How do you tune an electric mandolin?
Standard mandolin tuning is by far the most common: GDAE in fifths, starting at G below middle C. (On 8-string instruments, the string pairs are usually tuned in unison.) On a 5-string or 10-string mandolin, the extra course is usually a low C, giving the player the combined range of a mandolin and a mandola in one instrument. The lower course may also be tuned to D, which makes chords somewhat easier.
Plenty of alternate tunings are possible. Blues, slide, or Celtic players may want to try open tunings such as ADAD, GDGD, or GDAD (any of which will work over a low D). Maestro Alex Gregory recommends alternate tunings for some of his Pentasystem instruments (the Pentaula, for example, he likes to tune to AEBF#C#, although other tunings are certainly possible). U Srinivas, the Indian Karnatic virtuoso, plays a 5-course instrument tuned to CGCGC. John Kruth tunes his Fender Mandocaster to ADF#A. And blues pioneer Yank Rachell, in order to play comfortably in the key of E, tuned his mandolins a step and half down to EBF#C# (similar to what Pete Seeger did with his long-neck banjo).
Guitarists who want to diversify their sound without learning new chord shapes sometimes tune the mandolin like a guitar with one or two strings missing. I've seen it alleged that blues player Johnny Young tuned to DGBE (although I've also seen it alleged that he didn't); the same has been alleged of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. (The opening mandolin riff to Zeppelin's "Battle of Evermore" is reportedly a lot easier in DGBE than in standard tuning.) Jazz player John Abercrombie also reportedly uses a guitar-based tuning. Other possibilities, depending on the number of strings, are EADG, EADGB, and ADGBE.
Standard tuning for other electric mandolin-family instruments is as follows:
The classic Greek bouzouki tunings are DAD for the 6-string variety and CFAD for the 8-string, often with octave pairs on the lower courses. Irish bouzouki tunings can include GDAE, GDAD, ADAD, and GDGD. Citterns may be tuned DGDAD, DGDGD, DADAD, DADGD, CGCGC, CGDAD, GDAEB, GCGCG, ADADA, AEAEA, EIEIO—I mean, the sky's the limit. Use your imagination. You can, of course, tune a cittern CGDAE, like a mandocello with a high E course, but then, via the impenetrable magic of musical taxonomy, it's properly called a liuto cantabile.
A few modern e-mando builders produce a 5-course so-called "baritone mandolin," often with a scale length of 18–20 inches. One such instrument (by Texas violin maker F. A. Thorp) was meant to be tuned FCGDA, like a mandola with an extra low F string. Tennessee builder Jonathan Mann recommends that his baritone be tuned a step higher: GDAEB, like an octave mandolin with a high B string. Both tunings are fine with me, although I'm not convinced that the term "baritone mandolin" is actually necessary or helpful.
What kind of strings should I use for an electric mandolin?
Short answer: You should use Emando.com strings! I offer standard and custom sets, and can take care of most of your string needs.
Long answer: It depends on how many strings your mandolin requires, what type of pickup you have, and what kind of tailpiece you have. Here are the possibilities:
Major manufacturers do offer some 8-string mandolin sets in stainless or nickel steel, but they pretty much stick to loop-end. Here are several sets you can choose from:
To calculate string tension for particular gauges of strings, use this handy calculation tool.
Do you have classified ads where I can buy or sell an electric mandolin?
You can certainly buy one, but I don't offer a place for you to sell. The best mandolin classifieds on the Web appear at Scott Tichenor's Mandolin Cafe site. I'd rather complement Scott's work than compete with it.
Can I try before I buy?
Yes. All instrument sales at Emando.com are on 48-hour approval. This means that upon receiving your instrument, you have 48 hours to try it out before deciding whether to keep it. If you don't like it, you can send it back (at your expense), as long as you notify me within the 48-hour period. Of course the instrument must arrive in the same condition it left in.
Who made the first electric mandolin?
It depends on who you ask. The Stromberg-Voisinet company of Chicago (which later became Kay) produced an unsuccessful line of electric instruments, which were advertised in the 1929 Purchasers Guide to the Music Industry. At least one source has alleged that said line included a mandolin. I would be most delighted if anyone could produce a copy of the ad confirming this.
The earliest mention of an electric mandolin that I've seen is in the 1932 catalog published by the Electro String Instrument Corporation, better known today as Rickenbacker Guitars. Give most of the credit to Rickenbacker co-founder George Beauchamp, who developed the company's famous horseshoe pickup and apparently asked one of his engineers to slap one on a flat-top mahogany mandolin. Aside from the one prototype pictured in the catalog, I don't know how many of these were actually built and sold.
Lloyd Loar's ViViTone company built a number of electric instruments, including a mandolin, mandola and mandocello (dated 1933) as well as guitars and pianos.
The third (or fourth, if the Stromberg-Voisinet allegation is accurate) company to design an electric mandolin was National Reso-Phonic (which Beauchamp also helped to start, but left around 1929). By 1934 they had at least one model in production, and made handfuls of them until 1939.
In 1936, both the Gibson and Vega companies went to market with production-model electric mandolins. The Gibsons were more successful than the Vegas, but you can still find examples of both.
The first solidbody electric mandolin was the pau eletrico—one of the earliest solidbody stringed instruments, period—invented in Brazil by Osmar Macedo in 1942. In the United States, Paul Bigsby began building electric mandolins around 1950. His customers included Paul Buskirk (a 10-string), Al Giddings, Eschol Cosby, and most famously, Tiny Moore (a 5-string). The 8-string solidbody appeared in 1954 when Gibson introduced the Electric Florentine, also known as the EM-200. Rickenbacker's 8-string appeared in 1958.
Who was the first electric mandolin player?
That's a tough one. As far as recording artists go, the earliest electric mandolinist was probably Houston-based Western swing player Leo Raley. People often think Tiny Moore was the first, but actually, Tiny didn't start playing the mandolin until he heard Raley on the radio.
Why don't you have so-and-so listed?
1. I may not have gotten to so-and-so yet. At this stage of its existence, this site is still a hobby. I don't make a living from it, so I can put only so much time into it. While I've already published far more content on electric mandolins than exists on any other site I know about, I always seem to have a bit of a backlog and I'm never quite caught up.
2. I may not know about so-and-so. Feel free to any information you think belongs on this site.
3. I may know about so-and-so without having enough detail to justify a listing. "Dude, I know so-and-so plays mandolin, I saw him do it, he was awesome" does not impress me. The more you can tell me about so-and-so's instruments, pickups, setup, etc., the likelier I am to be inclined to add so-and-so. That goes for both players and builders. Photos are greatly appreciated; in the case of players, I strongly prefer a photo of the person actually playing—or at least holding—an electric mandolin.
4. I don't list the "mandoguitars" by Vox, Phantom, or Hammertone because they are not mandolins; they are short-scale 12-string electric guitars. I don't list the Danelectro "guitar-mandolin" because it's just a guitar with an extended fretboard.
5. If you're looking for a particular builder, be sure to check both the Active and Inactive builder lists.
What can you tell me about my instrument? How much is it worth?
In most cases, what's on the site is what I know, but feel free to if you haven't found the answer here—as long as it's a mandolin you're asking about. I don't know nothin' 'bout no guitars. As for the value question, sure, I can give you an idea of current market prices for a lot of instruments, but that's all it is. I don't do professional appraisals.