What’s the difference between an F-style mandolin and an A-style mandolin?

Two of the most popular mandolin styles are F-style and A-style. They were both invented around the turn of the 20th century, and both variations are still popular to this day.

Does the mandolin style matter?

In a word: yes.

Each type of mandolin has its fans and detractors. But each mandolin style serves a different purpose. Your requirements will dictate which style is best suited to you.

Main characteristics of an F-style mandolin

Three mandolins, an F-style, an A-style with f-holes, and an A-style

Three mandolins: an F-style, an A-style with f-holes, and an A-style

  • These mandolins are easier to play when you’re sitting down. They have curves in all the right places that make them comfortable to play while they’re resting on your leg. They won’t slip and slide all over the place like mandolins built with other designs sometimes do.
  • The scroll is mostly decorative, but it is a convenient place to attach a strap if you want to play it while you’re standing up. The scroll gives you no real acoustic advantage; it’s solid wood and it doesn’t seem to add sustain or benefit the sound of the instrument in any way. It probably adds to the expense of the instrument.
  • The f-holes give the instrument a rather loud, percussive sound. This can be an advantage if you’re playing in a group. F-style mandolins are generally somewhat louder than their A-style cousins. There is much less need for internal bracing when the mandolin uses f-holes. This lets the mandolin luthier use a thinner top plate which provides a brighter, louder sound.
  • The oversized headstock tends to balance the instrument, perhaps making it slightly easier to play for extended periods of time. But since mandolins are not particularly heavy or cumbersome, this is a marginal advantage at best.

Main characteristics of an A-style mandolin

  • The A-style mandolin is usually a bit less expensive than an F-model mandolin. Since it’s less ornamented, everything else being equal, the A-model takes less time and effort to construct.
  • The round soundhole is located near the center of the soundbox. This design is known to supply more sustain than the small f-holes found on F-model mandolins. But you won’t get as much volume or “brightness” as you will in an F-style. Of course, you can find hybrid mandolins which have the A body style and use f-holes instead of a round soundhole. Maybe it’s the best of both worlds? In any event, if sustain is your thing, this is the model for you.
  • This body style isn’t as comfortable to play sitting down. It can slip off your knee if you’re not careful. This makes it a bit difficult to use the G-string.

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