First of all, here's my story:
I'm a guitarist of 6 years and would consider myself to be fairly accomplished for the limited time I've played. I have a home studio and record music that I write. I like to implement all sorts of aural elements into my music, prompting me to gobble up anything that makes an interesting sound. My most recent acquisition was a cheap chromaharp and it has already brought me great joy.
I've been considering investing in a mandolin for a number of reasons. 1) It's an instrument I would genuinely like to learn to play; 2) I love the sounds it can put out and think it would make for some interesting solo and lead sounds in my music; and 3) I would like to eventually be able to play the mandolin at the level I play guitar, using it live and such. Right now guitar is the only instrument of my several that I feel comfortable enough to do that with.
So I've been browsing Ebay, Folk of the Wood, and this wonderful site for some information on a good mandolin to get for my purposes. I am a junior in college and money is tight. And by tight I mean it's probably bad that I'm even buying Taco Bell for lunch every now and then. So, I'm looking for a wonderfully cheap yet halfway decent instrument.
I happened across a manufacturer called Hora out of Romania. I was only able to find a little bit of information on them on these boards. Their mandolins are extremely affordable. Their selection can be seen here: http://www.hora.ro/pages/mandolins.htm
Their laminated Portuguese model mandolins come in at a mere $85 US, but oddly enough the solid models of the same mandolins are only $1.50 more at $86.50. They also have the RG II mandola for $106. (by the way, what is the difference between a mandolin and mandola?)
I realize this is way less money than I should consider spending, but I've been to Romania on several occasions and I know what the economy is like there. I've eaten a full meal at McDonald's for 10 cents, and bought beautiful hand crafted glassware for a few bucks. So, I'm wondering if the price is cheap because, in reality, $86.50 US is a ton of money in Romania, or because they really are cheap cruddy instruments.
Any help on this would be appreciated. Keep in mind my main purpose is to have another instrument to record, so I'm not even necessarily going for the "mandolin sound" so much as I am a new and different sound for myself. But I certainly want an instrument that feels good and plays well. I can upgrade later if I get really into it.
Thanks a bunch if you've read this far. Please help a mandolin newbie out! I'll be much obliged.