In this article, I’ll discuss the A and F shape mando-guitar bodies and which might be best for you.
As you may have noticed in my articles about guitaleles and banjitars, there are many different size options for these instruments.
Guitars themselves also come in many different shapes and sizes, these don’t just apply to guitar hybrid instruments!
For example, Fender Telecaster guitars have a solid body — they have a shape formed with a flat piece of wood.
Telecasters also have curved sides so the player can hold it more comfortably, but the body as a whole is flat and solid.
By contrast, a Fender Stratocaster has what is called a contour body, shaping the body in a different way.
The contour body serves the purpose of making the guitar more comfortable against the players body.
If you look at a Telecaster and a Stratocaster side-by-side, you’ll immediately see the differences in body shapes!
Likewise, similar principles apply to other stringed instruments.
For instance, violins, mandolins, and banjos all have different body shapes and different strengths and weaknesses as a result of those body shapes.
By extension, these principles also apply to guitar hybrid instruments, like the mando-guitar body.
The mando-guitar combines aspects of the mandolin with aspects of the guitar.
With regards to body shape, the mando-guitar is more closely related to the mandolin than the guitar.
The mandolin can come in a selection of two body types: the F-Body and the A-Body.
These two body types carry over into the shape of the mando-guitar body.
In the sections, below I’ll explore the differences between the F-Body and the A-Body in both mandolins and mando-guitars!
The History of the Mandolin
The name mandolin comes from the Italian mandolino which means “little mandola”
The mandola is another instrument related to the mandolin but in a larger scale.
The mandola to the mandolin is identical to what the viola is to the violin.
The mandolin belongs to the lute family: it originally had a rounded back like a lute and was built using strips of wood glued together.
Traditionally, the mandolin has four doubled up strings (so eight in total) with tuning identical to a violin: GDAE.
That said, there is also a long history of mandolins with more than four strings — five (ten in total) and six (twelve in total).
Though traditionally the instrument tunes to perfect fifths, like a violin, different tuning systems also exist.
For example six (twelve) stringed mandolins tuned to fourths are identical to a guitar: the precursor of the mando-guitar.
These six stringed instruments can tune either exactly like a guitar (a mando-guitar) or in a different order.
The instrument originated in Europe, as did the lute, and had a significant influence on other stringed instruments in American musical culture.
That said, there has come to be different styles of the instruments that are available.
So what’s the story between these differences? Are different styles used for different sorts of music, like the banjitar?
Which type of mandolin or mando-guitar best suits you?
The Mandolin/Mando-Guitar Body Option 1: the F-Body
Though the mandolin has existed for thousands of years, their appearance was revolutionized in the early 1900s by Orville Gibson.
That is the Mr. Gibson, of Gibson Guitars! Mr. Gibson, a luthier, founded his company in 1902.
Four years earlier, Orville Gibson had the idea to create a new style for both mandolins and guitars modelled on the violin body.
This way, the Gibson style became curved headstocks and bodies at the bottom, just like the way a violin forms.
He also had the idea to make the instruments out of bent wood rather than pressed wood.
Mr. Gibson’s instruments were carved out of a single block of wood rather than a bunch of bent strips of wood.
As a result, the instruments were much louder than any other stringed instrument in this era.
Mr. Gibson went on to incorporate a flat back and an f-hole in his style of mandolin, both of which not previously part of a mandolin.
The result was a beautifully ornately formed instrument with a scrolled headstock, a flat back, and an f-hole.
These all contrasted the mandolins before Mr. Gibson’s time which formed more like a lute with a curved back and a round sound hole, like an acoustic guitar.
A scroll-like carving also appeared on the body of the instrument right next to the neck, and a point added to the bottom of the body.
The resulting instrument was the Gibson F-5 mandolin, which started production in 1922, and became the most iconic and imitated American mandolin.
This mandolin modelled the F-Body, which has steeped into the style of the mando-guitar body as well.
To summarize, the F-Style (which stands for Florentine style) is a more intricate instrument in the carving with a scroll headstock and body, f-holes, and a point.
The Mandolin/Mando-Guitar Body Option 2: the A-Body
The A-Body style is essentially a direct contrast to the F-Body in terms of look and style.
In essence the difference between the two styles of body are cosmetic.
There are players who argue that there is a difference in sound and tone between the two instruments, but they are so similar there is not much evidence that suggests so.
Like I always say, it truly comes down to the personal subjective tastes of the player.
The A-Style body is simply a mandolin without all of the fancy ornamentation of the F-Style body.
The scrolled headstock becomes just a regular headstock, the scrolled curve on the body is gone and the points at the bottom are gone.
The result is essentially a stripped, more pear-shaped instrument that is not as heavily decorated as the F-Style body.
To boil it down, it is like the F-Style body models on a violin while an A-Style body models on a lute.
The A-Style body becomes a more flat and basic looking mandolin (or mando-guitar) compared to the F-Style body.
That said, there are A-Style mandolins/mando-guitars that have f-holes like the F-Style mandolin, or mando-guitar body.
But there are also A-Style mandolins that have round sound holes, like an acoustic guitar.
So though the A-Style body drops the fancy looking scrolls in the form of the instrument, the f-holes appear in both styles.
What’s the real difference between the F-Style and the A-Style body?
Like I mentioned, there are players who think that there is a difference in the sound and tone between the two body styles.
Seeing as the only real difference between the two styles is cosmetic, it’s difficult to prove that the scrolled “chamber” of the body in the F-Style does anything to change the sound.
Here’s a video of someone actually disagreeing with me, reviewing the two styles side-by-side:
Immediately, you will notice the absence of the fancy scroll carving on the A-Style mandolin.
The A-Style body still is exactly identical to the F-Style body generally, just without the scroll.
It’s not likely that the scroll “chamber” on the F-Style body does much for the resonance of the sound in the instrument.
Like I said, there are traditionalist players who insist that the scroll does make a difference in sound.
In my opinion, the differences in sound and tone come from the differences in the wood used; different trees produce different woods.
Even in two instruments made from identical pieces of wood, the differences in the trees themselves produce different grains, producing different sounds.
That said, the tone of the instrument itself, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the cosmetic of the body or the scrolled portion.
The biggest difference is the price: the intricacy of the scrolls on the F-Style body are beautiful, hard to produce, and end up costing more.
That said, at the end of the day it comes down to the way you want your instrument to look and tradition.
What do you think? Though it’s a video, do you notice a sound difference between the two instruments? Let me know in the comments!
Different Types of Wood in Instruments
The biggest influence on the sound between two instruments is the type of wood the instruments are made out of.
This means that certain woods have a brighter sound and other woods have a warmer sound.
Often, the colour of the wood has a direct influence on the way it sounds.
For example, lighter coloured woods such as swamp ash will have a brighter sound, while darker woods like rosewood will have a warmer sound.
In the early days of electric guitars, Leo Fender made his Telecaster in the 1950s out of solid swamp ash with a maple neck.
These guitars are known for their bright sound, especially when it comes to their twangy, sharp sounding bridge pickup.
By the 1960s, Fender began to use rosewood necks on his guitars, which really darkened up the sound.
Just like a guitar, the wood used in mandolins or mando-guitars plays a big role in the tone of the instrument.
Again, darker woods yield darker richer sounds (often) and lighter woods the opposite.
The mandolin is a bright sounding instrument thanks to the pitch it tunes to.
That said, no player wants an instrument that is too bright or too warm.
Brightness in excess can be bothersome to the ear, while warmth in excess becomes muddy and messy sounding.
The trick to tone of instruments is balance of sound via the wood used.
Here’s a table outlining the differences in wood when used in instrument craft:
Type of Wood
A very commonly used wood; brings out the top “brighter” high end of an instrument.
Commonly used; cleans up the low end so it rings out clear, brings a richness to the high end so it is not as “bright”
Commonly used with a very balanced sound across the spectrum; less clear in the mid-range brings a slight brightness to its overall sound
Deeper rich tone in the low end due to its weight and density; very common in Gibson instruments
Said to be a very well balanced wood for tone, even across all spectrums, with a spanky “bluesy” tone; very common in Fender instruments
The tight grain tends to damped sharpened high tones, very rich low end — hence the name
Very similar to maple but with a slightly warmer edge
Differences in Playability of Mando-Guitar Bodies
Like I mentioned, the ornate decoration of the F-Style body has much more extravagant craftsmanship.
That said, they’re obviously more expensive to produce.
For example, taking a look at the GoldTone mando-guitars, the example of their A-6 Mando-Guitar has a price tag of $499.99, while the F-6 Mando-Guitar sets one back $649.99.
The two instruments are the same; both the same exact six stringed instrument with the only difference being an A body and an F body.
Obviously, the F-Style body is approximately $150 more expensive with the only real difference being the scrolled and pointed body!
This is an example of how the difference in craftsmanship can lead to dramatic price differences.
As far as playability goes, the main difference that the F-Style body makes from its style is the ability to use a strap with the instrument.
Thanks to the scrolls, its much easier to attach a strap to the instrument and play it standing up.
Also, you’ll notice on the GoldTone website that the F-Style mando-guitars have a pickup: another very minor difference between F and A style mandolins or mando-guitar bodies.
The final decision comes down to the player: is playing the instrument standing up with a strap, and plugging it into an amplifier, worth an extra $150?
Commonly, mandolins and mando-guitars are made with maple, mahogany or rosewood.
Seeing as the instrument is naturally bright due to its pitch, it would make sense for wood to be applied that darkens up the sharp high end.
That said, the wood is a direct factor that causes the tone of certain instruments to change.
Though these woods have their general properties, no instrument is made exactly identical.
This means that instruments will not always sound exactly identical or play exactly identical.
Even if the craftsmanship is identical, there will always be very minor differences.
It ends up depending on what is most comfortable for the player.
As far as the discussion of the mando-guitar body goes, like I said the difference is mainly cosmetic.
There is no denying that the F-Style body is much more elaborate and fancy looking than the A-Style body.
Depending on what look you prefer, that influences the choice you make on the body.
Traditionalists lean towards the F-Style body since it existed first.
But the real preference is completely subjective as is everything else in this vein.
Which body do you prefer? Which one looks better to you as a player? Do you care about the ornamentation of the F-Style?
Let me know in the comments!