Citterns, bouzoukis, mandolas, octave mandolins, mandocellos... I'm confused!

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So I see a lot of instruments of this sort being played in folk music, especially across the Irish sea, but what's the difference between them all? They all seem to have paired courses of strings like a mandolin. Is it just down to range and scale length, or is there more to it?
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 21354
    OK, I can help with this.

    Think of the mandolin family like the violin family.
    In the violin world you have the following, presented highest to lowest pitch.

    Violin: GDAE (in fifths)
    Viola: CGDA (in fifths)
    Cello: CGDA (octave below the viola)
    Contra-Bass: EADG (like a bass guitar)

    You have the same in the mandolin world:

    Mandolin GDAE
    Mandola (which I play): CGDA
    Mandocello: CGDA: Octave below the mandola
    Mando Bass: EADG

    You should see a parity between the Viola and Mandolin class instruments with regards to their tunings.

    There are out some other instruments though.

    The Viol: a 6 sting cello like instrument with standard tuning of D-G-C-E-A-D
    Cittern: a 5 course instrument  that had a lot of different tunings though its life, developed from the cytole.
    I could write pages about the cittern, but I won't but suffice to say that it is often tuned  

    DGDAD for a long scale, and GDAEA for a shorter scale.
    Bouzouki's are often tuned GDAE like the mandolin (-8va of course).
     

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  • dogloaddogload Frets: 1357
    Just to add to the confusion, he bouzouki is also fairly flexible in it's tuning too.
    I'm a fairly recent convert and like to use G-D-G-D, which is very drone-y and quite 'eastern'. I've also tried variations on that - such as G-D-A-D. This is Irish bouzouki though. Greek style is different.

    Mandolin can be bluffed-out by trying to think of it being strung like an upside-down guitar, which sometimes works.
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  • Thanks all. So are there significant differences in sound between them, apart from what you'd expect courtesy of the different sizes and tunings? Could you easily tell a cittern from a mandola by ear?

    The only one I have is yet another confusing hybrid which I think is called a manjola -- it has a mandolin body and a five-string banjo neck and sounds quite cool in an impossible-to-keep-in-tune way.
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  • Just to add tuppence we have a Moon Octave mandolin which is tuned as a mandolin but an octave lower. The advantage is the scale length is longer than a mandolin so wider neck and easier to play with big fingers
    www.maltingsaudio.co.uk
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  • On behalf of all fans of Bill Bailey, what about the Oud?  ;)
    Be seeing you.
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  • JalapenoJalapeno Frets: 3810
    I have a hankering for a short-scale 12 string - tuned (up) to a D
    Imagine something sharp and witty here ......

    Feedback
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 21354
    Stuckfast said:
    Thanks all. So are there significant differences in sound between them, apart from what you'd expect courtesy of the different sizes and tunings? Could you easily tell a cittern from a mandola by ear?
    Sort of, maybe, yes, sometime, no. :)

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  • Jalapeno said:
    I have a hankering for a short-scale 12 string - tuned (up) to a D
    Something like David Gilmour’s Giffin headless, perhaps?
    Be seeing you.
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  • JayGeeJayGee Frets: 568
    ...and then of course there’s the tenor guitar, originally intended to make it easy for tenor banjo players to double on another instrument, generally tuned CGDA like a mandala, and in the interests of total confusion often looks more like a member of the Mandolin/Mandola family than a guitar.
    Don't ask me, I just play the damned thing...
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  • BasherBasher Frets: 746
    Just to further cloud the waters...

    The "Irish" bouzouki is sometimes strung with  octave pairs in the lower two courses, giving an effect similar to a 12 string guitar. This gives a slightly brighter, janglier sound.

    Sonically there is a large overlap between octave mandolins, bouzoukis and citterns and it's often very difficult to tell them apart in recordings. I have an "Irish" bouzouki (flat back construction as opposed to the Greek, bowl back) and I love it but find the lack of tuition resources a bit frustrating (although YouTube has helped hugely with this). I've also found learning 'zouk parts of recordings to be very difficult as it's very often capoed and mixed in with guitar, mandolin, octave mandolin etc.
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  • dogloaddogload Frets: 1357
    Basher said:
    Just to further cloud the waters...

    The "Irish" bouzouki is sometimes strung with  octave pairs in the lower two courses, giving an effect similar to a 12 string guitar. This gives a slightly brighter, janglier sound.


    This is what is usually referred to as Greek style. The Irish tends to have unison courses to give a beefier sound, whilst the Greek has the octave strings, Personally I prefer the Greek type of octave stringing. As Basher says it is janglier and sounds more 'Eastern'.

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