The Mandola somehow predates the mandolin. Mandora was a renaissance lute with similarities to the mandola. What we know as the mandolin evolved from the mandora during the baroque period. Mandolin means ‘little mandola’.
The Mandola, as it is known in the US and Canada is known as the tenor mandola in Ireland and the UK.
During the 19th century the mandola became an orchesta instrument as we know it today. Mandolas have four pairs of strings. Each pair is unison. Typical tuning of the mandola is in fifths (e1-a-d-G), one octave below the mandolin.
Measured from bridge to nut (scale/mensur), the length is often between 420 and 470 mm. Short instruments often tend to have poor sustain.
There is a big confusion regarding the mandola. Modern American alto mandolins or mandola contralto (tuned a-d-G-C and scale/mensur between 395 and 420 mm), are also marketed as mandolas.
European strings labeled mandola fits the mandola. American strings labeled the same don’t fit. They fit the alto mandolin.
Due to this confusion the original mandola sometimes is reffered to as octave mandolin or octave mandola, and the alto mandolin reffered to as tenor mandola.
Alternate tuning are sometimes used today. Pairs can be octaves instead of unison for the 2-3 lowest strings or all. Examples of tuning are e1-a-e-A, d1-a-d-G and d1-a-d-A for easy playing of chords.
Notable Mandola Players
Punk poet and frontman of Barnstormer, Attila the Stockbroker, uses an electric mandola as his primary instrument.
Alex Lifeson, the guitarist of legendary Canadian rock band Rush, has featured the mandola in several songs.
Check out our extensive resource of Free Mandolin Tabs