Why Do Mandolins Have Double Strings?

Mandolins are made with double strings so that they can produce tones with a fuller sound and so that they can sustain a more extended resonance of higher strength.

Mandolins are primarily used in the production of minstrels, folk, or renaissance music and can very well play both rhythm and melody. If you look at the anatomy of a mandolin, you will realize that it has been constructed with four courses of doubled metal strings. And which gives you a total of eight strings tuned in unison. The primary idea behind equipping the mandolins with double strings is so that they can offer stronger vibrational energy. 

Sound Production Mechanism in a Mandolin

Remember, for the stringed instruments, the mandolin is included to produce sound and make notes. They must be plucked. The vibrations produced by the strings on the mandolins are then transmitted to the instrument’s body, which is characteristic hollow or enclosed. 

The body of the mandolin will then vibrate with the air in it. So, as we try to understand further why mandolins have double strings, we have to rule out that the reason why mandolins have double strings is to produce louder sounders. The above is impractical because without the vibration of the body of the mandolin and the enclosed chamber, then the pulse of the string would not be audible for both the performer and the audience. 

You must have noticed that most of the stringed instruments have some sort of body or enclosed chamber, and while this is true, not all stringed instruments rely on the hollow chamber to produce sounds. Other stringed instruments are dependent on electrical amplification to produce sounds. 

Understanding the purpose of the mandolins double strings

A fun fact before we proceed, they say that the double strings in a mandolin do not enhance the sound produced, but if you want to make your mandolin quieter, you must find a way to silence the string. And one of the most common methods used to silence the mandolin is putting foam under the strings and close to the bridge. Because if you try to cover the holes, you won’t be able to mute your mandolin fully. 

Now you understand the purpose of the double strings in your mandolin and the importance of the hollow chamber in sound production. But that’s not all because when playing the mandolin, different tunes are produced, and that is what we will explore next. 

Changing the pitch of the double stringed mandolin  

The vibrating strings of your mandolin can be tweaked in three different ways by either adjusting its tension, length, or linear density. 

The structure of the mandolin has incorporated tuners which you can use to tighten or loosen the strings, longer strings usually offer a lower pitch while the shorter strings are known to produce a higher pitch. Meaning that if you make the strings of your mandolin tighter then the pitch will go up but if you loosen them then the pitch will go down. 

The pitch of your mandolin can also be adjusted by simply varying the tension of the string. So if you want to get a higher pitch from your mandolin then you will have to adjust your strings to have higher tension. And if you want to achieve a lower pitch then you will have to reduce the tension of the string.  

Linear density is all about the weight of the strings, you find that in bass piano strings, extra weight is usually added on the strings by winding them down with metal. The different densities on strings enable the various stringed instruments to produce either a high or lower tone thus end up with the right sounds. When it comes to the mandolin, you have the option of either choosing light, medium, or heavy strings, the density of the strings is normally measured in gauges.

Mandolin strings retail in sets that designate their gauge, the paired courses of the mandolin strings usually have the same gauge because they are normally tuned to the same note and played together. So, as you go out to purchase the strings for your mandolin you will find that some strings have their gauges specified in the packaging and will list the gauge of the four courses or for all eight strings.  

Still, on understanding the function of the double strings in your mandolin, you must note that the length of the string from the nut to the bridge will very well determine the distance between different notes on the instrument. Also, more strings enable the production of different notes, if you look at the mandolin, for example, it has up to four different pairs of strings that conveniently cover the relevant range of notes. 

Mandolin String Construction and Sound Characteristics 

The strings used in the construction of a mandolin also contribute to the sounds produced that is in addition to the density, length, and tension of the strings. Some mandolin strings are made from nickel-plated steel, this offer brighter tones and are mostly equipped in electric mandolins. 

Phosphor bronze strings on your mandolin will offer a perfect balance between tonal richness and brilliance. While the stainless steel strings are popular because of their oxidation resistance, and offer a bright timbre. Chrome steel strings are known to offer clarity and obliterate the metallic twang. 

Final thoughts 

There is never a right or wrong string when it comes to the purchase of a mandolin because the same set of strings can sound differently on two different mandolins. 

Conclusion 

The sounds produced by a mandolin are dependent on the material used in the construction of the chamber and the type of strings used. The incorporation of the four-course strings in the mandolin is so that the mandolin can achieve varied tones. 

FAQ’s

How do I know if my mandolin needs a string change? 

If you find it hard to get and stay in tune, if the produced tones sound flat and if the strings have rust or are discolored. 

Are flat wound strings good for a mandolin? 

Yes, flat wound strings are good because they eliminate finger squeaks and enable smoother fretting.

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