Frequently Asked Questions

Some useful information and frequently asked questions about the mandolin

‘Marooned With A Mandolin’

Simon Mayor’s BBC Radio 2 series of three half hour programmes on the mandolin was broadcast in 1996.
You can listen to the full programmes here – but please bear in mind that much of the information given is now out of date.


Marooned With A Mandolin – Programme 1 (broadcast 21st February 1996)


Marooned With A Mandolin – Programme 2 (broadcast 28th February 1996)


Marooned With A Mandolin – Programme 3 (broadcast 6th March 1996)


Programme synopsis…
If mandolin maestro Simon Mayor were marooned on a desert island, there’s no doubt about the one luxury he’d take. In this series of three programmes he goes in search of the origins of the mandolin, looks at what’s happening the world over, and tries to find out why players from Naples to Nashville go wild about it! The series features interviews with many of the world leading players, choice examples from disc, and some amusing anecdotes.

What other instruments are in the mandolin family?

The (tenor) mandola and mandocello are larger members of the mandolin family tuned respectively like a viola (C, G, D, A ascending) and violoncello (C, G, D, A ascending). In other words, a mandola is a fifth lower than a mandolin, and a mandocello an octave and a fifth. A mandobass is a very rare beast, having four single strings tuned in fourths like a double bass (E, A, D, G ascending). An octave mandola has no violin family equivalent and is tuned an octave below a mandolin.


Where can I buy a mandolin?

If you want a student quality mandolin (up to about £200) buy new from any reputable music shop and get a guarantee. It may involve a journey, but seek out a specialist mandolin shop if you can. Buying second-hand can yield a bargain provided you know what you are buying or take good advice. Beware the old Italian round-back in the junk shop; 99% of these were made for the tourist trade earlier this century and are suitable only as wall decoration. If you want a good quality mandolin talk to a specialist shop or maker. Some are listed below – all contact information is for the UK unless specified. To the best of our knowledge Ken Baddley (see below) is the only person in the UK specialising in making and restoring round-back mandolins.


Mandolin makers, dealers and repairers

Mike Vanden (maker) 01967 2114 (Strontian, near Fort William, Scotland). World class carved mandolins, guitars. website

Phil Davidson (maker/repairer) 01179374920 (Bristol). Excellent carved mandolins, also banjos. website

Evans Pughe Strings are specialists in mandolin restoration.

Marshall Stapleton (maker) 01297 444752 (Lyme Regis, Dorset). Carved and flat-top mandolins in a variety of hardwoods including koa.

Oakwood Instruments (makers) 0113 2658585 (Leeds)

Stefan Sobell (maker/repairer) 01434673567 (Hexham, Northumberland)

Martin Cole (maker/repairer/dealer) 01288 331540 (Cornwall). Also makes electric and midi-mandolins.

Rob Armstrong (maker/repairer) 01203442502 (Coventry)

Dave Gregory (maker) 01904 644606 (York). Excellent carved mandolins

Barry Ford (maker/repairer) 01832 734796 (Northants). Excellent carved mandolins, also violins and many other instruments.

Andy Tobin (maker) 0117 971 2228 (Bristol). Makes flat mandolins, deep bodies.

Ken Baddley (maker) Fairlands Valley Farm Studios, Fairlands Way, Stevenage, Herts SG1 1NU. Tel: 01438 365558. Makes round-back mandolins in the style of Embergher, Calace and Lombard mandolins. email

Robin Greenwood (maker) 01202 870008 (Wimbourne, Dorset)

Roshi Capek (maker) 2 Bokovska 27, Prague 5, Czech Republic. Saw an example of this maker’s work in the USA, which was a superb sounding A5 style carved instrument, lots of sustain and an easy action.

The Music Room (shops) 01274879768 (Cleckheaton) and 01379 890088 (Diss, Norfolk)

Hobgoblin Music (shop) 01293 515858 (Crawley)

Mandolin Brothers, 629 Forest Avenue, Staten Island, New York, NY 10310, USA (shop)
Stocking a huge selection of rare and vintage instruments. They ship anywhere in the world.


How can I learn to play the mandolin?

Tutor book
Simon Mayor’s The Mandolin Tutor (Book/MP3 download) is a detailed course for the those starting to play the mandolin, covering everything from tuning, right and left hand techniques, reading music and tablature, chords, tremolo, scales, tunes, exercises and simple duets to advice on choosing and maintaining an instrument. Mastering The Mandolin is for intermediate players.

Tune Books
Two new mandolin repertoire books by Simon Mayor are now available: Great Tunes For Mandolin (vols I and II) featuring pieces from the baroque to the present day chosen for their strong and memorable melodies, either written or arranged specially for the mandolin.
The New Mandolin, Simon Mayor’s book of 21 tunes taken from across his first three mandolin albums is now available in reprint – an expanded edition with the addition of one trio (The Exchange) and two quartet arrangements (Dead Sea Dances and Buttermere Waltz).
New Celtic Mandolin Book is an essential accompaniment to Simon’s CD of the same name. These books are available from Acoustics Records.

Simon Mayors tuition DVDs Mandolin Essentials (for near beginners) and New Celtic Mandolin (more advanced) are available by secure ordering from Acoustics Records.


Mandolin teachers

… are a rare breed in the UK, but here are some known to us. Your local music shop should also be a good place to ask.

William Shering teaches mandolin and octave mandolin to beginner and intermediate level for Ringwood Adult Education. Private students also accepted. Also offers guitar and vocal tuition. Would be interested in forming a mandolin orchestra with any interested parties. Based in Fordingbridge, Hampshire. Tel: 01425 657785. Email.

Geoff Leaver teaches mandolin and guitar within the South Oxfordshire area using a combination of tablature, music notation, and learning by ear. He is CRB checked.
Tel:0778 884 0253. Email

John Beckett. teaches mandolin and harmonica usually within a 25 mile radius of Rochester but would consider covering the whole of Kent. Specialises in beginners for folk styles, ragtime and songs of the 1960s – but all enquires including classical mandolin welcome. Tel: 01634 329722. Email

Joel McDermott is based in St Albans and specialises in traditional styles. Tel: 01727 862960.

Paul Slater is based in Folkestone Email.

Tom Napper (Leeds) 0113 2680963 Irish, Scottish traditional style mandolin, guitar and banjo

Barbara Pommerenke-Steel (Scotland) 01698 457518. Chairperson of the BMG teaches mandolin from beginners to advanced, specialising in classical including ensemble and orchestral playing. Also courses for adults and children.
Also see below for mandolin teachers’ courses.

Stan Gee (Redcar, Middlesborough) 01642478859 Mandolin, guitar, and banjo

John Hopes (Bristol area) 0117 967 6428. Mandolin

Nigel Woodhouse (St Albans) 01727 865164. Classical mandolin and guitar.

John Hayes (Seaford, Sussex) 01323 898770. Classical mandolin; classical, flamenco and jazz guitar. Also publishes music books for mandolin.

Cliff Baylis (Maidstone, Kent) tel 01622674725   Folk, bluegrass mandolin  Email

Janet Ambrose (London) 0208 778 4309. Classical. See also courses below. Janet is involved with Lewisham BMG group meeting on Mondays in Downham.

Sue Flower. (Queensland, Australia) 0409872474. Website. If you live in Australia you could do no better than take lessons from Sue. 



Janet Ambrose (see teacher list above) also runs weekend courses for light/classical orchestral mandolin. Tel: 0208 778 4309


What strings should I use on the mandolin?

Newtone: highly recommended handmade strings, available from Acoustics.

D’Addario (available most shops)

Picato (available most shops or tel: 01443 437928).

Thomastik strings are preferred by many round-back players (enquire at your local music shop – you will probably have to order specially).

Highly Strung Strings for mandolin and any other instrument you care to mention. A myriad of musical instrument accessories. Knowledgeable and very efficient service from this web shop.


Who makes mandolin cases?

Calton Cases. Tel: 01252 314300

Pegasus Tel: 01882 634 256. .

Both these manufacturers make very high quality fibreglass cases for mandolins, guitars and many other instruments.


Where can I learn to make a mandolin?

Manchester college of Arts and Technology offers probably the only course where students can choose to learn to make solely mandolins (and mandolas etc. of course). Now in it’s fourth year, it attracts people from all backgrounds and ages who are keen to make their own instruments. The course leads to a Higher National Certificate in Musical Instrument Technology and runs one day a week (9am-9pm) for two years. Over the two years a student will build three instruments and complete 13 written assignments. Anyone interested or wanting more information should get in touch with course tutor David Lim (tel 0161-881 2796) or the Manchester College of Arts and Technology enquiry line on 0800 068 8585.


Where can I find out about mandolin history?

The Early Mandolin (ISBN 019-8163029) and The Classical Mandolin (ISBN 019-8162952) by Paul Sparks are entertaining and authoritative histories of the instrument. Both published by Oxford University Press Tel: 01865 242913.


What mandolin related publications exist?

British Bluegrass News. Tel: 01543 252683. The bluegrass scene in Britain is small, but there are some excellent bands (with excellent mandolinists) who deserve to be seen and heard. BBN should point you in the right direction.


Where can I find mandolin performers?

Simon Mayor & Hilary James – you’re in the right website now

The Mandolinquents (Simon Mayor, Gerald Garcia, Richard Collins and Hilary James).
Enquiries: 0118 926 8615 or email

The Orrell Mandoliers run by Stanley Rome (Merseyside) Tel: 0151 922 7445

Da Capo Alba Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra. Barbara Pommerenke-Steel 01698 457518

Fingers And Frets run by John Hopes (Bristol) Tel: 01272 676428

Ambrosia Mandolins run by Janet Ambrose (London). Tel: 01992 813072

The Fretful Federation run by Ian Harris (Brighton) 01273 557035

Nigel Woodhouse 01727 865164