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Restring Your Mandolin
© Frank Ford, 3/16/98; Photos by FF, 3/15/98
Virtually all mandolin strings come with loops on their ends to attach to the mandolin tailpiece. Tailpieces come in a wide range of styles, but I think of them as two basic types: the ones where the strings just hook right on, and the ones where you need three hands to do the job. Stringing a mandolin is enough of a three-handed job if you ask me.
Here is the classic tailpiece designed by Gibson, which is now the most commonly seen style of tailpiece. There is a cover which slides over the top to protect you forearm, and there are twelve little hooks for the strings. Of course, you only have eight strings.
The one on the right was strung in the "correct" manner. Each unwound treble string hooks on and bends around the corner in a second hook on its way to the bridge. In the early 1900s the unwound strings had loops that were prone to slip, or came straight, with the player having to make his own loop. This tailpiece hook arrangement was a patented and cool device to eliminate the loose loop problem.
So, almost a century later, we have tight loops. Is it OK to string the Gibson style tailpiece like the one on the left. Sure, go ahead if you want to, but you'll be missing just a little of the old-time flavor.
By the way, the tailpiece has a little piece of felt jammed under the strings to keep them from rattling. This is a good idea. These tailpieces are notorious for little rattles, and for loose covers. You can bend the small flanges on the base of the tailpiece to adjust the fit of the sliding cover. Just take an adjustable wrench and "bite" the flange, then bend it just a teeny bit:
Some tailpieces, such as the one on this 100 year old Washburn "bowl back" mandolin, have cool hinged covers or other patent devices:
Some mandolins have tailpieces that are just plain difficult to string.
In fact, this one is a real nightmare unless you bend the loop to fit the tailpiece before you put it on. With a bend at the loop, stringing this tailpiece becomes the easy job it should be.
Let's talk about bending loops.
Don't be tempted to just grab the loop and bend:
If you're lucky, you'll get a loop that looks like this:
But it's weakened at the first twist, because the wire had already been bent there. You may get a big surprise when you tune up!
If you're not lucky, the loop will look like this:
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