12-string guitar with a large banjo pot. Great Sound!-.-.-.-By the late 1800's, though, a new arrival to the United States from Southern Italy, the Neapolitan Mandolin, was appearing in ever-growing numbers. Mandolin Orchestras were being organized, and even the design of the mandolin would be altered. The mandolin had metal strings, 4 courses tuned in 5ths, like a violin, and was played with a plectrum in the strummed manner. The most common design at first, before the 1900's innovations in body style, was the mandolin developed in Naples in the 1700's. It had 12 frets on the neck clear of the body, and a bend in the top near the bridge, with a ribbed lute-style back. Since it's tuning and scaling matched the violin, it was classical instrument and was used in serious music. Odd that today the mandolin is most used in Country and Bluegrass music! Even the banjo when it would re-appear in the Jazz Age of the 20's, metamorphosized into the tenor banjo, would show the influence of the mandolin. The tenor banjo was a four single course instrument, metal strung, played with a pick and tuned in 5ths- like the mandolin! Somewhere along the way the idea came up to really mix the banjo and mandolin, the resulting offspring was a mandolin neck with 4 double courses on a small banjo body. The skin resonator was crisper and louder than the wooden mandolins, which was a useful feature for dance hall musicians. Some of these are still around, but few are in playing condition and are often difficult to keep in tune since they have natural skin heads. Also they are mostly open-back designs, and have a particular decay and tone quality. There are new banjo mandolins- made in Turkey! They have spun aluminum bodies and are well designed. The neck is attached by a large screw mechanism that also adjusts the angle of neck tilt, allowing custom action set up in minutes. Just loosen the strings and adjust the screw, retune, and that's it. The heads are mylar, and replace very easily with only seven screws, and since they use an upper tension ring design similar to their dumbek heads, the head tensions very evenly with a minimum of lugs, plus, the mylar heads are nearly indestructable, short of attack with a sharp object, and are impervious to weather changes. Tuning becomes much more stable. (A least once the strings stretch in! Often the Turkish stock strings are hand-looped and need a while to tighten down. New American strings do not have this problem.) The aluminum body is a closed back- there are some air vent holes near the rim under the head and tension ring, but the overall effect is to add a wonderful resonance, almost as if a little reverb was added from somewhere. Depending on your playing style this could be just a little extra tone, or a much more driving almost electric timbre. This special tonal color also helps these mandolins stand out in a big session. Even though they are just louder than a regular mandolin, the sharper tone cuts through and is thus perfect for those that like to hear themselves when they play. Of course to bring out this full sound you have to be able to pick fairly strongly, a light picker would still be heard more easily on one of these banjo mandolins. Of course, with different gauge strings you could tune it like a Cavaquinho (DGBD or DGBE, single-strung)- and many of the Brazilians use a banjo-type body now. It would also make a great banjo uke with nylon (single) strings, or if nylon double-strung, a taro patch banjo uke. Another feature is their durability. They are very hard to break, and are thus a perfect travel instrument- sturdy, small, light, and loud. Lark's owner has used one as his standard travel gear for many international trips with no problems. I've used mine with Samba groups, outdoors, under rigorous conditions with no hint of failure. All in all, quite an overall package in a such small instrument. Some of our customers for these instruments include David Lindley and Ry Cooder. Article by David Brown.