Category - Mandolin

Mandolin and more picks


Some time ago, after I had written about picks here, a kind gentleman from somewhere in the US sent me a little package loaded with picks for the mandolin. I’ve had a little pick crisis, and recently bought lots of picks, only to realize that I can’t play with the thick ones. They don’t give a good sound, and they do give too much click noise no matter what “everyone” says. I still played with the Fender heavy about 1mm. But I felt like, hmm, what’s wrong with me? All the pros say they use very thick picks, why can’t I play with them? And when I received the package they were all quite thin picks actually, so I was glad to know I’m not the only one, and that I might be normal. And after all, some of the American bluegrass pickers would probably drop dead if they saw the thin picks the mandolin players in Ireland use. :)

Now, I don’t want soft picks. They need to be hard and stiff to give a good sound, but thin enough to give a clear sound. I have some picks that are 1.50 mm and they are the thickest I can manage, I think.

My mandolin-less experience, and playing the Gibson mandolin in Gränna, actually boosted my love for the mandolin. A lot. It was divine to come home and play my own mandolin. It is the best mandolin, really… And I’ve been playing more mandolin after that, although I must say that I haven’t played much of anything because I’ve worked a lot and had other projects after work. But I’m glad to have some inspiration to play the mandolin, because I really felt sad about not wanting to play it. I’m not sure what next step is but probably some Norman Blake tunes.

Gränna and new inspiration

I’m home after the bluegrass festival. We’ve had a great weekend!
Every time I go to events like this, I realize how much I suck at playing, but I get a lot of inspiration to learn new stuff. And of course I still enjoy myself jamming with old and new friends. We rent a little cabin with a friend of ours who is a brilliant guitar player. The weather is usually very unstable during this festival (at least the last 10 years) so it’s good to have somewhere decent to sit down and play if it gets too bad outside. This year the weather was actually brilliant. It rained on Friday afternoon but cleared up during the evening, and we had a good time jamming outside the cabin. Later when it got too cold we went inside, but took a stroll to check out other players before going to bed.

Gränna is such a beautiful little town. It has the old houses and the old charm, and although they’ve started to build modern apartment houses (that are crazy ugly) just outside of town, it’s still a nice town of the old style with wooden houses and cobblestone streets.


The concerts are held up a hill above the town, but I think everyone agrees that the real festival is at the campsite. Most musicians stay there and there are jams and fun going on from Thursday to Sunday. There used to be a lot more jams in the past, I’m not sure why there are not so many people out there playing these days. We’ve been wandering around a lot, but these days we just stay around with friends and start our own jams, usually people show up and join us. On the Friday we played with a lady fiddler who lived in the cabin next door, and a friend of ours who also plays the guitar. We were three guitar players and then his girlfriend who just started out on the mandolin, but it actually sounded great with three guitars because we all have different playing styles.


On the Saturday there were some good bands, my favourites were these guys, a very experienced bluegrass band from further north, they play good traditional bluegrass music. Then there was a great cajun band too. Both bands have been there before and always deliver good music and good entertainment. Generally what I miss up there is real traditional bluegrass music and old songs. So many bands write their own songs, and that’s good of course, but they all sound so mainstream. I like the old sounding stuff.

These were great, however.


The festival has always been organized, and all bands presented by the brilliant Pelle Brandt. Nowadays his son is taking over but Pelle is still the conferencier. And sometimes he borrows a guitar or a banjo and plays a tune. That’s usually the best moment of the day! He’s a fabulous clawhammer banjo player, but mostly he plays the guitar. I have a video somewhere of him playing the banjo at the campsite. I’ll have to post it some time.


The area where the festival takes place is very nice and there’s an incredible view over the town.


You know, it only took me a couple of hours before realizing I was an idiot for not bringing my mandolin. I was happy playing the guitar, but I really, really missed my mandolin. I actually borrowed one for a little bit, from a girl who joined our jam.
Then yesterday up on the hill there was the guy who always come to the festival to sell banjos, mandolins, books, picks, strings and whatnot. And he had a nice Gibson A-style mandolin from 1938 that he had for sale, for not much money at all (for being a Gibson from 1938). The thing is that Daniel still wants to play the mandolin, but the one he has is in really bad shape, but he doesn’t want to buy just anything, but mandolin prices are crazy if you want one that is good. So this was a real bargain really. And, since I “needed” a mandolin for Saturday night, we decided to buy it. It’s a very nice instrument. I played it, and it drove me crazy because it wouldn’t stay in tune (because of the weather, and that it hadn’t been played and tuned for a long time), but it was lovely to play the mandolin!


This one will be perfect for Daniel, it’s heavier and has more “punch” in the sound than mine has, and will suits his playing style really well. Mine has a big sound but still a good chop and a good sound for bluegrass and oldtime. It took me a while to learn to play chops with my mandolin, since I was used to a mandolin with much less sound, but I learned a good working technique for it. Since I play this mandolin since 2009, it now feels weird to play any other mandolin. I’m so used to my mandolin now and that it doesn’t take much effort to make it sound, so playing that mandolin last night made my wrists hurt. It was great to play a mandolin but I was so happy to come back home to my own pretty mandolin. My wrists still hurt this morning but they have recovered during the trip back home. So tomorrow I’ll spend some time playing, and will try to figure out what I want to do next with the mandolin to get forward with it, and will also check out some guitar licks.

It’s bluegrass festival time

mandoart2So now we’re preparing to go to the bluegrass festival. I’m actually off work for four days. That means that if I get inspired this weekend, I have the Monday off to play music. :)

This year I’m going to be wild – I’m going to Gränna without the mandolin. During the last few weeks, or even months, I’ve barely played it at all. And although I did get some inspiration back, I’m not good at playing it right now, I’m not “warmed up” with it, and so I’ve decided to only bring the guitar. And that’s fine! I’m going to have fun with it.
You know, if you’re not great at playing, or don’t feel like you are, it’s easier to bring a guitar. If you come with a mandolin to a jam people will ask you to play a break, or more or less assume that you will. With a guitar it’s more common that people don’t play breaks. Now I’m not sure if we’ll join any jams with people we don’t know so well (we didn’t last year) but if we do, I’ll feel more comfortable.

I’m NOT going to quit playing the mandolin. It’s just that I need a break with it. I’m improving on the guitar at the moment, but I don’t know how to get any further on the mandolin. When I know what the next step will be on the mandolin, then I’ll start working on it again.

This year it’ll be interesting to listen to the guitar players, their different styles, what they do, and so on. I’ve never really listened to the guitar players like that. It would be good to find someone who is good at playing Carter style, and especially if they live in the Göteborg area… It would be nice to have a teacher of some sort, to see sometimes for good advice, hints and inspiration. I work way too much to have time for regular lessons, but once in a couple of months is definitely good enough. I’ll see how it goes.

I’m really looking forward to this weekend, though! Check back for photos and festival reports!

The mandolin and the choice of picks

mando33The last few days I’ve been playing a lot, and I’m making some progress with the guitar. I can actually play some nice simple breaks, and some c runs too. :)

I’ve picked up the mandolin again. It’s nice to see how a serious break from it can trigger the inspiration.
Now after not playing the mandolin for a long time, I’m not at all happy with the tone. I need to play much smoother, and with better flow. I think I need to pick up my old scale exercises again, I remember they were very efficient with developing smoothness and flexibility of the fingers.
Also, I’m looking at what pick to use. Most better mandolin players use very thick picks such as the Blue Chip or Wegen picks. I’ve never been able go play with very thick picks, I think they kind of kill the sound. But it must be something with the technique, since “everybody” else uses them? I’m planning to go to Göteborg on Thursday, bring the mandolin, visit music shops and test picks. Now with thinner picks (1.0 and the likes) I think they give too much pick noise (the sound of the pick hitting the string), so I’m willing to try the extra heavy picks a chance. I don’t think anyone sells the Blue Chip over here, but maybe at least some of the other ones.

There is a bluegrass festival coming up in a few weeks and I can’t wait! When I go there I always realize how much I suck at playing (probably even more this year), but I love being there and it always inspires me. We also have good friends there, that we meet only at this particular festival, and that we enhoy jamming with.