What Is an F-Style or A-Style Kentucky Mandolin?

by Steven J. Miller

Learning about the difference between an A-style and F-style Kentucky brand mandolin will help you select an appropriate mandolin for your purposes. The Kentucky mandolin comes in two main styles: F-style and A-style mandolins. Each Kentucky mandolin also makes use of an F-hole to enhance the sound.

what is a fallback

Styles

The F-style Kentucky mandolin is designed with more curves -- this makes it a better choice for playing while sitting, as the design fits to the shape of the leg. The A-style Kentucky mandolin has less complexity than an F-style Kentucky mandolin, specifically a less elaborate scroll design at the end of the neck. Because of the more rounded shape of the A-style Kentucky mandolin, the possibility of the instrument slipping while playing is more likely.

Construction

The F-style and A-style Kentucky mandolin use the same types of woods in their construction. The Kentucky mandolin consists of a maple back, to add firmness and resilience, while the laminate tops consist of spruce, which is a lighter wood that helps to soften the sound. For a mandolin with a soft sound, consider one constructed mostly of spruce. Spruce may more easily bend and crack, requiring more diligent care of the instrument. The strings on both styles tune in fifths to G - D - A - E with two strings per pitch. The extra string helps to create the strong twangy, plucking sound of the mandolin.

Timbre

The larger F-holes on the F-style Kentucky mandolin contribute to a greater and more powerful sound than the A-style mandolin. Some A-style Kentucky mandolins don't have F-holes. The F-holes are similar to the violin and look like a stylized "F" on either side of the bridge of the mandolin, allowing the sound to be more percussive than a mandolin without these holes. The size of the holes also directly affects the volume and sustaining power. On an A-style mandolin, the smaller holes allow for more reverberation inside the instrument, creating additional sustaining power that the F-style mandolin lacks. Mandolins with F-holes do not require as much internal bracing, creating a more penetrating sound.

Cost

The elaborate decoration of the F-style Kentucky mandolin requires more care and complexity in production. The additional materials and craftsmanship that goes into the construction of an F-style mandolin increase the price. The A-style Kentucky mandolins cost less because they have a simpler design. At the time of publication, the A-style mandolins typically cost $200 to $500, while the F-style mandolins can be $800 to $4,500.

Music

The Kentucky F-style and A-style mandolin are used in a variety of musical styles, including blues, country, jazz, rock, bluegrass and western swing. The instrument lends itself to any type of music that requires a plucking, twangy sound. This folk instrument is capable of playing lyrical melodies and producing strong percussive effects.

Additional Features

Both styles of Kentucky mandolins have several standard features. The mandolin has a built-in tailpiece and an arched top to make it easier to hold and play. The bridges arch and may be adjusted to change the timbre of the instrument. Each mandolin comes with a F-hole design, which creates a louder more percussive sounding instrument.

About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.