Re: First Mandolin
General consensus around here for a first mandolin under $300 is probably gonna steer toward Kentuckys, the 150 or 160. These can be had from reputable dealers here at the Cafe under $300, with a hardcase. I got my KM150 with a hardcase, tuner, beginner book/DVD and a few picks for $250 with setup and was very happy with the instrument.
The Loar LM500
Trinity College Octave
1980 Ovation Grand Balladeer
Piles O' Pennywhistles/Low Whistles/Uilleann Pipes