The mandola, also referred to as a tenor mandolin, is a stringed chordophone of the mandolin family. It is similarly tuned to the viola with four doubled strings that are a fifth lower than a standard mandolin. The mandola player plucks these strings over a pear-shaped resonator body to produce sound.
History of the Mandola
The mandola, sometimes referred to as the tenor mandola, shares a common history with all the instruments in the mandolin family, which developed from variations of the lute. The lute was a stringed chordophone that can be traced back as far as 2000 BC in art and literature. Variations on the lute evolved in Europe to become the Greek’s bouzouki and Russia’s balalaika. Italian instrument makers in the 15th century used the lute’s design to produce the bowlback mandolin, the earliest ancestor of the mandola and mandolin. Luthiers such as Pasquale Vinaccia of Naples were thought to have had a large influence on the proportional design of the mandola. The mandola is in fact regarded as a precursor and ancestor to the mandolin, evolving from lutes which were introduced to Europe by the moors. These designs were the first to remove the right angle headstock and to tune the instrument a fifth below what a mandolin is tuned to today. The mandola was born, which would later become the mandolina and then the most instrument in the family: the mandolin. In modern turnings, the mandola’s strings are now tuned to resemble the viola tuning, though the strings on a viola are bowed. The mandola has maintained some relevance in popular music, being played by Bill Bailey, Attila The Stockbroker and members of the rock band Rush. It is most commonly found in folk ensembles and groups.
Where to Buy
$500 - $2,000
Hear the Mandola
How to Play
A stringed instrument similar to a mandolin but with a lower pitch, played with a pick or fingers.
In Popular Music
The mandola is popular with folk, bluegrass and musicians and has also been played by musical comedian Bill Bailey. It has a similar tone to the mandolin and can be hard to distinguish in popular song recordings, so the mandola may have been used in songs like ‘The Boxer’ by Simon & Garfunkel in the background.
Mike Marshall, Caterina Lichtenberg, Jacob Reuven
Mandolin, Octave Mandolin
Video Credit: PeakStrum
Understanding the Mandola