How to Set Up Your Mandolin for Maximum Playability and Tone

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If you are a mandolin enthusiast, you know that having the right setup can make all the difference in the sound of your instrument. Having spent countless hours playing and tweaking my own mandolin, I’m here to share with you my knowledge on how to set up your mandolin for the perfect sound. Through this article, you will learn the necessary steps to get your mandolin sounding just the way you want it. So, let’s get started!

Tools Needed

Tools Needed
Mandolin, Allen wrench, file, pliers, sandpaper, fret rocker, fret crowning file, screwdriver.

Tune the Machine Head

Tune The Machine Head

Tuning Peg Note
1st E
2nd A
3rd D
4th G

Unlock the machine head by turning the tuning peg counter-clockwise. Use a tuner or pitch pipe to help with tuning. Tune the string to the desired note and then turn the tuning peg clockwise to lock the string in place. Repeat this process for all the strings, starting from the top (1st string) to the bottom (4th string). The notes for each string should follow this pattern: E-A-D-G.

String the Mandolin

String The Mandolin

First, make sure the fingerboard is clean and free of dust, dirt, and debris. Put the mandolin face down on a soft, non-abrasive surface. Check the tuning machines for smooth operation. Place the strings through the bridge and the tailpiece. You may need to use a string winder to help with this. Tune the strings to the correct pitch. Start with the E string and move up the strings until all have been tuned. Make sure the strings are not too tight or too loose. Finally, check the neck and fret board for any loose or high frets. Adjust if necessary.

Adjust the Bridge

Adjust The Bridge

  1. Check the bridge to see if it is sitting in the correct position. It should be parallel to the strings and in the right spot on the body.
  2. Loosen the strings and adjust the bridge with your fingers.
  3. Tighten the strings back up and retune the instrument.
  4. Check the bridge again to see if it is in the correct position.
  5. If the bridge is not in the correct position, loosen the strings and use small hex key to adjust the screws on the bridge to move it into the correct position.
  6. Tighten the strings back up and retune the instrument.



Step Description
1 Tune the low E string to an E-note on an electronic tuner.
2 Tune the A string to an A-note on the same tuner.
3 Tune the D string to a D-note on the same tuner.
4 Tune the G string to a G-note on the same tuner.
5 Tune the B string to a B-note on the same tuner.
6 Tune the high E string to an E-note on the same tuner.

Intonation is the process of adjusting the strings on the mandolin to achieve accurate notes when playing. To intonate the mandolin, start with the low E string. Tune the string to an E-note on an electronic tuner. Then, repeat this process for the A, D, G, B, and high E strings, tuning each to the respective note on the same tuner. Once all the strings are in tune, the mandolin is properly intonated.

Fret the Fingerboard

Fret The Fingerboard

  • Check the neck for any warping.
  • Measure and adjust the neck relief (amount of bow in the neck).
  • Install the frets, making sure each one is level with the adjacent frets.
  • Dress the frets by sanding them down with a fine-grit sandpaper.
  • Polish each fret with a fretboard oil.
  • Put the strings on the mandolin.
  • Tune the strings to pitch.

Clean and Maintain the Instrument

Clean And Maintain The Instrument

  • Remove dust and grime from the instrument body with a clean, soft cloth.
  • Lightly oil the tuning keys and the strings with a light mineral oil.
  • Check for loose or worn strings and replace them if needed.
  • Check the bridge, nut, and saddle for any cracks or warping and repair or replace if needed.
  • Clean the fretboard and fretwire with a fretboard cleaner or lemon oil.
  • Check the action of the strings and adjust as needed.
  • Check the intonation of the strings and adjust as needed.

Play the Mandolin

Step Instructions
1 Hold the mandolin in your lap, with the body of the instrument at a slight angle.
2 Place your left-hand fingers on the strings. The strings should be pressed down behind the frets. Keep your thumb behind the neck.
3 Press the strings down using your right-hand fingers. Make sure your fingers hit the strings evenly.
4 Strum the strings using your pick. Start with an up-stroke before strumming down.
5 Practice the basic strumming pattern: down-up-down-up.
6 Start to add more complex patterns as you become more confident.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Steps to Set up a Mandolin?

1. Tune the strings. Use a tuner or tuning fork to ensure each string is at the correct pitch.
2. Adjust the bridge. Move the bridge up and down the body of the mandolin so that the strings are at the desired height from the fretboard.
3. Adjust the truss rod. Use an Allen key to adjust the truss rod to the desired tension for the strings.
4. Set the intonation. Set the intonation by adjusting the string length at the bridge to ensure each string is in tune over the entire fretboard.
5. Test the action. Check the action by playing a few notes and making sure the strings are not too low or too high above the fretboard.
6. Test the playability. Test the playability by strumming and picking a few chords to make sure the instrument is comfortable to play.

How do I adjust the bridge on my mandolin?

To adjust the bridge on your mandolin, measure the distance from the 12th fret to the bottom of the string. You should then adjust the bridge so the distance from the bridge to the 12th fret is the same. Make sure the bridge is level and all strings are at the same height. To adjust the individual strings, use the small screws on top of the bridge to move the string up or down.

How do I adjust the strings on my mandolin?

To adjust the strings on a mandolin, place a capo on the fretboard at the desired pitch. Turn the tuning pegs until the strings reach the correct tension. Make sure to tune the strings up to pitch, not down. To adjust the intonation, use a tuner to check the accuracy of the notes. If the notes are not in tune, adjust the bridge saddles so the notes are in tune. Finally, check the action of the strings to ensure they are at a comfortable level.

How can I ensure my mandolin is in tune?

To ensure your mandolin is in tune, you should use an electronic tuner or pitch pipe to check the strings. Make sure each string is tuned to the correct pitch and adjust the tuning pegs accordingly. Additionally, you can use a fretboard chart to check the intonation of each string along the fretboard. If any notes sound sharp or flat, adjust the bridge saddle accordingly. Finally, when you are confident your mandolin is in tune, check the tuning again after playing for a few minutes, as the strings may have stretched slightly and gone out of tune.

How do I set up a new mandolin for optimal sound?

To set up a new mandolin for optimal sound, begin by checking the bridge. Make sure the bridge is placed correctly and that the string height is even. Next, adjust the nut slots to ensure the strings are correctly seated. The bridge should be approximately a half inch above the soundboard. The strings should also be checked for tension. Adjust the truss rod if necessary to ensure the neck is straight. Finally, tune the strings and check for intonation. Make sure the strings are in tune with each other and that the notes are accurate. With these steps, you can set up your new mandolin for optimal sound.


For great sound from your mandolin, it is important to have the correct setup. Ensure that the nut and bridge heights are set properly and the strings are the correct type and tension for your playing style. Make sure the action is set properly so the strings are not too close or too far from the fretboard. Additionally, keep your mandolin clean and in tune. With the correct setup, your mandolin will sound its best.


About the author

Country Music Singer, Tayo Reed, grow up listening to Country Music as a child in sweet home, "Alabama". "I am authentically a true country girl at heart. I have only desired to sing one style of music. I have never wavered, in spite of disappointments, delays, rejections, and detours."

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