Mandolins generally have eight strings, in pairs of two, and can all be used for both rhythm and lead parts of a song. The mandolin is a stringed instrument, meaning that the sound is produced by the plucking of a string. Mandolins come in many varieties, from bowl-backs and flat-backs to A-style and F-style. Learning about the different types of mandolins available can help you decide which instrument to buy.
The two distinct styles of mandolin are A-style and F-style. A-style mandolins have a distinct tear-drop shape and are preferred by Celtic musicians, as well as being a cheaper option for a beginner. A-style mandolins usually have an arched top and back, and this "arch-back" style is the most popular style of mandolin. A-style mandolins don't have as much high-end attack, but have richer midrange tones than F-style mandolins. The F-style mandolins have a scroll-shaped upper arm and are often preferred by bluegrass players. F-style mandolins have enough attack to give the chords definition and a clear tone when playing individual notes. Also consider two-point mandolins for a mixture of the two different tones, often preferred by jazz musicians.
Mandolins, like guitars, have sound holes in the body to project the noise generated by the strings. Two different styles of sound holes are used in mandolins. The first of these is the f-hole style usually found on violins. Buy a mandolin with f-holes if you are interested in playing bluegrass music and want a sound that has a well-defined punch. For a more deep and balanced rhythm tone, choose a mandolin with an oval sound hole. Oval holes add extra richness to the lower tones useful when playing rhythm, but do sacrifice some projection and presence as a result. Classical and orchestral players require an instrument with oval sound holes.
Mandolins can have different styles of back, such as arch-back, bowl-back and flat-back. Bowl-back mandolins, while preferred by some virtuoso classical players for their dark, even tone, are more likely to be kept as an antique than an instrument. The flat-back variety of mandolins doesn't have a literally flat back; they are more likely to be slightly arched like a violin back. Most players prefer arch-back mandolins, which generally come in the A-style, and have a hand-carved arch at the top and back of the instrument. Instruments of this type give good definition on midrange tones.
Look up the type of wood your mandolin is made from. Different types of wood affect the tones produced by your instrument. Most mandolins have spruce soundboards, but ones that have laminated tops are often cheaper. Generally, spruce mandolins are thought to be superior, but a laminated model may be a better choice for a beginner.
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