Plectra and Strings


Steps to make your own long two pointed Roman plectrum of a piece of ‘tortoise shell’ celluloid:

The long Roman or Embergher-Ranieri plectrum and the Neapolitan plectrum

Since a few years, the American Red Bear Trading Co was contacted by the well-known Dutch mandolinist Sebastiaan de Grebber to closely copy the 6.5 cm long Roman plectrum, following the tortoise shell example developed by the Italian/Belgian mandolin virtuoso Silvio Ranieri (1882 – 1956), in casein material (imitation tortoise shell of the turtle).

Sebastiaan de Grebber (left) and Alex Timmerman

The Red Bear Company was found willing to manufacture it and take it up into their assortiment so that it is fully available today.

This is what Red Bear says about their plectra: “Our picks are made from Galalith also referred to as Milk Stone or Avoriolina (Ivory imitation). This natural product is made from the hardening of casein, the protein of milk which is a “polymerized animal protein”. Using this material for flat picks delivers an organic feel imitating the warm tone and feel of real shell from the Hawksbill Turtle which is now a protected species. Many people who have tried our picks cannot tell them apart from the real thing. Our picks may be copied, but never equaled! DO NOT be fooled by the imitators. Red Bear Trading Company IS THE original manufacturer of these fine picks.”

These Roman mandolin plectra can be ordered by the American Red Bear Trading Company directly.


The Lenzner ‘Consort’ bronce string set

For quality mandolins manufactured in the Embergher-, Calace- and Vinaccia firm during the last years of the 19th- up to the 2nd half of the 20th century, it is recommended to string them with a light- or medium-light gauge string set. Not only this is the best way to capture the beautiful sound of these instruments, but also to protect the sound tables of these instruments against to much pressure caused by modern strings. All too often sunken or even split sound tables are seen on the finest mandolins, simply caused because of thoughtless acting.  

Best is to string the instruments with a set as close as possible to the original ones manufactured by Roman and Neapolitan string makers of the time. It’s interesting that the Embergher atelier in Arpino manufactured an own brand of strings which were sold in the Embergher shop in Rome. From preserved sets for mandolin, mandoliola, mandola and mandoloncello we know that the 1st and 2nd courses were manufactured of plain steel and that the 3rd and 4th pair a steel core with a bronce round wound and polished wire winding and, important, the exact thicknesses.

Lenzner ‘Consort’ string-set
above: an original bridge below: a bridge, uncompensated at the a-string

The letter of the director of the Lenzner Musiksaiten firm in which the Lenzner “Consort Saiten” string-set is announced as the official name for this string-set for historical quality mandolins.

We are very happy that this round-wound string set, named after Mandolin Chamber Orchestra ‘Het CONSORT’, is developed and pleased that it is available for all those mandolinists who like to hear the clear sound of their original Italian mandolin.

All the strings of the Lenzner and Fisoma firms can be ordered through Hendrik van den Broek string instruments MUSICALIA music shop:

The string sets, best to use for the mandolins under discussions here, are the bronze Medium-light- and the ones made at our request and specifications – the lighter tension bronce Lenzner “Consort” string set.

The thicknesses of the Lenzner Medium- and the Lenzner “Consort” string sets are:

Lenzner ‘Consort’:

E = 0.25(5) mm. – A = 0.36(5) mm. – D = 0.53 mm. – G = 0.80 mm.

Lenzner Medium:

E = 0.26(5 mm. – A = 0.35(5) mm. – D = 0.60 mm. – G = 0.84 mm.

Also the Fisoma firm makes our bronce “Consort” string set. This set is known as the Fisoma “Consort” set and has the same string thickness as the Lenzner ‘Consort’ 80/20 BRONZE mandolin set.

As an alternative set the CALACE Dogal Bronze Carbon-steel set RW92B DOLCE (with plain 2nd strings) could be used. The thicknesses of these strings are measured in millimetres:


E = 0.25 mm. – A = 0.35(5) mm. – D = 0.61 mm. – G = 0 87 mm.

How strings are attached to the tuning device of the higher Embergher mandolin models

All Embergher instruments of the Mandolin family have tuning mechanisms that are placed to both, left and right, sides on the head of the instrument. These so-called ‘Roman’ tuning mechanisms are very similar to those seen on the modern Spanish (or Classical) guitar. The lower-end instruments of the Embergher Mandolin family, types like the Tipo A and B for students, and the Models No.1, No.2 and No.3 for Orchestra use, have a hole in the metal rod in the slotted head to pull the string through. By turning the button the string is winded up to the required pitch.

The higher-end instruments of the Embergher Mandolin family, the Model No.4 (Orchestra), No.5, No.5bis, and No.6 for Soloists and the Artistic Models No.7 and No.8, are standard equipped with a so-called ‘string fastener’. This is an ingenious little ‘hook’ that is fitted in the string-hole of the tuning mechanism. The string-end needs to have been bent to a loop just a little bit (a few millimeters) over the length of the hook and twisted back three to five times. After the string loop is placed over the hook, tying up the string can begin. By winding up the string the twisted part will fasten itself immediately and tuning up to pitch follows. With this little hook it only takes about two minutes to change a string. Something that can be of great importance to the soloist/concert mandolinist.

Below you’ll find a set of drawings with explanations on how to fasten a string to the ‘Embergher hinge hook system:                                                                                                                             

The ‘Embergher string hinge-hook system’.

I hope the following photos will also speak for themselves: