The mandocello (Italian: mandoloncello, Liuto cantabile, liuto moderno) is a plucked string instrument of the mandolin family. It has eight strings in four paired courses, tuned in fifths like a mandolin, but is larger, and tuned CC-GG-dd-aa (low to high in pitch). It can be described as being to the mandolin what the cello is to the violin.
Mandocello construction is similar to 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 (arched) 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. Gibson examples have a scale length of 24.75" (62.87 cm) but flat-back designs have appeared with both significantly shorter and longer scale lengths (27"/68.58 cm on some Vega mandocellos). 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.
As is typical of the mandolin family, mandocellos can be found with either a single oval soundhole or a pair of "F" soundholes.
The internal bracing also bears some similarity to the mandolin. Gibson's mandocellos were typically constructed with a single transverse brace on the top just below the oval soundhole. Modern builders also use X-bracing.
Layout of strings
The mandocello generally has four courses of two strings each, tuned C2-G2-D3-A3. 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 rare 10-string mandocello, containing an additional course of E strings (C2-G2-D3-A3-E4), may be termed a liuto cantabile or liuto moderno, although these instruments remain technically mandocellos.
Like most other instruments in the mandolin family the mandocello originated in Europe. Later, around the turn of the 20th century, Gibson began building mandocellos in the style of their mandolins with arched tops and backs. Gibson is known to have produced at least four models of mandocello between 1905 and the 1920s: the K-1, K-2, K-4, and K-5. Other American instrument companies also produced mandocellos.
Usually, courses of 2 adjacent strings are doubled (tuned to the same pitch). The standard mandocello tuning of CGDA is the same as the violoncello:
- fourth (lowest tone) course: C2 (65.4064 Hz)
- third course: G2 (97.9989 Hz)
- second course: D3 (146.832 Hz)
- first (highest tone) course: A3 (220.000 Hz)
The bowl-back mandocello is chiefly used in mandolin orchestras and mandolin quartets, where it provides a melodic and bass role similar to the cello in a 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.
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 is also well known for performances of American, Italian, and other European folk music on the mandocello. One recent recording with mandolin virtuosos Carlo Aonzo and David Grisman has featured Zenkl's mandocello on the album of Italian folk music "Traversata" published by Acoustic Disc. Steve Knightley of the English folk-rock band Show of Hands plays the cello-mandolin, however his instrument is tuned GDAD, similar to an octave mandolin. Mike Marshall, best known for his collaborations with David Grisman, Darol Anger and Chris Thile has performed and recorded frequently with the mandocello.
Rick Nielsen of the band Cheap Trick has a stringed instrument 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.
Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood has been known to play a mandocello made by Scott Baxendale of Baxendale Guitars in Athens Georgia. Baxendale starts with a vintage Harmony guitar and converts it from six string standard tuning to the mandocello.
- Richards, Tobe A. (2006). The Mandocello Chord Bible: CGDA Standard Tuning 1,728 Chords. United Kingdom: Cabot Books. ISBN 0-9553944-3-0. A comprehensive instructional guide.
- Loesberg, John (1998). Chords for Mandolin, Irish Banjo, Bouzouki, Tenor Mandola, Mandocello. Cork, Ireland: Random House. ISBN 0-946005-47-8. OCLC 42276844. A chord book featuring 20 pages of popular chords.
- Gabriele Pandini Workshop, Ferrara, Italy
- Carlo Mazzaccara Workshop, Naples, Italy
- Pictures of a mandocello