Ah yes, the mandocaster, the Taco Bell dog of the electric guitar family. This 4-string solid-body electric mandolin was made by the Fender guitar company from 1956 to 1976. (I should point out that I'm not a vintage guitar expert, and some of my data might be wrong. I could do the research necessary for a total-information web site, but hey, I'd rather be practicing. E-mail me with any corrections or additions.) I think it was designed for somebody in particular. Anyways, I guess they never really caught on, probably because they don't sound at all like a mandolin, and eventually Fender discontinued production.

I have three mandos, a '56 blonde with a maple fretboard, a '57 sunburst with a maple fretboard, and a '65 sunburst with a rosewood fretboard. The '56 has a slab body, like a tele, and a real V-neck, and the '57 has (like all the years following) a contoured body, like a strat, and a rounder neck.

I love playing these things! They're great to bring to blues/rock jams because while they definitely have that authentic Fender sound, there's no precedent for what parts to play. There are no cliché mandocaster licks whatsoever, so everything sounds both old and new at the same time. It blends absolutely beautifully with, say, 2 other strats. And it's great fun to play. You thought Hendrix had big hands -- I'm the amazing colossal 50-foot man on this thing!

Technical Stuff: I string 'em 7, 12, 19w, and 28w (and yes, I tune it like a mandolin). 7's are hard to find but they're easier to bend than 8's, and they're loud enough because that high E, due to having the bridge set up to match the radius of the fretboard, is very close to the pickup. I use the rounded edge of a 3mm Big Stubby pick, and play at the halfway point (more or less) between the fretted note and the bridge, unless using pick and fingers together, which I do over the pickup. Being a Fender, it's all about the tone, and my favorite setup is to split the signal - one line goes through a MXR dyna comp, with full compression, into a Laney AC-30 with a 12" JBL K series, super clean, and the other line goes into a Fender Blues Junior, full distortion. This set-up allows me to control the clean/distortion blend from the mando's volume knob, or even just by playing with dynamics.

Musical Stuff: Well, here I could go on forever. I've already figured out a ton of stuff and I keep learning more. (I started writing a book before I was rudely interrupted by the Cirque du Soleil gig. I will add to it now and then, but don't hold your breath for the completed version.) Triads sound prettiest in open harmony, keep the root below the 7th in major 7th inversions, use a min 7 flat 5 for 9th's, the Vm of the chord blends best with other guitarists in blues (e.g. for a C7 use a Gm -- 1st inversion sounds nicest), playing an A7 at the 12th fret using all harmonics except C# (11th fret on the D string) is way cool, on and on, etc., etc. And almost any musical style seems to work just fine. Classical violin music is easy to play (and read), blues sounds great, funk sounds great (it's just a soprano strat, after all),"Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love" fits perfectly, "Mrs. Brown you've got a Lovely Daughter" seems like it was written on it, "The Dance of Maya" is interesting...

I'll end with a story. I took my '57 to a guitar convention, and showed it to two guys who had a booth, and the one guy held it, and he looked so sad, and they both shook their heads sorrowfully. "Yes?" I asked. The guy holding it said, "When I was 7" [or 8 or 9, I forget], "my father bought one of these for me, and I had seen KISS and knew exactly what to do with it. I took it out back and destroyed it against a tree." Ah, the negative influences of rock 'n' roll.

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