Introducing the Roberts Minstrel Octave Mandolin!
Have you ever been sitting in a group of musicians only to find that four out of the five are guitar players? How about that time you wanted to sing some of your songs… but all you have is your mandolin, and it’s not exactly the perfect vocal support instrument…
For you who aren’t familiar, an octave mandolin is tuned exactly one octave lower than a mandolin, and has four double-courses tuned in unison to G- 4th course, D-3rd course, A-2nd course, and E-1st course. It is played just like a mandolin except because of the longer scale lengths traditionally used, it has been quite a stretch for many mandolin chords. I designed this instrument with a 12 fret neck joint in order that I could use a shorter scale and still optimize the placement of the bridge in the lower bout for the octave mandolin range. Of course you won’t find yourself playing many four-finger chords, but it is astonishingly easy to play two- and many three-finger chords because the scale is only 21 3/8”, yet it has a commanding presence and great projection with that short scale.
More and more we are seeing octave mandolins becoming a really sought-after instrument. For years you had almost no options… maybe an old small body flat top octave with a little bitty body, no where big enough to have an appropriate resonant (Helmholtz) frequency for the range of an octave mandolin. There were a few archtops available… Tim O’Brien had his Nugget but the scale was quite long at approximately 23” and it was an archtop. Not that that is a bad thing… an archtop has a nice percussive backup sound with great chop for many circumstances and if it’s voiced right, you can get some pretty fair resonance too, but what about when you are playing solo. Chopping rhythm with a mandolin is great when not playing melody in a band… but when you are singing and don’t have a band to back you up, there’s nothing like the rich, warm, resonant support of a flattop guitar or octave mandolin to support your vocals. For this kind of situation, the Roberts octave mandolin is the perfect instrument. It has warmth, power, clarity, and a rich sweet complex tone to support vocals. When you need it… you can get a pretty good rhythm chop as well but for the guitar player looking for another really hypnotic voice, or the mandolin player who needs the rich resonance of a flattop instrument to back up their vocals, there is nothing else in its league.
Suddenly you are starting to see many nice archtop octave mandolins on the market with a short enough scale to make them quite playable. Fletcher Brock makes a nice archtop, as does Clarke and a few others. Darol Anger, Ben Winship, Sarah Jarosz, Tom Murphy, Tim O’Brien and many others are using the octave as a main part of their repertoires these days but nobody is really making a flat top octave with a short enough scale to really be able to get around on it, while still driving the instrument adequately, and having a large enough resonant frequency to properly amplify the full range of the octave mandolin including the full rich bass response this instrument is capable of! Stefan Sobell in the UK is making really good octaves and citterns in the Celtic style which also represents a different use and tone. There can be plenty of overlap but I think you’ll find the the Roberts octave tonally delightful and very versatile.
Originally, I built one for a friend of mine who had been using a converted old Epiphone Olympic archtop tenor guitar as an octave. He was overwhelmingly taken with its voice, playability and overall versatility. Everywhere I have taken these instruments, mandolin players are astounded with its unique voice, incredible bass response, and above all… The playability. Check out these specs!
• 21 3/8” scale
• 4 pin dual-course pin bridge
• Ebony fretboard and bridge
• 14 1/8” wide lower bout Minstrel-style body
• 11” upper bout
• 3 ¾” depth at the tail block
• Sunburst or natural oxidized and aged finish on top.
• Natural back and sides or full sunburst as well as vintage Caramel colors for back and sides… or design your own finish with me. If you can imagine it, I can create it for you!
• Vintage restoration-style mandolin tuners standard
• Vintage Waverly satin silver plated tuners with MOP or Ebony buttons upgrade available.
If you need an octave mandolin but need it in an archtop , I built all of SCGC’s archtops for most of the time I was there and I’d be just as happy to build you an archtop octave mandolin.
Click the photos for a larger version.