The mandola (US and Canada) or tenor mandola (Ireland and UK) is a fretted, stringed musical instrument. It is to the mandolin what the viola is to the violin: the four double courses of strings tuned in fifths to the same pitches as the viola (C-G-D-A low-to-high), a fifth lower than a mandolin. The mandola, although now rarer, is the ancestor of the mandolin, the name of which means simply "little mandola".
The name mandola may originate with the ancient pandura, and was also rendered as mandora, the change perhaps having been due to approximation to the Italian word for "almond". The instrument developed from the lute at an early date, being more compact and cheaper to build, but the sequence of development and nomenclature in different regions is now hard to discover. Historically related instruments include the mandore, mandole, vandola (Joan Carles Amat, 1596), bandola, bandora, bandurina, pandurina and—in 16th-century Germany—the quinterne or chiterna. However, significantly different instruments have at times and places taken on the same or similar names, and the "true" mandola has been strung in several different ways.
The mandola has four double courses of metal strings, tuned in unison rather than in octaves. The scale length is typically around 42 cm (16.5 inches). The mandola is typically played with a plectrum. The double strings accommodate a sustaining technique called tremolando, a rapid alternation of the plectrum on a single course of strings.
The mandola is commonly used in folk music—particularly Italian folk music. It is sometimes played in Irish traditional music, but the instruments octave mandola, Irish bouzouki and modern cittern are more commonly used. It is tuned like a viola CGDA. Some Irish traditional musicians, following the example of Andy Irvine, restring the tenor mandola with lighter, mandolin strings and tune it F-C-G-C (2 semi-tones lower than G-D-A-D, since the mandola's fretboard is about 2 inches longer than the mandolin's), while others (Brian McDonagh of Dervish being the best known) use alternate tunings such as D-A-E-A. Like the guitar, the mandola can be acoustic or electric. Attila the Stockbroker, punk poet and frontman of Barnstormer, uses an electric mandola as his main instrument. Alex Lifeson, guitarist of Rush, has also featured the mandola in his work.
Mandolas are often played in mandolin orchestras, along with other members of the mandolin family: mandolin, mandocello and mandobass. Sometimes the octave mandolin (also referred to as an octave mandola) is included as well.