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Carved-top instruments are common in American folk music and bluegrass music.

Flat-backed instruments are commonly used in Irish, British and Brazilian folk music.

There are many styles of mandolin, but three are common, the Neapolitan or round-backed mandolin, the carved-top mandolin and the flat-backed mandolin.

The round-back has a deep bottom, constructed of strips of wood, glued together into a bowl.

; literally "small mandola") is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is usually plucked with a plectrum.

It commonly has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in unison (8 strings), although five (10 strings) and six (12 strings) course versions also exist.

Each style of instrument has its own sound quality and is associated with particular forms of music.

Much of mandolin development revolved around the soundboard (the top).

The resonating body may be shaped as a bowl (necked bowl lutes) or a box (necked box lutes).

Traditional Italian mandolins, such as the Neapolitan mandolin, meet the necked bowl description.

The mandolin's paired strings facilitate this technique: the plectrum (pick) strikes each of a pair of strings alternately, providing a more full and continuous sound than a single string would.

Various design variations and amplification techniques have been used to make mandolins comparable in volume with louder instruments and orchestras, including the creation of mandolin-banjo hybrid with the louder banjo, adding metal resonators (most notably by Dobro and the National String Instrument Corporation) to make a resonator mandolin, and amplifying electric mandolins through amplifiers. Usually, courses of 2 adjacent strings are tuned in unison.

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