The thing with mandolin parts is although mandolins come in many shapes and even sizes, most of them share many anatomical similarities and therefore their parts have common names.
Naming the mandolin parts is an issue that always gave me trouble. Sounds silly, but as a kid I kept naming the bridge as nut and vice versa and I really could never remember the name of the truss rod.
This naming issue re-surfaced again lately when I was trying to explain to my son who is 9 years old, why I like that much my 37-year old bowl-back mandolin and why it looks so different from modern F-type mandolins popular in the USA today.
So, I decided to solve this problem in the same way that I solved the issue I had with naming different instruments in the mandolin family.
I realized the instruments naming issue when my brother told me that he decided to purchase a mandriola, and I didn’t even know what a mandriola was! (note the mandriola is a 12-string mandolin).
The solution then was to research and record the results in the “How well do you know the Mandolin History” article that presents almost all mandolin types with photos and short descriptions. I am very proud of this article, really. I keep going back to it to see all those pictures and repeat these names!
So, back to the mandolin parts issue, I did my homework again and the results are presented in the article you are reading now that focuses on the F-style mandolin parts as it’s the most popular mandolin around today especially in the USA where most of my readers come from.
The Main Mandolin Parts
The main mandolin parts are simple enough for anybody to remember. We have three main mandolin parts:
– The mandolin body.
– The mandolin neck.
– The mandolin head.
– and of course the mandolin strings.
Keep reading to learn more about each part.
The mandolin body is where the mandolin sound is produced. As such, it plays the biggest role in the quality of sound produced in it’s hollow wooden chamber. The type of wood used is important and it defines also the price of the instrument.
The top of the body is called the soundboard and is usually made of spruce.
The back and the sides of the body are made of maple, birch, mahogany or rosewood. All these types of wood are harder than spruce used in the top of the body. The most frequent wood used is maple.
The mandolin body consists of the following mandolin parts:
- The Sound Holes.
- The Scroll.
- The Points.
- The Pick Guard.
- The Bridge.
- The Tail Guard.
The sound holes are used to let the sound come out of the body via air movement. We have two types of sound holes, the round hole, more frequently used in bowl-back and A-type mandolins, and the F-shaped holes that are very similar to the violin sound holes.
The scroll is a very distinctive mandolin part, that gives the F-type mandolins their name, i.e. only mandolins with a scroll are named as F-type.
As the scroll is a body part, it may affect the sound, but certainly the scroll has an even more important function : decoration.
You will find Europeans preferring mandolins without a scroll, i.e. A-type or bowlback mandolins, while Americans will select F-type mandolins. As for most things in life, feel free to select the one you like best.
Points are another distinctive part of F-type mandolins. Although you may think that they serve only as cosmetic, I believe that they have a function also to improve the holding position of the mandolin.
Mandolins with points are easier to hold, as the bottom point will rest on your thigh, elevating the mandolin to a more comfortable position. If you want to read more on how to hold a mandolin in another post, Playing mandolin without back pain.
The pick guard is an optional accessory that is typically used to protect the mandolin from getting scratched from the pick when playing chords, but is used also as a place to rest the third and fourth fingers.
Pick guards are not recommended, unless they are provided by the mandolin manufacturer, as they can restrict the volume of sound. This is because they are attached on the soundboard, which is the main part responsible for the mandolin sound.
The bridge is an important wooden piece that has two functions. It is a guide to line up the strings, but more importantly it transfers the string vibrations from the strings to the soundboard (top part of the body).
The bridge, is held in place only by the strings pressure, so when you replace your strings it can fall of in case you remove all strings at the same time. So, you either replace one string at a time, or you need to learn how to place the bridge at the right spot.
The tailpiece is both a decorative and a functional mandolin part. We attach the strings on the tailpiece and this is why the tailpiece is attached on the mandolin body and will not fell when strings are removed.
The tailpiece comes as a stamped or cast piece of metal.
The neck is a long part that is attached to the mandolin body and allows the strings to run at the length required to produce the mandolin beautiful sound. The neck consists of the following mandolin parts, described in more detail in the paragraphs below:
- Fret markers
The fretboard is a thin piece of hard wood with very precise channels that are used to host the frets.The frets are usually pressed or hammered to the fretboard, while the fretboard is glued to the neck.
Frets are metal strips attached on the fingerboard vertically. As you place your finger between two frets and press the string to the fretboard, you are actually shortening the length of the string. The sound pitch that a string produces depends on the length of the string (as well as how tight or loose the string is), so by using the frets one can produce different notes and sounds.
The fret markers are small pearl dots placed in the fingerboard at specific positions. These markers help the mandolin player to easily put her fingers on the correct fret, and this is why you may find them as well on the side of the neck (facing up). Fret markers are positioned at frets 5, 7, 10 and 12.
The Florida, is named after the state of Florida, because of the resemblance in shape. The Florida is actually an extension of the fingerboard, allowing the mandolin to reach very high pitches. You can try to play them, but you will find it difficult to find music that makes se of them anyway!
The headstock is a wooden piece at the end of the neck, that supplies a place to fasten the tuners. You will usually find the mandolin brand name at this place, but it is also a good spot to put a little sticker with your name as well(on the back)!
The nut is located at the end of the fingerboard and its function is to guide the strings towards the tuners. The nut is a slotted piece of plastic.
The tuners are used to tune your mandolin, so read this carefully. The tuners are gear-driven pegs to which we attach the strings. To change the pitch of an open un-fretted string, i.e. to tune a mandolin, you must turn the knob on the end of each tuner.
The truss-rod cover is a plate on the headstock that hides an optional but important mandolin part, the truss-rod. The truss-rod is a steel rod that runs the length of the mandolin’s neck that can be used to straighten a bowed neck. This part may save you visits to the luthier, so if you have it, good for you! Note that to adjust the truss-rod, you need to remove the truss-rod plate.