Seagull Mandolin has long been known for their unconventional designs, and the S8 mandolin is no exception. Having a fresh look that nods to tradition without being bound by it, it’s certainly going to attract a lot of attention. Will the sound live up to the looks though? Check out our review of the Seagull S8 mandolin to find out!
Seagull describes its S8 mandolin shape as having a “double cutaway.” It is thinner and has two little wings at the top, similar to an A-style mandolin. The command is still as long as a standard command, but you save a bit of space on either side. This space-saving option may be just what you need if you are looking for a travel buddy.
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Travelers will also appreciate the fact that Segal has designed this as a very durable mandolin. A solid piece of wood extends from the neck to the triblock, forming one solid piece. Its solid spruce soundboard is also slightly curved, which aids both its tone and its strength. In addition, a double truss rod is embedded in the neck, which keeps it from bowing. I wouldn’t necessarily test it too hard, but this is not a fragile mandolin.
As far as looks are concerned, I like it a lot. It is up to the individual to choose what they like. The design of the body and triangle-shaped sound hole might raise some eyebrows since it is not a “traditional” look. Still, it’s not a huge departure from the norm, and the fit and finish make it a very appealing instrument.
There are three finishes available for the Seagull S8. One has a natural look, with light brown on the front, back, and sides. “Burnt Umber” is a deep, redder brown with a slight sunburst fading on the front and back. Finally, the electric version of the S8 has a traditional sunburst look, which is lighter in the middle and darker at the edges.
It does feel slightly different in the hands due to its non-traditional shape. In general, you’ll have less space on the soundboard with the slimmer design. Although most mandolin instructors would tell you not to rest your hand or arm on the soundboard, some players still do it. It might be easier to hold the mandolin with a strap if you have been bracing your hands or arms this way. Most mandolin players already use a strap anyway, so this may not be a problem.
Despite being slimmer and smaller than normal, the fretboard on the Seagull mandolin actually has a little more width than normal. Any mandolinist who finds the usual fretboard to be too tight will definitely benefit from this. People with thick fingers and guitar players may also benefit from this.
Having a “double cutaway” design makes playing high up the neck a little easier. A-style has more frets 12 to 15 than a standard F-style, and it’s better or equal to many F-styles. Together with the wider fretboard, these features make the Seagull S8 a great mandolin for soloing.
Action was good right out of the box, and it’s easy to adjust with the truss rod. When it comes to action, everyone has slightly different preferences, so it’s important to make it easy to adjust. The S8’s truss rod is especially important since the bridge is not adjustable (or movable), unlike most mandolins. If necessary, you can file both the bridge and the nut to bring down the action, but it is probably not necessary.
The old joke about mandolin players spending half their time tuning and the other half playing out of tune doesn’t quite apply to the Seagull S8. Tuners with open gears are easy to adjust and hold their tuning well. Another nice touch is the compensated saddle, which helps with intonation. The frets are well-dressed and placed, and the intonation is generally accurate.
When you pick or strumming the Seagull S8, you’ll notice that it’s quite loud. Mandolins with curved soundboards pack a lot of punch, making this a great mandolin for jams and Irish sessions. It is actually quite loud considering its slimmer body. A lot of that can be attributed to its tone, which is high-end-heavy.
However, the slimmer body sacrifices some low-end performance. The drums aren’t quite as bass-heavy as I would like, but they’re still well-balanced. The overall tone is bright and brash. This means a punchy sound that projects well when soloing. Likewise, chopping comes across well. Mandolins like this one aren’t good for soft or somber songs, nor are they good for subdued strumming.
The tone is not particularly rich or complex due to the lack of low end. It may not be the best instrument for someone primarily interested in playing alone. The instrument, however, sounds great in groups. It’s a great book to recommend to anyone playing bluegrass, Irish, Scottish, or “Celtic” mandolins. It has a bright tone and a large volume, making it ideal for melodic playing of reels or solos. Musicians who frequently play solo will find this a great travel instrument, but it probably won’t become their primary mandolin.
Introducing the Seagull S8 EQ Electric Mandolin
This mandolin is available with a pickup, called the “S8 EQ.” It has an on-board active pickup/preamp system, so it doesn’t require an external preamp or DI box. This pickup is a piezo pickup, which means that it produces a natural-sounding tone.
Seagull has put electric guitar-style control knobs on many of its electro-acoustic instruments, including the s8 EQ mandolin.
There is no doubt that these are a non-traditional element, and some people may not like the way they look. For the most part, it doesn’t make any difference how they look. Although they stick out a little from the soundboard, they aren’t too intrusive, and won’t affect most playing styles. The acoustic tone also doesn’t seem to be affected too much by them. The final decision is up to you if you like the way it looks or not. I actually like the look, but I’m very much not a purist!
Jeff Smallwood playing the Seagull S8 EQ Mandolin.
Volume and tone are controlled by the two knobs. Volume is self-explanatory, and the pickup/preamp system produces a very strong and loud signal at maximum volume. Tone can be adjusted to a certain extent. The sound changes from a round, bloomy, bossy sound to a nice bright jangle. I would like to have a bit more control over the tone, but that would require more knobs, and clutter up the front. There is enough control here for a pinch, and you can always fine-tune the tone with an EQ pedal.
Overall, the tone is natural enough to pass when plugged in. You won’t be blown away by it, but it certainly sounds like a pickup song, but it doesn’t sound too artificial. It wouldn’t hurt to fine-tune the EQ a bit more, but it’s good enough for most applications. A pickup won’t give you a truly natural tone if you’re concerned. In that case, use a microphone.
In addition to offering unique designs at very affordable prices, Seagull has made a name for itself. This S8 mandolin definitely delivers on that front. This is a well-made mandolin with a blend of tradition and innovation. As a travel or knock-around mandolin, it features a good enough tone and volume to hold its own in a bluegrass band or Irish session.
Even though the tone isn’t the most complex out there, it performs as well as or better than similar priced mandolins. In addition, if you’re looking for an electric mandolin, the S8 EQ is a great choice. Seagull’s S8 line does a nice job, whether it’s electric or acoustic. Thanks for looking!