I made it to the Irish Session tonight for the first time since March. I almost didn't go because I was pretty tired this evening, but, as always, I was glad that I did. Sue was there too, and for the first time in something like a year of hand problems, she was playing a mandolin. This was no ordinary mandolin, though. She got it from The Thin Man String Co. in Alameda, and it's made from the body of a ukulele. It's strung with nylon guitar strings, but they're doubled and tuned like a mandolin, but then one of each pair is dropped an octave, like a bouzouki. I called it a mandozoukulele, though Patrick preferred "sue-zouki." (It looks sort of like these pictures, though Sue's is rather nicer.)
This seemed like a really weird instrument at first glance, but I was absolutely tickled when I tried playing it. It has a remarkably nice, full sound to it, and it actually seems louder than a regular mandolin. (Unfortunately, I was playing tenor banjo tonight, and didn't have my mandolin for comparison.) It's also easier on the hands than a mandolin, which is why Sue got it, though it's still a bit more work than tenor banjo. I really enjoyed playing it, and I could even see myself getting one.
Another interesting thing: the same place also sells these mandolins with extra little sound holes in the side. That way, more of the sound gets directed up towards the musician, so you can actually hear yourself play. Neat idea. Of course, once these entered the conversation, we got several offers of electric drills and on-the-spot mandolin customizations, but we passed on that. However, it occurred to us that you could probably get a similar effect without having to puncture anything. The experiment I want to try is to get a stethoscope and tape the sound piece to the back of the mandolin, then find out what it sounds like through the other end. Of course, you'd look pretty silly sitting in a session listening to your mandolin through a stethoscope, but it would be interesting to try, at least.