Type: Chordophones > Lute.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.6 [Neapolitan].
321.322.6 [flat backed].
Historical Era: 1700s
Country: Italy, Many.
Region: Continental Europe, Many.
Description: The mandolin [in Fr: Mandoline, in Ger: Mandoline, in It: Mandolino, in Port [Pr & Br] Bandolim, Sp. Bandolin, Banjolin, Mandolina]. It is a member of the lute family having a short neck with four courses or eight “doubled” strings and a round body. Six course and 12-stringed mandolins also exist.
Etymology: The name mandolin has its origins in the word mandolino, a word diminutive of mandola. It is found in sources that date back to the 17th century. The name mandore and mandola appear in earlier sources. Only after 1750 as pointed out by Karl Geiringer in 1924 ignored until recently, an instrument called the luthie intended for Germany and Italy.
The courses of the strings are typically tuned in a succession of perfect fifths. With the same tuning as a violin. It is the soprano member of a family that includes soprano mandolin to mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello and mandobass.
Numerous different styles of mandolins exist. The original variety were vaulted backed or round body lutes as seen with the Neapolitan design. Other mandolin varieties differ primarily in the number of strings and include four-string models [tuned in fifths] such as the Brescian and Cremonese, six-string types [tuned in fourths] such as the Milanese, Lombard and the Sicilian and 6 course instruments of 12 strings [two strings per course] such as the Genoese. There has also been a twelve-string [three strings per course] type and an instrument with sixteen-strings [four strings per course].
Archtop Mandolins: At the very end of the 19th century, a new style emerged, with a carved top and back construction inspired by violin family instruments began to supplant the European-style bowl-back instruments in the United States. This new style is credited to mandolins designed and built by Orville Gibson, a Kalamazoo, Michigan luthier who founded the “Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co., Limited” in 1902.
Gibson mandolins evolved into two basic styles: the Florentine or F-style, which has a decorative scroll near the neck, two points on the lower body and usually a scroll carved into the headstock; and the A-style, which is pear shaped, has no points and usually has a simpler headstock.
These styles generally have either two f-shaped sound holes like a violin [F-5 and A-5] or an oval sound hole [F-4 and A-4 and lower models]directly under the strings. Much variation exists between makers working from these archetypes, and other variants have become increasingly common. Generally, in the United States, Gibson F-hole F-5 mandolins and mandolins influenced by that design are strongly associated with bluegrass, while the A-style is associated other types of music, although it too is most often used for and associated with bluegrass. The F-5’s more complicated woodwork also translates into a more expensive instrument.