The Mandolin – A History

The Mandolin - a historyGraham McDonald, Australian builder of fine mandolins, mandocellos, and bouzoukis, is doing a valiant service for the 8 string community with his upcoming book, The Mandolin – a history.

Using a focus on individual builders as a theme, McDonald’s book follows the development of the instrument on two tracks. Both the European-style, or bowl-back mandolin, and the American-style carved-top-and-back variants are covered in detail. He has assembled a wealth of photographs of the many luthiers he profiles, along with examples of their handiwork.

The development of the Gibson mandolin, including the Lloyd Loar era of the 1920, has been well documented in the existing literature, but not many players of modern instruments know much about the European ancestors that inspired them. That history alone will be sufficient inducement for a great many mando-enthiusiasts, but there is a full chapter on the F-styles as well, including a recap of the periods of revival at Gibson under Roger Siminoff and Charlie Derrington. Other A and F-style builders profited include Bruce Weber, Lynn Dudenbostel, and Steve Gilchrist.

Graham says that he also dedicates space to the builders in the US whose work predates Loar.

Graham McDonald“American mandolins are covered quite comprehensively. There are chapters on early Gibsons, mandolins from Chicago, New York, Boston and other places, as well as a later chapter on the modern revival of the F-5 and one on the more adventurous modern builders.

It is more or less chronological, though there are really two parallel stories over the last century or so with American and European instruments which I find fascinating.”

He is using Kickstarter to pre-sell the final book, which is expected to be delivered in November 2016. Both hard and soft cover editions can be purchased with differing pledge amounts, including Kindle and iBook versions for as little as $15 (AUD), roughly $11 US.

This will be McDonald’s third book on double strung instruments, with previous works on building Irish bouzoukis and citterns (The Bouzouki Book), and one on the basics of building four different types of mandolins (The Mandolin Project). Print and electronic book format orders can be processed from his web site.

There you can also see examples of his high quality, hand made instruments.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.