Electric Mandolin

Electric Mandolin

An electric mandolin is a good option to enable a musician to perform on stage with ease. This article concentrates on what an electric mandolin is...
The sound of the mandolin is a very curious sound because it's cheerful and melancholy at the same time, and I think it comes from that shadow string, the double strings. - Rita Dove

There are many stringed instruments in the musical instrument family such as the guitar, ukulele, violin, mandolin, and many others. The mandolin is one of the prominent instruments which is used by musicians mostly in bluegrass, classical, and folk music. It is similar to a guitar, with a small sound box and hole and strings to be strummed. In order for musicians to perform on stage with traditional mandolins, they need to play it unplugged, which means to just use a microphone in front of the instrument. This may become a hassle if the artist wants to move on stage during the performance. In such a situation, electric mandolins come into the picture.

What is an Electric Mandolin?

Mandolins which have pickups fitted on the body, just like in electric guitars, are termed as electric mandolins. Like the electric guitar, these instruments are versatile too, and are made in different forms. The most popular is the arch-top model fitted with pickups and eight strings. Other forms of mandolins are solid bodied which come with pickups and four, five, or eight strings. Acoustic electric variants are also available in musical instrument stores. Note that acoustic and electric mandolin strings are generally placed in courses, such as four string with a single course or eight strings with double course. Let us take a look at few of the most popular mandolin producing brands.

Production and Brands

Electric mandolins started to be produced in the USA in the 1920s by brands such as National Reso-Phonic, Rickenbacker, Stromberg-Voisinet, and ViViTone amongst the few notable ones. Reputed brands like Gibson and Vega came up with their models later in the 1930s. In 1950, solid body electric versions of mandolins were made in the US by Paul Bigsby. His models were used by known musicians such as Paul Buskirk, Al Giddings, Tiny Moore, and Eschol Cosby.

In the 1950s, companies such as Gibson and Rickenbacker Guitars started to produce solid body variants of eight-string double course mandolins. From the year 1956 to 1976, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation manufactured the single course four string instrument which was formally referred to as Fender Electric Mandolin. Its physical characteristics were somewhat similar to that of Fender's well-known electric guitar the 'Stratocaster'.

At present, Fender manufactures a semi-acoustic electric mandolin which has eight strings and a shape similar to the Stratocaster. From the time span of 1954 to 1971, Gibson Guitar Corporation also came up with a solid body model which was branded as 'EM-200'. Gibson, under its subsidiary company Epiphone, presently manufactures a solid body version named the 'Mandobird' which resembles the Gibson Firebird model of the electric guitar. This model is available in both four single course and eight double course string setups.

Similarly, there are many musicals instrument brands who have produced or still produce electric mandolins such as Mid-Missouri Mandolin Company with the models 'EM-4' and 'EM-8' and Blue Star Mandoblaster mandolins. Jbovier is also a brand which manufactures 'EMC' and 'ELS' models of electric mandolins.

Electric Mandolin Players
  • Carrie Rodriguez
  • Chris Thile
  • Jim Richter
  • Jimmy Page
  • Jimmy Ryan
  • John Abercrombie
  • John Paul Jones
  • Levon Helm
  • Lief Sorbye
  • Maartin Allcock
  • Maestro Alex Gregory
  • Mark Heard
  • Michael Kang
  • Mike Campbell
  • Paul Kevin Jonas
  • Peter Buck
  • Ryan Delahoussaye
  • Sam Bush
  • Steve Earle
  • Tiny Moore
  • Tom Morello
  • U. Srinivas
  • Warren Ellis
If you are thinking how to tune a mandolin, the tuning would depend on the number of strings. Learning how to play a mandolin is just a matter of understanding the positions of chords on the fingerboard, just like learning to play the guitar.
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