A Mandolin Manifesto
Imagine this: You're a mandolin player and your band just hit the big time. You're going to have to kiss your pub dates goodbye and get ready for the festival circuit. Or you play in a church band with a bunch of rock'n'rollers who've mistaken the church for Shea Stadium. They're plugged and ready to "rock the flock," and you can't compete. Or you want to move beyond classical, Italian serenades, old-time, Celtic, or bluegrass and enter other realms.
In all of these cases (and many others), the question of amplifying the instrument will arise. There are almost as many solutions to this conundrum as there are players. Some hold out for a microphone-only approach; "Dawg" pioneer David Grisman and jazz player Scott Tichenor are two examples. (They don't, however, use just any mic; Grisman endorses Audix mics, and Tichenor uses an AKG mic attached to his instrument.) Many others rely on electronic pickups attached to acoustic instruments. A few combine pickups with microphones in search of the perfect "amplified acoustic" sound. Evan Marshall, Sam Bush, and Paul Glasse all use some combination of a pickup with a Countryman Isomax microphone on their acoustic mandolins, channeled through a Rane preamp.
But an increasing number of players decide to be nontraditional not only in their style of music, but in their choice of instrument. They opt for mandolins with integrated electronics—or at least they would, if they could find out where to get one. While electric mandolins (and mandolins in general) are becoming more popular, until now there hasn't been a lot of information on the instrument collected in any one place on the World Wide Web.
You are now staring at one mandolinist's humble attempt to rectify this situation. While I, , may not be the most qualified or most knowledgeable person to construct this site, I will share herein what I know and what I have learned from others.
For the purposes of this site, I'm most interested in instruments that are built as electrics—in other words, they leave the factory or the luthier's workbench with their electronics installed, and are meant to be played mostly through a PA system or amp. Putting a Fishman or a MacIntyre on your 1920s Gibson A does not, in my opinion, make it an "electric mandolin." (However, I have listed some players who perform with this kind of setup.) I have made no distinction among the various types of pickups (magnetic coil, piezoelectric, transducer) that can be used. Nor do I disdain single-course (4-string or 5-string) or double-course (8-string or 10-string) instruments. The former tend to sound more like electric guitars; the latter retain more of the characteristic sound of an acoustic mandolin; but I'm leaving it up to individual players to determine their own preference. I've included instruments that are solid-bodied, hollow-bodied, and semi-hollow; some that can also be played acoustically; and some that can't. Finally, on this site you'll find players and makers of all instruments in the mandolin family—including mandolas, mandocellos, octave mandolins, bouzoukis, and citterns. (OK, so far I haven't located an electric mandobass builder, but I'll keep looking!)
For many instruments listed here, I'm merely providing a description, with no attempt to evaluate. But I do have definite opinions about the instruments that I have played, and I'm including them. Not all of these opinions are favorable. That's life. Some people believe that disparaging a certain electric mandolin will discourage the manufacturer. My reply is that if I can discourage someone from turning out junk, then so much the better. Also, you'll notice that some builders are listed twice: once under the individual luthier's name, and once under the brand name of the instrument. (For example, the StewMac appears under both "StewMac" and "Don MacRostie"; the Rigel is listed under "Rigel" and "Pete Langdell.")
Use the navigation tabs above to choose a general topic; then click a name in the left-hand column to find an individual page. Check in Players to find folks who use electric mandolins. For makers past and present, consult the Builders list. There are instruments and strings for sale in the Shop, and you can Search rather than navigate if you prefer. For everything else (pickups, reviews, links, and other resources), try Etc. Feel free to corrections or additions to the information herein, and together we can make this page the Web's premier source of information on a fascinating subject.