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Thread: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

  1. #1
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    Default Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    Hi all,

    First time poster. I'm super excited to find the community. I've been playing for a couple years, but only casually, so I'm still a beginner. I have a strong music background though.

    I bought a mandolin a while back on ebay. It was cheap, and the frets weren't all the same height, so we had it worked on, and it played pretty well. I'm getting tired of it though, because the tone and volume really degrades above the 5th fret on the higher strings. It sounds ok on lower frets, but it just starts getting really thin and tinny the higher you go.

    So, I'm looking for a new mandolin. I've been to a couple local music stores, but they never know anything, and the mandolins they sell there for $300 look comparable in quality to my $80 ebay special.

    What kind of mandolin should I get next? I want an instrument that sounds great, plays well, etc. I don't particularly care that it is vintage, brand-name, or special in any way except that it not hold me back musically.

    What should I get? My budget is anywhere between $100-$1000. Where should I buy it? Are any of the mandolins on Amazon good?

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Registered User jschall84's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    You really cant go wrong with Kentucky, Eastman, or The Loar mandolins in your price range. I would avoid amazon mandolins at all cost. The most important thing is that you buy it from a reputable dealer that will set it up to play well. A really good shop is www.folkmusician.com. I have a Kentucky KM600 and i am very happy with it.

  3. #3
    Registered User George R. Lane's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    I totally agree with the above post. Use one the advertisers here on the Cafe, they know what they sell and make sure you get it properly setup.
    2010 Weber Yellowstone

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    Lots more info needed: what kind of music do you play? What kind of mandolin do you have now? Where in the "$100-$1000" range do you really want to be?

    General rules: solid wood not laminated, hand-carved (if you're getting a carved-top-and-back instrument) not heat-pressed, good shop set-up required. And when in doubt, go for quality materials and construction over "bling" ornamentation. Try to get an instrument with a reasonably thin finish, rather than one of the "dipped in plastic, but really shiny" ones that some Asian factories tend to turn out. You get more acoustic quality for your buck if you buy an "A-model" mandolin, without the ornamental scroll, body points and fancy headstock, than if you buy an "F-model." You also get more for your money if you buy used, but that also implies a level of confidence in the seller, and prevents you from getting a factory warranty. (I don't impart a lot of value to the warranty, but there are cases in which it's been very beneficial to some buyers.)

    Kentucky, Eastman and Loar are makers who get a lot of support here on the Cafe, but there are a myriad of choices out there, especially with your wide price parameters. I'd try to get a bit focused on mandolin type, and narrow the price range a bit, to make the number of alternatives manageable.
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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    Hello and welcome!

    Where do you live? Lots of places in the U.S. don't have much mandolin selection to speak of within an hour (or two) drive. If you don't travel a lot, you'll have to buy sight unseen. If this happens, make sure you get a 48 hour approval to try it and be sure you like it. In your price range, I would go for an A style body with F holes. You ought to be able to find a Gibson A-40 or A-50, for example. Used, of course, and if you really only care about the sound and not the looks, you should be able to find a 'player'. Lots of folks here at the cafe have been into the mandolin for a while, so they've seen, played, and owned more than a few mandolins. Try as many as you can, and ignore the name on the headstock (which is hard to do). The sound, action, intonation, overall neck feel and responsiveness have to work for YOU and your hands.
    If you're going for the old-timey sound and you want an oval hole instead of F holes, I'd personally save up and get a vintage Gibson. You could get a 1924 Gibson A-Jr. for under $2000. LLoyd Loar-era, and you probably won't play another mando in the price range that will make you hate the choice you made.
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  6. #6
    Mediocre but OK with that Paul Busman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    Hi and welcome. You might want to check the classifieds here on Mandocafe. A used mandolin may give you more bang for your buck. Some of the classifieds are from dealers who may (or may not) do a setup for you. Even if it doesn't come with a setup, you may save enough to have a setup done by another dealer or luthier.
    For wooden musical fun that doesn't involve strumming, check out:
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    Handcrafted pennywhistles in exotic hardwoods.

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    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    Excellent advice so far.
    There are many fine instruments available today in the 'up to $1000' price range. You should be able to get a really nice mandolin!
    Watching the Cafe Classifieds for something that strikes your fancy is a great suggestion. When you contact the seller you'd have the opportunity to ask about the mandolin's set-up and playability, and other things about the instrument's history.
    If you want to go new, I'll suggest shopping for a dealer and not a specific mandolin. Go with a highly regarded dealer who has a good reputation for pre-sale set-up (the Cafe sponsors fall into this category) and a good inventory. Once you're chosen your dealer, ask their suggestions and work with them to select the specific mandolin for you. This strategy gives you the opportunity to utilize the expertise of the dealer when selecting a mandolin. Since you're going into the transaction so open-minded in terms of what you want (and that's a REALLY good thing), this buying strategy is a particularly good match for you in my opinion.
    Good luck. Let us know what you decide.
    Last edited by Ed Goist; Jan-07-2012 at 8:10am.
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  8. #8

    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    i just got an ibanez mandolin (m10 series) for under 200 bucks.. this thing is sweet.. (of course i play all ibanez guitars and bass, so.. i'm a litlle biased).. it's got satin oil finish, fine frett work, sounds awesome, not hand stamped in a factory.. of course it's made in china, but hey.. it's a quality instrument for under 200 bucks.. stays in tune, intonation is perfect, all fretts play, even the high ones.. AND under 200 bucks.. not a big investment if interest lost.. but.. the thing is killer.. http://www.musiciansfriend.com/folk-...style-mandolin

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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    Thanks all so much for your advice! Shopping from a reputable dealer definitely seems like a good way to go. I don't think I know enough to buy used. I could spend weeks familiarizing myself with different features and brands, but as of now, I don't even know enough to pick a mandolin from a good dealer, let alone a used one.

    Lots more info needed: what kind of music do you play? What kind of mandolin do you have now? Where in the "$100-$1000" range do you really want to be?
    I wish I were Chris Thile I prefer a bit of a modern edge to my bluegrass. I have a background in jazz, and it definitely influences the way I play. I don't really want something optimized for that, but I'm not aiming for an old-timey feel either.

    When it comes to the range, I guess I'm wondering where a good price-point is. It's likely that you can get a great mandolin somewhere in that range, then you have to spend a lot more to get one only slightly better. At least it's that way with everything else. I would get a lot of satisfaction owning a quality instrument, but not if the "quality" is all flash. So, I'd be happy spending $800, so long as it really is 2x as good as a $400. If the $1600 really are 2x as good as the $800, I want to know that too.

    Where do you live? Lots of places in the U.S. don't have much mandolin selection to speak of within an hour (or two) drive. If you don't travel a lot, you'll have to buy sight unseen.
    I live in Orem, UT. It's 30 minutes south of SLC. I've only been to the shops in Orem, but was really underwhelmed. I don't know why I didn't think of looking while I travel! I travel to NYC about once a month, and occasionally LA, SF and Seattle. I'll be in Las Vegas next week.

    Again, thanks for all your help everyone. I love hearing about the specific models you like too.

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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    Oh, and let me clarify my stance on the look. It's not that I don't care about the look at all. I do. I would love for the instrument to be beautiful. I just want to know if there is a price point at which the mandolins stop playing better and just start getting fancy.

  11. #11
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    Quote Originally Posted by seanhess View Post
    ...I travel to NYC about once a month...
    Consider a trip to Staten Island and Mandolin Brothers. One of the biggest dealers in acoustic stringed instruments, with a huge selection. Prices tend to be high, since they sell world-wide, including to European and Asian collectors, but a real chance to play a wide variety of instruments.

    One suggestion: stick to playing instruments in your price range. It's easy, at a major dealer, to want to try out that $50K instrument, "just to see what it's like." In many cases, when you go back to instruments you actually can afford, they seem so inferior that you don't want to buy any of them! As someone who's worked both sides of the counter (buying and selling) at an instrument store, I've seen it happen quite a few times...
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    Seanhess, I just went through the process of purchasing a new mandolin so maybe I can help. My price range was similar $400-$700. If you buy a used one, the most important thing is that you physically touch the mandolin, see the shape it's in, play it and hear what it sounds like. It can be difficult to find exactly what you're looking for that way and it might take a while.

    I found a nice Kentucky 805 for around $600, but decided to take a day to think about it. When I came back, it was gone. If you see what you like out there, buy it, tomorrow it will be gone. I searched for another couple of months to no avail. I eventually found an Eastman MD-315 through http://www.giannaviolins.com/. They have several sound clips of their instruments on youtube so you can hear what they sound like.

    Before purchasing my Eastman, I found a Kentucky KM-675 for around $450 on Craigslist that I nearly bought. I wanted to hear it first and the seller offered to make some sound clips but never followed through with it. Some friends of mine who have been playing for a while are really convinced that Kentucky's are incredible. I've heard some Eastman's and I was impressed enough to follow through with purchasing one for myself. I haven't been at it long either, but I would definitely stay away from purchasing off Amazon or E-Bay. Do some research and if you can play it, that would be the best thing to do; if you can't, then I'd get some sound clips if possible.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    Howdy, Sure glad that I read this post, I am also just starting out and alot of great ifo here !!
    De Oppresso Liber

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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    I am not sure my advice is worth anything but I think one problem with buying an expensive instrument is that at this point you don't have anything to compare it to (expensive or cheap). My approach would be to buy a good but not expensive instrument in the $400-600 range and learn to play it... In about a year you will know what it can or can't do and will have a much better idea of what you really want tone and appearance wise. I agree with Allen.... Mandolin Brothers is an amazing place and well worth exploring. You don't say where you are from but a 400 mile round trip is worth it to find the kind of selection you may want.
    Bart McNeil

  15. #15
    nanaimo
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    Default Re: Good Mandolin for Beginner/Intermediate

    Hello All! I am new to the site and am enjoying the opportunity to learn more about the mandolin. I am looking for a mandolin to start my journey. I am new to playing the mandolin and have only a little pervious musical experience (three years cello lessons and some guitar). I have really appreciated you all sharing your experiences and knowledge and I am becoming much more aware of what I need to do to find an instrument. One of the issues I have here on the Island is that I do not have access to stores that have multiple quality instruments for me to try so that I can get a good fit. I have just today been pointed to a person in Victoria who has offered to help me out. One of the mandolins he is going to show me is the Kentucky KM630. I would appreciate any feedback you can give me. I will also be searching for samples of the Eastman MD505 A and the Kentucky KM 505 both A style mandolins. All recommendations made here in the forum point to trying them out for best fit. Easier said than done. I will keep looking.

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