F style for a newbie?

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  1. MartieChick09
    Hey all,

    I haven't posted in quite a while but lurk around on the forum a lot. I haven't gotten a mandolin yet but continue watching Mandolin Monday videos on YT every week and follow his lesson videos frequently along with some other song lessons on YT too. I guess I'm just hesitant to spend money on an instrument that I think I would like to learn to play as I just don't know if I will love it. I want to say yes but I don't know.

    And then I got to thinking about A style vs F style. I know A style is cheaper but does it slip a lot when playing since its more rounded on the bottom? (Plus the outfit I was looking at from Elderly, with an A style, is out of stock now.) So I thought about an F style instead since it has the points and I like that look better anyways. (That curlycue on top is so cool!) What would be a good beginner F style to look at buying? What's a good price point?
  2. NDO
    The F’s are definitely going to cost a bit more. I am learning on an A style so I don’t have a comparison, but I didn’t notice much difference in playability when I tried a friend’s F.
    For a good quality starter I don’t think you could go wrong with an Eastman MD315 (or 305 if you decide to stick with an A). In either case you’ll want to get a strap which is a big part of keeping the mandolin in the right position.
  3. HonketyHank
    I'm with NDO. I have both and I don't notice any difference in slipslidiness when I use a strap. A good new price is whatever Elderly or The Mandolin Store or any of the MC sponsors are charging (provided they do a good setup, which I think they will). Used, maybe 60-80% of new, depending on condition. Another argument for the A is that if you are still playing and enjoying after a year, you will probably be looking to move up regardless of which you start with, so save a few bucks now for that move up later.
  4. Ellsdemon
    MartieChick, I'm going to be the odd man, but if you like the F style, then get the F. Hank always has great insight, but I'm a believer in get a decent mandolin off the start. I bought an A and never really enjoyed the look of it, and just like you said, the F style is so much cooler looking. Again, that's just me. You want something that makes you want to play it more and that's from the chair you sit in, the room you play in and even the instrument that you play. The difference in cost from a A to a F isn't that large of a difference for a decent mandolin. If you do a quick search, you'll see A's might be $50-$100 cheaper for the same quality of sound and construction. Don't buy some cheap mandolin just to "get started", the sound sucks, the construction sucks and to be honest, it might even want you to give up.
    I know there's lots of opinions on what's a good starter mando, or even how much to spend. If you want a good mando that will sound great, have great construction and has the right and correct setup then I would consider maybe $300 bucks. You'll have a mando that you will play for years before you want to move on up and start spending big money. But, if you get the right one off the bat, then in theory, there will be no reason to "upgrade".
    I did the thing of buying a $75 A style, it sounded horrible and was cheap overseas garbage. It was so bad that I stopped playing it because I couldn't make it sound like the lessons I was watching and listening too. Then I upgraded to a $199 MK F style and played that for 2+ years and that was such an upgrade to sound and action that I finally feel in love playing the mandolin. Then I finally went crazy and got a Northfield about a year ago. The difference in each is unreal in sound and construction and I know I'll never need another mandolin after I got the Northfield.
    So in summary, get a decent mandolin that you'll want to play, (not northfield decent, but something that will get you started) and it will help you grow as a player and not as a collector.
  5. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    The Eastman MD 315 would probably be the most recommended starter F. There are some Kentucky F models that have a lot of fans too and some people also like The Loar. Those are probably the three most widely recommended makers for starter mandolins on the forums and they all have their fans.

    If you are at all interested in a custom made mandolin, there is a fellow named Roy Gordon who makes an F for about $1500, I think. You could search the forums, but I recall that people who play them really like them. Their look is a little rustic compared to some other makers.

    Good price point is incredibly subjective. Different people might consider all of those as a decent starter mandolin and for others those might be a lifetime instrument.
  6. NDO
    This might be a good deal on an F Kentucky.

  7. SOMorris
    I dont know about this particular mandolin in the classifieds (https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/170930#170930) but I think generally this would be a great mandolin, and an F style.
  8. maudlin mandolin
    maudlin mandolin
    Mandolins are not restricted to just A or F styles. You could also go for a two pointer as played by Jethro. These mandolins look just as cool and are just as stable as an F style (having the point on the bottom) and tend to be a bit cheaper.
  9. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    Good suggestion, I love, love, love the look of two pointers!
  10. NDO
    Or maybe even three...
  11. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    I'm with you about 2 pointers, Southern Man. But, then, I think my oval hole A is a real gem.
  12. MartieChick09
    I'd like to look for an F style, even though those 2 pointers do look nice. I like that, with the F, I have a specific spot for the strap on top and I just love the look too. And the F holes are also a big draw for, since fiddle has always been my first love (can't really play, I did when I was younger for a time but not now). My thing is when I do decide to purchase, I want to find one that's not going to break the bank but I can also play and enjoy it for years to come. Like Ellsdemon said, I would rather get a nice instrument now vs having to upgrade later and spending more money. I did check out the ad NDO and SOMorris posted (it's the same one ��) but do guys know if an instrument is sold by an individual if it would already be set up? Or would that be something I would have to look into? I've never bought anything off the classifieds before so I don't I know much about them.
  13. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    I got an ad from The Mandolin Store about some blemished F mandolins. I think they were The Loar, but since I'm not in the market I tried not to look too hard. The Mandolin Store has a rep for good setup, though.

    Purchasing from an individual might or might not get you a setup, it is hard to say. My two used purchases have come nicely setup.
  14. HonketyHank
    If it is set up, it will probably be set up for the seller's preferences. Get Rob Meldrum's free ebook on mandolin setup and read it. Maybe you'll feel fine about doing some of what he teaches, but mainly read it to learn what the various setup parameters can affect. That should lead you to a decision on whether or not you need to get it done sooner, later, or maybe everything is pretty good.

    You can always ask the seller if it has been set up and if so to what goals the setup work was aimed to achieve.

    I think that any mandolin player should know the basics of mandolin setup. Not necessarily to implement them, but rather to know what can be achieved and how it can be achieved. If you take it to a luthier for a setup, you and he or she will be able to communicate much better.
  15. NDO
    Not sure what price he’s asking but this would fit the bill as far as equipment goes.

  16. MartieChick09
    NDO it says in the title of the add that the seller is asking $800. Is that a good price for all that is included? It is tempting...
  17. NDO
    That seems like it’s not a spectacular price but might be okay with the included items. I’ll defer to more experienced heads on the pricing, I’m pretty new to this scene also.
  18. MartieChick09
    If sellers give a price, is it appropriate to see if they can lower it at all or no? Does it depend on the seller? I looked at both Elderly and TMS for the same model and they both say $769 but that's also with shipping included and a padded gigbag. I don't know much all the extras would cost that the seller is including so it seems like a decent price but this would be my first mandolin and I just don't want to be overcharged or taken advantage of. Maybe it's better to go with a reputable store like TMS or Elderly or another sponsor on here? Like I said I'm brand new to all this so I'd love to hear what you all think.
  19. NDO
    Certainly you can make an offer below their asking price, especially on a used instrument.
  20. MartieChick09
    What would be a fair price to ask for? It just says used very little.
  21. HonketyHank
    I would assume that any price asked for in the classifieds for a used item, but not described as firm, is negotiable.
  22. Southern Man
    Southern Man

    My general rule of thumb for a used but still in production instrument is to start at about 70% of the current price and then adjust up or down depending on condition, desirability, scarcity, extras, etc. With an installed pickup it looks like this is going for about 900 new from a couple of different vendors. An upgrade from a gigbag to a case is worth maybe $50, a bluechip pick is somewhere around 40-50. So it looks like the starting price for that would be around a thousand. Then you've got the toneguard and the armrest. Here is the thing with these upgrades and paying for them--I wouldn't pay anything additional for a toneguard or armrest, but I would pay for an installed pickup. That doesn't mean the seller doesn't have some financial investment in them, but I'm just not interested in some of those. But I don't think it is unreasonable to offer 700+shipping and feel like you both did OK on the deal. I don't think $800 is an unreasonable price to put on it, but I wouldn't pay that personally.

    If you pay up for the pickup you will need to buy an amp and cable (and maybe a preamp) to take advantage of it. If you aren't interested in paying for those things or playing it plugged in, I think you'd be better off buying a new one. YMMV.
  23. MartieChick09
    Okay that makes sense Southern Man. Btw, what is a toneguard? Are those the little rubber-looking things on the strings below the bridge? And I know an armrest isn't essential to playing, but does it help that much to make playing more comfortable? I guess I'm kinda indifferent to the pickup. I have an acoustic guitar that I think can be plugged in (I have an amp lying around somewhere) but I never use it that way. Just fiddling around with it by itself works just fine for me. So maybe buying new would work out better anyways.
  24. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Hi, MartieChick.

    A Tone-Gard is a wire contraption that fits on the back of a mandolin to keep your midsection padding from muffling the sound. (If you have a beer belly and if it really does affect the tone. Not going there!) Some people love them, some hate 'em. Same with armrests. I started using them because the edges of my first mandolin were quite sharp and it hurt to play. Again, people have all sorts of opinions on their worth or lack thereof.

    If you are not interested in a pickup, leave that mandolin for someone who specifically wants one. If the price is better at TMS or Elderly for a new 315 without the pickup, that would be my choice. Although, I would prefer a hard case to a gig bag, so there's that. Whichever way you go, an Eastman will be a perfectly suitable mandolin to get you going, and it's not the sort of thing you will want to replace within the first six months.

    Covid has messed up just about everything, including the mandolin market. Everyone's inventory is low, and the old rule of thumb about the price of a used one being about 65–70% of the price of new has flown out the window. Used currently seems to be running closer to 90–95% the price of new. If you see something you like and that seems to be a fair price, jump on it.
  25. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Man oh man. I'm one of those guys who prefers the Kentucky and really don't like the Eastman - I've owned one - and when I saw the link above when NDO posted it, I jumped at a Kentucky 650 for $500 - what a bargain - I emailed her immediately. But never heard back until a minute ago, to say that it's already sold.

    Well, I'm still working on practicing and playing the blues, so the news fits the inspiration, LOL
  26. MartieChick09
    The Kentuckys look nice too. I wanted to start with a 150 from Elderly's outfit, but it's out of stock now so I'm not sure what I'll go with. I'm willing to spend a little more for it to last a good, long time, but I would still like to spend under $1000. I just want a mando that looks good (F style for me), plays well, stays in tune (reasonably) and doesn't cost a fortune. I also live in Minnesota with no real mandolin stores that close to me. I don't mind ordering online from a reputable shop, but I'm also curious... How did you all come to purchase your first mandolin?
  27. MartieChick09
    Mark, what are your pros and cons on Kentuckys vs Eastmans?
  28. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    It's just personal preference on Kentucky vs. Eastman. The Eastman is a fine pac-rim factory instrument, as is the Kentucky. The Eastman is usually very nice in fit and finish, and suitable for beginner as well as professional use. What I don't like about them is the feel of the fatter neck.

    When I first got the Eastman, I noticed some difficulty playing it so I stopped using my other mandolins and used it exclusively in order to adjust to it. Then when I got my Collings, I played the Collings exclusively and loved it. I got ready to sell one, and assumed I'd keep the Eastman as it was nicer than a Washburn I'd bought before it, but I discovered the Washburn had a better feel to the neck, so in time I realized I needed to sell the Eastman and keep the lowly Washburn as a backup.

    I've since played many mandolins in showrooms, and find that I hate the feel of the Eastman neck on mandolins, mandolas and octaves alike. On the other hand, I love the feel of the Kentucky neck, and I've played some KM500s that are just awesome instruments for the price (usually around $650).

    That's why I'd prefer a $500 KM650 over any Eastman product out there.

    I had no intention of stating my preference in this thread just to be doing so, though, because it is strictly a personal preference and puts me in the minority here at the cafe ... the Eastman gets more glory than others as a recommended first instrument, and I can attest that they're great instruments, just not for me. The reason I posted was because I just finally heard from that seller and I missed that $500 KM650. C'est la vie!
  29. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    How did you all come to purchase your first mandolin?

    Totally by accident. I was wandering through an antique mall owned by friends while waiting to ask them about something. There was a homeless F-style hanging around in the back of the store, obviously in need of a good home. I obliged.
  30. HonketyHank
    My first mandolin was a no-name mandolin banjo from a local seller by way of ebay. I gave up on trying to relearn 5-string banjo after a 50 year hiatus so I decided to try something I had never tried to play before. Learning from scratch is a lot more fun than re-learning and being frustrated.
  31. NDO
    My first mandolin was a $50 stupid-deal-of-the-day deal on Musician’s Friend. I watched a couple of videos, tried playing a few chords and decided it wasn’t possible. Then months later I came across Rob Meldrum’s e-book and realized it was not set up properly. I tweaked it into some semblance of playability and started learning last August. By December I realized I needed an upgrade so I bought myself an Eastman for Christmas.
  32. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Bought my harmony at a pawn shop for $50, after taking my son to a jam and falling in love with the sound of the mandolins. Have converted that instrument to a silent practice instrument.
  33. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    Disclaimer: I don't have any F mandos.

    I really wanted a used Kentucky KM150, but couldn't find one at the time, so I bought a Korean KM200S. It had painfully high action, but what did I know? I ended up modifying the bridge myself, then a luthier worked on it a little, too. It's fine now, and easy to play, but has been relegated to travel status, as I found my Strad-O-Lin in the meantime. I paid less than $300 for each of those mandos, and the Strad is a keeper.
  34. SOMorris
    I bought my first mandolin when a mandolin I had been given by my Father-in-law came apart when a shop was working on it. I bought a $100 mandolin from the shop, then later bought an Eastman from The Mandolin Store.
  35. MartieChick09
    So now I see Elderly has their outfit back in stock again. But I love the Eastman too. So I'm torn and don't know what to do. The Eastmans aren't in yet, at least from Elderly, and I don't know if I should spend another $300 or so to get the 315. Are the Kentucky 150 models still a good instrument? And then if/When I do decide to upgrade, would the 150 be easily resellable?
  36. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    I think the current KM150s have a pretty good reputation. I think you want either the new ones, or one of the older Japanese ones. But not the Korean ones, like mine. Though to me, my 98 KM200S is totally adequate now that the bridge is fixed, with what the luthier (Jake Wildwood) called "a modern bluegrass sound."

    I know someone who has "so many Kentuckies" used, for sale in New Hampshire. PM me if you want his contact info.
  37. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    I bought my first mandolin at my local guitar store. I was going looking because I wanted to start taking lessons. I knew enough to figure out I was going to get better quality in an A rather than an F in my price range. I also knew that I did not know enough to buy over the internet. I ended up wish a Washburn for I think 250-300. Not the best mandolin, but it worked OK for me as a beginner instrument. I need to pass it on, but it is still sitting in my house right now, but I never play it.
  38. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    MartieChick, it's time to take a long walk and think it over.

    Yes, you will be able to resell the Kentucky. How much you'll get for it is anyone's guess. Right now, musical instruments are in very short supply—see the Out of Stock story under the News tab—so both new and used instruments are scarce and prices reflect that. (If you think mandolins are hard to find, try buying a bicycle.) You have had your heart set on a F-style. Still true, or are you wavering? You have heard repeatedly that your money goes further in an A, but the heart wants what it wants. You know your heart and your pocketbook.

    As a beginner, you will get along fine with either an Eastman or a Kentucky. I had a Kentucky KM-272 for a time. It was a nice little instrument for the price, about $500: very well made, decent tone, came with a lightweight case. When I upgraded I sent it to my son, and he is happily playing it now. That was an A-oval though. I don't have experience with entry-level Kentucky Fs. Eastmen are solid instruments, although Mark, above, outlines why he doesn't care for them. The Loar makes reasonably priced Fs, but most folks will tell you they are a grade below Eastman and Kentucky. NDO's post, about seven above this one, is a perfect example of "you get what you pay for." Luckily, he figured out to make it easier to play, but upgraded quickly.

    Although I don't meet anyone's definition of well-to-do, there are a few things where it's worth going for the more expensive option. Shoes and musical instruments top the list. Even for a beginner, a well-made instrument that is set up correctly will be far more rewarding to learn on than a $50 mandolin-shaped-object. Doesn't mean you need a Gilchrist or Giacomel to start—save something for an upgrade!

    As you are having the heart-to-heart with your checking account, think about investing in some lessons, too. Online is very helpful, but particularly for an absolute beginner it's good to get feedback. I don't know where you live, and if there is any hope of finding a competent live teacher. If so, at least a few lessons would be a good investment. If not, the online programs that allow you to post videos and get comments back are far better than going it alone.
  39. MartieChick09
    Hey Louise, thanks for the wise advice.

    I do still love the F-style. I know the As give you more bang for your buck but I want something that I will continue to like playing in the future and I know if I got an A, I'd always be looking at the Fs and thinking why didn't I go that route instead.

    I think I am gonna go with the Eastman. I keep watching videos of how it plays and look it up at various retailers. I love the look, the way it sounds (compared to the Kentucky I was looking at, that one sounded really tinny to me, not as rich and full) and it's just a really pretty instrument. I'm in Minnesota and nowhere near any of the sponsors on the cafe forum but it seems like that is the way to go. I just did a search online to see if any stores carried that model near me and there's a violin shop in Minneapolis (about an hour south of me) that has Eastmans but it doesn't say anything about being setup or having a warranty or anything like that. Looks like they specialize in mostly orchestra-type string instruments, hence the name Quinn Violins.

    I have looked into lessons some too. I like Banjo Ben Clark's website but I haven't checked out too much yet. He does seem to offer the most for what you pay though (and I play a little guitar too, so that's helpful since you can do both at the same time). I'm not sure if there's many people near to where I live that would offer mandolin lessons in person, so online seems like my best bet, but I like that you can send in videos too.
  40. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    I can't imagine that I'd ever stop looking, even though I've already got more than one that I really like

    I didn't think I'd ever be interested in F mandos, but now I've been looking. Just looking.
  41. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Martie, if Quinn is selling new Eastmen they will come with a warranty. If they are a violin shop they have likely been dealing with Eastman for ages. (My middle kid started violin more than 20 years ago and his first three violins were from Eastman. They weren't new to the US then.) My bet is that they have someone on staff to set them up. A poorly set up mandolin is a complete PITA, but a poorly set up violin is absolutely unplayable. They would understand!

    If you can buy local that's always my first choice, but if they don't have what you want any of the Cafe sponsors will treat you right. It would be worth seeing if they have a good tech/repair person and if they stock strings, picks, etc.
  42. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Martie’s comments about liking the sound of the Eastman 315 sent me looking back through some of my old videos to revisit my own Eastman mandolin. I don’t miss this mandolin at all, but had no problem with the sound or the looks of it, just the feel. This video is from 4+ years ago: https://youtu.be/fWZnsQeJmpQ
  43. MartieChick09
    Mark, that sounded so great! By the way, my real name's Jayme. I just haven't switched over to my actual name yet. I'll see what I can find out from Quinn and see what's available. I'll keep you guys updated! Thanks for all the advice and stories!
  44. MartieChick09
    I was comparing prices between TMS, Elderly (not in stock yet) and Quinn and even though they all have the same prices for the Eastman, there were some extra costs for Quinn and Elderly. Quinn has taxes (probably partly because I'm in the same state) and shipping costs (and I know I could go there in person, but I don't get down to the cities much). Elderly also has taxes, but it appears that TMS has neither taxes nor shipping costs. I know shipping is included for TMS and Elderly but I'm a little confused on the taxes part. Why aren't there any for TMS? Is it an out-of-state thing?
  45. NDO
    Some states have laws taxing out-of-state sales according to the tax rate in the delivered state, but perhaps not all do depending whether the states have reciprocal agreements or not. I do know I didn’t have to pay tax on my purchase from TMS even though it was delivered to a taxed state.
  46. robhanesworth
    On my purchase from The Mandolin Store I was not charged sales tax. I live in Indiana. When I file my state taxes there is place on the Indiana tax form where I am supposed to admit to any untaxed out of Indiana purchases and pay Indiana the appropriate tax. I am sure compliance varies. 🙂
  47. MartieChick09
    Okay folks, in my never-ending saga for my first mandolin, I found an ad in the classifieds for an Eastman 515 for quite a bit below normal asking price, but there's not much info in the ad about the instrument. Just says it comes with a hard case, has new strings and sounds fantastic. (Kindle won't let me post the ad url.) If I message the seller, what would be some appropriate questions to ask?
  48. NDO
    I would ask...
    Why are they selling?
    Any damage/repairs?
    Who did the setup and how well is it set up?
    Any fret wear or other issues that will require attention in the future?

    More experienced players might have additional ideas.

    If it’s this one that sounds like a pretty good deal!

  49. MartieChick09
    That's the one, NDO!
  50. NDO
    Good luck! Hope you get it!
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