Mandolins range from ones with different numbers of strings to hybrid instruments such as the mandola and mandocello. There are generally four types of mandolins to discuss.
The mandolin can be traced to ancient Arabian civilizations. A hybrid lute instrument resembling the mandolin was seen in Europe during the 9th century. Originally, the mandolin was an orchestral instrument closely related to the violin. The mandolin is tuned in the same way as the violin, and later versions of the mandolin included hybrid instruments crossed with the cello and the viola.
This type of mandolin is also known as the “Neapolitan” or “Taterbug.” The Bowl-Back is regarded as the stereotypical version of the mandolin seen in movies and television shows. The bowl-back is a centuries-old design crossing the lute and the violin to create the mandolin. Bowl-Backs are no longer used by serious mandolin players.
A simple description of the A-Style mandolin is a teardrop-shaped instrument with either f-holes or oval shaped sound holes. A-Style has become a description for mandolins that are not in the bowl-back or F-Style categories. The A-Style usually has a carved top and back in the style of a violin and is often called a flat-back to set it apart from the Bowl-Back category. The term A-Style came into use in the 1900s with the introduction of the Gibson A-model.
The F-Style mandolin is usually more intricately decorated than the A-Style with intricate scrolls around the neck of the instrument. The F-Style can have either f-hole or oval sound holes and is favored by bluegrass musicians.
The Round-Back is popular among classical musicians working in orchestras. The Round-Back has a poor reputation for quality of workmanship, but the difference between the well-built expensive instruments and the cheaper versions of the Round-Back are considerable.
F-Hole or Oval Sound Holes
Generally, the f-hole construction of a mandolin offers a louder instrument than oval sound holes. F-holes are favored by musicians playing as part of a group. The oval sound hole offers more sustain and a better sound that can be lost in a large group.
The mandolin is used in many styles of music, including occasional uses in rock music. Musicians playing with orchestras often use either F or A-Style instruments, bluegrass players often favor the F-Style mandolin. The A-Style is often found in Irish and old-time bands.