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What is a Mandolin Instrument?
A mandolin is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is generally plucked with a plectrum. It most commonly has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in unison, thus giving a total of 8 strings, although five and six-course versions also exist.
There are many styles of mandolin instruments, but the three most prevalent types are the Neapolitan or round-backed mandolin, the archtop mandolin and the flat-backed mandolin.
The round-backed version has a deep bottom, constructed of strips of wood, glued together into a bowl. The archtop, also known as the carved-top mandolin has an arched top and a shallower, arched back both carved out of wood.
The flat-backed mandolin uses thin sheets of wood for the body, braced on the inside for strength in a similar manner to a guitar.
Each style of instrument has its own sound quality and is associated with particular forms of music. Neapolitan mandolins feature prominently in European classical music and traditional music.
Archtop instruments are common in American folk music and bluegrass music. Flat-backed instruments are commonly used in Irish, British, and Brazilian folk music.
Other mandolin varieties differ primarily in the number of strings and include four-string models (tuned in fifths) such as the Brescian and Cremonese, six-string types (tuned in fourths) such as the Milanese, Lombard and the Sicilian and 6-course instruments of 12 strings (two strings per course) such as the Genoese. There has also been a twelve-string (three strings per course) type and an instrument with sixteen strings (four strings per course).
There are usually one or more sound holes in the soundboard, either round, oval, or shaped like a calligraphic f (f-hole). A round or oval sound hole may be covered or bordered with decorative rosettes or purfling.
Much of mandolin development revolved around the soundboard (the top). Early instruments were quiet, strung with gut strings, and plucked with the fingers or with a quill. However, modern instruments are louder, using metal strings, which exert more pressure than the gut strings.
The current soundboard is produced to withstand the force of metal strings that would break earlier instruments.
The soundboard comes in many shapes—but generally round or teardrop-shaped, sometimes with scrolls or other projections.