Re: Super-newbie: feasibility of buying an oldie?
Only dumb questions are unasked ones. Yours is far from dumb.
The instrument you cite was a Lyon & Healy bowl-back, with a crack in the fingerboard, but still playable -- if one believes the seller's description. It went for $147 on eBay.
Older bowl-backs are the bargains of the mandolin world, because demand for bowl-back mandolins isn't that strong. Instruments by good American manufacturers often go for a couple hundred dollars, in decent playable condition. If you think that you want a bowl-back -- the style in which most mandolins were made a century ago, but which is generally "out of fashion" today, except among classical and some ethnic mandolin players -- you have a good chance of getting a decent instrument for not much money. I would suggest that, if at all possible, you buy with an "approval period," during which you can have the mandolin inspected by a pro repair person, or at least by an experienced friend, to make sure you're getting an instrument you can learn on.
Most beginning mandolin players today want a "flat-back" instrument, with a body more like a guitar's than the lute-like bowl-back body. A vintage instrument, comparable in quality to the Lyon & Healy but flat-backed, would cost you many times what the L&H went for. So, looking for something "very low-budget to get your toes wet," you would be purchasing a new imported Asian instrument by Kentucky, Rover, Gold Tone, or something similar. I would suggest that you spend a few hours on the Cafe looking at threads for "best mandolin for a beginner," "best mandolin under $400," etc. etc. You will find dozens of discussions about the relative merits of different brands and models of student-grade mandolin.
I applaud your impulse to adopt an older instrument, and use it to learn on -- "give some love," as you put it. But make sure before you buy a bowl-back that you're really comfortable playing this type of mandolin; there are reasons that bowl-backs are less popular today, having to do with sound quality, ease in holding and playing, etc. If you can find a friend who has one, give it a try and see if that's where you want to be. And if you decide to get a newer student-level mandolin, do a bit of research first, especially if you're going on eBay. There is a ton of junk being sold there, "mandolin shaped objects" as we call them, for less than $100. Badly made, hard to tune and play, subject to near-spontaneous disintegration under string tension. A few days of research and testing, will pay off in finding an instrument you can live with and learn on.
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