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A traditionally made mandolin (Neapolitan model) with a window headstock, a flat top and a curved bottom

The mandolin is a plucked instrument of European origin from the family of lute instruments that has been known since the 17th century . The abbreviation mand is used in scores and in the cast lists of musical groups and orchestras . used for mandolins.

There are two basic designs of the mandolin, which differ significantly in the shape of the body :

  • The classical mandolin, also Neapolitan mandolin or Rundmandoline called, has a flat, bent ceiling , no frames and a bowl-shaped (half-pear-shaped) body (so that it belongs to the shell necked lutes);
  • The flat mandolin is made according to construction principles borrowed from cistern or violin making , with sides as well as with a flat or slightly curved top and bottom (and is thus a box neck lute).

The vast majority of mandolins have four pairs of strings ( choirs ) tuned in fifths . The most common instrument of the mandolin family is the mandolin in soprano tuning, the strings are tuned like those of a violin in g - d ′ - a ′ - e ″. The length of the length of the primary mandolin is 32–35 cm, and the second mandolin with a different tuning 36–38.5 cm. The mandola is a tenor mandolin with the tuning G - d - a - e ′.


Classic mandolins of the Neapolitan design can be recognized by the drop-shaped body shape that is similar to an almond in outline . The instrument maker speaks of the "shell". This is traditionally made by gluing wood chips, similar to the body of a lute , and glued to the instrument cover. The flat top, usually bent at its widest point, is made almost entirely of spruce wood.

In folkloric music , a differently constructed body, similar to that of violins with a curved top ( archtop ), with separately manufactured sides and only slightly curved back or flat like guitars, is usually preferred. In the United States, different variants of Flachmandoline with body incision were since the beginning of the 20th century ( English : Cutaway ) and with sound holes in f- form ( "f-holes") developed. One of the pioneers in the development of the flat mandolin was the American instrument maker Orville H. Gibson . Gibson received a US patent in 1898 for the design he developed based on violin-making principles.

A type A4 flat mandolin as patented by Orville Gibson in 1898

Other variants

  • an early form of the mandolin, often called the Milanese mandolin , is played either with the fingers or with a feather. The most common tuning of this 6-string instrument, which was played from around 1660 to 1820, was g - h - e ′ - a ′ - d ″ - g ″
  • Portuguese half-round mandolin
  • German flat mandolin
  • Gibson A-4 - teardrop-shaped flat mandolin with a round or elliptical sound hole
  • Gibson F-5 - flat mandolin, developed by Lloyd Loar for Gibson from around 1919 , with f-holes, cutaway and with a characteristic scroll on the body and headstock , today valuable collector's items
  • Electric mandolin with electromagnetic pickups , usually in einspuliger construction ( single coil )

Related instruments

The plucked instruments closely related to the mandolin include the mandola (sounding an octave lower) , the bouzouki or cister , the mandolin banjo and mandriola , the mandoloncello , as well as the tamburica and the saz .

Use in music

The mandolin is played with a plastic or horn plectrum ( tortoiseshell in the 19th century ).

Baroque, classical, romantic

Mandolin player, around 1907

The first sources in which the mandolin is mentioned date from the early 17th century. During the Baroque period , composers such as Antonio Vivaldi , Carlo Arrigoni , Domenico Scarlatti and Johann Adolf Hasse composed for this instrument.

While the mandolin originally came from Italy, Paris became its most important center around 1750. Other important composers who dedicated themselves to the mandolin are Georg Friedrich Handel (in the oratorio Alexander Balus in the aria Hark! He strikes the golden lyre) , Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (for example in the Concerto in B flat major, which is also in a version for violin available), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (for example in an aria in Don Giovanni Deh vieni alla finestra ), Ludwig van Beethoven (sonatinas for mandolin and harpsichord), Giovanni Hoffmann , Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Niccolò Paganini . Around 1800 the mandolin is mainly found in Vienna .

The tremolo , which is so well known today , an important playing technique of the mandolin, is documented as early as the 18th century, for example in Michel Corrette's mandolin school in 1772, chap. 10: "Il est a remarquer que sur la mandolin on ne peut pas enfler les sons […] on fait un Trill qui est une repetition du même son sur une note." In the literature, however, the tremolo is required from around 1840. The most important composer of the Romantic period was Raffaele Calace (1863–1934), who with the help of his brother, the instrument maker Nicola Calace (1859–1923), further developed the instrument. The first plucked orchestras were founded at this time .


The mandolin was used in contemporary music with increasing popularity throughout the 20th century. Konrad Wölki was an important German composer for mandolin and plucked orchestra of the 20th century ; Above all, he owes the musicological recognition of the mandolin and the plucked orchestra. Today the mandolin can be found in orchestras, in a wide variety of chamber music ensembles and as a solo instrument. As the number of professional mandolin players increases, so does the number of composers who write for the mandolin.

The only professorial chair for mandolin in Europe is held by Caterina Lichtenberg, succeeding Marga Wilden-Hüsgen at the Cologne University of Music and Dance , Wuppertal . Specialized training for students with a diploma in this instrument is also provided by Gertrud Weyhofen at the Kassel Music Academy and, more recently, at the Saar University of Music and by Steffen Trekel at the Hamburg Conservatory .

An F5 bluegrass mandolin with cutaway, scroll and f-sound holes

Folk music and bluegrass

At the beginning of the 20th century, the mandolin was certainly popular with the Wandervogel movement in Germany because of its small size. Even today there are still mandolin orchestras in many places. The instrument attracted particular attention from a young audience in the folk revival of the 1970s. The mandolin player Erich Schmeckenbecher shaped the sound of the duo Zupfgeigenhansel with this instrument . In the Rhenish Carnival, the mandolin played by Hans Süper in the Colonia Duet became the comedian's trademark as “Flitsch”. In American bluegrass music, Bill Monroe has the credit that the mandolin not only became a rhythmic accompaniment instrument, but also a solo instrument with equal rights. David Grisman and Sam Bush are considered particularly influential virtuosos . Chris Thile is the most influential young virtuoso who has meanwhile also distinguished himself in the field of classical music (with a recording of the Bach violin solos arranged for mandolin). Coming from the Brazilian choro, Hamilton de Holanda is currently popularizing the mandolin in contemporary jazz.

Pop and rock music

The mandolin was widely popularized in the 1970s by numerous folk rock bands. Mike Oldfield plays it on his album Tubular Bells , where it is used as a solo instrument in the first of two parts and is presented at the end with another short solo alongside other instruments. A striking example of the use of mandolins in popular music is among others the piece of music Losing My Religion by the band REM Punk bands such as Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys use the mandolin in an electrically amplified form. The American folk rock band The Hooters regularly uses both acoustic and electric mandolins. Rock violinist Warren Ellis also plays an electric mandolin in Nick Cave's bands The Bad Seeds and Grinderman , which, however, has little resemblance to the sound of a classic mandolin due to its strong distortion. In Germany, Hans Süper ( Colonia Duett ) always played on his Flitsch (Cologne name for a mandolin).

See also


  • Paul Ruppa: Mandolin . In: Grove Music Online October 16, 2013 (mandolin in the United States)
  • James Tyler, Paul Sparks: Mandolin . In: Grove Music Online , 2001 (mandolin family in general)
  • James Tyler, Paul Sparks: The Early Mandolin.

Web links

Commons : Mandolins  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Mandolin  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Franz Jahnel: The guitar and its construction. Erwin Bochinsky Publishing House (1963); 5th edition. 1995 ISBN 3-923639-09-0
  2. Archive link ( Memento of the original dated July 2, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /