but the acoustic guitar is still the richest most singing friendly instrument. IMO itís the way the chords are laid out with the lowest note being the root note. I follow a couple singers on Octave Mandolin/bouzouki, they have technically very good voices.

    I do not have a strong voice. I have a modest repertoire on guitar and ukulele but can only hold a few numbers together on any kind of mandolin.

    Thatís just me though. Iíd say have fun exploring the concept.

  8. #6
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    Octave Mandolin

    Default Re: Guitar songs on the mandolin

    Good questions. I’m learning (fast) on Peghead Nation at the moment. Joe K Walsh has a great octave mandolin course, along with others.
    Included, they have some cool flat picking guitar courses that I would love to take.

    Guitar too?
    One of the important things I’ve learned in the past is don’t spread yourself too thin.
    Learning to play too many instruments will result in you not playing a particular instrument to the best of you ability.
    Too many courses (at the same time), spread over too many genres of music (at the same time), can also be detrimental to becoming really proficient at one instrument.
    (You deserve to be really good at the one thing you’ve chosen to do, even multi-instrumentalists have a favourite ).

    I want to play flat picking guitar well too, but it’ll have to wait.

  9. #7

    Default Re: Guitar songs on the mandolin

    My main instrument is mandola, and I manage to play all kinds of '70s guitar-centric rock on it in the original keys (Doobies Listen to the Music, BTO Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, Edgar Winter Group Free Ride, Paul Simon Kodachrome, etc.), including all the little fills.

    I also play of lot of songs on mandolin, secure in the observation that mandolin has more and deeper range than a lot of ukuleles used to play the same repertoire. There are a lot of videos on YouTube with people playing ukulele accompaniment just to sing their favorite songs, no problem. They don't agonize about the lack of range.

    I also have a couple of Republic resophonic 4-string tenor guitars tuned as octave mandolins. They cover all but the bottom three notes of a standard-tuned guitar. I saw Sarah Jarosz in concert playing an octave to cover all kinds of guitar-centric material in the same way. I remember one song she played solo was U2's Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.

    So, should you buy an octave? Play on mando? Play on guitar? I feel you should do whatever you want, free from judgment... even your own. Play and sing for the joy of it. I've played and sung as a paid professional, but embrace my need to make music just because I genuinely love music. Any instrument I own is a magic box containing every song I could possibly desire within it, and I just have to figure out where to press and pluck in order to let it out.

    Whatever path you choose to follow, happy exploring!

    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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