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Thread: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

  1. #1

    Default Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Acoustic tenor guitar player here, with a history of six-string guitar and violin. Tenor guitar does require a good bit of stretch since I'm still using violin fingering. Went to Guitar Center and tried the mandolins at hand.

    #1: Harmony, missing a string, one busted tuner.

    #2: Mitchell, missing a string, dead E strings that kept stretching rather than tuning up.

    #3: Mitchell, mostly tunable.

    So sadly the available stock wasn't too hot. I noticed it was kind of awkward to hold them (A type), string spacing varied. I did like the speed potential since my fingers didn't have as far to go.

    Any decent mandolins available new under, say, $250?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Why do you want new? I started with a the Loar LM 220, cost me $200 plus shipping (used,) it was a good mandolin to learn on. A lot of people on here recommend Kentucky 150 and Eastman (don't remember the model,) all are reasonably priced starter mandolins. You get more "bang for your buck" used and A-model (versus F-model.)

  3. #3

    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    New for convenience sake. Unless you can recommend a non-Craigslist source of used mandolins north of Atlanta.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by thx712517 View Post
    ...Any decent mandolins available new under, say, $250?
    Not too many. The Kentucky KM-150 is the Cafe standard beginner mandolin; it's all solid wood, carved top and back, and obtainable from on-line discounters for $289 or so. If you buy from them, you'll either need to pay for a set-up, or learn to do it yourself. Set-ups are tres important for mandolins, more so than for tenor guitars with fixed bridges.

    Another possibility in a solid-wood, heat-pressed not carved (carved is better) top and back, is the Rover RM-50. Rover is a cheaper line of instruments from Saga, who also sell the Kentucky brand. Here's a listing From Elderly Instruments of the RM-50 for $155. Elderly will do a shop set-up and you could surely learn on an RM-50.
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  5. #5
    I really look like that soliver's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    thx, I'm north of Atlanta too in Marietta, and theres not much to be found, esp on a budget under $500. I started on a sub $100 CL buy myself that I spent a lot of time and effort on fixing it up with the Rob Meldrum Set-up method ebook available here on the cafe. I got that little Rover sounding pretty good but I eventually went down to Maple Street Guitars in Buckhead and bought my Eastman. I recently posted that Rover on CL, but took it off when my daughter pulled it out of the closet and expressed a genuine interest in playing it.

    I was in the new GC recently that they built on Cobb pkwy near Barrett and they had new The Loar LM310's (I think) for around $300 which may be worth your while,... I personally didn't care for them myself, but might be worth looking at. They might be a decent little starter after a good set-up.

    I agree with Allen Hopkins above though, if you can swing a Kentucky KM150, thats a good way to go. They do sell them set-up included at Maple Street Guitars in Atlanta, but I don't know what they list them at. If its out of your price range, Rovers are not that bad to start on.
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    Registered User Steve VandeWater's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by thx712517 View Post
    New for convenience sake. Unless you can recommend a non-Craigslist source of used mandolins north of Atlanta.
    I always wonder why people have such an aversion to Craigslist. It's the first place I check when looking for something. I got an Eastman 515 for $425, an Eastman 514 for $475, a Washburn Jethro Burns for $225, and a 1915 Gibson A1 for $675, all from the Indianapolis Craigslist. As long as you can spot a scammer, which is pretty simple, and meet in a secure location, fantastic deals can be had. All my transactions were with seemingly good people.
    It ain't gotta be perfect, as long as it's perfect enough!

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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    During a recent trip to Guitar Center I had the misfortune of trying out a Loar 310, the only mandolin in the entire shop. After doing their job for them and tuning it for them ( it was so out op it wasn't even funny), I could only stand playing it for a very short time. It sounded horrible, just like a brick with strings. It was so non-resonant it was as if someone had filled the.body cavity with concrete. I would not recommend this model to anyone, not even my worst enemy. I have played other The Loar models that sounded much better, but if the one I played is any example, it is a dog win a capital D. Does it surprise me that GC seems to have embraced this as the only mandolin they will carry? Hardly.

    To the original poster, and to any other beginner's following this thread: You really need to get an all solid wood instrument, carved if possible, to get a mandolin that sounds like it's supposed to. Kentucky and Eastman will get you that. Caution: there are some of the older Kentucky mandolins that have laminate construction. But none of the contemporary ones, except the KM140. Some of the upper line The Loars also sound decent. Forget the scroll. It doesn't mean a thing if the tone sucks. Tone and playability trumps everything else. Period.
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  10. #8

    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    So general consensus then is embrace used, don't fear the Craigslist, and go for carved. I think there's a bluegrass music store way the hell up north Georgia that might fit that. I feel that finding a mandolin will be easier than finding a tenor guitar.

  11. #9

    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    eBay and Reverb can also be good options, and the classifieds here. My best purchases have been from mandolinists (or other instrumentalists) culling their collections; typically you get a very playable instrument with a fresh set of decent strings that only need minimal bridge position tweaking as far as set up.

  12. #10

    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve VandeWater View Post
    I always wonder why people have such an aversion to Craigslist. It's the first place I check when looking for something..........................All my transactions were with seemingly good people.
    I think the potential to find a great deal is there -- IF you are willing to put up with people's BS to get a great deal. It's like eBay without the seller having to answer to anybody. THEY decide if they want to return your call. THEY decide if they want to meet you after you have driven an hour to see an instrument. Many times I waited in the Walgreen's parking lot for someone who wasn't responsible enough to show up or even give a courtesy call stating such. That being said, when CL first started I picked up some amazing deals -- USA vintage Fenders, etc. OTOH, I never had any luck selling on CL -- try selling a vintage motorcycle if you want to meet some real mental midgets! Combine that with the fact that 99.999 percent of people won't ship --- like I say, great if you want to sell your lawnmower! What really bugs me is all the people who search CL in OTHER cities looking for deals KNOWING THAT they aren't going to ship.....talk about torturing yourself! I must admit, however, I have been guilty of seeing a screaming deal and telling myself, well, "the mandolin is only $500 and it is worth $1200 and St. Louis is ONLY 10 hours each way, I could take a couple days off work and try to meet the guy........" Kinda weird, what we define as a "bargain" sometimes! Like I say, I don't get CL, like eBay for people who are too irresponsible (or too stupid) to follow basic courtesy....IMHO. Well, actually eBay "forces" people to follow basic rules, hopefully for the good of both parties. Sorry for the "patented" rant, I've expressed this many times, don't know why so many swear by CL.

    As far as the OP's question -- buy online used, $250 and under gets you tons of stuff on eBay if you just search and take your time. And, if you can do minor setup and repair, $100 and under can get you a decent mandolin. You just can't expect it to be in your own neighborhood, you have to order it online. And, buying used, you sometimes even get extras like a case, etc. Buy on eBay and your purchase is guaranteed, if misrepresented. Click a Buy It Now and you'll be playing it later this week. Very simple.
    Last edited by Jeff Mando; Aug-13-2017 at 6:41pm.

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Agree with eBay. (Heavily repeated story coming up) When getting back into playing mandolin this spring, purchased my first one on eBay. Got very lucky in that it was setup at some point in the past. But for the total of $267 ended up with a perfectly respectable The Loar LM-220. You will probably get a better deal if you look enough.
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  14. #12

    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    I will probably be ridiculed for this but there is a '30s Stradolin in the classifieds here that I have no ties to what so ever that will sound as good or better than anything you could buy new for the same money and you get 80 odd years of MoJo as a bonus.

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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    somebody may want to explain the 2X factor. . .

    Mandolins are arched-top instruments. That's a bit different then guitar construction. In response, we typically consider that the price is twice the amount as a typical guitar. So, if you have a mandolin budget of $250 bucks, that's like shopping for a $125 dollar guitar. They're out there, but don't get your quality expectations too high!

    If you like the sub-$250 dollar choices in guitar land, you should target a mandolin budget of $500 bucks.

    Now you can look into Eastman and a bit further up the Kentucky line-up.

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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Check the classifieds here and also check inventory at Elderly, Folk Musician, and The Mandolin Store. I've bought six or 7 mandolins in the classifieds here with good communication and no issues. The three retailers I mentioned have a rep for great service, and they set up before they ship, which is huge on mandolin. It also doesn't hurt to email or call them. Dennis at TMS gave me a smoking deal on a mandocello recently that got me a much better instrument than I could have hoped for at my price range. There won't be much wiggle room for the retailers at < $250, but they often get trades as people move up the mandolin food chain.

    In addition to the models recommended, with which I whole heartedly agree, consider a used Big Muddy. They're flat tops, but hand built in the USA and have a great rep for build quality and tone. They'll occasionally pop up used in your range, though admittedly more often in the 300-350 realm.

    + 1 for the Stradolins, they can be great instruments...

    Good luck, and happy picking!
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    Registered User colorado_al's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Stretch the budget a bit and go for the Kentucky KM-150.
    But don't buy it from musician's friend or Amazon or Guitar Center. Buy it from a shop that will set it up properly for you
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Ahh the joys of craigslist! I just finished a personal move over the weekend. Sold about 20 larger items in a week and gave away much more. WOW, what a massive pain. The cheaper something is, the bigger the hassle. This goes for selling and buying... If it's cheap, the seller may not go out of their way to complete the transition and completely blow you off (as mentioned). This goes double if selling or giving stuff away. Everyone wants your free item, but few will actually come and get it at the specified time.

    Over the years I have racked up craigslist deals in the triple digits (from free to $10k) and despite dealing with a few people I would normally avoid, I never felt in any danger. I do deals at my house, have them stop by the shop, in parking lots at night, etc.. Things that are not necessarily recommended, but again, never an issue.

    It is much easier to get great used deals locally than it is online. If I were in/near a large metro area and wanted the best under $250 mando possible, I would be watching craigslist.
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    Registered User colorado_al's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Great deals can be found on CL, but some dogs too. As a first mandolin purchase, I'd advise against it, since the buyer will likely not have much experience to sift the wheat from the chaff.
    That being said, I've bought many instruments through CL and even long distance with shipping, even though that is a riskier gambit. I picked up a mint condition Eastman MD-505 for $300 + shipping, and when it arrived I discovered it came with a Blue Chip pick! YMMV. Feel free to post here with questions on some of the instruments that you may come across in your search and I'm sure you'll get a multitude of opinions on them.
    Best of luck in your search!
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  22. #18

    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Well here's a Q. Seagull S8? I had a Seagull Merlin for a while that I loved. How does the S8 compare to other A mandolins?

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    Registered User colorado_al's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by thx712517 View Post
    Well here's a Q. Seagull S8? I had a Seagull Merlin for a while that I loved. How does the S8 compare to other A mandolins?
    I played the Seagull and thought it would make a good travel mandolin. I'm not sure that I would buy it as my primary instrument though. You can do better for the same money.
    Robert at Folkmusician.com has the Kentucky KM-252 at $375
    I think that is a way better buy than the Seagull
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins


  25. #21
    Registered User colorado_al's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by JRG View Post
    That's a good buy on an Eastman MD-305 at $250.
    It has upgraded tuning machines as well. Those look like Schallers to me. Those cost $80 alone.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    And it says it comes with a hard case which is also an upgrade of $50 or more depending on the case.
    Last edited by colorado_al; Aug-17-2017 at 9:12am.
    2016 Franzke A5 Custom w/Rubner tuners & James Tailpiece & McClung Armrest
    2011 Collings MT Custom w/Rubner tuners & McClung Armrest
    2014 JBovier A5T w/Grover 308 tuners & McClung Armrest
    2015 Blueridge BR-40TCE Tenor to Octave Mandolin conversion
    1960s Harmony H1213 Archtone Guitar to Mandocello conversion
    1999 Tacoma M2E
    2011 Big Muddy MM-8 MINI-MO
    2005 Malagoli solid-body electric cavaquinho

  26. #22

    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    A bit of a drive for me but evidence that deals on Craigslist do exist.

  27. #23

    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    Tried the Ibanez M510 today. A trio of them at Ken Stanton. At least they were in tune this time! Fit and finish seemed up to snuff, but volume and tone were harder to evaluate. I forgot to bring a pick with me, so it was all finger-picking in a shop with people ####### away on electric guitar.

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    Registered User Mike Scott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner/inexpensive Mandolins

    I own an Ibanez 510. My take on it is that it is serviceable, but the tuners are not good and make keeping it in tune a challenge. Tailpiece is really bad-cannot get it to not rest on the top. All laminated wood, needs a good set up. Once set up, tone is not bad though. Not sure if the shop you went to is good at that or not. I have mine as a beater, leave in a hot/cold car campfire kind of mandolin. It will get you started but you will feel like upgrading very soon. Better to try to find a used all solid wood mandolin if you can........ Just my $.02
    Last edited by Mike Scott; Aug-19-2017 at 8:34pm. Reason: Add more
    Thanks, Mike

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