My main instruments have been made for some years by Stefan Sobell in Northumberland in the North of England.
After playing bouzoukis, mandolas and mandolins made by him, about twenty five years ago, I decided I wanted a rounder, warmer sound for my bouzouki and we came to the conclusion that a bigger body was the answer. Rather than have a very large tear drop shaped body, I opted for the guitar shape which is easier to hold. A lot of people who do not know me think it’s a guitar, unfortunately!
Well, I suppose it could be called an eight string guitar! (Maybe if I called it that, I might get booked at Guitar Festivals…?)Very little remains of the original Greek bouzouki but it has four courses of double strings – like the modern Greek bouzouki and was originally based on the Greek bouzouki, so we still call them bouzoukis (except when Greeks are present…!). I tune it GDAD.
I also play a mandola made for me by Stefan about thirty years ago (tuned DAEA). It has recently undergone a re-building programme. Namely, a new “top”.
Any instrument takes a while to recover from such interference, especially having a whole new sounding board. It has made a pretty quick recovery though and is back at the head of the queue!
While I was waiting for it’s repair which took nearly a year, I played another Sobell mandola that I had traded a Sobell mandolin for, with Jimmy Crowley. It filled in but I was always on the look out for a better replacement and had mandolas made for me by Davy Stuart in New Zealand, Fylde instruments in UK andTrillium Instruments in New Hampshire, USA. All very good and well made instruments and if I’m playing near home, I bring one of them for the couple of songs I still use DAEB tuning on, rather than tune my Sobell top strings up and down.
An instrument that I really love is my “bassouki”. Made for me by Davy Stuart in New Zealand, it’s a regular bouzouki shaped bouzouki but by stringing it .056/.042/.032/.018 (unwound). I am able to tune it down to CGDG (or CGDA when playing “The West Coast of Clare”). I use a Sunrise magnetic pick up on it and it has really great bass.
I also like to play an octave mandola made by Fylde. This is tuned GDAD, the same as the bouzouki. I like to play it open for songs in G and D and it has octave strings on it which give it a very different sound to the bouzouki.
Recently, following the lead of Dónal Lunny, Rens van der Zalm and Nikola Parov, I commissioned a bouzouki-shaped bouzouki from the famous Japanese guitar makers – K.Yairi.
Ogawa-san and his colleagues who built it, spared no effort to make it a brilliant instrument. It is so beautiful to look at, I hardly can believe my eyes when I take it out of it’s case. It sounds great too and I am practicing hard to get used to its slightly thinner neck.
I get my harmonicas specially built by Antony Dannecker of Lincolnshire, UK. He uses Hohner parts and his own ingenuity and I am currently using his Dannecker Blues harp, though I have to ask him to put different cover plates on, so that it will fit into a harmonica holder. I use a harmonica holder that I have had for over 50 years! God knows how I never lost it! It was given to me by Rambling Jack Elliot at the time I was learning how to play. He also gave me the crucial information that Woody Guthrie used to play the harp upside down!!
Apparently so did the southern blues players of that period. There is no dis/advantage in this but I’m glad I learned to play it upside down like Woody! Jack played it the normal way…
I also have a few old favourites like the Suzuki Pro Master 350V harmonica in G.
I am currently using Highlander pick ups in my Sobell bouzouki and mandola. The new Yairi has a Fishman Matrix. I have no idea which is better… -Andy writes in October 2012-
Andy Irvine solo
Andy requires a Shure SM58 or similar vocal microphone on a mic stand for vocals.
He plays 3 bouzoukis, mandola, and a digitally produced drone for which he requires five DI boxes.
He also uses a condenser mic on these instruments to be mixed in. He can supply his own Audix condenser mic but requires a mic stand and a cable.
He requires at least one monitor and an armless chair. Please DON’T provide water on stage! Thank you!
Andy Irvine with Rens van der Zalm
Andy sits stage left and Rens sits stage right.
Andy requires a Shure SM58 or similar vocal microphone on a mic stand for vocals. He plays bouzouki, mandola, bass bouzouki and a digitally produced drone for which he requires four DI boxes. He also uses a condenser mic on these instruments to be mixed in. He can supply his own Audix condenser mic but requires a mic stand and a cable.
Rens requires a mic on a stand for fiddle. He occasionally sings backing vocals into the same mic. He also plays mandolin and guitar for which he requires two DI boxes. He can also supply his own Audix condenser to be mixed in, but needs a mic stand and cable as well.
Both Andy and Rens need armless chairs. Please water on stage for Rens! Thank you
From Harmonicas Ireland (Cathal Johnson)
Harmonica testimonials by Andy Irvine, recently Cathal has worked with Andy Irvine on his harmonicas (a lot of history with these harps!)
Here’s what Andy has to say:
“It’s great, after all this time, to find a harmonica technician here in Ireland!
I’m delighted to give my full endorsement to his work, repairing and tuning harmonicas.
He does a very thorough job and from now on, I use no other!” – Andy Irvine
Andy Irvine, the most recorded harmonica player in Ireland, according to the National Archives!
Delighted to service Andy Irvine’s harmonicas, some of them harmonicas are legendary harps that have recorded on many albums. Thank to Andy for this recommendation and endorsement!
Andy’s Website has a link to this site so i presume he endores them or at least has had some repairs done if they have not built him one.
Guitar Shaped Bouzouki – Info from the old China2Galway.com
Andy Irvine. playing the now famous, Stefan Sobell guitar shaped bouzouki with his band Patrick Street in La Tentation, Brussels, Belgium, 24/10/00. Photo used with kind permission of J.Perroy.
Quite possibly one of the most exciting developments in the long journey of the bouzouki, has been the recent addition of the Guitar Shaped Bouzouki. At first glance you could mistake it for a guitar, but you will quickly notice eight strings on the head. This new addition has also been called a Bizar, and Gazouki, among other things. Both pretty ugly names, so let’s stick with Guitar Shaped Bouzouki for this.
Andy Irvine’s main instrument these days is a Stefan Sobell Guitar Shaped Bouzouki.
It was commissioned by Andy who wanted to play bouzouki tunings and fingerings while getting a deeper and mellower sound than he could get from a smaller bodied standard bouzouki. The results are a very powerful and extremely versatile instrument. Andy tunes his Bouzouki GDad and uses a capo a lot in his playing style.
Before Andy’s commission, there was no such instrument but since then this instrument has become extremely popular. More so for song accompaniment than for playing melody, but either would be possible on this instrument.
It has long been recognised that the continual changing, improving and in some cases reinventing has had a lot of input from Andy Irvine. Not only the Guitar Shaped Bouzouki, but the modern Irish Bouzouki it’s self, including the Octave mandolin, and the Bass-bouzouki. Infact, even the modern tuning of the bouzouki has changed a lot from the traditional Greek instrument. Andy has used GDad exclusively, and has pioneered its playing style to what many players use today.
Stefan’s current model is a development of that first guitar shaped bouzouki that Andy commissioned in the late eighties and was designed in consultation with Andy Irvine. As was the original Octave mandolin I believe, where Stefan modelled it on a Portuguese mandola that Andy showed Stefan.
This current model of Stefan’s Guitar shaped Bouzouki gives easier access high up the fingerboard, and has a balance between bass and treble that suits the bouzouki tuning well, both acoustically and through the pickup. It has a longer neck (16 frets to the body instead of the standard guitar’s 14) and a slightly shorter bodyIt is on this instrument that Stefan based his model 3 (16 fret to the body) flat-top and arch-top 6 string guitars.
Andy did also play a ‘Fylde’ Guitar Shaped Bouzouki at one point. Infact, I think they named their version of the instrument a ‘Gazouki’.It had a cedar top and maghogany back and sides and built on a Goodfellow guitar body. This instrument had the standard, 14 frets to the body and not 16 as with the Sobell. It was strung with Octave strings and had a particularly good sound when playing tunes like ‘Banaesa’s Green Glade’.
Andy Playing his Fylde Gazouki in 1992.
Andy plays a Sobell guitar-bouzouki, bouzouki, long-scale mandolin, and mandola.
“In the 1970s, many musicians were looking for new instruments to take traditional music in new directions. Stefan was one of the first to come up with a distinctive and useable instrument when he built his first cittern in 1973. I’ve owned and played several of his instruments over the years, and in the mid 1980s he and I developed the guitar-bouzouki that has been my main concert instrument ever since.
Stefan’s instruments have always been built with a rare dedication and love and are now better than ever. His worldwide reputation is more than justified.”
Next time you see Andy playing on stage you’ll know a little more about what that guitar-thing is that he is playing all that wonderful music on!
Guitar Shaped Bouzouki
For more info and ordering one of these,
have a look here Stefan Sobell
The Stefan Sobell Guitar Shaped Bouzouki.
Soundboard European spruce
Back and sides Indian Rosewood
Neck Mahogany with adjustable truss-rod
Fingerboard and bridge Ebony
Body length 46.4 cm (18.3″)
Body width 41.5 cm (16.3″)
Max body depth 12.5 cm (4.9″)
Overall length 103.5 cm (40.0″)
Scale 65.0 cm (25.6″) or 64.3 cm (25.3″)
Fingerboard width at nut 4.0 mm (1.6″)/8 String
Andylin!? – Info from the old China2Galway.com
Andy Irvine playing a long scale mandolin made by Davy Stuart, called an Andylin - Photo by Frank Hermann
“Mandolinists really don’t come any more tasteful than Andy Irvine, and I think he’s a remarkable musician for the sensitivity and sheer invention of his song accompaniments.” Simon Mayor
Andy Irvine was a mandolin player long before becoming an Irish Bouzouki player. Today he does not play as much mandolin but he does play two instruments that seem to be somewhere in between a mandolin and a mandola. One, made by Stefan Sobell of England, and one, by Davy Stuart of New Zealand. This new breed is not exactly a mandolin, nor mandola, nor octave mandolin, so what do you call it ?
“The instrument is actually a 16″ scale rosewood/ spruce ‘mandolin’
(whimsically called an Andylin or Mandylin) tuned down one tone and
Generally tuned FCgc, except when Andy wants a ‘conventional’ mandolin in which case he will retune the top two strings one tone up and capo on the second fret.
Rens van der Zalm now also has one of these 16″ mandos and hopefully US listers may hear both together shortly on the Mozaik tour of the US.“ Davy Stuart
Infact, this is not a new invention, meerly a progression over time, as in the early years Andy was often seen playing an old Gibson mandola ( also a 16″ scale ) with the same FCgc tuning. It was a very common sound on the early Planxty recordings.
This instrument is another thorn in the side of all the people that are desperately trying to label these instruments. I can hear them now, it’s not a mandola, it’s not a mandolin, it’s not a……………………….To be very honest, I don’t care too much what you call them, it is the sound that matters after all. Davy Stuart is the maker and he calls it a Andylin………………..thats good enough for me! Andy Irvine
The Andylin was finished last year and was picked up by Andy in September 2003, in Australia. Just in time for the Mozaik tour. I am not sure how much or even if it was played on the Mozaik tour but it was definitely used on the Planxty reunion gigs 2004, and present in Andy’s recent tour of Germany 04, with Rens.
After only picking up the Andylin for a few weeks Andy appeared on ABC Radio Australia, 18th December 2003. I never caught the whole radio show ( sure would love to hear it, if you recorded it ) but the track that was played on the internet used the new Andylin to great effect on a track called “Empty Handed”. Andy sang beautifully and his words were wrapped up in a very haunting and wonderful tone of this new instrument. The track “Empty Handed” can still be heard here if you would like to here it.
Above is a photo of Andy with his Andylin, taken at ABC Ballarat studios in Australia. It was used on the ABC South West Victoria website and is reproduced here with very kind permission of Jarrod Watt.
The first real built Andylin, was actually made by Stefan Sobell and was not called this (obviously) it was simply called a long scale mandolin. Though I have heard it called a mandola for years.
“Stefan also made me a mandolin/mandola. Never quite know what to call it. Its two frets longer than a mandolin. I used to play a Gibson mandola which had the same string length as Stefans. Classically, a mandola should be tuned way down to CGDA but I always thought this stupid with a Gibson because it didn’t have a big enough body, nor a long enough string length to cope with the hawser-like strings required. So I thought it logical–as it was two frets longer than a mandolin– to tune it a tone lower, using mandolin strings. So I tune it FCGC (I nearly always have the top string tuned down a tone)” Andy Irvine
This instrument has been played by Andy now for many years, and is still an incredible sounding instrument. I have seen him play this a few times now and it is still one of my favourites. Andy playing The Blacksmith or they never believe its true just blow you away.
The Sobell is fitted with a magnetic pickup and almost always backed up with a AKG C1000S condenser mic. The Stuart is fitted with a sunrise magnetic pick up.
“I rarely play the Hurdy Gurdy these days. My instrument was made by Peter Abnett in 1972. It had a perspex wheel and spring loaded jacks, all of which totally bemused the H/G community in France and Germany! It’s a hard instrument to maintain. The number of times it has turned into a squalling howl in the middle of a slow song doesn’t bear thinking about. I pick it up every now and again. I would like a new and better one but the price is high and doesn’t seem justifiable for me.”
Mandozine Interview – Andy in 2004 in which he talks in-depth about his instruments & technique.
Andy with his Gibson Mandolin
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