In our guitar-dominated world a mandola looks like little more than an oversized mandolin with a long string scale. In the early days of Gryphon we’d often see mandolas even strung like a mandolin (which meant they were impossible to play and strings broke all the time). Today the mandola is better understood, but just barely. Those familiar with bowed instruments, however, usually guess that a mandola is the mandolin family equivalent of the viola, so it’s larger than a mandolin with a longer string scale, and is tuned a fifth lower.
The heyday of the mandola was during the age of mandolin orchestras (1890s through the 1920s), and even Gibson, America’s leading mandolin-family manufacturer, didn’t sell very many compared to mandolins. C.F. Martin, however, made only a handful of mandolas despite building a lot of mandolins in the first half of the 20th century. This is probably because most Martin mandolins were used in folk groups and string bands, where you never see a mandola. Gryphon has never offered two Brazilian rosewood Martin mandolas before, and they are distinctly different types as well. For the mandolinist, it’s a rare opportunity to play and compare these seldom-heard deeper voices.
Because of the longer string scale most mandolin players find playing fiddle tunes or bluegrassy breaks harder on a mandola, but for a vocalist, or someone backing a vocalist, the mandola offers a distinct advantage. The lower pitch of a mandola is a better match to the human voice, and a pleasing back-up of chords and simple fills can be crafted even without the benefit of a guitar in the mix. These Martin mandolas also offer the rich rosewood timbre missing from a typical mandolin and deliver a rich, throaty tone.