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Thread: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

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    Patrick Wright papawhisky's Avatar
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    Default Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    Hi All,
    I've been away from mandolin for several years, and have just come back to the fold. All good. Of course, I had to buy a new mandolin and started looking at what is available. Last mando I bought was in 1992. It was a Gibson F5L, Carlson signed (back then, didn't know that would matter). I paid $2800 new. I thought that was a ton of money for a mandolin.

    Fast forward to 2009.
    There are so many builders of high end mandolins. Which is great. I enjoy salivating over Red Diamond, Wood, Dailey, etc.
    But I have noticed that there is a lot of price variance among high end F-5 style mandolins. The variance far exceeds the $2800 I once paid for my Gibson. If I can buy a Dailey for $7k, and it is good enough for pros such as Adam Steffey, what do I get when I pay an additional $5k to get a Gilchrist? Or more for a Nugget?
    I believe that these things are fairly constant across the high end instruments:
    -select woods-pine/spruce/cedar top, maple back and sides
    -high attention, hand finishing
    -hardware
    -Loar design emulation
    My question is sincere. It is not a criticism of the market or pricing in general. I just wonder what the difference is and I am looking for something tangible like specific building techniques, voicing decisions, etc that yields a better, therefore, more expensive instrument.

    Like I said, I've been away for awhile--but this is keeping me up at night.

    Papawhisky

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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    << If I can buy a Dailey for $7k, and it is good enough for pros such as Adam Steffey, what do I get when I pay an additional $5k to get a Gilchrist? >>

    You would be getting a GREAT deal!

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    Chris Fontaine
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    Where's the 12k Gil? I'll take it. Seriously, it is really supply and demand. They aren't all worth the price. I had a newish F-5G on my bench the other day the guy paid over 4k for and the top was seriously sinking. I've been blown away by some of the 20k plus mandolins, but also equally blown away by some Daily's, Stanley's, Heiden's, Duff's and lots of other hatt are less than half the price. Last week I worked on a '92 Flatiron A model that sounded as good as any F I've ever played. You just have to play lots of instruments and find the one that makes you grin when you pick. Have fun looking.
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    Quote Originally Posted by papawhisky View Post
    I just wonder what the difference is and I am looking for something tangible like specific building techniques, voicing decisions, etc that yields a better, therefore, more expensive instrument.
    Frankly, you won't really find tangible differences between high end mandolins that "justify" the price differences. There is variation, to be sure, but the same materials, techniques, and knowledge are available to all builders. Past a certain point of quality, there aren't really any better mandolins, just different mandolins. Some will prefer one and some will prefer another, those opinions can be strongly held, and some people have trouble differentiating between their own opinion and actual quality differences, so you can often be told that a XX mandolin is the very best and "worth every penny" while a YY mandolin is overpriced and not any good.

    The biggest thing driving the price spread is the market. Some names have gained a reputation for quality, there are enough of them around to be well known and respected, they have become "brands", to some extent, and command high prices because the demand is there and the market will support those prices.

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    Mike Parks woodwizard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    Quote Originally Posted by papawhisky View Post

    Fast forward to 2009.
    There are so many builders of high end mandolins. Which is great. I enjoy salivating over Red Diamond, Wood, Dailey, etc.
    But I have noticed that there is a lot of price variance among high end F-5 style mandolins. The variance far exceeds the $2800 I once paid for my Gibson. If I can buy a Dailey for $7k, and it is good enough for pros such as Adam Steffey, what do I get when I pay an additional $5k to get a Gilchrist? Or more for a Nugget?
    I believe that these things are fairly constant across the high end instruments:
    -select woods-pine/spruce/cedar top, maple back and sides
    -high attention, hand finishing
    -hardware
    -Loar design emulation

    Papawhisky
    First off you would be very lucky to find a Gilchrist for $7k+5k=$12k. These builders that you have mentioned ... some say have a special talent that goes beyond a normal great builder. Supply and demand keeps their prices up there too. There's not as many of them made and there is a long waiting list for them. Personally I don't know if they are worth that much to me. (I'm kind of a tight wad). Others who own them and have played them more can jump in there on that. A Monteleone is about the highest dollar mando I've played (about a 27k value). It was very nice and played like butter but so does the mando I have which is about a quarter of that price, Still not cheap. Good/highend mando's are just plain exspensive nowadays. I can only say I'm pretty happy with what I got. So... IMHO. The Dailey you mentioned might be good enough for you vs: the Gilchest/Nugget. The good old days are gone however some might say in 20 years these will be the good ole' days.
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    The biggest thing driving the price spread is the market. Some names have gained a reputation for quality, there are enough of them around to be well known and respected, they have become "brands", to some extent, and command high prices because the demand is there and the market will support those prices.
    __________________
    I find I agree with everything this man says.

    I was talking to someone the other day about Charles J. Horner mandolins. They asked me if Charles was still alive and still building, I said of course and doing the best work of his life in his own words at 75.

    If you have read Lynn Dudenbostal's account of how he got started in building instruments, he tells of traveling down to the Westal Conservatory to see Mr Horner.

    Fast forward 25 years and Charles is selling his F5's 90 percent less than the used Dudenbostal in the classified section here. There are many factors which would explain the difference, but a lot more of you all know about Lynn's work than do Charles' work.

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    Moderator JEStanek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    I just spent 20 minutes composing a response but I didn't have anything to add that John didn't already and more eloquently say.

    Jamie
    There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second. Logan Pearsall Smith, 1865 - 1946

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    Quoting again what the late Eldon Stutzman of Stutzman's Guitar Center, for whom I worked back in the '70's, said: "If you don't see or hear any difference, buy the cheaper one."

    Prices are set by supply and demand. If a certain reputation or cachet gets attached to a builder, he/she can earn a higher price. If a particular well-known musician plays an easily-identifiable instrument, demand for that instrument may rise. I would hazard a guess -- and that's all it is -- that above a certain level, what we peons call "quality" doesn't enter into it. All the mandolins in that stratospheric range have exceptional quality of materials, design, construction, fit and finish. They may sound different, and one sound may be preferred over another by enough people to create differential demand. But "branding" is another very decisive factor; if that $25K Gilchrist were labeled "Schmergel," doubt it could get the same price.
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    Quoting again what the late Eldon Stutzman of Stutzman's Guitar Center, for whom I worked back in the '70's, said: "If you don't see or hear any difference, buy the cheaper one."
    This is easier for players than collectors.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    From the guitar world...
    Is a Traugott any better than an Olson, or a Ryan? Is a Somogyi any better than a Wingert or a Doolin? Are there any OM-45's out there better than a Borges? (ok, no, none, IMHO) Is a Greven better than a Walker, or vice versa? When you hit that level of building, it's really hard to discern one being *better* than another. Other than perhaps upgraded wood charges, as others have said, you pay for the cachet/mystique of that builder. These builders, and many more really nail the details and the tone/playability on a consistent basis. To a very large degree, they've earned their reputations as high-end builders. That said, the economic times we live in can be a great equalizer, and even builders like these can be forced to lower their prices to earn a living, or find something else to do that makes more financial sense. If you can't afford one of those cachet instruments, the good news is there are a lot of builders out there who are on their way up, and there are great bargains to be had on terrific instruments.
    Don Williams

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    Registered User Bob DeVellis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    One other factor that comes into play is tone orthodoxy. Some people have a very, very specific tone that they're after. The most common "gold standard" is the Loar-era Gibson F-5. For many bluegrassers, that's the Holy Grail. Even small departures may be noticed and deemed a deficiency. For people who really are after that very specific sound, nothing less will do. The Loars can cost upwards of $200,000. So, if a modern builder can capture the sound, a 5-figure price may seem like a bargain. Some builders seem to be able to recreate the sound of those old instruments in ways that others can't.

    Many players don't require a mandolin that fully captures the sound of a vintage Loar. They may like the Loar sound but be perfectly content with an instrument that comes reasonably close tonally without capturing the ultimate details. Many wouldn't even note the absence of that last trace of similitude. Others can hear it, but don't necessarily consider it a "better" sound, just a different one. Some even prefer a more modern mandolin sound.

    As you head somewhere north of five grand, you're beginning to pay for some subtleties. If those are important to you, the added cost is worth it. If they're not important to you, it isn't. At some higher price point, cachet comes into play, as has been mentioned above.

    There are very, very fine mandolins available for under $10,000 and, if you are patient, for under $5,000. Whether more expensive mandolins are better is largely a matter of personal preference. To some, those more expensive mandolins clearly have attributes they value and are willing to pay more for. But this isn't like the difference between $200 mandolin and a $2000 mandolin. Although wonderful music can be made on a $200 mandolin, one that costs 10 times as much is generally a lot better in ways that are readily recognizable. It's a bigger difference than just subjective preference. But at the higher end, it really is a subjective difference.
    Bob DeVellis

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    Registered User grandcanyonminstrel's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    Interesting discussion that gets a lot of air time for all the instruments. I'll add another factor that stands out from a luthier's perspective that might stir up a few folks. Sometimes, once you get past a certain qaulity level, the prices that you see are direct reflections of that individual luthier's lifestyle.

    I know of some regional builders in the Carolina's that build a fantastic F5 at a price so low that it just doesn't make sense to me; they also live very simple lives without a lot of debt and excess, in inexpensive areas. On the other end of the spectrum, I know several guitar builders who have to charge $20k for their instruments because they have expensive homes, nice cars, and one has THREE ex-wives that get paid before anyone else gets a penny! In order for him to be a guitar builder, that's his break even point to stay in business.

    When folks visit me at the downtown shop, see my bicycle, and ask why a 43 year-old doesn't own a car, I tell them it's to help keep the prices down....

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    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    You'll notice that the really stratosperically expensive ones (Gilchrists, Nuggets, etc.) are being made by extremely experienced builders. I don't know how many Steve Gilchrist has made, but it's a LOT.

    If you look at some of the more up-and-coming builders like Dan Voight, Andrew Mowry, and John Hamlett*, they are making some really great instruments, but they just don't have the cachet yet of a Dude or a Gil.

    I haven't got a chance to play a lot of the smaller-shop custom builder's mandolins, due to geographic unavailability. I hope I get a chance.

    I think there's a lot more to this topic than "you pay for the name". When top notch players like Chris Thile are seen playing a Dude, it changes all the rules. Time, experience, endorsements, and visibility over years and years makes a high-demand instrument builder, hence the high prices.


    *(I know there is a big age and experience range here-- just trying to list a couple of builders who may be the next generation Dudenbostels or Gilchrists.)

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    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    Quote Originally Posted by grandcanyonminstrel View Post
    ....
    I know of some regional builders in the Carolina's that build a fantastic F5 at a price so low that it just doesn't make sense to me; they also live very simple lives without a lot of debt and excess, in inexpensive areas......
    j.
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    I totally agree with James. If you nose around the Carolina/Tennessee/Virginia region with some in-the-know folks, you can find WONDERFUL mandolins for well under $5K being made by locals, not interested in joining the rat race of having a long waiting list with pressure to produce an instrument every week.
    You just have to know where to look AND not be interested in a widely recognizable name on the headstock.
    Phil

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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    If YOU can't tell the difference then it certainly may not be worth the extra bucks for you. That does not mean others cannot tell a difference. Whether real or imagined does not matter. It only needs to matter to the buyer of that particular mandolin. I have often said you should find the mandolin that speaks to you and then you will be happy. Play what you love and love what you play. The builder or the price should be secondary to finding what suits you. Is there justification for the difference in pricing? Certainly there is....in the minds and pockets of those who pay the increase.

    I work on all levels of mandolins, know many of the builders and have been fortunate to be friends with a good many. There are some mighty wonderful instruments being built today. We see then through our shop all the time needing set ups, fret work, cracks repaired, sound enhanced, headstock repairs, whatever they need. We are impressed with the quality of work with most of the current builders. Occasionally we find one we think should find another line of work, but that is rare. So many build a really good mandolin, but if it does not motivate you to spend your money then it matters not the price, becuase it is not the one for you. When you find that ONE special mandolin, you will either find a way to get it or dream about it for the rest of your days. What is the price of that dream fulfillment worth? Only you can answer that. That is where a good share of the cost difference comes in.

    I have owned some very very nice mandolins. Were they worth the extra? You bet they were. Every time I would pick them up it would remind me they certainly were. I was and am blessed to be able to do that. Every time Blondie is taken out of the case I am thankful for the opportunity to play this mandolin. The money invested may have been great, but this mandolin is worth the sacrifices I've made to have it. That answers the question for me. I hope you find the same value in your mandolin choice.
    Have a Great Day!
    Joe Vest

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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    It was only a couple of years ago that those top-name makers were delivering brand new mandolins for prices significantly lower than their mandolins were selling for used. It wasn't the makers who drove the prices up to the $20K range, it was the buyers who did that.

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    Patrick Wright papawhisky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    A lot of thought provoking responses. The pursuit of the golden standard is an interesting one, and one that had not occurred to me.
    From my perspective, the toughest view to accept is that when you are buying a mandolin you are buying happiness, and who can put a price on happiness? Go ahead, spend the money.

    The view that makes the most sense to me is that the "market" determines the value. It isn't a complete answer, because we are the market. We have our own tastes, desire for status, and we are influenced by the brands being used by the professionals. All that makes sense. Still, it surprises me that, as the market, we are accepting that we will pay thousands for a great instrument and thousands more for vaguely nuanced differences.
    You may have guessed that I am a real tight wad.

    It is definitely more like buying wine than buying a house.

    Patrick

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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    No, it's a bit more like buying a house; after you have consumed the wine, it is gone, and a few hours later you won't be able to tell whether it was a five dollar bottle or a five hundred dollar bottle. The mandolin will still be there the next day.

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    Moderator JEStanek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    I would liken a mandolin more like wine than a house. I don't have to have a mandolin to survive, it just makes life more pleasurable. Believe me, I can remember nice wines much better than cheaper ones 5 minutes, hours days or years later. It's like the time you were allowed to pick on someone's very nice mandolin vs your cheaper 2nd (I will always remember fondly my first mandolin).

    I'm sure people who use their mandolins to earn their living will have a, justifiably, different opinion.

    Jamie
    There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second. Logan Pearsall Smith, 1865 - 1946

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    Registered User bryce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    I totally agree with James. If you nose around the Carolina/Tennessee/Virginia region with some in-the-know folks, you can find WONDERFUL mandolins for well under $5K being made by locals, not interested in joining the rat race of having a long waiting list with pressure to produce an instrument every week.
    You just have to know where to look AND not be interested in a widely recognizable name on the headstock.
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    Registered User bryce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Cost (price) Variance

    Oops. Double post


    Thank You
    Last edited by bryce; Feb-15-2009 at 12:03pm. Reason: double post
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