Given the remarkable responses under my last mandolin post, I wanted to take a moment to point to a few mandolin resources on the net, som of which I’ve long linked in my sidebar.

First, and closest to me personally, is Martin Stillion’s, The Electric Mandolin Resource Page, for which I helped Martin secure the domain and hosted for a spell. When Martin was first building this, finding info about electric mandos was very, very difficult, and his site is a fantastic resource on one of the more idiosyncratic instruments out there.

His links section also contains a long list of dealers and manufacturers most of which are not exclusively electric (I say without verification).

The single best source of information and links for mandolin on the net is the Mandolin Cafe , which inherited the mantle from the long-moribund Mandozine. Mandozine still has some great articles, but the Cafe has fresh content on a regular basis, as well as a bulletin board.

DO NOT MISS the eye candy; it may explain why it’s very common for mandolovers to find themselves owning more than four mandolins. This is the result of a disease known as MAS, or mandolin acquisition syndrome, often known to cause friction with spouses. The only known treatment for the disease is, logically enought, the acquisition of a mandolin. The spontaneous occurrence of the disease recounted the other day is rare, to the best of my knowledge. It’s much more common for an outbreak to occur as a response to mandolin exposure.

Mandolin magazine is the mando world’s print journal, and BOY did they take their time getting online.

Finally, returnng to the Cafe, the archives provide a jumping off point for getting to know your way around the little things. A Brief History of the Mandolin and Daniel Coolik’s Mandolin Paper may teach you some surprising things, while Distinction Between Mandolin Families and learning your Vintage Gibson A‘s and Gibson F‘s wil help you impress the fifty-something potsmokers at your next bluegrass festival.

My favorite part of mandolin triva and geeketry is the fact that the plot of “The Music Man” is based partly on real instrument manufacturer’s practices around the turn of the century. One of the most effective practitioners of this selling technique – don’t sell a single instrument, sell an orchestra full of them, and provde financing – was the Gibson company, who revolutionized the manufacture of the instruments.

Guitar expert and music historian George Gruhn has some great articles about this on his website.

As Pinax alluded the other day, mandos are tuned the same as fiddles. Someone at Gibson, I think, realized that this meant the mandolin family could be expanded to encompass double-course plucked instruments that exactly reflect the tuning and inonation of the traditional classical orchestra’s string section – violin, viola, cello, and bass become mandolin, mandola, mandocello, and bass mandolin. By establishling manfacturing lines for these instruments, Gibson suddenly was able to provide two centuries worth of ensemble music to a new audience: the American working class.

Gibson’s salespeople traveled the country, establishing mandolin orchestras, often under the sponsorship of workingmen’s associations or labor unions. The music these orchestras produced was correctly percieved as threatening by the established music press of the day, and believe me, if you’ve ever heard a recording or attended a performance of a mandolin orchestra, the sound is capable of being unsettling. It’s hard to keep the instruments in tune, and presumably it was as hard or harder when all the instruments are inexpensive and played by amateurs, full of ethusiasm and possibly a bit weak on technique.

Lucky for us, there are mandolin orchestras all over the country. Here are some:

the Classical Mandolin Society of America’s list

Seattle Mandolin Orchestra (Martin plays a vintage Gibson bass mandolin with these folks)

Louisville Mandolin Orchestra

New York Mandolin Orchestra (a survivor of the first wave, making it, I suppose, old wave).

Happy plinking!

3 thoughts on “Mo' Mando

  1. Fascinating! A mandolin orchestra…whoda thunk it?

    You know that as a hayseed, I have a soft spot for the mando in both kinds of music. It’s the only place I think of the mandolin being played. I simply can not place it in context of anything but hillbilly music, though I’m sure it’s there in a lot more. And that’s another reason to love the Coen Bros…giving a big boost to that kind of music. Yall might be sick of “Constant Sorrow” but I’m not. Yet.

  2. mandolincafe was a place to get lost in, that’s for sure! Great link. Of course, I just noticed that you have had the link on your side bar all along, so I could have spent all the time I just spent surfing their site quite some time ago…

    Mandolin pops up in some pretty surprising places (for me, anyway. Like Mr. chaffin, I usually associate mandolin with US country music). I caught a performance a while back, which utilized mandolin (as well as ukelele, sax, guitar, etc) in a choro performance, which shore ain’t the country I’m used to. It’s mighty nice.

  3. As an aside, I mentioned the cool site, mandolincafe, to the mandolin player, who was the mandolin player in the choro (“shoro, Felicity! sshhoro!”) concert I mentioned before as being a surprising, not-US-country music use. He looked at me as if I had suddenly sprouted some unmentionable appendage from my head, and said; “Of course. Everybody knows about mandolincafe.”

    Well, duh.

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