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Mandolin
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History of design: Mandolin can be described as a small, short necked lute with eight strings. The most well know type of mandolin is the Neapolitan, a small 60 cm long lute, with deeply vaulted ribs and a table slanted downward at the lower end. Being type of lute, mandolin reaches back to some of the earliest instruments, some of which appeared as early as 2000 BC in Mesopotamia. These early instruments didn’t have frets and the required changes in pitch were made by pressing the strings to the neck of the instrument. In many cases the strings were plucked by using hard objects rather then fingers to produce louder, sharper sound. 

Mandolin developed from a miniature lute called mandora, which was probably invented to fill out the scale in 16th century lute ensembles. The Italians called this instrument mandola and a smaller then traditional mandola was called mandolina. At the end of 19th century Italian immigrants brought to America the fashion for bawl- backed Neapolitan instrument, which spread across the land and made mandolin to become one of the first instruments recorded on Edison cylinders.


People to remember: Mandolin remained in the shade until 18th century when it was used by Handel in England, by Mozart in Vienna, by Hummel in Germany and Vivaldi in Italy. The fashion declined in 19th century but mandolin appeared again in Verdi’s Othello and was used by Mahler and the others.

Many American virtuoso mandolin players, mostly immigrants such as Bernardo Dapace, Samuel Siegal, Dave Appollon, and Giduanni Giouale, performed, recorded, composed, and arranged for the mandolin. These artists appeared in concert halls, and vaudeville settings, performing ethnic, popular, and classical music.

In the end of 19th century Orville H. Gibson (born in New York in 1856) created revolutionary version of the instrument breaking radically away from the traditional bowl-back instruments, brought to America by Italian immigrants, and using the design based on violin construction with a carved top and back. Even though that design was modified over the years, it clearly set the standard for what was to become the preferred style of mandolin used in American folk and popular music.

In 1922, Gibson under the influence of Lloyd Loar created an all new line of mandolins that had a number of distinguishing features including an adjustable truss-rod in the neck, adjustable two-piece ebony bridge, and a new tapering peg-head contour called the 'snake-head'. Perhaps Loar's finest achievement was his F-5, one of his new Master Model style-5 series. There were approximately 170 F-5s signed and dated by Lloyd Loar himself. These mandolins are in great demand, and today are often sold at astonishingly high prices.

The decline in popularity of mandolin in America was stopped and reversed in the 30’s by Bill Monroe and Monroe Brothers that created well know bluegrass style, named after Monroe’s band, The Bluegrass Boys. In contrast to the sweet, relaxed tremolo style of mandolin Bill played fiery cascades of rapid-fire notes that brought a power and urgency to the music that simply had not been there before.


Additionally: Mandolin today.

Today mandolin continues to remain popular having made quite a comeback since the Nashville Sound in the 60’s and 70’s. Also since 60’s mandolin was present consistently in rock music. English folk-rock, the acoustic-tinged albums of Rod Stewart, and the heady acoustic ballads of Led Zepplin all made the mandolin a familiar sound to rock audiences. And of course the vibrant, organic folk music of Ireland, Scotland, England, and the American South continue unabated. Bluegrass music, while far out of the mainstream, continues to attract young players who keep the music alive and growing. There has even been somewhat of a resurgence of interest in classical mandolin. Many young artists are recording albums of classical mandolin music, and recently in New York City, a mandolin orchestra held its 70th annual Spring concert.

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