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What is an Electric Mandolin?

An electric mandolin fuses traditional folk with modern technology, offering a crisp, amplified sound that can fill any room or blend with a band. It retains the classic eight-string design but connects to an amp for volume control and effects. Curious about how this instrument can electrify your music? Discover the vibrant world of electric mandolins with us.
A. B. Kelsey
A. B. Kelsey

An electric mandolin is a musical instrument that is fashioned after the traditional acoustic mandolin. However, even though it is played and tuned like an acoustic mandolin, the instrument is amplified in a way that is more similar to the electric guitar. An electric mandolin consists of a specially designed pickup that converts the vibrations of the strings into electrical audio signals. Electric mandolins are played by plucking or strumming the strings with fingers. These instruments are most commonly heard in western swing, jazz, blues, and country music.

There are many different types of electric mandolins. These instruments are offered in four-string, five-string, and eight-string versions. The most popular type of electric mandolin is probably the eight-string version. Solid body electric mandolins are also common, as are semi-acoustic and acoustic mandolins.

An electric mandolin uses a pickup to amplify string vibrations.
An electric mandolin uses a pickup to amplify string vibrations.

American companies that produced musical instruments began offering electric mandolins to the general public in the earlier years of the twentieth century. In one of the more successful early advertisement campaigns, the Electro String Instrument Corporation, now called Rickenbacker Guitars, offered an electric mandolin in their 1931 catalog. ViViTone also produced a number of electric mandolins in 1933. The National Reso-Phonic company had a prototype of an electric mandolin back in 1934, but didn’t actually start producing the instrument until 1939. In 1936, both the Vega and the Gibson companies offered consumers their choice of electric mandolins, with the latter company’s offering being far more successful.

An electric mandolin is designed to be played through an amplifier.
An electric mandolin is designed to be played through an amplifier.

The first documented solid body electric mandolin was invented in 1942 by Osmar Macedo, a musician who lived in Brazil. Macedo’s pau electrico was inspired by the cavaquinho, a musical instrument that is similar to both the ukulele and the mandolin. The pau eletrico had four single courses and were typically used in the popular Brazilian music frevo.

Back in America, the first known solid body electric mandolin was the five-string mandolin created Paul Bigsby in 1952 for Tiny Moore, a popular western swing musician. His electric mandolin had five single courses instead of the more popular four double courses.

During the 1950s, the Rickenbacker and the Gibson companies both introduced solid body eight-string mandolins. The Fender company chose to follow the single-course trend with its four-string version.

Fender’s popular four-string Fender Electric Mandolin was produced from 1956 to 1976. They currently offer an eight-string semi-acoustic electric mandolin with a body similar to the original instrument. The Gibson company produced the popular solidbody EM-200 from 1954 to 1971. They now offer a solid body mandolin called Mandobird, which is based on a smaller version of their early Firebird. The Mandobird is available in both four- and eight-string versions.

Electric mandolins can be made with a variety of materials. Two of the most popular materials are mahogany, which has a warm sound, and maple, which has a bright sound.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an electric mandolin and how does it differ from a traditional mandolin?

An electric mandolin is a stringed musical instrument that is similar in shape and design to a traditional mandolin but is equipped with electronic components such as pickups, allowing it to be amplified. Unlike acoustic mandolins, which rely on a hollow body to produce sound, electric mandolins can be solid-bodied and produce sound through an amplifier. This makes them suitable for louder and more diverse musical settings where an acoustic mandolin might be drowned out.

Can you play the same music on an electric mandolin as on an acoustic mandolin?

Yes, you can play the same music on an electric mandolin as on an acoustic mandolin. The tuning and string layout are typically the same, allowing musicians to transfer their skills between the two instruments seamlessly. However, the electric mandolin can offer a wider range of sounds and effects, which can inspire different styles of playing or new musical arrangements.

What genres of music are electric mandolins commonly used in?

Electric mandolins are versatile and can be found in a variety of music genres. They are commonly used in bluegrass, country, rock, jazz, and even classical music. Their ability to be amplified makes them particularly popular in rock and experimental music, where they can be used to create unique sounds and effects that complement other electric instruments.

How do you amplify an electric mandolin?

An electric mandolin is amplified by connecting it to an amplifier through a standard 1/4-inch instrument cable, similar to an electric guitar. The mandolin's pickups convert the string vibrations into an electrical signal, which is then sent to the amplifier. Players can also use effects pedals to modify the sound before it reaches the amp, allowing for a wide range of tonal possibilities.

What should I look for when choosing an electric mandolin?

When choosing an electric mandolin, consider the type of music you want to play, as this will influence the style and features you need. Look for a comfortable neck and easy playability, quality pickups for good sound amplification, and solid construction. Additionally, decide if you want a solid-body for more sustain and less feedback or a semi-hollow body for a more acoustic tone. Trying out different models to find the one that feels and sounds right to you is essential.

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    • An electric mandolin uses a pickup to amplify string vibrations.
      By: schankz
      An electric mandolin uses a pickup to amplify string vibrations.
    • An electric mandolin is designed to be played through an amplifier.
      By: matt&stustock
      An electric mandolin is designed to be played through an amplifier.