F Style Vs. A Style Mandolin

For centuries, mandolins have appeared in small ensembles, folk singing and even within the troupes of troubadours of the Middle Ages. These poet-composers used lutes and mandolins and performed songs that dealt with themes of love and religion. A mandolin is a soprano lute -- the highest member of the lute family of string instruments. F-style and A-style mandolins are descendants of the original mandolin, which was an Italian instrument.


F-style and A-style mandolins came into existence in the early 1900s. The Gibson guitar company invented both styles. The F-style, or Florentine mandolin, was the first version to be created; the A-style came shortly thereafter, to accommodate different types of music. The mandolin has existed for centuries, but these new and novel types of violins are better suited to playing in ensembles and as solo instruments. Part of the string family of instruments, the newer F- and A-style mandolins are American inventions.


Players may stand to play F-style mandolins, with an added strap attached to the scroll and base of the instrument. However, they are most comfortable when seated, as the curvature of the instrument rests comfortably on the leg. F-style mandolins all have F-holes, similar to a violin. These holes affect the sound production and create resonance within the instrument. The F-style mandolin has a brighter sound than an A-style mandolin.


Most A-style mandolins have a round sound-hole instead of the F-hole found on the F-style mandolin. While the round sound-hole allows for more sustaining power, it does not have the volume and power of an F-hole -- although some A-style mandolins have the F-holes as well. These mandolins are typically less fancy than F-style mandolins, making them less expensive. In contrast to the F-style mandolin, the A-style mandolin is usually played when the musician is standing, as the instrument does not rest comfortably on the leg.

Musical Uses

F-style and A-style mandolins have different uses in music. Typically, an F-style mandolin player plays bluegrass music, a type of country music with American roots. It is similar to jazz music, in that the instrumentalist often plays solos and improvises on a chord progression. The A-style mandolin appears in Irish, folk and even classical music. The nature of the instrument lends itself to quick strumming and playing light, delicate melodies.


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