What Is A Mandolin: History, Construction, Types Explained!

Have you ever witnessed a country music band performing live? Then you may have seen somebody playing that looks like a little guitar. This small musical instrument is known as a mandolin. It has four courses of dual metal strings, which is a total of eight strings that are tuned as one.

While there are various types of mandolin, three types of mandolins can be seen. These three mandolins are the round-backed mandolin, the carved-top mandolin, and the flat-backed mandolin.

The round-back mandolin has a deep base where the carved-top has a much shallower, which is curved back and top. The flat-backed mandolin is created more like an acoustic guitar. Each mandolin sounds remarkable and linked with a specific type of music.

You can find the carved-top mandolins mostly in folk and bluegrass music, while the flat-backed mandolins are utilized in British, Irish, and Brazilian folk music. You might hear the round-backed mandolins in European classical music as well.

Since the mandolin looks like a vintage musical instrument, it has been welcomed all through a wide range of genres and cultures.

What is a mandolin

The History of Mandolin

The musical instrument we presently call the mandolin first genuinely during the 1700s. Yet comparable instruments passing by the names mandora, mandola, and mandore went before the Neapolitan mandolin by hundreds of years.

The descendants of the lute family, the different mandolin types are mainly outgrowths of the Neapolitan mandolin, which was in Naples during the 18th century. The present bowl-back mandolins take after those early Italian instruments and are famous with folk and classical artists. In the mid-19th century, the mandolin became undesirable, and its significant collection of music was neglected.

During the 19th century, when European immigrants began coming to North America, they brought the mandolin. As a result of enthusiasm in foreign or fascinating things, the mandolin turned into a famous musical instrument.

Alongside the ukulele, the mandolin was famous during the 1850s as an innovation that entertained the middle-class people. There was an expansion in Italian immigration which further raised a form of the mandolin in the late 19th century. The mandolin remained popular into the 20th century as well, and at one point factories were mass producing them.

During 1940, players were further tentative in they used the mandolin. The new playing styles rose because of this experimentation, which was inspired by techniques that are more firmly connected with the guitar.

This would lead to the mandolin’s influence in American folk and country music, where it was a staple all through the 1960s and 1970s. Afterwards, the musicians would keep on extending the mandolin’s venture into other music.

The famous musicians and bands like Rod Stewart or Led Zeppelin have included the mandolin into their music. While the mandolin may not be as well-known as the guitar, it is as yet a significant piece of numerous artists’ music.

Eminently, the country artist Jethro Burns showed the mandolin’s adaptability by handling jazz and Western swing tunes. Today, the players like Chris Thile, David Grisman, Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, Sam Bush, and U. Srinivas keep on driving the limits with their excursions into pop, rock, and even Indian Carnatic music.

Also, don’t forget to see our post on how much does a mandolin cost.

mandolin types

Mandolin Construction 

Due to the reputation of mandolin, we have represented the parts of mandolin utilizing an F-style instrument for instance. Yet all generally accessible acoustic mandolins share similar part names.


Headstock is also known as the head or peg head; the tuning pegs are attached to it. The headstock is a wooden part at the end of the neck, which provides a spot to hold the tuners. Usually, you may find the name of mandolin’s brand at this spot, but it is also a great spot to place a small sticker with your name as well.

Tuning Pegs 

Tuning pegs is also known as tuning machines, machine heads, or tuners. These are blended tools that hold the strings and are used to set string tension. The tuning pegs are a portion of the tuning machines, where strings connect to the head of the mandolin.

They rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise to up or lower the tension. The notes of the string are connected to them, they are always purely useful, never being adorned parts of an instrument.

Tuning Knobs

Tuning knobs are the other part of the tuning machine. The tuning knobs are turned by the player who is trying to play the mandolin. They connect to a gear on the tuning peg that turns the string. Though tuning pegs and knobs don’t turn at the same time. But, one turn on a tuning peg will require around five on a tuning knob. This process allows precise tuning. However, it gets in the way while restringing of the instrument.


These are used to tune your mandolin. The tuners are gear-driven pegs to that we add the strings. To tune a mandolin, you should turn the knob on the end of every tuner if you want to change the pitch of an open un-fretted string.


Nut is known as the zero frets as well. Nut mutually with the bridge and tailpiece keeps strings in a precise arrangement. The nut of a mandolin is effective for performing as a bridge, supporting set the range from the bottom of the strings to the fretboard and for arranging the strings so they do not hit each other.

Nuts were usually made of bone, however now they are either made of wood or plastic. This mandolin has a plastic nut. The nut is one piece of the mandolin that is seldom not actually connected to the mandolin. They can be connected easily through the force that the strings put on them. But note that, the nut may become poorly arranged with the bridge if this occurs.


Neck spreads from the headstock to the body and seldom carries a metal truss rod that adds strength and permits intonation tunings. The neck carries the frets and the fretboard of the mandolin. The most vital piece of a string instrument other than the strings themselves.

It is where the fretting hand does its time on a mandolin. The neck is the piece of the mandolin under the most pressure, so it is perpetually made out of one part of the wood, that begins as a block and is carved and shaped into a neck. The neck shape is also vital as it makes convenience while playing the mandolin. It can build the mandolin’s speed, or how fast one’s hand can play up and down the neck easily.

types of mandolins


The fretboard has embedded metal frets, fixed to the neck. Pushing the strings onto the frets plays notes according to the frets’ points. Frets are metal strips connected on the fingerboard vertically. As you put your finger between two frets and press the string to the fretboard, you are really cutting the length of the string.

The sound tone that a string generates depends on the length of the string (as well as how tight or loose the string is), by managing the frets one can play different sounds.

Position Markers

The fret/position markers are little pearl dots located in the fingerboard at precise positions. These frequent simple dots inset in the fretboard, but seldom more elegant, they support orient the player’s fretting hand. These markers support the mandolin player to simply put his/her fingers on the right fret. This is the reason why you can see them as well on the side of the neck. The fret markers are placed at frets 5, 7, 10 and 12. 


Strings are easy to identify but hard to remember that they are tuned to and to know why they are totally doubled. The strings are tuned from the lowest to highest to G, D, A, and E. They are tuned to 5th, so in the melodic scale. The strings are doubled for some reasons, but the resounding one makes the instrument louder.

When the manifestations of the mandolin were being made for the first time before the middle ages, the term and practice of making a body for a stringed instrument that would expand the strings were being figured out. To make the instrument stronger, it was the double string with two strings playing a similar note as one.


It consists of the top, sides, and back. The top, also known as the soundboard, which is primarily responsible for producing the mandolin’s sound, and depending on the model may be flat, or arched similarly to a violin. Some mandolins have flat backs, while others are bowl-shaped.


Scroll is principally florid; it is only found on F-style mandolins. The scroll is a rather unique mandolin part, which provides the F-type mandolins with their name, only mandolins with a scroll are listed as F-type. As the scroll is a body part, it may influence the sound, yet the scroll has an even more vital function: design.


Not all the mandolins have this part designed to defend the body’s finish. The pickguard is an elective accessory that is usually practiced to defend the mandolin from getting damaged from the pick when playing chords. It is also used as a spot to hold the third and fourth fingers.

Sound Hole

The shapes differ depending on the mandolin model. The decorated type is an f-hole, but oval sound holes are also popular and present the same function of propelling the mandolin’s sound. The sound holes are utilized to let the sound come out of the body by air development.

The two kinds of sound holes, the round hole, more often utilized in bowl-back and A-type mandolins, and the F-shaped holes that are quite the same as the violin sound holes.

where did the mandolin originate


Bridge is made of wood that carries the strings’ vibrations to the mandolin’s top. The bridge is a vital wooden part that has two purposes. It is a director to line up the strings, it also shifts the string vibrations from the strings to the soundboard. The bridge is normally mahogany again and can be free from the body like the nut is.

However, it means that the bridge is unaligned that makes problems with remaining in the tune and playability. The bridge is under as much pressure as the nut, but unlike the nut, the height of the neck is adjustable. This is because to support set the action of the mandolin.

Truss-Rod and Truss-Rod Cover

It is an important plate on the headstock that covers an elective, the truss rod. The truss rod is a steel rod that runs the length of the mandolin’s neck that can be used to fix a bowed neck. It can save you visits to the luthier. If you have that, bravo!  

Note: To set/adjust the truss rod, you have to eject the truss rod plate.


The points are another unique part of F-type mandolins. You may think that they toil only as cosmetic, but they have a role also to develop the holding point of the mandolin. Mandolins with points are more comfortable to grip, as the bottom point will rest on your thigh, raising the mandolin to an easier position.


Tailpiece is often made of ornately marked or cast metal, it gives the anchor point for the strings. The tailpiece is a florid and a useful mandolin part. The tailpiece is connected to the mandolin body and will not dropped when strings are separated.


Mandolin is a stringed and fretted instrument like a guitar or banjo. It can be chorded like a guitar and banjo. It doesn’t mean that similar chord forms which work on guitar or banjo will work on mandolin as well. None of them will work on mandolin.

The notes of the chords will be the same across the instruments, such as the notes E, A, and G. If you play together, it will make an E chord, but the finger position differs from one instrument to another. The mandolin is a simple instrument to chord, but many issues arise about the mandolin’s size as it’s too small to play. 

People face this issue when they start to learn playing mandolin initially. However, if you continue playing or tuning the mandolin, the instrument gets bigger in your mind as you keep on learning and practicing. 

Mandolin Variations 

Bluegrass Mandolin

The Bluegrass mandolin is based on two Gibson models presented around the 19th century. Gibson sales representatives advertised mandolin bands that consisted of mandolin, mandola, mandocello and the mandobass. The two primary mandolin models were the A style and the F style.

The A style is a teardrop-shaped and the F style has the extra scroll and points. These mandolin body shapes are available with oval or F sound holes.

There are 2 kinds of bluegrass mandolins:

  • F-Style: They are the standard bluegrass mandolin that is very costly.
  • A-Style: These are used in folk and Celtic music. They are less expensive.

F-Style Mandolin 

The traditional design is the F-style body with its fancy hand-carved scroll. It takes a skilled and accurate woodworker to make and tie this complex design. The scroll joins the top of the instrument and in a hand-carved swallowtail.

Usually, the F-style has a wing on the opposite side of the scroll and a point at the lower bout to make it convenient to hold. The F-style body is known for its punchy volume often mentioned as chop.

The F-style is designed by Gibson master luthier Lloyd Loar regarded to be the Holy made it famous. Later it is valued by young players like Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers’ virtuoso Thile, who allegedly plunked down $200,000 for a Loar-signed 1924 model.


The advanced brand is known as The Loar that makes both A and F-style mandolins. They say its instruments are encouraged by Lloyd Loar’s legacy.

Most F-style models have body points on the lower side of the instrument, which both quietly impact the tone and give a handy resting point on the player’s thigh. Some advanced luthiers and mandolin manufacturers have made branches that use few traits from the original F-style models, though they have included their modern touches.

The Epiphone’s MM50E Professional model draws massively from the legacy of its corporate owner, with classic F-hole styling while including latest gadgets and a favorable price point.

Most bluegrass players approach toward the F-style. Peri said, “They like the great popping ‘chop’ for rhythm chords and the ability to create solid, clear, single-string lead lines.”

A-Style Mandolin 

A less difficult pear-shaped design is known as an A-style body. It is normally more affordable as it takes less woodworking skills. The body carries more smooth well-balanced sound.

This is something to define tear-shaped and oval-bodied mandolins, which don’t fall under the F-style or bowl-back clubs. The term came out of Gibson’s A-type mandolins manufactured in the early 20s. Many have carved tops and backs with the back in few for being shaped like a violin.

However, A-style mandolins with arched backs are often defined as having flat backs to separate them from bowl-back mandolins. Some A-style models have more guitar-like profiles these days. Since they lack the ornate scrolls and points found on F-style mandolins, they are easier to manufacture and are often less expensive. A-style models tend to be well known with the classical, folk, and Celtic artists.

Both A and F-style mandolins can be seen with F or oval sound holes. The Kentucky KM950 is an A-style with F-holes, while the F-style Eastman MD814 and Breedlove Premier Series Fo both have oval sound holes.

Whether A style or F style, these Bluegrass mandolins have a flat back and their manufacturing costs lower than a classical bowl-back mandolin. The difference between A-style and F-style models is ornamental. These both types have produced a similar and sound same. However, the F-style mandolin has more ornaments especially the scroll on op left side that increases its price.

The truth is, you won’t see bluegrass mandolin players playing an A-style mandolin.

Classical/Bowl-back Mandolin 

Classical mandolins are known as bowl-back mandolin. This kind of mandolin is used in the old style or classical music and traditional world music.

These mandolins are more eagerly follow their Italian ancestors just as traditional lutes with their rounded backs. They are still recognized as Neapolitan mandolins due to the connection with their Italian forerunners. You might see them considered by the more country term “tater bugs.”

The high-quality bowl-back mandolins are famous with artists who play classical, Baroque, renaissance, and other authentic musical styles. Because of the volume of their bodies, the bowl-backs mandolin produces a deeper, rounder tone than other mandolin body types.

The classical mandolins are made of different wood staves cemented together to create the back, where the American mandolins can be carved into single pieces of wood and have a flat back.

These mandolins are played in solo settings and they have a significantly less projecting sound with much less bass, compared with country mandolins. If you want to play classical songs, this is the mandolin you will require.

Electric Mandolins 

The electric mandolins have started showing up in the late 1920s in the U.S.A. Then their fame has kept on developing due to having the ability to be heard close by louder instruments in band settings, and the portability they provided on-stage musicians. Gibson and Vega both have presented electric mandolin models during the 1930s. Following improvements are included in the 4-and 5-string models.

These electric mandolins are normally played and tuned like their standard acoustic brothers. Their body types can differ as well. The way they are equipped with also varies. Such as – some being furnished with pickups likewise used on electric guitars, while others are acoustic instruments with a pickup that transmits the mandolin’s output to the sound system.

what is mandolin

Octave Mandolins 

Octave mandolins are set one octave lower than conventional mandolins, which makes the sound more like a guitar in term of the pitch. The Octave mandolins are not called as mandocellos, which are tuned simply like a regular cello: CGDA, where octave mandolins are tuned like a standard mandolin but only an octave lower.  The mandocello is often defined as being to the mandolin what the cello is to the violin.

If you want to play the cello and want to try a pluck string instrument tuned the similar, then Octave is your mandolin.

 Also, don’t forget to see our post on best mandolin for the money.

Tuning the Mandolin… 

Tuning a mandolin can be difficult, but possible. Playing it on the right pitch takes art and time as mandolins have shorter strings than guitars. Mandolins have four sets of two strings that are attached to a similar pitch. The musicians will explain to you that it’s far easier for three violin players to play in tune with each other than for just two.

The similar rule makes a challenge for each pair of strings on a mandolin to sound. It may seem irrational. However, our ears flatter even little differences in tuning between two strings to the point that you may end up changing your tuning after each tune.

Playing a regular mandolin is similar to a violin tuning: G-D-A-E, from the low to high. The difference is that the mandolin has eight strings, and the violin has just four. On a mandolin, you can tune each course or pair of strings to a similar pitch, so the mandolin’s tuning is truly G-G-D-D A-A-E-E.

Find the tuners that link to each string. You will see the tuners for the G and D strings on the top side of the head and the tuners for the A and E strings on the lower side of the head. The G strings and the E strings will be nearest to the body of the mandolin.

You can start from the lower pitch and move to a higher pitch. It means you will be tuning in a clockwise way around the mandolin’s head. Try to tune in pairs. Start by tuning each string separately using a tuner to get as near the right pitch as possible. You might need to use a pick to ensure which string you are playing.

In this circumstance, play the two strings following and tune in to check whether they sound similar to each other. If one sounds higher/lower, alter it until the two strings sound together.

Note: When you play your strings, ensure that you start from a pitch below the aimed tuning and then tune to your aimed pitch. If you tune from a higher pitch down to your aimed pitch, the string will leave the tune faster and you will be at risk growing the pressure on your string to the point that it may snap. 

Check your tuning twice after you have tuned the E strings. Mandolins can leave the tune even in the span of tuning due to the pressure of each string impacts the tuning of all strings. When you have your tuning set, you can return and make changes to ensure each pair of strings sounds good. The tuning can be easier for you if you use the correct mandolin strings. The coated strings and flat-wound strings are known for reducing the variability in mandolin tuning.

credit: mickifiddlesaround

You might see that a few mandolins hold their tuning better than the other mandolins. If your mandolin leaves tune fast, check whether it has a truss rod going through the neck. The truss rods give balance. If you don’t have truss rod in your mandolin, it may not hold its tuning well.

If you are not a specialist musician, you may find it easier to tune your mandolin with the help of a tuner. If no tuner is there, how can you make your mandolin sounds great?

  • Except if you have the perfect pitch where you can use them with without tuner assistance, you will need to tune your mandolin from an outside source.
  • If you have a piano or a guitar or an app, you can use them as a source to tune your G strings.
  • Try to play a G on the piano, after play the string on your mandolin. If the mandolin sounds lower, tune it higher, and vice versa. 
  • Keep repeating till your G strings match with the pitch of the piano. From that point, you can tune your different strings using your mandolin. 
  • Play a D on your G string, at the 7th fret. After that, play your D string. Similarly, as you played the piano, change the tuning of every D string until it 7th frets. 
  • From that point, keep repeating this method for every higher string. 
  • You need to use the 7th fret since the connection between each pair of strings is the same on the mandolin. 
  • Check your tuning twice when you are done repeating a similar method. Then you are ready to go! 
  • You might not have anything to base your tuning. In this circumstance, just tune your mandolin to itself. Play the G strings together, then go to the directions to tune by ear above.

Final Words

Now you have the basic knowledge about the mandolins out there. This is what we wanted! There is no simple method in showing up at the best instrument for your need. Your fingers and ears ought to be the judge.

Our recommendation is to look for the best instrument that falls inside your budget. A low-quality mandolin that is difficult to play and sounds bad will discourage you.

You can read online reviews when you will be going to buy a mandolin. Don’t hesitate to reach us if you have any queries.

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