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Cittern, Bouzouki and Mandolin

So how did I get into playing strange things?

Having had formal violin lessons as a sprog, fourths seemed alien when I wanted a melodic instrument for powered music, so the natural progression seemed to be mandolin, having a similar scale and same tuning as a fiddle, so I picked up a cheap semi acoustic plywood 'instrument' when I was at college and used dried mung beans for ballast! Honestly, it made a better bean jar than musical instrument, but it got me used to frets and plectrum.
As I used to spend summers hiking through Greece, I went to the first music shop I came across in a non-tourist town and bought a tetrachordo Greek bouzouki, which, naturally I retuned in fifths - this made it almost unplayable until I got back to the UK and adjusted string gauges, but it was a lot of fun to play, especially at sunset atop a ruin in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately this instrument fell victim to a bathroom flood - using Jello may be good for tone and maintenance, but by the same token, water soon reduces an instrument to kit form.

My current instruments

After horrifying Greek luthiers by asking about an all electric instrument (this was 1984ish) I found a luthier, John Hullah, near Preston who made mostly acoustic guitars, mandolins, mandola and bouzouki, but had made a couple of electrics before, and commissioned a bouzouki and mandolin, both solid mahogany with hand wound (very hot) twin bladed humbuckers. The bouzouki is tuned in fifths (GDAE) and uses octave tuning on the lower two courses, giving great presence for lead work and filthy diads.
Since then, I have added a GDArmstrong maple solid bodied 10-string cittern (stratocaster styling and pickup arrangement) which I have tuned CGDAE in unison - this has a superb low action and wonderful honeyed tone.
For some time, I've been looking for an acoustic instrument (well, OK, it still has to have a pickup.) Fortunately (for my bank balance) I'm one of the few who don't like the Sobell sound - too muddy - I mean 'warm' - I prefer a crisper, better defined bass. So I have asked David Freshwater (Inverness) to build a 10-string full scale bouzouki/cittern for me. This will also be tuned CGDAE in unison, though David does provide a second nut and bridge piece should I wish to experiment with octave tuning on the lower 3 courses.

Learning materials

I first learnt using my violin studies, which provides a vast wealth of material suited to the mandolin family's range. The down-side with this approach is that the way I hold a plectrum is a little quirky, and having gone from bow to overdriven amplifier I never had any trouble with sustain - so my tremolo has always just been an ornament, rather than a necessity. It also teaches nothing about the blues scale or chorded accompaniment.
Having returned to music after a rather lengthy sabbatical, I have found a number of other resources helpful in developing acoustic technique and rediscovering blues and rock vocabulary:
The Ultimate Collection Of Violin Methods And Studies The Ultimate Collection Of Violin Methods And Studies
CD with 2000 pages of sheet music, printable and viewable for PC and Macintosh. An excellent resource when paired with a mandolin tutor for the plucked string specific techniques.
See more info...
Silvio Ranieri: The Art of the Mandolin
An excellent two volume method for classical mandolin - trying to find an online source for this at the moment. A number of 'professional' bluegrass and celtic 'musicians' would benefit from paying closer attention to this material!
The Mandolin and Bouzouki of Tim O'Brien - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.comThe Mandolin and Bouzouki of Tim O'Brien
Playing Celtic, Bluegrass and Contemporary Songs. Homespun Tapes DVD with notation and tablature. Some good pointers in here from a musician, rather than just a bluegrasser or celtophile
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David Grisman Teaches Mandolin - sheet music at David Grisman Teaches Mandolin
Homespun Tapes Book and CDs covering Dawg music, a fusion of jazz, bluegrass latin and gypsy styles.
See more info...
Learn to Play Blues Mandolin - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.comLearn to Play Blues Mandolin
Performed by Steve James. Homespun Tapes DVD
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Jazz Mandolin - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.comJazz Mandolin
Performed by Andy Statman. Homespun Tapes book & CDs with notation and tablature.
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A Guide to Octave Mandolin & Bouzouki By John McGann. Book/CD Set. Another musician - explores a range of styles from Celtic to blues.
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John McGann's Developing Melodic Variations on Fiddle Tunes
Mandolin improvisational technique and theory. Book/CD Set
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Look inside this title
Greater Guitar White Pages - sheet music at
Greater Guitar White Pages
With guitar tablature, standard notation, vocal melody, lyrics, chord names and guitar chord diagrams this is a great source for an essential pop and rock repertoire.
See more info...
Chords For Mandolin, Irish Banjo, Bazouki, Tenor Mandola, Mandocello - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.comChords For Mandolin, Irish Banjo, Bazouki, Tenor Mandola, Mandocello
By John Loesberg. Published by Ossian - Irish Music Publications. (OS10427)
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Copyright SDHamlin 2005