Fix my mandolin?

December 10, 2012 5:00 PM

How do you get a mandolin's lower strings to sound less buzzy?

I've had the mandolin for a little while, and the buzziness makes it almost unplayable.

I tried bringing it to Sandy's Music in Cambridge, MA, but they broke the metal bit that goes over the strings. I'd rather not let them touch anything I own ever again, but I can't find any resources online on how to fix this.

Any ideas?

posted by topoisomerase (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Find a better luthier.
posted by unSane at 8:11 PM on December 10, 2012

Well, buzziness can come from a lot of things. We might not be able to help much, but pictures would be a start – I'm not sure. I play mandolin a little, but I don't really know what "the metal bit that goes over the strings" is.
posted by koeselitz at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2012

It sounds like you need to adjust the string "action". That's the space between the strings and frets. You may be able to do this yourself. (That's a link to my google search. DIY tutorials might work for you.)

Check the links, depending on the instrument, you may be able to raise the bridge a bit to increase the action...move the strings a bit higher away from the frets and eliminate the buzzing.

What is your make and model?
posted by snsranch at 6:32 PM on December 11, 2012

I Googled it, and apparently the metal thing is called a tailpiece.

It's a Rogue RM-100A A-Style mandolin. It's basically the opposite of a fancy mandolin.
posted by topoisomerase at 9:43 PM on December 11, 2012

From Googling, it looks like your model has an adjustable bridge. As snsranch said, try raising it in small increments to adjust the action and seen if it affects the buzzing. This will affect your intonation though.
You might want to see if there's any curve in the neck, also. Lie it down on a table and get your eye level with the strings and you'll be able to see where the strings are buzzing and if there's a curve.
posted by chococat at 8:02 AM on December 12, 2012

Okay, my snark about the luthier aside, getting rid of buzzing can be very difficult while retaining the instrument's playability. The general sequence of events is (and if you do it in any other order than this you can end up never getting it right):

1. Make sure the neck is straight or has VERY VERY slight relief (ie a concave bend). You can check this by laying a straight edge from the first fret to the last. At most there should be a treble string's thickness between the ruler and the middle fret. Any more than that and it's off to the luthier you go, although I have no idea what they would do.

2. Now you capo the instrument at the first fret. Try raising the bridge slightly as Choco suggests until the buzzing stops. You don't have to raise both sides equally.

3. Now take off the capo. If you get buzzing now when you didn't at step 2, your nut is screwed up and the notches are too deep, and off to the luthier you go. This is a fairly simple fix.

4. You may have screwed up your intonation doing this. You can check by playing a note and then playing the harmonic on the same string at the 12th fret. If the harmonic is the same as the note (use a good tuner) you're good. If the harmonic is higher, then you need to move the bridge back a tiny bit. If the harmonic is lower, you need to move it forward (assuming it moves at all, of course). You have to fiddle with the angle of the bridge to try and get the best compromise for the intonation of all the strings.

Also -- I assume this isn't the case, but anyway, check that you have it tuned the way it's intended. Using a different tuning can really screw up the playability of an instrument.
posted by unSane at 2:02 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If the DIY isn't working for you, take this little guy to Guitar Stop and let them know how Sandy's broke your tail piece and couldn't fix shit. They'll get a kick out of that and might give your instrument a tune up/set up for free. Even if it's not free it'll still be cheap.

It's likely that your mando was never set up properly in the first place so a quick set up and tune up will be just what you need.
posted by snsranch at 7:39 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Maybe one of these guys has an extra mandolin you can borrow.
posted by swift at 2:05 PM on December 14, 2012

I promise I will not use this mandolin for hipster-folk-band-related purposes.

The neck looks straight. I tried moving and raising the bridge, but the buzziness is sticking around. I'll give Guitar Stop a try.

Thanks for all the help!
posted by topoisomerase at 7:47 PM on December 14, 2012

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