Mandolin Strings are very important, as they have a big effect on your mandolin sound. The selection of mandolin strings is based on the following main criteria:
- Strings Gauge (light, medium, heavy)
- Strings Materials (Bronze, Phosphor Bronze, Copper etc.)
- Strings Construction (round wound, flat top, silk & steel etc.)
A frequent question that I hear is “…which strings are right/best for my instrument?”. Although there’s no single answer to this question, the good thing is that a set of mandolin strings is rather inexpensive, costing from 5 dollars to 50, tops. Compare that with the cost of a set of cello strings, and you quickly understand that the mandolin allows you to experiment with different types and manufacturers of strings!
Which strings are more popular?
Before clicking on the below resources, an important disclosure.
With so many mandolin strings types and so many manufacturers, there are plenty that are good. Having said that, here are some popular choices:
Popular among classical mandolinists
D’addario is perhaps the most popular choice in general
Strings employing new technologies
I strongly recommend to try more manufacturers, and you can see a bigger list at the end of this article.
Why Aren’t All Mandolin Strings the Same?
The mandolin uses eight strings paired in four unison sets and tuned GDAE (*). That is the common part of (almost) all mandolins strings, but there are differences.
The most notable differences are:
- the thickness of strings, (gauge)
- the material the strings are made of,
- the construction of the string.
(*) You may find also some alternative tunings and setup for mandolins. For example the Bandolim,i.e. the Brazilian Mandolin is a 10-string instrument. It has an additional unison pair of strings tuned C, below the bass G.
Are Heavy Mandolin Strings Better?
The mandolin strings gauge, described usually with the terms light/medium/heavy is directly related with the tension strings place on the instrument. Heavy strings place more tension than light strings and therefore produce a more powerful sound.
Also, heavy strings are harder to play; you need to apply more force on a fret in order to play the note. This makes playing fast more difficult and as you understand you must find a balance between speed and sound power.
Finally some mandolin types may be damaged with heavy strings, as for example old bowlback mandolins. Newer mandolins like the carved ones used in the United States are made stronger, and therefore typically use heavy strings.
So the conclusion is:
“…use heavy strings for more powerful sound but only if you are sure it will not damage your instrument!”
Do Phosphor Bronze Strings Sound Better Than Nickel Strings?
The type of alloy used as the strings wrap wire determines the tonal quality of the strings. It affects tone as well as projection.
The mandolin strings materials can have a dramatic impact on tone, from mellow to warm to bright. This difference is very important, as it has different effect on different mandolins. What does this mean?
Some mandolins are made very bright, so you may consider using strings producing a warm tone in order to have the result you like, or vice versa.
Also some types of music are better performed with a particular sound. Take jazz for example, and think the sound you expect to hear from an instrument. Is it mellow or bright? If it is mellow, then yes, Phosphor Bronze may be better for playing jazz with a mandolin.
So my advise is:
“…experiment with different types of strings, till you decide the type of strings that produce the best sound with your mandolin for the particular type of music you are playing.”
Are Flat Tops Strings Better For Fast Mandolin Playing?
The mandolin strings construction can have a dramatic impact on feel and playability. For example I prefer flat top strings, as fingers just slide up and down the fretboard with ease. In my case this is not only related with speed but also with sound. Sliding notes on flat top strings produce a very impressive sound! On the other hand, flat tops sound tends to be “darker” than other types, so…
“…It is advised to experiment with different types of strings, till you decide the type of strings that suits you best.”
How Often Do I Need to Change Strings?
Replacing old mandolin strings with a new set will in general improve the sound and playability of your instrument. A rule of thumb is to change strings every 1-3 months, but that depends on playing frequency. There are performers that prefer to install a new set of strings in each performance, but most players change strings when they notice some issue. So my advise is…
“…replace your mandolin strings when you notice tuning problems or less bright sound; in any case try to change strings every 3 months”