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Octave mandolin

String instrument

Related instruments
  • Family

The octave mandolin or octave mandola is an instrument which in construction is almost identical to a mandola but is slightly longer in scale (20"-23") and is tuned an octave below the mandolin (GDAE). It is an instrument of 4 double courses, each tuned a 5th apart. Usually the courses are all unison pairs but the lower two may sometimes be strung as octave pairs with the higher pitched octave string on top so that it is hit before the thicker lower pitched string.



The names of the mandolin family instruments vary between Europe and the United States. The instruments that are known in the USA as the mandola and the octave mandolin tend to be known in Europe as the tenor mandola and the octave mandola.

This geographic distinction is not crisp, and there are cases of each term being used in each country. Jimmy Moon, a Scottish luthier calls his version of the instrument by both names and Paul Shippey, an English luthier uses the term octave mandolin.

The confusion will continue to reign for some time to come as the terms continue to be used interchangeably.


The Octave Mandolin has a vast history and was influential in the development of the mandolin itself.

Almost certainly this is a modern invention like the Irish bouzouki. It is based on earlier instruments but is not easily placed in the instrument family as this configuration (length and tuning) did not previously exist. The founding instrument is the mandora or mandola which was itself a small lute with an almond shape. From this an even smaller soprano version developed - the mandolino or little mandola. In this sense, an octave mandolin is a misnomer because it contradicts the sense of the mandolin being smaller but the octave being bigger. Nevertheless, many luthiers and retailers use the term as exactly equivalent to the octave mandola. Strictly speaking, the mandola is an alto instrument, and the slightly larger octave mandolin is a tenor mandola, though, as noted above, the smaller mandola is sometimes called a "tenor mandola".

The scale length of the true mandolin is around 350mm to 370mm and the octave mandolin has a scale length typically of 530mm to 580mm. The mandola, which is the original instrument in this family has a scale length of 430mm to 480mm and is tuned CGDA.


The octave mandolin is similar to the Irish bouzouki but the bouzouki usually has a 25" scale compared to the octave mandolin, which can be as much as 5" shorter. Also, few players use the bouzouki scale length in standard GDAE tuning without a capo.

See also

External links

  • Octave mandolin at Banjolin gives an explanation of why Europeans use the term Octave Mandola.
  • John McGann on Octave Mandolin John McGann, author of "Guide to Octave Mandolin and Bouzouki" proposes standardized terminology and discusses a variety of issues on playing the octave mandolin.

Further reading

  • Richards, Tobe A. (2006). The Octave Mandolin Chord Bible: GDAE Standard Tuning 2,160 Chords. United Kingdom: Cabot Books. ISBN 0-9553944-5-7 ISBN 978-0-9553944-5-4.  
  • McGann, John (2004). A Guide to Octave Mandolin and Bouzouki. USA/Worldwide: Mel Bay Publications.  


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