Mandolins are becoming a common sight in guitar shops, but not many people understand how to use them or what they’re meant for. It’s an ancient instrument with origins that go way back to the lute of medieval times. It’s also unique since it has four sets of double strings.
There are many styles of mandolins, but there are 3 common ones that include the round-backed mandolin or Neapolitan, archtop mandolin, and flat-backed mandolin. So, which is a good mandolin for Celtic music? The flat-backed mandolin is mostly used in Brazilian, British, and Irish folk music. It produces a warm, mellow tone that is great for folk music and small audiences. In addition, its sound doesn’t punch through other instruments sounds like the carved top ones.
Different families of mandolins
This is the most common and modern mandolin, and because of its use in a wide range of music genres, you can either use the A-style or F-style. The A model has a teardrop shape, while the F model has a curved top and back with an oval soundhole to produce a very distinct sound, making it a popular mandolin with bluegrass musicians. This mandolin has a longer scale length with more frets to the body. Its structure allows it to produce a punchier sound and more up-the-neck playability, which doesn’t go well with Celtic music that is more balanced.
Classical or bowl-back mandolin
Most people usually call it the watermelon. This mandolin has a round back and is the oldest type, origins from Italy and traditional lutes. It has been used for centuries to play folk songs and classical music, but not Celtic music. It has a big-sized bowl back that produces a deeper and rounder tone than the modern mandolins. The round bowl makes it easy to handle, and despite being a traditional mandolin, it’s quite expensive.
Flat-backed or Celtic mandolin
This is an A-style mandolin that is usually has pear-shaped and oval-bodied. Most have a carved top and back, with the back being arched in some cases like a violin. It also has holes that are similar to the ones in a violin on both sides. It has more of a guitar profile and doesn’t have scrolls, making it easier to build, so it’s less expensive. It’s very common in classical, folk, Irish and Celtic music. This mandolin has a bigger and broader body type and a round soundhole with cedar and spruce for the top while rosewood, mahogany, and walnut for the sides. The top and back are mostly flat, and its simple design makes it cheaper.
This mandolin has a round or oval sound hole and produces a very similar sound to the acoustic guitar. Celtic and old-time musicians prefer the A-style mandolin with oval soundholes, perfect for Celtic music since it doesn’t require strong rhythmic support.
Other mandolin styles
|Octave mandolin||Large mandolin with 4 sets of courses.
Sizes vary widely.
Available in A-style and F-style.
Longer fret scale.
|Mandola||Similar to the regular mandolin and octave mandolin.
The scale length of around 42cm, and 4 sets of courses tuned C-C-G-G-D-D-A-A.
Uses different cord shapes than the mandolin.
|Bouzouki||Similar to an octave mandolin but is over 23 inches.
The bottom 2 strings are tuned an octave apart like in a 12-string guitar. Tuned G-D-A-E.
The finger pattern is more like a guitar.
|Mandocello||Tuned one whole octave below the mandola.
4 sets of courses tuned to C-G-D-A.
Roughly around 25 inches.
|Electric mandolin||It can either be acoustic or semi-hollow electric.
Acoustic has a bridge-mounted piezo-electric pickup that converts string vibration to electric impulses.
Semi-hollow has features like the guitar with a wooden block at the center that runs through the body interior that reduces feedback.
What is Celtic music?
Celtic music is mostly defined as music that originated from Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The people who live in these countries are called Celts, so their music is called Celtic music. It’s a type of folk music that has distinctive lyrics and is played in different styles. For example, while a traditional Irish dance will leave you feeling happy, a Scottish folk song will leave you feeling sad. The bagpipe is a common instrument that produces a distinctive sound associated with Celtic music.
The flat-backed mandolin is the best mandolin for playing Celtic music, and it doesn’t need a punchy sound. It also has a simple design which makes it perfect for a beginner.
What instruments does Celtic music use?
Apart from the mandolin, other instruments commonly used include the bagpipes, fiddle, banjo, accordion, and whistle.
What type of music is the mandolin used for?
The Neapolitan mandolin is used in classical and traditional music, flat-backed in Irish, Brazilian, and British folk music, and archtop mandolins in bluegrass and American folk music.