This is a small-bodied instrument in the lute family that is either plucked or strummed. The mandolin’s family tree goes back even further than the guitar’s, with the earliest examples appearing in Europe in the 1100s. It evolved from the mandore (or mandora), which is a small member of the lute family with single or multiple courses of gut or metal strings that were played with a plectrum or with the fingers. The term “mandola” came into use in the 1600s for instruments that were smaller than a lute. The scale length and tuning of the mandolin were the same as those for the violin, adding to the instrument’s cultural status (Mozart even wrote a part in his opera, Don Giovanni, for the mandolin in 1787).
Mandolins come in several forms. The Neopolitan style has a rounded “bowl back” constructed of a number of wood strips, much like a lute. At the end of the 19th century, a new style was introduced and popularized by Orville Gibson. This has a carved top and back inspired by the violin, and this new style further branched into the Florentine or F-style, which has a decorative scroll near the neck and typically on the headstock; and the A-style, which has a simpler overall design, consisting of a small oval body and plain headstock. Much variation now exists among these styles, though the Gibson f-hole F-5 style mandolin is considered to be the most typical for playing American folk and bluegrass music, while the A-style is generally associated with Irish, folk, or classical music.