History of Mandolin Orchestras

A mandolin orchestra is an orchestra consisting primarily of instruments from the mandolin family of instruments, such as the mandolin, mandola, mandocelloand mandobass or mandolone. Some mandolin orchestras use guitars and double-basses instead of, or as well as, the lower mandolin-family instruments.


The stimulus to create mandolin groups often came from travelling mandolinists and teachers. Immigration from Europe to other parts of the world resulted in the concept spreading rapidly, with movements beginning quite early in the US, Japan and Australia. Some indication of the speed of these developments across the globe can be appreciated by the following:

The first German mandolin clubs formed in the 1890s, at first completely dependent on Italian music.

In January 1913, the German magazine "Die moderne Hausmusik" reports 200 mandolin clubs of mandolin and guitar players in northern Germany.

The 1899 Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar Music Festival held in Philadelphia, USA lists a festival orchestra of 130 members comprising 43 mandolinists and featured the American mandolinist Joseph Edward Pettine.

The third Banjo, Mandolin & Guitar Festival was held in Sydney, Australia on 27 August 1896, organised by Walter Stent - the word "mandolin" appearing in the title for the first time.

In Sydney, Australia Walter Stent was "active in the early part of the century (i.e. very early 1900s) and organised possibly the first Mandolin Orchestra." 

In 1918 the Gisborne Mandolin Orchestra was formed in Gisborne, New Zealand by George Moore (1883–1962) and wife Barbara (1885–1963).

Mandolin orchestras were popular in the early 20th century, and many cities and schools had one.

A considerable body of music was created, much of which was simple or popular marches and foxtrots that were easy and fun to play. However, some "serious" music was also created and which requires every bit as much skill to play as anything in the more well-known violin repertoire. Principal among the important composers of such music were Raffaele Calace, Arrigo Cappelletti, Giuseppe Manente and Carlo Munier, who all wrote beautiful and virtuosic music for various mandolin chamber music ensembles (mandolin and guitar, two mandolins and mandola, etc. as well as full orchestras).

After World War I, the mandolin orchestras went into a period of decline in the US. Orchestras continued to exist in Japan, and Germany where they are known as Zupforchester, and also in Italy.

The New York Mandolin Orchestra

Interest in the mandolin was renewed as a part of the resurgent interest in folk music in the late 1950s and 1960s. As this music began to be re-discovered, orchestras began to form anew in large cities in the US.

In the modern era, many cities in the US host mandolin orchestras of many years experience; many have libraries of hundreds of compositions. 

Source: Wikipedia

Types of Mandolin


Amidst the Roar of the 1920’s

When jazz bands and bootleggers were inspiring a cultural shift in music and more… a quintessential instrument was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Lloyd Loar and his team had developed the F-5 Master Model at the very peak of the mandolin orchestra. However, the sudden birth of the most innovative mandolin ever developed, coincided with the virtual extinction of the musicians it was designed to serve.

In 1945, through fate or circumstance, Bill Monroe picked up the ghost of Loar. And with it, he and some Blue Grass Boys, chopped down the “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Monroe found the tiny but mighty axe that had almost been lost to history.

The F-5 roared ahead and inspired the birth of Bluegrass. But it took another generation of rhythmic chopping and the answered prayer of “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” to inspire the true mandolin renaissance.

—Since that time, the popularity and demand for the instrument have grown tremendously—


The style describes all other oval bodied or the teardrop-shaped mandolins that are not either F-style or the bowl back.

This style grew after Gibson’s productions in the 20th century. Many come with curved tops and backs where others have arched back resembling a violin.

A-style models are more like guitar profiles, although to differentiate them from the bowl back types, we describe those with arched backs as having flatbacks. The A-style mandolins do not have scrolls that make them easier to build hence less expensive. They can have either round hole or F-holes.

They are common with Celtic musicians, folk, Irish, and classical music. Examples of A-style mandolins are; Rogue RM100, Ibanez M510, and Loar Grassroots Series.

The Celtic type of mandolin has a more profound and broader body type, and usually the sound hole is round. Spruce and cedar commonly used for the top while mahogany, rosewood and walnut are preferred for the sides. The backs and tops are mostly flat and not curved.

The A-shape style derives its name from its shape. This device has a simple design which makes it cheaper in terms of price.


The bowl-back mandolin , known as a Neapolitan style or round-back (or "tater-bug," colloquial American) has a vaulted back made of a number of strips of wood in a bowl formation, similar to a lute, and usually a canted, two-plane, uncarved top. This instrument is popular for classical music or jazz.


The Army-Navy is a now rare flat-top mandolin with stripped-down cosmetics originally designed during the First World War to cater to soldiers. They produce a unique tone with a smoother, guitar-like attack, dry resonance and a warmer midrange presence compared to a traditional archtop mandolin. They are sometimes referred to as pancake mandolins because of their thin round shape. 

Repertoire and MP3s for practice

We supply to members of the orchestra a link to a folder in our Google Drive for a particular term. Each piece has its own folder with PDFs for Mandolin 1, Mandolin 2, Tenor Mandola, Octave Mandolin, Mandocello and Bass so members can print out the parts they want. There are also MP3s available for practice within the folder.