Mandolin vs. Lute – (What’s The Difference?)

Let’s learn more about the mandolin and the lute: the differences, similarities, and which one is easier to play for a better understanding of which one to pick up and learn.

Both the lute and the mandolin have been popular stringed instruments for musicians over the course of many years.  

However, several features make these musical instruments differ from one another. 

They both are stringed instruments that our plucked but produce different sounds. The Mandolin has 8 strings while the Lute has 15. The Lute is also much bigger than the mandolin.

If lutes and mandolins pose a confusing conundrum for you, you are not alone. They are quite similar on the surface but are actually played and built in distinctly different fashions. 

The lute vs. mandolin decision can be a complicated one because these instruments are often lumped together in the same category. 

So, which one is better than the other, and which one should you buy as a newbie in the music industry? 

I will go over the basics of each instrument then compare them for the clearest explanation of how a lute is different than a mandolin so you can make your best-informed decision. 

Let’s get started!

The Lute

The lute is an ancient instrument steeped in history. It was played over 500 years ago in Renaissance European cultures and has been coined as one of the most important instruments of the time. 

It was played by bards, jesters, and orchestras during festivals and gatherings, and it is one of the most well-known classical instruments of the era. It was easily the most dominant instrument in the 1500s.

The lute is the predecessor of many stringed instruments, most notably the guitar and the mandolin.

The lute’s number of strings varies by model. A lute can have anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five strings!

The Mandolin

The mandolin descends from the lute family, but it is a unique instrument entirely. It is played with a plucking device called a plectrum and has four sets of double strings. 

Mandolins have been adapted over the years into modern cultures and are often played today. They originated in the 18th century in Germany and Italy, and they flourished in the 19th century and beyond.

Mandolins have a distinct string pattern of double notes, with eight strings total. Their pattern normally consists of strings GG, DD, AA, and EE consecutively.

Similarities

  • The mandolin is actually a descendent of the lute. 
  • They both have smooth, pear or egg-shaped bodies and a long neck.
  • They both have metal strings used for playing different notes. 
  • Mandolins and lutes are both under the classification of a chordophone, which means they make music through the plucking of strings stretched against the wood.

Differences

  • A lute is played like a guitar with your fingers and has frets.
  • A mandolin is played similar to a violin in how it is tuned, but is played with a plectrum more often than being plucked with fingers.
  • Lutes have a different layout for their strings, and often have a completely different number of strings compared to a mandolin.
  • Mandolins have double strings, meaning they have two of each type of note. For example, strings GG, DD, AA, and EE.
  • Mandolins have four sets of double strings, while a lute can have as many as 24 strings total. The number of strings on a lute varies by model.
  • A mandolin’s tuning pegs stick out to the side like a violin’s, while the lute has backward-facing tuning pegs.
  • The neck of a mandolin is straight like common stringed instruments, while the lute is unique with a bent, L-shaped neck.
  • Lutes have one circular hole in the center of the instrument, while mandolins tend to have two f-shaped holes like a violin.
  • Lutes have deep, bowl-like designs. Mandolins are more streamlined and flat.
  • Lutes tend to be much larger in size than the mandolin.
  • Mandolins are used for musical genres such as bluegrass, folk, and country music. Lutes are commonly used to produce more classical, Celtic, and new-age music.

Sound

It was evident that the soundhole in the Mandolin musical instrument is used to project the music effectively. 

These sound holes are made in different shapes and sizes. 

For instance, Mandolin has oval sound holes which provide the required sound when playing. With this soundhole style, it makes the musical instrument much easier to play and produce good music as compared to other instruments such as lute.

As far as Mandolin is better when it comes to sound production and ease of playing, it doesn’t match its counterpart lute when it comes to technology. 

You may opt for a lute instead of Mandolin because of the advanced technology. The soundhole set up makes this instrument differ from the mandolin music instrument. 

Unlike oval-shaped holes, like some styles of mandolin and ukulele, the lute comes with s-holes and f-holes designs. 

All these holes are based beneath the string to enhance the performance of their sounds. It is important to opt for an instrument with better sound for your music, and from this, you already know the answer.

Amplification

When it comes to the amplification, Mandolin plucked notes highly decline in sound than they do reverberate in any bowed music instruments such as lute. 

Mandolins have to be paired with its strings upon plucking. Due to these uncomfortable sounds, it is made with resonators and amplifiers, which plays a significant role in amplifying the sounds. 

Similarly, electric Mandolin is well designed with good numbers of eight double strings, which plays automatically to boost the sound amplification.

Lute amplification is a bit different from that of Mandolin. 

On the construction of lute, resonators and amplifiers have not been involved as you had seen it in the Mandolin. 

Instead, lute features a bent neck which connects the steel strings to the lower end. 

This design alone is enough to provide pleasant sound when playing the instrument. The design also makes it easy for artists to use a lute because of the simplicity. This makes it different from the Mandolin.

Tuning

The mode of turning is an important factor for your instrument. Mandolin is a fragile stringed instrument. When tuning it, ensure you keep it under lower touch to ensure no harm and other destructors get to it.

Unlike the Mandolin, the lute has very stiff steel strings, thus forcing the use of an inexpensive electronic tuner. Lutes are very strong; they have a small resonator. It requires high plucking for it to produce a beautiful sound.

Which One Is Easier To Play?

When it comes to a musical instrument that is easy to play in the comparison of Mandolin vs. lute, 

The Mandolin takes the crown. 

The instrument has straightforward learning tips to help you to play even if you are a beginner. 

One of the simplest tips to playing Mandolin as a beginner player is to find your preferred style. Staying true to your style will make the whole experience a seamless one, and with no time, you can join the professional bandwagon.

The inappropriate choice of Mandolin will affect your music performance as well. Ensure you get the right one so that you can enjoy the experience. Not all mandolins are good, play wisely when it comes to choosing your instrument, and you will have an easy time playing.

Unlike the strong strings in the lute, which make it to be technical to play, Mandolin has very light lines. These light strings make it very easy to play. 

Lute comes with not only strong strings that give new players a hard time, but also the technology behind it is so complicated, making it hard to learn.

Mandolin comes with very straightforward learning tips; hence you won’t need a trainer to find your way through. 

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t find a professional trainer. It is always easy to learn when guided by someone who already has the experience.

Considering the fact that Mandolin is easy to play than lute, it will be easier for you to learn if you start with the simplest. 

So, you should start by learning how to play Mandolin before you proceed to the advanced lute. 

Starting with an easier one is also a wise move to get motivated and be eager to learn a new instrument.

In Conclusion

Both the lute and the mandolin are wonderful instruments backed by years of use. The lute was used in medieval times and brought joy to many people, but its mandolin brother is a modern adaptation of the historic instrument. 

They are both great to add to your instrument collection, but ultimately it is a matter of your preference and playing style. I hope I have provided some clarity on the subject so you can decide which is best for you!

Image from flickr creative commons Princess Ruto

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