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The Fifth Course

Mandocaster love

Rating: 1 votes, 5.00 average.
I am in love. And this is no fly-by-night/easy-come-easy-go kind of love. I know there are many folks out there who profess to love and then find something new in short order. But you will not see this beauty in the Mandolin Café classifieds unless my hands cease to function and my heart is turned against stringed instruments.

The object of my affection is an improved Fender FM-988, a sonic blue 8 string “mandocaster.”

In the early part of this decade, Fender apparently decided to attempt to resurrect the Fender Electric Mandolin (mandocaster) and had a factory in Korea build them. Both 4 string and 8 string models were specified and the colors were to be candy apple red and sonic blue. These instruments were not intended for the US market, they were created for the European market. Model nomenclature specified the intended market: SB-4 and SB-8 for the UK, FM-984 and FM-988 for Sweden and possibly Germany.

But an odd thing happened, at least to the sonic blue instruments, on the way to market. They were pulled, possibly by Fender’s quality assurance folks, and languished in a warehouse for a few years. In 2008, they were sold to a musical instrument discount reseller. The reseller then stamped every instrument “USED” and sold them to music shops in the US.

Martin Stillion ( is my source for the above information, and he supposes that the reason these instruments were warehoused and then dumped is the color of the finish. This is entirely possible, but there are other reasons Fender may not have been completely happy with these electric mandolins.

[Edit: Please see Martin's comments below.]

The sonic blue finish does indeed have defects. Upon close inspection the blue has areas of greenish tint as though someone oversprayed the blue with an aging toner. But the areas are not uniform in size or location, so it seems likely to me that poorly mixed or formulated clear coat may have suffered moisture or heat damage in shipping or storage.

There are other problems with the stock FM-984 and -988s though. The bridge is a top-loader (not string through body) with threaded barrel saddles and four holes through which to thread the strings. This works reasonably well for the 4 string model, but is a disaster for the 8 string.

The pickguard is a single ply “parchment” piece in the standard Stratocaster shape with one slot for the pickup. The problem here is that the pickup slot runs perpendicular to the strings, which puts the pole pieces on the pickup in a disadvantageous location to effectively capture the string movement of all but the D strings.

The tuning machines seem subpar in comparison to other Fender instruments as well. So all things considered, it seems to me that the FM-988 and FM-984 may have been waylaid by Fender’s quality assurance folks for more than one reason, even if that one reason would be enough.

So why am I in love? I’ll let you know next time.


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Updated Jul-01-2009 at 6:30pm by Daniel Nestlerode

Electric Explorations


  1. mrmando's Avatar
    But some of these instruments in both red and blue WERE sold in Europe, with the same pickup and bridge configuration. The ones that were pulled and dumped on the U.S. market differ only in finish color.
  2. Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
    Ahh. Thanks for that Martin. I retract, then, my contention that other factors were involved in pulling the instruments off the market. And bow to your greater body of knowledge.