Mandolin and Ukulele are both stringed musical instruments belonging to the lute family.
The Mandolin is either plucked, or strummed. It descends from the mandore, a soprano member of the lute family. The Ukulele is a chordophone classified as a plucked lute, and is a subset of the guitar family of instruments.
Modern mandolins originated in Naples, Italy in the 3rd quarter of the 18th century. The original instrument was the mandore, which evolved in the fourteenth century from the lute. As time passed and the instrument spread around Europe, it took on many names and various structural characteristics.
The ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian interpretation of a small guitar-like instrument brought by Portuguese immigrants. It gained great popularity elsewhere in the United States during the early 20th century, and from there spread internationally.
A mandolin’s typically hollow wooden body has a neck with a flat (or slight radius) fretted fingerboard, a nut and floating bridge, a tailpiece or pinblock at the edge of the face to which the strings are attached, and mechanical tuning machines, rather than friction pegs, to accommodate metal strings.
Ukuleles are generally made of wood, although variants have been made composed partially or entirely of plastic. Cheaper ukuleles are generally made from ply or laminate woods, in some cases with a soundboard of an inexpensive but acoustically superior wood such as spruce. Other more expensive ukuleles are made of exotic hardwoods such as mahogany. Some of the most valuable ukuleles, which may cost thousands of dollars, are made from koa (Acacia koa), a Hawaiian wood known for its fine tone and attractive color and figure.
Modern mandolins commonly have four double courses (four pairs) of metal strings, which are plucked with a plectrum. Variants include Milanese, Lombard, Brescian and other 6-course types, as well as four-string (one string per course), twelve-string (three strings per course), and sixteen-string (four strings per course).
The Ukulele generally has four nylon or gut strings or four courses of strings. Some strings may be paired in courses, giving the instrument a total of six or eight strings.
Mandolins come in several forms. The Neapolitan style, known as a round-back or bowl-back (or "tater-bug", colloquial American) has a vaulted back made of a number of strips of wood in a bowl formation, similar to a lute, and usually a canted, two-plane, uncarved top. Another form has a banjo-style body. At the end of the nineteenth century, a new style with a carved top and back construction inspired by violin family instruments began to supplant the European-style bowl-back instruments, especially in the USA. This new style is credited to mandolins designed and built by Orville Gibson, a Kalamazoo, Michigan luthier, founder of the "Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co., Ltd" in 1902. Gibson mandolins evolved into two basic styles: the Florentine or F-style, which has a decorative scroll near the neck, two points on the lower body, and usually a scroll carved into the headstock; and the A-style, which is pear shaped, has no points, and usually has a simpler headstock.
Four sizes of ukuleles are common: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. There are also less common sopranino and bass ukuleles at the extreme ends of the size spectrum. The soprano, often called "standard" in Hawaii, is the smallest, and the original size ukulele. The concert size was developed in the 1920s as an enhanced soprano, slightly larger and louder with a deeper tone. Shortly thereafter, the tenor was created, having more volume and deeper bass tone. The largest size is the baritone, created in the 1940s.
A variety of different tunings are used to tune a mandolin. Usually, courses of 2 adjacent strings are doubled (tuned to the same pitch). The most common tuning by far (GDAE), is the same as violin tuning:
- fourth (lowest tone) course: G3 (196.00 Hz)
- third course: D4 (293.66 Hz)
- second course: A4 (440.00 Hz; A above middle C)
- first (highest tone) course: E5 (659.25 Hz)
The standard tuning for soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles is C-tuning, G'C'E'A'. The g string is tuned an octave higher than might be expected. This is known as reentrant tuning. Some prefer "Low G" tuning, with the G in sequence an octave lower. The baritone is usually tuned to D G B E' (low to high).
Another common tuning for sopranos and concerts is D-tuning, A' D' F#' B', one step higher than the G'C'E'A' tuning. D tuning is said by some to bring out a sweeter tone in some ukuleles, generally smaller ones. This tuning was commonly used during the Hawaiian music boom of the early 20th century, and is often seen in sheet music from this period. D tuning with a low 4th, AD'F#'B' is sometimes called "Canadian tuning" after its use in the Canadian school system, mostly on concert or tenor ukes.