If you’re curious about standard and alternate mando-guitar tunings, this post is for you!
I’ve discussed what a mando-guitar is in some of my other articles.
But as a refresher:
This enables a guitar player to play in the same tonal range as the mandolin without having to learn to play the mandolin.
So a guitar player can simply transfer the licks and chords (s)he knows right onto this hybrid instrument.
Guitar vs Mando-Guitar Standard Tuning
Although the guitar and mando-guitar share many similarities, they have some distinct differences.
One of these difference is that the guitar (and mando-guitar) use single strings instead of pairs.
A mandolin’s eight strings tuned in pairs contribute to its iconic sound.
Standard mandolin tuning is actually the same as a violin’s standard tuning, GDAE, except in the pairs: GGDDAAEE.
The guitar, on the other hand, does not pair its strings.
Likewise, the mando-guitar doesn’t have paired strings either.
Why Should I Buy a Mando-Guitar in the First Place?
Like I mentioned above, the mando-guitar allows someone who is proficient on the guitar to get a mandolin sound from this instrument without having to learn the mandolin.
A guitarist might want this sound because this tonal range has a rich high end without sounding too bright.
The instrument really shines through a mix and is perfect for folk or country music.
I owned a mandolin for about a decade and struggled to set aside time to learn this instrument.
Even though I love my mando-guitar, and it has its benefits, the mando-guitar has its downsides too.
For instance, due to its small size and narrow frets, it is difficult to capo.
Because it has the same standard tuning as the guitar, you can use all of the alternate tunings from the guitar as alternate mando-guitar tunings as well!
Like I mentioned, the instrument has a very rich high end to it; exploring higher tunings rather than lower tunings would probably be the best option.
Guitar tunings like open tunings, or even bringing the instrument a whole step up rather than down might make the most sense.
That said, a player could totally bring the instrument down if that is the sort of sound they’re looking for!
Traditional Tuning: EADGBe
This is the standard guitar tuning which you can also find as standard alternate tunings on the banjitar, guitalele, and mando-guitar.
With fluency on the traditional guitar, this traditional tuning over to the mando-guitar would be the most transferrable.
Like I said: all of the scales, notes, and chords would be in the exact same spots as you know them when playing with this tuning on the mando guitar.
So this is a great tuning to use since it lets you explore the guitar voicing but in the tone and range of a mandolin since you are one octave higher than standard guitar tuning!
Open G: DGDGBd
Open tunings, as I’ve mentioned, are when a whole instrument is tuned to a chord.
These tunings can make a great sound on the mand-guitar.
Open G in particular is one of those mando-guitar tunings sometimes used in country and bluegrass music.
Folk music as well uses a lot of the mandolin and open tunings.
So equipping this tuning to your mando-guitar gives the perfect folksy-country sound!
As I mentioned in other posts, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones is famous for using open tunings.
In fact, a lot of their country-sounding stuff uses open tunings.
Keith often combines the sound of the open chords into a central riff of the song.
This is how he got his iconic nickname, Keith Riffards, thanks to his brilliance in writing guitar riffs!
The more you play open tunings, the more you’ll see how inspiring they sound.
So why not use it on your mando-guitar?
Another great band who made frequent use of the mandolin is The Band.
Back in the 60s, they were the rock-blues-folk-country band; one of the first!
Check out their concert movie called The Last Waltz to hear some iconic songs in rock history.
The movie also features a ton of guest players including Neil Young and Eric Clapton!
Their music features a lot of mandolin; give their stuff a listen for some mando-guitar inspiration!
Check out their version of the folk song Evangeline from the movie featuring both a mandolin and the beautiful Emmylou Harris!
D Standard: DGCFAd
Seeing as the mando-guitar uses the same tuning as the guitar traditionally but with a higher range, you can use lower tunings.
The higher range of the strings lets even lower tunings sound nice and high thanks to the strings themselves.
So even tuning the strings lower lets you still use the higher range of the instrument just because of how the instrument is made.
Like I mentioned in other articles, D Standard is simply tuning every string is one whole step down.
For example, strumming a C Major in this tuning would be a B Major thanks to the tuning system.
With this, you can explore different ranges of chords (and voicings) while still getting that rich upper register of the instrument.
The trouble of this tuning is keeping in mind the way each note and chord transfers.
It adds up to a lot when you constantly have to think about what chord shape becomes what new chord due to the tuning.
That said, you can adjust into this tuning if you play a song with a key that demands it.
Since plaing on a capoed mando-guitar can be challenging, it might be easier to strum to a song in B this way rather than using a barre chord.
Though you can certainly use a barre chord, tuning the instrument this way lets you use open strings in your chords.
By using the open strings you can get nice voicings you might not be able to get with the barre chords.
For example, Eric Clapton frequently writes in the keys of G and D.
When he arrives at a D Major chord, he often likes to strum a Dsus2 in its place.
You play this chord like a D Major with your middle finger lifted so the high E string rings out on top of it.
This is a beautiful voicing using an open string.
Try it out in D Standard but note that this chord shape in D standard would correspond to a C Major/Csus2 instead!
Open A: EAEAC#e
I’ve mentioned in other articles that the mando-guitar and mandolin has a beautiful upper register.
So exploring higher tunings is a great idea since you can explore those higher tones.
However, you need to be careful with any of the mando-guitar tunings that tune strings up.
When you tune a string higher than it is intended to go, there is a risk that it can break.
By stretching a string to get a higher note it can stretch past its limit especially given the tension and pressure throughout the instrument.
So it is easy to tune a string too high and break it.
Provided you don’t break a string, tunings like this really can help bring out the higher end of the instrument.
Like I mentioned, a traditional mandolin really shines through a mix and fills out chords and sounds.
The paired strings help with that; just like the way a twelve string guitar works.
So by exploring higher tunings and sounds you can bring a mando-guitar close to its mandolin side.
That said, it is also worth repeating how inspiring open tunings can sound.
Between that and the higher end of the instrument, try and explore it and really feel the mando-guitar as its mandolin intention!
Drop D: DADGAe
Though Drop D is normally a tuning used on the guitar to play heavier and darker music, it can be used on the mando-guitar.
Again thanks to the way the instrument is intended with its higher register, lower tunings would still work.
It might sound funny: Drop D is used for darker metal and hard rock chords.
On the guitar, when you play in Drop D you often barre the low D string with the low A string to play chords.
This is essentially the same thing as playing a power chord in traditional tuning on the guitar.
The difference being that you can reach that open D power chord by just playing the two strings open.
On the mando-guitar, this voicing might sound funny but it is worth exploring.
Thanks to the strings and the sound of the instrument, it will not sound muddy.
Though the tuning was meant for heavier guitar music, perhaps it is worth exploring on different instruments.
Who knows: maybe you will discover something new and incorporate the mandolin sound into a whole new realm of music!
One of My Favorite Mando-Guitar Tunings: DADGAd
Like I mentioned when discussing the banjitar as well as the slide guitar, DADGAd is one of my favorite alternate tunings and also one of my favorite mando-guitar tunings.
Since it is a lower tuning option, it too might sound a little funny on the mando-guitar.
But keeping in mind that the instrument is made to explore higher voicing, even lower tunings can sound cool.
It is all a matter of how you approach playing these tunings.
Like I mentioned, this is a very inspiring sounding tuning.
Though I originally mentioned it for the slide guitar, perhaps importing it to the mando-guitar can open up a whole new avenue.
Just because a specific instrument or tuning was intended for a specific use doesn’t mean it can’t be explored in other ways.
That said, taking any different tuning intended for any different genre and applying it in new ways could lead to a potential goldmine.
Even though DADGAd has different intentions, maybe a fresh mando-guitar player can apply it in a new way more suited to the instrument.
With all of that said, try and explore different tunings and possibilities to find something new!
Conclusion: the Mando-Guitar and its inspiration
Even though I only listed a few tunings in this work, it is in no way conclusive.
My intention was to show how different tunings can be applied in different ways.
As always, music is subjective: taking a metal tuning on a new instrument could birth a whole new sound.
It completely depends on how inspirational a player finds it.
Though it could be a weird tuning for an instrument, if it works well with the player, it gives endless possibilities.
It’s all about being inspired in the right way.
Taking an instrument and genre you like to play, and applying that to different instruments and tunings.
The more you do that, and the more you play, the more experience you accumulate.
The more experience you accumulate, the more you will know what you like and dislike — as always.
In knowing that, you know what inspires you and what doesn’t.
By taking what inspires you, you can explore as much as you can and figure out your own voice in this whole collection of stuff we call music.
Try and figure out what best suits your playing and what sorts of sounds you like to explore!
What are some tunings you like to use in your playing?
Let me know in the comments!
While I understand some of this because I currently play a tenor ukulele somewhat, I really like the sound of mandolin but at 63 my hands won’t really get that tight on the neck. When I first saw the 6th string and then 12 string gold tone Mando guitar, I thought this is perfect especially with that wide neck. But what I can’t find is how to play this within context of cords. I can’t find any books manuals charts on chords to play on this instrument and have no clue as to how to start. So my question is is taking up this instrument doable in your opinion or should I just skip it all together. Any advice or thoughts on playing this would be most helpful.
Because the mando-guitar has the same number of strings and tuning as a guitar, I really consider it more of a guitar than a mandolin. This means that the chords and scales on a mando-guitar are the exact same as they are on a guitar. The mando-guitar is just one octave higher. In light of this, you could use any guitar learning source to learn the mando-guitar. And thankfully, there is an abundance of guitar-learning materials! If you need a specific recommendation, this book might be a good resource for you! Let me know if you need further help!