Sunday, 16 August 2015

"The Mandolin: A History" due for release November 2015

For the past several years our music world has been rewarded with a few mighty impressive publications of musical instrument history. My current personal favorite at the very top of that list of books is, and has been since its release, “Inventing the American Guitar” (Hal Leonard Publishing, 2014).

Now along comes Graham McDonald with what appears to be a serious contender for that top spot with his comprehensive study, The Mandolin: A History. As a guitar and mandolin enthusiast who appreciates such history, and given the unveiling of this latest addition to the world’s music library, my personal music book shelf may very well be complete at this point.
'Ur - Ur the Singer' on his seal cylinder
British Museum,
Image courtesy Dominique Collon

McDonald’s history of the mandolin tracks stringed instruments as long ago as 4200 years (in this case, the Lute family). Thusly, we discover the mandolin’s primitive origins in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Europe. Note the Mesopotamian musician named ‘Ur-Ur’ in the photo. He is clearly in a familiar playing position. The author suggests a Lute-like instrument with 2 strings.

We are eventually introduced to the first appearance of what many consider the prototype for the modern day mandolin: the “mandolino” of late 16th century Italy, a baroque gut-strung mandolin borne out of the early 16th century ‘mandola’.

The insight into the mandolin’s evolution goes ever deeper from there. The author’s presentation has made the reading relatively simple, even while addressing the most technical aspects and complicated subjects. Graham’s care to guide us along the way, often using specific examples, is invaluable. As if the multitude of sketches, drawings and photos are not enough (some very rare and previously unpublished) – the author even provides such minute details as string lengths and tunings, using the Hemholtz system for pitch notation.

The Mandolin: A History is truly an exhaustive study often revealing the complexity and ‘secrets’ of numerous instruments, while relating these factors to the modern mandolin. McDonald has the experience and skills required to address the similarities between modern day mandolins and their ancient cousins along this historic trek. As a result we witness a global ascension throughout the double-string instruments’ “family tree”.

In the extensive coverage of America’s contributions to mandolin history we are introduced to little known, possibly even unknown, luthiers from the past. As might be expected many prominent manufacturers in America are covered as well.

Of note is a chapter dedicated to what McDonald calls “the definitive history of the Irish bouzouki”. He considers this instrument his specialty.

There are some 400+ pages, 450+ illustrations/photos, and 22 chapters. Also a detailed bibliography and index. 

McDonald mentions in an interview, “…it is lavishly illustrated with the intent that it will be a primary reference for identifying mandolin family instruments from all parts of the world.”

Suffice it to say, the volumes of information are vast and therefore impossible to relate all the essential subject matter within the limited scope of a mere review or news report.

To paraphrase the author’s rather humble description of the concept of his book… It is about the instruments. How they are built, and how they have been built in the past.

But it is much more than that. In a short video on the Kickstarter website, Graham mentions it took 6 years to complete this project. When, in reality, this book is the culmination of a lifetime of preparation as he made his own musical and educational journeys. 

Graham McDonald has gifted us all with an indispensable guide to the co-evolution of the instruments in his study, the very special relationships which exist amongst this “double-stringed species”.

Now in the final days of a ‘Kickstarter Project’ campaign, to help raise funding for the publishing of this extraordinary book, Graham McDonald is hoping for some additional interest in order to meet his goals. 

Graham offers the following update on his website:
  “ The Mandolin ~ A History is getting close to publication, after six years of work. It will be over 400 pages with around 460 pictures of mandolins, old advertisements and other images. There is close to 100,000 words of text, including an index and a comprehensive bibliography. The girl on the left [with the mandolin] is the cover image, taken from an old postcard. I have a printer in the USA ready to do the printing, and to pay for that I will need to pre-sell around 500 copies, which the printer will be able to mail out as soon as they are off the press.”

To pre-order a copy and help secure the funds for printing, or view his introductory video, go to the author’s website. There are varying levels in which to pledge your support and receive a book (and more). Be aware there are only a few days remaining for the Kickstart project.
About the Author: 
Graham McDonald is a man of musical diversity -- a musician, hosting a music program on community radio since 1976, audio archivist, and luthier in Canberra, Australia. He is a builder of guitars, mandolins, Irish bouzoukis, citterns, mandolas and ‘wombat fiddles’. Graham has been a consultant to the National Museum of Australia, Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, the NSW Conservatorium of Music, and a certified C.F. Martin warranty repair person. He is also an author. Mr. McDonald’s two previous published works related to double-stringed instruments are, “The Bouzouki Book: A Workshop Guide to Building Irish Bouzoukis and Citterns” (2004) and “The Mandolin Project: A Workshop Guide to Building Mandolins” (2008).

The Mandolin: A History
author: Graham McDonald
High Quality Soft-cover; 400+  pages; 450+  illustrations and Hi-res photographs
22 Chapters
8” x 10” (20cm x 25cm)
ISBN  9780980476279
Retail price:  $45 (USD) Postage is free in USA only.
Estimated Delivery dates:
* November 2015 for the printed version
* January 2016 for the e-book [iBook and Kindle formats]

Contact the author directly: 
Graham McDonald
P.O. Box 365
Jamison ACT 2614