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Thread: Good Beginner Mandolin?

  1. #1
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    Default Good Beginner Mandolin?

    I would like to take mandolin lessons and have been searching ebay, craigslist and random instrument sites for mandolins. I'm afraid that I will either end up with a ###### mandolin and hate playing it or spend too much on a mandolin and not follow through with the practice and lessons. Can anyone recommend a good beginner's mandolin? I am also looking for a teacher in the Chicago area, preferably Evanston.

    thanks!,
    L

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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    I'm new at the mandolin as well. I bought a cheap model from our local music store for $99.It does have a solid top,which is what you want.Knowing nothing about them,I bought it so I could learn on and upgrade later.I may never get a top of the line Gibson model,but in time I'll upgrade from there.
    Like I said,I got a cheap one. But it depends on what you're willing to spend.

    You haven't said how much you're willing to spend. But you'll want one with a solid top as opposed to a laminate one. Laminate ones may not be able to hold up under the high pressure strings on the madolin.Knowing now,I wished I would've forked over at least $200 for one.

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    Registered User Fstpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    Check the classifieds. I'm selling a decent USA made pancake mando there.

    Jeff

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    Ben Beran Dfyngravity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    About 8 years ago I bought my first mandolin off of ebay and I found it to be a mistake, mainly because I was so unknowledgeable about mandolins and didn't know about the cafe. I should have gone to a music store and played em' and bought one there but I didn't. It was under $100, and it was terrible.....literally unplayable. I am not saying that you cannot find a decent mandolin under $100 online but I would be extremely cautious. It can be very discouraging to get an instrument that is unplayable, I know from experience.

    If you could give us an idea of what you can spend that would help. The amount of knowledge here on the cafe about mandolins is extremely vast, and I doubt that there is a mandolin out there that hasn't been played by someone here.

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    Patrick Wright papawhisky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    When I picked up mando in the late 80's, I bought a cheap mandolin at a school instrument store. It was all plywood and had a zero fret. The intonation was horrible. In short, it was a terrible mandolin. But after a year I bought an old Gibson A-40. Back then you could get one for $300. Unfortunately, collecting, speculating, and other market forces have driven up the price of the old Gibsons, so that beginners can no longer afford them.

    IMO, the most important thing is a true playing neck. The frets must be properly placed to have any shot at good intonation. I recommend going with something that isn't carved--i.e., a pancake mandolin, because it will be cheaper. Mid Missouri and Flatiron pancake are examples of what I would recommend.

    Good luck!

    Papawhisky

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    Registered User desaljs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    My suggestion is to go to the web site for The Mandolin Store, and have a look at both A style and F style mandolins. Examine the models and prices, then call them to discuss a good starter. You can get a nice instrument and not spend a bundle. The key is to get one that has been set up properly, which they will do for you.

    If the instrument plays well, it will keep you interested.

    http://www.themandolinstore.com/Scripts/default.asp

    Great service from these folks. Good luck.
    Jim D

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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    Welcome to the Café, Lerien & Katman,

    The two options I point to first are the Kentucky KM140S (solid top only) and the Kentucky KM150 (all solid) A style (teardrop shape) mandolins with F holes. These are well made, good starter (and later beater - a mandolin you take anywhere and don't worry about) instruments. These will run between $190-250. Do yourself a favor and buy them only from places that do a set up first. You will likely want to change the strings once you get it. D'Addario J74 strings are a good starting point. String changing is simple if you do it one at a time. I like these instructions best.

    If your budget is less than $200, look into the Rouges or a Savannah and DO NOT buy from E-bay. Those instruments will not come set up and will require another $50-80 to get them set up by someone competent to work on them. Our Café sponsors have budget minded instruments and will set the instrument up to it's potential. Feel free to ask questions.

    Jamie
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    Mark Evans mandozilla's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    Welcome aboard lerian and KATMAN!

    Good suggestions by all. If you want to minimize you initial investment but enhance your learning experience I suggest the following;

    Buy used...you can get a better playing and souding mandolin if you buy used. Better quality mandolin = better playability = will make it easier for you to learn.

    Buy an 'A' style mandolin - You'll get more bang for your buck. After a while if you decide the mandolin is for you, you can always get a fancy strap hanger when you upgrade.

    Buy in person prefferably. If not possible, buy off the Mandolin Cafe Classifieds...other than trying/buying in person it's the next best thing. Buying off Ebay is akin to Russian Roulette.

    And by all means, make sure it gets a good set up...it makes all the difference. BTW, these suggestion come up all the time in threads with similar content. For more info, search 'em out!

    Last edited by mandozilla; Mar-05-2009 at 12:47pm.
    "You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't wipe your friends off on your saddle."

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    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    Lerien, in Evanston you could go to Guitar Works or Hogeye to play some mandolins. If you can't play a lick, you can get a salesperson to demonstrate them for you. I haven't been up that way in a while but I used to live on the North Side and drop by those places now and then. I think Hogeye is likely to have more inexpensive mandolins. The last time I was at Guitar Works, the selection was heavily weighted toward the higher end. There's also the Different Strummer in the Old Town School of Folk Music. It's not too far from Evanston and it's a good store. The last time I was there they had everything from low end Kentuckys (usually a good value in a beginner mandolin) up to higher end Webers. You can also take lessons there, either in a group or one or one. Hogeye might have someone teaching mando, too. I took guitar there years ago. I don't know about lessons at Guitar Works. Finally, you could also try contacting Don Stiernberg, one of my favorite mandolin players, who posts to this list. He lives in Skokie and at least used to give lessons. He's fascinating to spend some time with, a good teacher and a great player.

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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    Everyone, thank you so much for all of the great tips. A few of you asked how much I'm willing to spend. I would prefer to spend no more than $300 on a beginner mandolin. It sounds like I should be able to get a pretty good beginner mandolin in my price range.
    I have been tempted to buy one of the MK mandolins online because when it comes to instruments I judge a book by it's cover. But, after reading all of your replies I've decided to visit some music stores and talk to the salespeople. You've also reminded me that it's important to buy an instrument that I will be physically comfortable playing. I probably would regret buying a mandolin from a website.
    Thanks again! You're all very helpful.

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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    Eric F., wow, thanks for all of the suggestions. I'm definitely going to visit these places as soon as I get a chance. Different Strummer sounds great and it gives me an excuse to check out that part of town. I moved from NH to IL in August so I'm still exploring.
    As for lessons, this is what I'm most worried about. About 10 years ago I took up guitar, taught myself some basics, and picked up some really bad habits. Then I decided to take private lessons but the teacher was a horrible match for me. I wanted to play classical and read music and he wanted me to play by ear , and only read tabs. It was very frustrating and I just kind of gave up. I'm definitely looking for private lessons from someone who knows what they're doing. Don Stiernberg sounds like the person to talk to.

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    Registered User Jim MacDaniel's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    Your plan to buy locally and to take lessons sounds like a win-win strategy. It's also OK to ask the sales people you work with if their setup person and sales staff has much experience with mandolins.

    If you are disappointed with the local options and end up considering buying on-line: as Jamie mentioned you can't go wrong with buying from one of the MC sponsors, and as suggested by others, buying a used instrument from the MC's classifieds is also a very smart option.
    "The problem with quotes on the internet, is everybody has one, and most of them are wrong."
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    Registered User BradyK's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    I'll second the purchase of an 'A' style Savannah. Cheap, attractive, bought it from a music store where a simple set up was provided. (I, too, would avoid Ebay). It actually sounds pretty darn good. Frets were a little sharp on the edges, but a good deal for under $100. My kids play it now and they can knock out a little music on it.

    Folkmusician.com has terrific service. I bought my upgrade there.

  14. #14
    Gene @ RSM
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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    I'll second (or third) the vote for a Kentucky 150. I just recently picked one up to have as a "travel" instrument. Frankly, I was surprised at the tone and the overall workmanship. It sounds great!

    I purchased my instrument from Buffalo Brothers in So. CA, and must credit them with an excellent set up. Most Cafe sponsors set up their mandolins. If in doubt, ask.

    Have fun in your mandolin journey. And welcome to the club.

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    consider like: a Weber Sweet Pea. or though a more novel shape, Martin backpacker .

    The Idea, you buy the travel, take anywhere, mandolin first , no slouch itself , for what it is .

    then add to it with the pricier F hole with strap hanger when the need [MAS] arises .
    and the finances justify ..
    you will have some playing time in and then can better judge what you audition next ,

    and your Initial Mandolin will still be useful for all the things that a smaller durable instrument
    is good for.. both Keepers ..
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    I have the Martin backpacker and while it is a nice mandolin for the price (I paid $150 new with a case but they are usually around $200) I find the sound is a bit tinny with not much sustain. Of course for a beginner it's nice since the workmanship is good. I would agree that you should pay at least $100 and preferably close to 200 -250 for a decent beginner mandolin. Stay away from those $30 ebay chinese mandolins!

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    Default Re: Good Beginner Mandolin?

    I say amen to the ebay experience. I have bought several good instruments off ebay. The only exception being the cheap mando I bought for my son to learn on. I still have it. It is very playable NOW. I had to spend about three times what I paid in order to make it such. His second mandolin was the aforementioned Kentucky 250s. It would have made a much better choice to start with.

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