Tag Archives: mandolin

Mandolin Care & Maintenance – A guide to looking after your instrument

We are often asked how do I look after my mandolin?  and how do I clean it?
Here Eagle Music answers in simple terms the important do’s and don’ts regarding general care of your mandolin, storing, cleaning and transporting your mandolin safely.

Eagle Music Shop has a fully equipped on-site workshop facility and offers a full set-up and repair service for stringed instruments.


In general musical instruments like the same environment as their player, conditions where it is not too hot or hot and certainly not wet or damp! Keep your mandolin clean and free from dust,dirt and moisture. In your home, its OK to leave your instrument on a stand between playing sessions, in fact we encourage this as it makes you pick up the instrument more frequently to play and practise. Buy a decent quality stand to keep your instrument out of the way in a corner of the room. Never leave it near a radiator or in a window where direct sunlight can fall upon the instrument and bake it! Also, never leave your instrument stored in a cold or damp place eg. cellar, loft or out in the garage. If you have no choice but to store your instrument in conditions susceptible to damp we highly recommend purchasing a dehumidifer.


Each time you have played your mandolin give it a wipe over with a lint free cloth to remove finger marks. the strings can be cleaned with Fast Fret, martin or Dr Kyser string cleaning lubricant, all these products can be bought off-the-shelf from Eagle Music. From time to time you may want to polish your instrument, always check that this is suitable for the finish on your instrument eg. On a modern gloss finish, always choose a non-smear wax free polish. Always remove finger and body marks from Nickel plated or gold plated hardware and use the special impregnated cleaning cloths that are available for this purpose. Never use abrasive cleaners as this can remove the plating! Chrome hardware is much easier to keep clean and is much harder wearing.


Care of your mandolin during transportation really depends on where it is being transported to, and how it is being transported. Hard-shell cases and Gig bags have their pros and cons. It can be said that a padded gig bag is sufficient to take your instrument out to the pub or a jam session. But please note, when using a gig bag, you must always remember that your instrument can still be damaged if you don’t take extreme care of how you handle it, how you put it down and where you leave it, other persons can sit on your gig bag! Also, If you are a gigging musician, It wouldn’t be a good idea to put your gig bag/instrument in the back of a van or in the boot of a car with PA gear and other hard objects! We recommend a hard-shell case always for gigging musicians. If you’re travelling by by airplane we recommend a hard-shell or even better a flight case. Also, for added protection  ‘bubble wrap’ your hard-shell case before letting it go in the hold of an airplane, the handling of baggage at airports can be very rough as we all know too well! Our Hiscox range of lite-flight cases is excellent or you could have a more expensive flight case made by Keith Calton.

Check out our Black-Ice and Extreme Protection range of well thought out quality gig bags. For hard-shell cases check out our Leader, Hiscox, Deering, Kinsman etc. range of top quality brands.

Mandolin family buyers guide – choosing an instrument from the different mandolin types

We are often asked what’s a mandolin, tenor mandolin, mandola, octave mandola, tenor mandola, bouzouki, short scale bouzouki, long scale bouzouki, cittern, or mando-cello? Eagle Music demystify and explain all the different mandolin types.

The text below provides simple explanations of all the popular mandolin types. In many cases you get the sound that you want with the strings that you fit, and how you tune them, relative to the scale length. We have many books, cds and dvds to take you from beginner to advanced player.

There are three critical but simple decisions that you our valued customer should make when buying a Mandolin:-

Buy from a Specialist Company… that will set up the instrument correctly
Eagle Music is one of Europes leading mandolin specialist shops

Buy the Best Quality instrument… that is within your budget
Eagle Music carry a large selection of world class mandolin brands

Choose the Correct mandolin… for the kind of music that you want to play
Eagle Music’s specialist musician sales team  will ensure this for you

The notes below will help you choose the instrument from the mandolin family that is the right model for you.


Types of mandolin and the kind of Music that is Played on them


THE MANDOLIN… You may fancy playing mandolin but think “oh no, eight strings!” But It’s easier than that. The strings are tuned in unison pairs as follows: ‘G’ 4th pair, ‘D’ 3rd pair, ‘A’ 2nd pair, and ‘E’ 1st pair. Exactly the same tuning and fingering as the violin. When fiddle players choose to play a mandolin they just have to master the use of a plectrum. You can start by learning half a dozen simple chords (these can be played using two fingers) and progress from there with simple scales and polka type tunes. If you have already played guitar or any other stringed instrument, it’s even easier.
The mandolin is mainly chosen for playing tunes, and is picked with a plectrum. The most popular types are the ‘flat-back’ models to which the Gibson ‘A’ style is the most popular. The Gibson ‘F’ style is the one with ‘scroll’ type shoulders: you see many bluegrass mandolin players using this style. The round back ‘Neapolitan’ mandolins, however nice sounding, are more difficult to hold (They slide away from your body). They are less popular today.

Octave Mandola – Octave Mandolin

THE OCTAVE MANDOLA… This instrument is a larger version of the standard mandolin. The most popular way to tune it is in unison pairs. ‘G’ 4th pair, ‘D’ 3rd pair, ‘A’ 2nd pair, and ‘E’ 1st pair (This is the same tuning as the mandolin above, but an octave below. We fit heavier strings to allow for the fact that it is an octave below the mandolin and has a longer scale length). The octave mandola is a good compromise between mandolin and bouzouki. The scale length is easy enough to master when playing tunes, but equally it’s a great sound for chord backing. There are many other ‘modal’ ways that you can tune a mandola. Selection of correct gauge strings is paramount for intonation and instrument stability. Some players ‘octave string’ the 4th and 3rd pairs (see bouzouki write up for explanation of ‘octave stringing’).


THE BOUZOUKI… The string length of the bouzouki is even longer than the octave mandola. It’s much harder to play tunes on this instrument so the most popular use is for chord work and accompaniment. The long string length produces a ‘zingy’ sound, and to make it even more ‘zingy’ many players ‘octave string’ these instruments as follows. 4th pair of strings tuned to high ‘G’ and low ‘G’, 3rd pair of strings tuned to high ‘D’ and low ‘D’, 2nd pair tuned in unison (two ‘A’s), 1st pair tuned in unison (two ‘E’s). Note:- A thinner plain string replaces one of the wound strings on the 4th and 3rd pairs, these thinner plain strings are tuned an octave higher. The above tuning is the normal standard tuning. Many bouzouki players tune as above but drop the first unison pair of strings down to ‘D’. Some players choose ‘modal’ tunings eg. D, A, D, A.


THE CITTERN… Has a scale similar in length to the octave mandola but usually with ten strings, not eight, and tuned modally (to a chord or drone). Strictly speaking, modern citterns are a remake of a medieval predecessor of the guitar, but musically, they really belong in this group of instruments here. It’s usually tuned to some kind of open chord either GCGCG (C chord) or GDGDG (G chord). It’s used mostly to play an accompaniment of melodic runs along with a bagpipe-type drone. Its ten strings make it very versatile for chord work or for melody playing. The strings are usually tuned in pairs, but sometimes each pair will comprise of two strings an octave apart, like the bottom four strings of a twelve-string guitar. We sell a lot of citterns to guitar players who have maybe enjoyed experimenting with open tunings

Tenor Mandolin

THE TENOR MANDOLIN… This instrument has a scale length longer than the mandolin but shorter than the octave mandola. It is normally tuned in unison pairs as follows…. ‘C’ 4th pair, ‘G 3rd pair, ‘D’ 2nd pair, and ‘A’ 1st pair.

How often should you change the strings on your banjo, guitar, mandolin etc?

We are often asked the question ‘How often should I change my Strings’?
In the following notes, Eagle Music  gives examples of how strings are affected by different players and how they react to usage. How strings ‘work’ and the frequency that you should change them.

There are many answers to this question and it all depends on the player. A professional player who works his strings hard, may change strings for every performance to insure against string breakage during a live performance. A general rule for all players, is to change your strings when they have lost their tone and tune-ability.

Strings have a different tolerance to each individual player. Some players have dry hands and can make their strings last longer, and some players have ‘rusty fingers’ that corrode strings fairly quickly. It’s all relative to how much acid and skin debris you deposit on your strings from your fingers.

The strings are a ‘disposable’ part on your banjo and relatively inexpensive. They greatly affect the tuning, tone, power and projection of your banjo. A new set of strings can transform your instrument and the enjoyment that you will get from it.

Here are some notes for your consideration:

  • New strings are brighter with better tone and volume
  • New strings tune easily
  • Some players like their strings to be ‘played in’ for a week or so, at which time the tone mellows
  • Old ‘dying’ strings are difficult to tune, have poor tone and volume
  • Low cost ‘budget’ strings wear out and die quickly
  • Nickel strings are bright and metallic
  • Phosphor bronze strings have a warmer tone
  • Nickel wound strings last longer than phosphor bronze wound and are less reactive to players who have ‘rusty fingers’

String cleaners eg. Fast-Fret and Kyser prolong string life and keep strings brighter for longer – Use before and after each playing session.

Coated strings eg. Elixir last longer but some players don’t like the ‘feel’ of the coating.

Changing the strings on your Banjo, Mandolin, Guitar, Ukulele etc – advice from Eagle Music

Eagle Music explains here all the do’s and don’ts when fitting a new set of strings to your instrument. It is important that you understand that the weight, size and tension of your strings affects the set-up and action of your instrument.

First, I offer you this simple advice, invest in a string winder. A string winder will take all the work out of string changing and as an added bonus it will speed up the process! I insist that string winders are used at all times in our workshop, this ensures that our customers get a lower priced bill when it comes to the cost of paying for workshop time!

In the following notes, I shall assume that you are a right handed person, and that you are going to change the strings and then tune your instrument to standard tuning. The string set that we are using in the example is our most popular standard Eagle-Puretone set as follows, 1st also referred to as the ‘top’ -string is the furthest away from your chin when holding your instrument in the playing position. (If your instrument is part of the mandolin family, you will have a pair of 1st strings) The ‘bottom string’ is the string that is nearest your chin.

The string numbers eg.’9’ or ‘12’ refer to the diameter of the strings and they are measured in imperial measurement, which is used by the USA manufacturers (Not Metric) a ‘9’ for example measures .009” (which is nine thousandth’s of an inch in diameter)

Also take note before changing your strings what gauge of string set is already on your instrument, if your instrument is correctly set-up, the nut will have been cut to suit the gauge of strings that are already on your instrument. Changing up to heavier strings, without having your top nut cut to suit, can cause the thicker strings to bind in the nut. Slight binding can be cured by rubbing a little graphite into the slot (an HB graphite pencil or softer is fine)

Remove your Old strings

Please Note: Your instrument is ‘SET UP’ under tension, so it is a good idea when string changing, not to take all your strings off at the same time. Change one at a time. Slacken off your 1st string and unwind it from the capstan/pillar on your tuning peg, then remove the string from the tailpiece or bridge saddle.

Attach the new string to the tailpiece or bridge saddle, note from the remaining old strings that are still on your instrument, how the strings fit to your tailpiece or bridge. For example: Tailpieces on banjos come in many designs and on some tailpieces the string lays across the top/front of the tailpiece.

Hold some tension on the string to keep it attached to the tailpiece/bridge, as you lay it along your fingerboard and feed it through the hole in the pillar on your tuning peg, pull the string through the pillar with your left hand until there is no ‘slack’ on the string. Keep tension on the string with your left hand. Some of this excess that is now pulled through your pillar will be ‘cut off’ when you have tuned the string to its correct pitch.

At this stage you need to give yourself some ‘slack’ on the string, this ‘slack’ will allow you to put at last three turns around the pillar/capstan on your tuning peg. To do this, keep hold of the string with your left hand pull tension on the string. Then place your right hand index, middle and ring fingers behind the string near the pillar with the back of your fingers touching the instrument and ‘clamp’ the string against your fingers with your right hand thumb. Still holding tension on the string with your left hand, transfer your grip to hold the tension of the string now with your right hand.

Turn your right hand approximately ninety degrees with your index finger remaining in contact with your instrument, this action will pull some ‘slack’ back through the pillar. At this point ‘kink’ the string to ‘dog-leg’ the string as it enters and leaves the hole in the pillar, now in the same motion wind the string around the pillar to take up some of the ‘slack’ that you are holding in your right hand. Note the direction that the string winds around the pillar. It will be wound in the same direction as the old SECOND string that is still attached to your instrument. (Anti clockwise, assuming that the old string was fitted correctly!)

Tuning the 1st String

Carrying on from iii. above and still holding tension on the string with your right hand to keep it attached to the tailpiece, move you left hand to the tuning peg button and start to wind tension onto the string. At this point note that the string is located in its groove in the nut of your instrument, also that you are turning the tuning peg in the correct direction …you can see the pillar rotating as you wind the tuner peg. Carry on turning the tuner button until you take up all the ‘slack’ from your right hand. Then continue to ‘tune’ the 1st string to pitch. A clip-on electronic tuner is very useful for this operation, also to speed up the operation, use of a ‘string winder’ which is very helpful. At this stage you can ‘cut off’ the excess from the string …always tune your string BEFORE cutting off the excess. A small pair of wire cutters is a handy tool to have in your instrument bag, or you may want to invest in a state-of-the-art ‘string speed winder’ that has a pair of clippers on the end of the winder. For neatness, clip the string close to the pillar leaving approximately 6mm (¼”) Angle the remaining part of the string towards the neck face to avoid spiking yourself, but ensure that it does not touch the face of the neck which can scratch the finish when it is being wound.

Fitting and Tuning the 2nd, 3rd 4th etc. Strings

Fit the 2nd string using the same method as the first string and tune it to pitch. Fit the 3rd string in a similar way and tune it to pitch. Note that it winds around the pillar in the correct direction. Then fit the wound 4th string and tune it to pitch. Note also that the fourth string winds around the pillar in the correct direction. Carry on with the remainder of your strings with the same method. NOTE: NEVER cut the excess off a wound string before it is tuned to pitch, doing so can cause the string to unwind and loosen it’s winding along the length of the string.

5-string Banjos Only:-

Fitting and tuning the 5th or Octave String

The fifth or ‘octave’ string is attached to the tailpiece in the same manner as your other four strings, but it will have a guide on the neck of your banjo, it may also have a plastic ‘sleeve’ that fits onto the string to protect the side of your banjo neck. Take note of such things when you remove your old 5th string. Again ensure that you give it enough ‘slack’ when fitting to allow at least three turns around the pillar of the tuner button. The fifth string is tuned to high ‘G’ which is an octave above your 3rd ‘G’ string.

I have written these notes as simply as I could to help the beginner. I have tried my best to write down and explain the way that I change my own instrument strings! String changing is very much a ‘knack’ and I am certain that you will develop your own ‘knack’ of changing your strings based on the above notes.

Steve Kaufmans Soaring Strings Workshop here at Eagle Music

Please Click on this Link to Buy Steve Kaufman Tickets

A brilliant chance to meet and learn from the USAs #1 Flatpicking Guitarist and ace Mandolin Picker in an afternoon of workshops. We are delighted to announce that the 2011 event will take place here at Eagle Music, on Sunday September 25th 2011 commencing at 11.30am.

Steve Kaufman is the worlds only Three Times Winner of the Winfield USA National Flatpicking  Championships!!! Since 1990 Steve has gained the reputation of being the ‘Worlds Guitar Instructor’ Also an awesome mandolin picker, Steve has written numerous instruction books, recorded many DVDs and CDs as well as owning and operating The Palace Theatre in downtown Maryville, USA, The area’s premier acoustic venue.

Steve Kaufman Guitar

Steve Kaufman Mandolin

Limited places …Please telephone 01484 661460 to purchase tickets for the workshop or
click on this link  to buy tickets online

Please click on this link to visit the Steve Kaufman website

Steve Kaufman biography…

Steve Kaufman was born into a musical family in 1957. His father was a jazz piano player and his mother was a classically trained pianist. Music was always around. At four Steve started plinking at the piano and did so for several years. He then moved on to the electric guitar at 10 for a few years and put it away.

Next came the cello in 5th grade for a few years. After this Steve picked up the acoustic guitar again and blazed right through a “Folk Guitar” method book. When finished he thought if this is as hard as it gets it’s not for him. Then his younger brother, Will, started playing the banjo and his instructor told him he needed a rhythm guitar player to help with his timing. So Steve then picked up his guitar again and got into the bluegrass rhythm. One day Will brought home a Flatt and Scruggs LP, which featured Doc Watson on guitar, and Steve was hooked on flatpicking.

Steve practiced hard with his newfound love of music, sometimes up to 8 hours a day. At age 18 he entered the National Flatpicking Championships in Winfield, KS and made the top 10. The following year was a wash. In 1977, Steve took 2nd place to Mark O’Connor and in 1978, at 21 years old, he returned to win the championship. Then after being barred for 5 years he returned on the 6th year to win the 1984 championships again. Winfield bars the winner for 5 years and they can come back on the 6th year but in 1986 they decided to open up the contest to everyone and not bar the past years champs. Steve returned to win his goal. He became the winner and the first and, at this writing, the only Three Time Winner of the National Flatpicking Championships. He is also noted to have 3 consecutive wins in the Nationals because he was barred all the years he did not enter.

Steve continues to work hard in the world of music. He began producing books and videos in 1989 after teaching private lessons for close to 20 years. His catalog of instructional materials is close to 82 items. His listening CDs and Videos number over 18. Steve began touring the world conducting seminars, workshops, clinics and concerts in 1990 and after 5 years he and his wife, Donna, began “Steve Kaufman’s Flatpicking Camp.” Every other year they have added more camps into their agenda and now under the title “Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamps” they host a two Flatpicking Kamps, Fingerpicking Kamp, Old Time Banjo, Bluegrass Banjo, Old Time Fiddle, Bluegrass Fiddle, two Bass Kamps,  Songwriting Kamp, Vocals Kamp, Mountain Dulcimer Kamp, Celtic Harp, Resophinic Guitar and Mandolin Kamp as well.

They have grown into the largest Kamps of their kind in the world with students traveling from around the world to Maryville, Tennessee. Steve and Donna have received the Gold Award from a reader’s poll in Acoustic Guitar Magazine for running the “Best Workshops, Seminars and Camps” every year since 2002.

Since 1990 Steve has developed the reputation of being the “World’s Guitar Instructor.”

Steve stays busy being a husband and father, running his Kamps, tour schedule, writing books and recording videos and CDs as well as owning and operating The Palace Theater in downtown Maryville – the area’s premier acoustic venue as well as an espresso bar.