of the most important things to look for is a straight fingerboard. A
curved or bowed fingerboard will set you up for all kinds of trouble
when you play higher notes up the neck. Place a ruler or some other straight edge on the fingetboard and check
to see that it is straight. It may not be perfect, but you'll be able
to tell if the fingerboard is concave or convex. If you detect a small
curve or bowing, the "buzz" test, next, will determine whether you will
still be able to play it OK. Check the "action" of the strings, or in other words, the distance
between the strings and the fingerboard. You want that distance to be
as small as possible without any buzzing or string rattling. This is
especially important for beginning mandolinists because the higher the
action is, the more force it is going to take to press on the strings.
Sometimes it is necessary the adjust the nut, which is the small piece
that separates the strings from the peghead. Press each string from
the bottom to the top of the fingerboard and make sure each note is
clean without any buzzing.
The bridge needs to be in its proper place. Check that the harmonics at the 12th fret are exactly the same as the fretted note at the 12th fret. Otherwise, the mandolin will not be playing in tune when fretted in the upper reaches of the neck. When you first buy your mandolin, you should change the strings. Those strings have probably been on there for a long time and often strings that are supplied by the factory are of less quality than strings you would buy at the music store. I would recommend you start out with light strings, as it will make it easier on your fingers. Next, buy an electronic tuner. There are plenty of good ones on the market. I like the ones that you can clip on the peghead, and you can just leave it on the peghead while you play (turn it off, of course, while you are picking!)
You might want to pick up some instrument polish and a cloth to keep it clean. The finishes on less expensive mandos are very thin, so rub lightly. Keep your mando away from substances that will harm it, such as household cleaners and mosquito repellent. Finally, buy a strap. The strap will give the mando extra support when you play sitting down, and of course you'll need it whenever you play standing it. Choose a pick that is at least 1 mm in thickness. One of the big mistakes beginners make is buying a pick that is too thin. If your pick is too thin, you will lose volume and it will be more difficult to tremelo and play at speed. I prefer picks that have a pointed corner, but many players prefer picks that are more rounded. Try each and see what you are comfortable with, but be sure he mandolin is at least 1 mm thick.
Bernhart says when playing a brand new mandolin:
Your ability (or inability) to tune can be impacted by other problems will ultimately have a negative impact on your music. Any of the following can and should be taken care of. These include:
If your bridge is only slightly in front of or in back of its proper placement or tilted in any direction, you're going to have intonation and tuning problems. To test your bridge placement, first tune each open string with a tuner. Then, fret the 12th fret (or preferably, play the 12th fret harmonic) and re-check with an electronic tuner. The result? If the 12th fret is sharp your bridge is closer to the fretboard than it should be. If the 12th fret is flat your bridge is further away from the fretboard than it should be.
Take a good look at your frets. Those deep grooves (if you have them) can create serious intonation problems for an instrument that otherwise might be in perfect tune. Think of having an occasional fret re-dressing as an oil change for your car. You really need one from time to time. You may go a long time without one but your instrument will probably be screaming for help if you do. And, good frets are easier to play and easier on your hands. Tuning is just one benefit.
Most musicians will agree that old strings are difficult to keep in tune and harder on your fingers. It doesn't make sense to buy a nice instrument and then change your strings once every three years. That's like buying a nice car and then driving around on bald tires.
You'll probably be able to visually see this. If you have an adjustable truss rod this can probably be easily fixed but I'd recommend letting a professional do the work.
A mandolin is simply a tool built out of wood and metal. Heat, humidity, cold and general wear and tear will eventually have a negative impact on the structural health of your instrument. Instrument neglect needn't be a burden to tuning or other aspects of your music. Take your instrument to a qualified professional once a year for a check-up. It's well worth the time and effort.
A note about Key Signatures:
Key Signatures tell us what notes are sharp or flat in a scale. When we say we are in the Key of F Major we are saying that we are using the notes of the F Major scale. The Key Signature for the Key of F Major would be one flat, because there is one flat in the F Major scale.
Bruce Bernhart on mandolin family history
Bruce Bernhart on string and saddle adjustment
Bruce Bernhart beginning mandolin lessons one and two
Bruce Bernhart on more chord triads, blues patterns, and self-tuning
Bruce Bernhart on the mandolin family tree
Bruce Bernhart mandolin chord diagrams
Bruce Bernhart on temperature considerations
Bruce Bernhart lessson on mandolin flats and sharps
Bruce Bernhart lesson on chromatic scales, circle of 5ths and meter
Bruce Bernhart on mandolin chord theory
Bruce Bernhart mandolin C and G major chord diagrams
Bruce Bernhart on emergence of the modern mandolin
Bruce Bernhart on two finger mandolin chords
Bruce Bernhart on whole and half steps on the mandolin
Bruce Bernhart perpetual motion practice excercises
Bruce Bernhart on playing waltzes on the mandolin
Bruce Bernhart on majors, minors and sevenths
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