Decades before the guitar became undisputed king of do-it-yourself music, amateur musicians all over the globe formed clubs, bands and whole orchestras based on a smaller, sweeter, even handier stringed instrument: the mandolin.
“It’s small. It’s portable. It’s cute,” said Felida resident Michael Tognetti. And, it’s not as complicated to learn as it looks, since the eight strings are actually four paired sets — so it’s really a four-stringed instrument as far as your fingers are concerned. As far as your ears are concerned, though, it’s eight chiming strings that can fly as fast and pretty as a birdsong.
Most Americans associate the mandolin with bluegrass trailblazer Bill Monroe. But the mandolin has a grander history, and a bigger sound, than that. Tognetti, a longtime guitar dabbler, said he was eventually inspired to take up the mandolin because it shares his proud Italian heritage. It was in Naples in the early 1700s that the modern mandolin took shape; Tognetti got interested when he was living in Europe and serving in the military.
Tognetti even had his own mandolin custom designed and handmade in the style of one of its historical precursors, a medieval instrument called a cytole. Tognetti’s unique instrument boasts seven different styles of wood, a scalloped back and, occupying the sound hole, an intricate hand-carved rose-window pattern that’s modeled after a specific 15th century chapel he’s visited in Bergamo, Italy.
“I come from a family of many accordion players, but that never spoke to me,” Tognetti said. “Nobody in my family plays mandolin, but it drew me.”