Mandolas are string instruments with teardrop-shaped bodies and long, fretted necks. They have eight strings grouped into four courses or pairs, and played with a standard pick called a plectrum. The strings in each course are tuned in unison rather than in octaves, and pitched a fifth lower than mandolins.
Like other plucked instruments, mandolas are poorly sustaining; that is, the notes fade out naturally and cannot be held as with bowed instruments. This is often solved by a technique called a tremolo, where the player rapidly plucks the same course or string to sustain the sound.
Types of Mandolas
Kinds of Mandolas include the following:
Acoustic mandolas produce sound from the vibrations created by the strings.
They have hollow bodies that allow the sound to resonate and increase their volume.
They can sometimes be connected to microphones or amplifiers to enhance the sound.
Electric mandolas have electronic pickups that convert the vibrations into audible sounds.
They usually have slim, solid bodies and may deviate from the usual teardrop shape.
They often have built-in preamplifiers to further boost the sound volume.
Electro-acoustic mandolas have hollow acoustic bodies and electronic pickups.
They allow the natural sound of acoustic mandolas to be amplified without distortion.
Choosing Mandolas (Buying tips)
Body shape: Choose a mandola with a moderately curved back for better resonance and a richer sound. More rounded bodies generally sound better, but may not be comfortable to hold. Make sure the curve is even on both sides of the body.
Strings: Choose a mandola with steel strings. These strings have a clearer sound and do not snap easily. Make sure the strings can stand up to frequent tightening from the tuning pegs. Look for those with metal cores for electric and electro-acoustic mandolas, and lighter strings for acoustic models.