Re: Anybody know anything about this builder and his mandolins?
This type of mandolin is often found on eBay. To generalize: many of these are made in Vietnam, as part of a "cottage industry" that involves builders working in small shops or out of their homes, and sold through Taiwan. If you search on keywords like "inlaid artist," "Bruce Wei," "Antoniotsai" etc., you'll find extensive discussion.
Paul Hostetter on the Cafe has perhaps more experience than most in dealing with these instruments; he was quoted in this recent thread, which is informative. The general summary seems to be, that quality varies quite widely, with some mandolins being acceptable players, others having problems with unseasoned wood, flimsy metal parts, inlays falling out, improper construction (neck angle, etc.).
Obviously, they are very reasonably priced, as compared with the products of recognized Asian makers. Also obviously, they can be extremely ornate, gaudy, as you've mentioned. You may get a "keeper," and you may get a piece of decor masquerading as a musical instrument. If you'd be satisfied with an "interesting experiment," you'll have ample opportunity to take a flier at one.
The two I've seen and played have been acoustically disappointing, and I'm not a big fan of the mother-of-pearl birds and butterflies. You're not risking a lot of money, and if you go into it with eyes open and modest expectations, you might get a usable "beater." Or not.
Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
Natl Triolian Dobro mando
Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
Stradolin Vega banjolin
Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
Flatiron 3K OM