Instruments & Gear: Fine Lutherie

Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

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Joe K. Walsh demonstrates his archtop guitar–inspired octave mandolin.

by Teja Gerken
August 31, 2020

Low-tuned instruments of various configurations have been part of the mandolin family in both European and American traditions for a long time. However, combining an archtop guitar–style body with a scale length that facilitates octave tuning (GDAE), an octave below a standard mandolin) is a relatively new development. Popularized by artists such as Sierra Hull, Sarah Jarosz, and Tim O’Brien, these instruments have a fuller sound than a standard mandolin, making them great for accompanying vocals or augmenting a mix of other stringed instruments. Having been exclusively the domain of individual luthiers, this instrument type is starting to catch the attention of bigger manufacturers as well, and Northfield has pioneered the effort of bringing it to a larger audience. Peghead Nation mandolin instructor Joe K. Walsh recently took time to demonstrate his personal Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin on a break from shooting lesson videos in his home.

The Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin has a vintage-inspired, non-cutaway body that measures 13.7 inches across the lower bout. The top is hand-carved, braced with a pair of tone bars, and outfitted with two traditional f-holes. Joe’s instrument has mahogany back and sides, and Northfield also offers an instrument built with maple back and sides. The instrument has a 22-inch scale that is similar to many tenor guitars and slightly shorter than many bouzouki-style instruments, which have a similar range and are sometimes tuned the same as an octave mandolin.

In this video, Joe demonstrates the instrument by playing his arrangements of Edgar Meyer’s “Sliding Down,” Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times,” and the fiddle tune “Leather Britches. He also talks about and demonstrates how he uses the instrument when he’s looking for a bigger sound than a standard mandolin, as in his trio with guitarist Grant Gordy and Peghead Nation banjo instructor Danny Barnes.

To study mandolin with Joe K. Walsh on Peghead Nation, enroll in his Bluegrass Mandolin Jam Favorites or The Advancing Mandolinist course!

SPECS: Archtop octave mandolin. Solid carved Italian red spruce top with tone bar bracing. Mahogany or maple back and sides. Mahogany or figured maple neck. Ebony fretboard and bridge. Adjustable truss rod. 22-inch scale. 1.4-inch nut width. Gotoh tuners. Machined brass “Nugget” tailpiece. Made in China. $4,500 mahogany/$5,000 maple. Northfieldinstruments.com


Category: Instruments & Gear

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