Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites


Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Topics

Original articles plus the "best of the web" by mandolin enthusiast/teacher Bruce Bernhart

New!  Tabs for Popular Fiddle Tunes:

"Cold Frosty Morning"
"Granny Does Your Dog Bite"

Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites

Updated May 26, 2013

Bruce Bernhart on Mandolin Purchase, Set Up, Temperature Effects plus new Fiddle Tune Tabs

Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites

The Bernhart Mandolin Webpages explore the history of the mandolin, buying and building mandolins, the various makes and models of mandolins available on the market, basic chord structures, different styles of playing, practice exercises, performance and the "best of the web" on topics of interest to mandolinists

In Minnesota, Bruce Bernhart has been a mandolin player/enthusiast since the 1980's

More to come! Look for additional Bruce Bernhart mandolin articles and websites

Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Set Up

Important considerations when you purchase and set up your first mandolin:

One of the most important things to look for is a straight fingerboard.  A curved or bowed fingerboard will set you up for all kinds of trouble when you play higher notes up the neck.   Place a ruler or some other straight edge on the fingetboard and check to see that it is straight.  It may not be perfect, but you'll be able to tell if  the fingerboard is concave or convex.  If you detect a small curve or bowing, the "buzz" test, next, will determine whether you will still be able to play it OK.  Check  the "action" of the strings, or in other words, the distance between the strings and the fingerboard.   You want that distance to be as small as possible without any buzzing or string rattling.   This is especially important for beginning mandolinists because the higher the action is, the more force it is going to take to press on the strings.  Sometimes it is necessary the adjust the nut, which is the small piece that separates the strings from the peghead.  Press each string from the bottom to the top of the fingerboard and make sure each note is clean without any buzzing.

The bridge needs to be in its proper place.  Check that the harmonics  at the 12th fret are exactly the same as the fretted note at the 12th fret.   Otherwise, the mandolin will not be playing in tune when fretted in the upper reaches of the neck.  
When you first buy your mandolin, you should change the strings. Those strings have probably been on there for a long time and often strings that are supplied by the factory are of less quality than strings you would buy at the music store.  I would recommend you start out with light strings, as it will make it easier on your fingers.  Next, buy an electronic tuner.  There are plenty of good ones on the market.  I like the ones that you can clip on the peghead, and you can just leave it on the peghead while you play (turn it off, of course, while you are picking!)

You might want to pick up some instrument polish and a cloth to keep it clean.  The finishes on less expensive mandos are very thin, so rub lightly.  Keep your mando away from substances that will harm it, such as household cleaners and mosquito repellent. 
Finally, buy a strap.  The strap will give the mando extra support when you play sitting down, and of course you'll need it whenever you play standing it.  Choose a pick that is at least 1 mm in thickness.  One of the big mistakes beginners make is buying a pick that is too thin.  If your pick is too thin, you will lose volume and it will be more difficult to tremelo and play at speed.  I prefer picks that have a pointed corner, but many players prefer picks that are more rounded.  Try each and see what you are comfortable with, but be sure he mandolin is at least 1 mm thick.

Bernhart says when playing a brand new mandolin:

  1. Use new(ish) clean strings.
  2. Make sure the bridge is in its optimum position and that the saddle is not tilted.
  3. Ensure that the strings are not binding excessively in the nut and bridge slots. (They always bind to some extent.)
  4. Tune each string accurately, using an electronic tuner. The notes are E A D G , 1st pair to 4th pair, the two strings of a pair being in (exact!) unison.
  5. Play a range of chords in the first position, and adjust the tuning so that all of the chords sound as harmonious as you can get them. Compare 12th fret harmonics with the corresponding notes at the 5th fret, e.g. third string harmonic at 12th fret compared with second string stopped at the 5th fret.
  6. Play the mandolin solidly (chords and melodies) for a few minutes. It will probably go out of tune.
  7. Adjust the tuning, then keep playing and adjusting, using the tuner to ensure that it does not drift sharp or flat.
  8. After a time the tuning should settle down, providing environmental conditions remain constant (no changes in temperature, humidity or air pressure).
  9. Keep it clean.  I always wide down my mandolin with a clean dry cloth. After every several uses, I take a moist washcloth and put a very small dab of dish soap on the cloth, and wipe it rapidly over the mandolin.  Then I wipe it dry.  Do not use too much soap.  A very, very small drop is all you need.
  10. Buy a case that will protect the mandolin in case it falls.  You can pick up a good case for as little as $25.  Make sure the fasteners close properly! Sometimes they come bent, so  test all of them to make sure they work properly before you purchase the case.

    Other Causes of Tuning Problems (

    Your ability (or inability) to tune can be impacted by other problems will ultimately have a negative impact on your music. Any of the following can and should be taken care of. These include:

    Improper Bridge Alignment

    If your bridge is only slightly in front of or in back of its proper placement or tilted in any direction, you're going to have intonation and tuning problems. To test your bridge placement, first tune each open string with a tuner. Then, fret the 12th fret (or preferably, play the 12th fret harmonic) and re-check with an electronic tuner. The result? If the 12th fret is sharp your bridge is closer to the fretboard than it should be. If the 12th fret is flat your bridge is further away from the fretboard than it should be.

    Worn Frets

    Take a good look at your frets. Those deep grooves (if you have them) can create serious intonation problems for an instrument that otherwise might be in perfect tune. Think of having an occasional fret re-dressing as an oil change for your car. You really need one from time to time. You may go a long time without one but your instrument will probably be screaming for help if you do. And, good frets are easier to play and easier on your hands. Tuning is just one benefit.

    Old Strings

    Most musicians will agree that old strings are difficult to keep in tune and harder on your fingers. It doesn't make sense to buy a nice instrument and then change your strings once every three years. That's like buying a nice car and then driving around on bald tires.

    Warped Neck

    You'll probably be able to visually see this. If you have an adjustable truss rod this can probably be easily fixed but I'd recommend letting a professional do the work.

    The Bottom Line

    A mandolin is simply a tool built out of wood and metal. Heat, humidity, cold and general wear and tear will eventually have a negative impact on the structural health of your instrument. Instrument neglect needn't be a burden to tuning or other aspects of your music. Take your instrument to a qualified professional once a year for a check-up. It's well worth the time and effort.

A note about Key Signatures:

Key Signatures tell us what notes are sharp or flat in a scale. When we say we are in the Key of F Major we are saying that we are using the notes of the F Major scale. The Key Signature for the Key of F Major would be one flat, because there is one flat in the F Major scale.

Any single Key Signature symbol will identify both a Major and (Natural) Minor scale, for example C Major and A (natural) Minor have the same Key Signature symbol.

Note Values:

Each note has a specific duration:

note values

Srudents: Memorize these!

Thank you for visiting the Bruce Bernhart mandolin websites!

Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites

Be sure to visit the other Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites:

Bruce Bernhart mandolin rock tabs

Bruce Bernhart mandolin lesson on scales, meter, using a metronome

Bruce Bernhart mandolin purchase tips

Bruce Bernhart mandolin orchestras, tuning

Bruce Bernhart mandolin lessons- chord groups and intervals

Bruce Bernhart on mandolin family history

Bruce Bernhart on string and saddle adjustment

Bruce Bernhart beginning mandolin lessons one and two

Bruce Bernhart on more chord triads, blues patterns, and self-tuning

Bruce Bernhart on the mandolin family tree

Bruce Bernhart mandolin chord diagrams

Bruce Bernhart on temperature considerations

Bruce Bernhart lessson on mandolin flats and sharps

Bruce Bernhart lesson on chromatic scales, circle of 5ths and meter

Bruce Bernhart on mandolin chord theory

Bruce Bernhart mandolin C and G major chord diagrams

Bruce Bernhart on emergence of the modern mandolin

Bruce Bernhart on two finger mandolin chords

Bruce Bernhart on whole and half steps on the mandolin

Bruce Bernhart perpetual motion practice excercises

Bruce Bernhart on playing waltzes on the mandolin

Bruce Bernhart on majors, minors and sevenths

Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites

Also, check out the Bruce Bernhart RV Websites and Blogs:

Solar power for your RV

The care and feeding of your RV battery

The sport of "geocaching" and RV refrigeration basics

The basics of RV power inversion

RV travel tips and tire care

Advanced discussion on power inversion

Tips on buying a house battery and cold weather maintenance

RV Insurance basics

Buying the right generator for your RV and portable power

RV television reception options

Care and maintenance of the RV air conditioner

Top RV destinations

RV long-term supplies and weight considerations

RV Insurance- Road protection and bodily injury coverage

RV battery types and winter charging considerations

Deep cycle battery basics

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