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The mandocello (Italian: mandoloncello, Liuto cantabile, liuto moderno) is a plucked string instrument of the mandolin family. It is quite similar to the lute.



Mandocello construction is similar to that of the mandolin. As with the mandolin, the mandocello body may be constructed with a bowl-shaped back according to designs of the 18th-century Vinaccia school, or with a flat back according to the designs of Gibson Guitar Corporation popularized in the United States in the early 20th Century. The scale of the mandocello is longer than that of the mandolin. Flat-back instruments may have a scale length of approximately 25 inches (65 cm) similar to that of the modern guitar. These instruments may have approximately 23 frets, giving the 4-course mandocello a range from two octaves below middle C to the F an octave above middle C. Bowl-back instruments may have a shorter scale length, on the order of 22.5 inches, and concert bowl-back instruments may have more frets permitting virtuoso passage work in the upper register.


Layout of strings

The mandocello generally has four courses of strings, tuned CC-GG-dd-aa. Because of the heavy gauge of the lowest course, some folk mandocello players remove one of the C strings to prevent rattling while playing fortissimo. The 10-string mandocello, containing an additional course of E strings (CC-GG-dd-aa-e'e'), may be termed a liuto cantabile or liuto moderno, although these instruments remain technically mandocellos.


The bowl-back mandocello is chiefly used in mandolin orchestras and mandolin quartets, where it can provide both a melodic and a bass role similar to that of the cello in the bowed string quartet. It is occasionally used as a solo instrument for the performance of classical music, such as concertos and unaccompanied repertoire originally composed for solo cello. However, some pieces specifically for liuto cantabile were composed by Raffaele Calace, who championed the instrument in the early 20th Century.

The mandocello also has a role in modern folk music, such as bluegrass or Celtic music. In this setting the flat-back mandocello is typically used. The mandocello's lower range does not produce the bright, projecting sound of the mandolin or mandola, and its use in this setting has been generally eclipsed by mandolin artists since Bill Monroe. The amplified instrument has infrequently been used in modern rock music groups. The bowl-back mandocello (mandoloncello) is traditionally used for Italian folk music.

The most historically significant mandocellist was Raffaele Calace, who wrote the first method book specifically for liuto cantabile, and is thought to have perfected the design of the instrument following its putative introduction by the Vinaccia family. Luigi Embergher also contributed significantly to advancements in the design of the instrument during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[1]

Image in contemporary music

Accomplished artists specializing in mandocello performance in 21st century America are relatively few in number, and only a modest number of contemporary recordings prominently feature the instrument. One American mandocello artist, Stanley Greenthal, is a specialist in the music of Brittany and an instructor at Zouk Fest. The mandolinist Radim Zenkl[2] is also well-known for performances of American, Italian, and other European folk music on the mandocello. One recent recording with mandolin virtuosos Carlo Aonso[3] and David Grisman has featured Zenkl's mandocello on the album of Italian folk music "Traversata" published by Acoustic Disc.[4] Steve Knightley of the English folk-rock band Show of Hands is also well-known for playing it, however his mandocellos are tuned GDAD with the top course often played open.

Famous uses

Rick Nielsen of the band Cheap Trick has a guitar collection that includes electric mandocellos custom made by Hamer Guitars. Such an instrument was used for the title track from their LP Heaven Tonight, while their song "Mandocello," released on the band's debut album, used a standard acoustic mandocello. This song was later covered by Concrete Blonde and released on their album Still in Hollywood.

Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora used a mandocello on the song "Lay Your Hands on Me" from their acoustic album This Left Feels Right.

Chord dictionaries and instructional guides

  • Richards, Tobe A. (2006). The Mandocello Chord Bible: CGDA Standard Tuning 1,728 Chords. United Kingdom: Cabot Books. ISBN 0955394430.  — A comprehensive instructional guide.
  • Loesberg, John (1989). Chords for Mandolin, Irish Banjo, Bouzouki, Tenor Mandola, Mandocello. Rep. of Ireland: Random House. ISBN 0-946005-47-8.  — A chord book featuring 20 pages of popular chords.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Radim Zenkl
  3. ^ Carlo Aonzo
  4. ^ Acoustic Disc

External photo links

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