How much should I spend on a mandolin?
by, May-14-2012 at 12:06pm (2265 Views)
I have been thinking about the cost of a mandolin.
Folks go on and on about why an F style costs more than an A style, or why a vintage this costs more than a vintage that. And there are numerous discussion about getting the best mandolin you can for under $300.00.
I understand, right down to my bones I understand, having serious concerns about money. And I have been through my share of scratchy times. And this is not about how to manage that, or how to get more for what discretionary money you do have. Others are wiser and more disciplined than me. Let them comment.
This is about taking into accounting the true cost.
My experience is that getting a mandolin is like getting a puppy. Even for free they are very expensive. If you can’t afford it, you really can’t afford it. This is because, if you enjoy it more than somewhat, your life changes forever. The musical life is costly, and the one time cost of the mandolin is small by comparison.
Lets say you get a mandolin for free. For nothing. Here, please take my mandolin. I want you to have it.
If you figure the cost of a set up, a case, a tuner, a strap, picks, tune books, music stand, metronome, ok a capo, we are up to roughly $500. And that is being modest, a lot of folks get more picks, better tuner, high end cases and lots more tune books, and I have not included the bling and paraphernalia many folks like, arm rests, strap buttons, remove (or add) a pick guard, change out the nut or bridge, a pickup, and then there’s an instrument stand, a digital tune recorder, a foot stool, a cool little box for your picks, ... OK, you can spend as much as you want.
But the most minimalist mandolin enthusiast is likely going to get, eventually, a case, a tuner, a strap, some picks, some tune books, a music stand, and a metronome and perhaps a capo. And not getting a set up is no savings, believe me.
Now you have yearly costs. $24 in strings a year, if you change your strings 3 or 4 times a year. No biggie. You think thats it?
The largest is annual expense is travel costs. Different for everyone. But for me, there is a couple of jams a week at a distance of 50 or 60 miles, and a couple of festivals a year at a distance of 600 miles, and local jams and party travel. So I estimate about $750 a year just in travel. Your mileage will vary, as will the price of gas, but I guarantee that with even a modicum of enthusiasm, your travel costs will eventually become significant. This is not extravagant. As before, you can spend as much as you want, and more.
Did I mention festivals? You will eventually go to a festival. So that means, at a minimum, a tent and a sleeping bag. A tee shirt and coffee mug? Tune books you would not ordinarily get.
So to put it all together - that free mandolin could cost you $500 to $800 dollars, and with a passionate but not out of control musical lifestyle, and additional $600 to $800 (or more) per year,ever year.
And I have not included road food, road coffee, additional festival camping paraphernalia like lanterns, coolers, camp chairs, and then there are sound systems - microphones and amps and mike stands and extra cables. Does not include a workshop every other year, gig bags to carry all this cool stuff, cost of food and drink for the music parties you will host. Does not include lessons once a week, and a camera for your computer to share videos.
And your family. Now everyone dreams of getting their family to share their passions. So whether or not it happens, you probably want it to happen. So now your kids are interested, and their instruments are not free, nor their tune books and bling and camping equipment...
Don't as yet have a family? You are likely to meet the love of your life. (And she or he is likely to be a banjo player.) Do you know the upfront and annual cost of even a frugal love. And this is not including a marriage. (Though you will save some on the reception music if you have a jam.)
So if you were to include the costs of the impact of getting a mandolin on your whole life, you would never do it. Even for a free mandolin, much less several hundred for a first mandolin and several hundred for a second mandolin (oh you know you will get a second mandolin).
That is why I have to chuckle when folks balk at a one time cost of a high end pick, or fretting over an additional $50 in the cost of a mandolin. For those who have decided that the whole mandolin life is not out of reach, balking about these small one time expenditures just seems amusing.
But the truth is you are going to wrap your life around something. Whether its mandolin, or fishing, or hunting, or great books, or great coffee, or brewing beer, or boating (OMG), Civil War re-enacting, gourmet cooking, or wood working, leather craft, photography (OMG), treasure hunting with metal detector, hot rodding, or restoring vintage farm tractors, carving duck decoys, raising pure bred dogs, or... or... well you get the picture. We have to make a living sure, but we have to make a life. And the costs involved in making a life are why we make a living.
So my advice is to go into denial. Deep denial. Don’t look at the cost of all the wonderful ways your life and life’s priorities will change. Go about it blindly, incrementally, getting the best you can justify at each stage, and moving on from there.
And then look back and laugh at what you have become that you could not have predicted. You will anyway.