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Thread: Question for Used Mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Question for Used Mandolin

    Question for you seasoned folks out there. As a newbie, when looking at a used mandolin, what are some questions and/or red flags to ask to make sure you're not getting one pulled over on you?

  2. #2
    Gibson F5L Gibson A5L
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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    Well .... Tops on old mandolins, pre 1950, occasionally sink ie. flatten out. Check the curve side to side for any "dip". Neck angle can be bad due to a failing top or joint where it joins the body. This will make the instrument very difficult to play cleanly. Look at all the binding and glue joints to make sure nothing is coming apart or loose. Splits in the wood anywhere can be repaired but can be costly. Frets can be so worn as to need replacing ... $$$. Mandolin necks occasionally twist. Look at the neck from all angles. In truth your best bet is to take a mandolin playing friend with you when you shop. Or to buy from a reputable dealer. Online descriptions can be made to be misleading and people often are selling something they know nothing about. Either situation can place the buyer with a poor purchase. The classifieds here on The Café are a great place to start shopping. Many instruments offered here are from players trading up or shops with good reputations. Bottom line ... make sure you have at least a three day right of refusal. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  3. #3

    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    Ask where/what conditions it has been stored in if they don't say.

  4. #4
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    Single best piece of advice I'd give is to buy from a reputable dealer, one who handles used/"vintage" instruments as well as new ones, and who you know through reputation or experience will stand behind the instrument's he/she sells. I'm no "newbie" -- been playing mandolin for 45 years -- and I wouldn't have total confidence that some serious issue might slip by me.

    Buying through private sale, on-line, Craig's List or whatever, you're assuming that what the seller tells you about the instrument is true. Your inspection may spot any evident cracks or other damage, but could easily miss a cracked or loose brace, sunken top, stripped truss rod, badly pitched neck, etc. On the other hand, you might overestimate seriousness of fret/fingerboard wear, finish scratches, under-lubricated tuning pegs, or other routine or easily-correctible "faults."

    I'd say that of the 75 or so stringed and reed instruments I've accumulated, probably 60 were bought used -- but almost always through dealers I trusted, or at least with those dealers' advice after I'd taken the instruments to them for inspection, if I was being from a private seller. I've bought some instruments on eBay -- with generally good results -- and others from people I knew, and where I knew something of the instruments' histories.

    When in doubt, I lean on the dealers in whom I have confidence. I may pay a bit more than if I snapped up some Craig's List bargain, but I haven't been burned or misled, at least up until now.
    Allen Hopkins
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  6. #5

    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    Allen brings up an important point.... It isn't just about identifying major issues, but recognizing when the mandolin has a problem that is easily corrected and of no real concern. I'll bet a lot of people pass on potentially good deals due to some minor setup issue.

    If you can identify that an issue is simply setup, then factor that into the asking price, but keep in mind that something like fretwork can get expensive if the entire board needs to be leveled/dressed. One high fret end, might be a few minute fix.

    Someone that knows mandolins well, has pretty good odds of the mandolin being ok, if it passes the visual/playing test. If you have no idea what to look for, odds are not in your favor unless buying from a reputable source, someone you trust. That could be someone from the Cafe that you have never met, but you still want some level of trust. Example, I would have no problem buying one of Allen's mandolins sight unseen. Of course, I have been interacting with many of the members here for over a decade.
    Robert Fear
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    Registered User Denman John's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    What condition are the frets in?
    ... not all those who wander are lost ...

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    Scroll Lock Austin Bob's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    One other thing to look at is the tuners. If they are bent, completely rusted, or worn to the point to where they don't work anymore, then the instrument will never be in tune. Replacing tuners is not always a straightforward task, and may require special tools & skills the average Joe doesn't have.

    My first mandolin seemed like a bargain, but after I paid to get a new set of tuners installed, not so much.
    A quarter tone flat and a half a beat behind.

  10. #8
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Folkmusician.com View Post
    ...Example, I would have no problem buying one of Allen's mandolins sight unseen. Of course, I have been interacting with many of the members here for over a decade.
    Robert, thanx for the compliment. I do have some that have had fairly extensive repairs -- nearly reconstruction, if you want to look at it that way:

    Washburn bowl-back mandola (1890's) -- seriously "dished" top, half a dozen repaired cracks, my repair guy says he never wants to see it again.

    Waldo bowl-back mandocello (also 1890's) -- tailpiece pulled off, taking some of the binding with it; fixed, and with some added wood, since it came with the wimpiest end block I've ever seen

    Howe-Orme mandolinetto (1890's again -- see a pattern here?) -- bought off eBay as a "wall hanger," but restored to playability through heroic efforts, including a neck reset -- probably more into repairs than it's really worth.

    Regal Octofone (1930's) -- neck reset, carbon fiber reinforcement installed, new ebony fingerboard, headstock repair. Bought as a "bargain" reduced-price from John Bernunzio; after the work, less of a bargain, but still a neat instrument.

    Were I offering any of these for sale, I'd be "up front" about their condition and repair history; in some cases, the defects are pretty obvious; in others, not so much.


    I'm a pretty consistent advocate of patronizing -- and developing a relationship with -- local dealers, since I think there are many beneficial effects. I've bought stuff through private sales, mainly rare instruments that aren't likely to show up in the excellent local stores we have, but I always check with my dealer friends first.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Bluegrasscal_87 View Post
    red flags
    A couple that are less rare than they should be -

    1) 3-4 blurry photos, and the description reads, in its entirety, "See pictures, what you see is what you get."

    2) Description goes into detail about how the seller is selling it for a friend or neighbor or
    relative, and all it says about the mandolin itself is "Instrument appears to be in good condition."

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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    This is a good (long, detailed) guide: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/s...in-Buying-Tips

    This recent thread on buying safety: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/s...ying-on-Reverb
    I've decided if the seller won't take regular Paypal (not Friends/Family "Gift") or credit card, I'm not interested


    Like others i prefer to buy from known dealers, a lot are sponsors here but here's a long list i compiled: Elderly, Gruhn's, Carter's and other places in Nashville, Fiddler Green, Grpyhon and Sylvan in Bay Area, Dusty strings in Seattle. Greg Boyd, Bradford/Franzke, Bernunzio in Rochester, Music Emporium in Boston area, Morgan Music (Missouri)

    Also: Retrofret Brooklyn, Tejon St. Colorado, Mass St Kansas.
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  13. #11

    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    I'll be the zillionth fan of buying from a good dealer if you don't have someone you know is knowledgable to take with you. Yes, you pay somewhere in the middle of new and private sale, but peace of mind is worth it. And since the selection is far greater online from dealers, and most if not all have a return policy, you can get just what you want.

    Now if you are going slumming on Craigslist, risk/ reward is part of the fun. I picked up a really fun old no name arch top cheap, but it needed everything, neck set, frets, tuners, and structural work. A newbie might not know. It played and sounded ok. This is the kind of instrument you won't find at a good dealer as they would have to do too many repairs for what they could get. Perfect for an old fool with too much time and wanting to tinker though.
    Silverangel Econo
    Michael Kelly LSFTB

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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    For a beginner take Allenhopkins advice buy from a good dealer and not worry about getting burned or over paying, get your mando and play the heck out of it. Then u will probably get mas and end up knowing more about mandolins than you thought possible.
    Good Luck in you search

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  17. #13

    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    Thanks everyone. I decided to just go with a reputable dealer. Just ordered one today and have the peace of mind that I know what I'm getting, especially since it's the first mandolin I've spent a good deal of money on.

    Thanks again for the advice!!

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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Bluegrasscal_87 View Post
    Thanks everyone. I decided to just go with a reputable dealer. Just ordered one today and have the peace of mind that I know what I'm getting, especially since it's the first mandolin I've spent a good deal of money on.

    Thanks again for the advice!!
    Well what did ya decide on buddy? Now you have the suspense of waiting! That's always a fun moment getting a new or used horn! I'm still waiting for some real special mods on 2 of my old Gibson's an F-7 and a 58 F-5, from the GREAT Randy Wood-its been 1 year so imagine what I'm going through with that kind of wait. chomping at the bit a little..
    Hope ya get her soon and love her! If it's new "it'll take awhile to break in to sound its best, I'm from that camp of believers" KOOL

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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Bluegrasscal_87 View Post
    Thanks everyone. I decided to just go with a reputable dealer. Just ordered one today and have the peace of mind that I know what I'm getting, especially since it's the first mandolin I've spent a good deal of money on.
    Thanks again for the advice!!
    You done good,there are a lot of crooks out there always better to go with a reputable dealer if you know little about what you’re buying.

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    Registered User bluegrasser78's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    There are a lot of dishonest/crooks out there but here on the café I've never got a raw deal on a used instrument. It's always been what was described+ when you ask the seller ?'s and such you should know what your buying! I have gotten raw deals from some dealers in the past like when they say its crack free and well ya get it and it has cracks etc... That's not good. Plus dealers usually have a ridiculous markup on instruments I've found.

  21. #17

    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by bluegrasser78 View Post
    There are a lot of dishonest/crooks out there but here on the café I've never got a raw deal on a used instrument. It's always been what was described+ when you ask the seller ?'s and such you should know what your buying! I have gotten raw deals from some dealers in the past like when they say its crack free and well ya get it and it has cracks etc... That's not good. Plus dealers usually have a ridiculous markup on instruments I've found.
    In the context of staying in business, dealer pricing is not rediculous. We would all like to pay less for everything, hence the big box and online dealers and the death of the little down town store. No store can afford to give you fair private sale pricing when taking a trade in, nor can they afford to sell at that price. I would guess the profit mark up would have to be at least 30%. They have to contend with competing against their own inventory, so why would they take a 15% profit and leave a 30% profit sale hanging in their shop?
    So your choice is to buy an instrument from an individual at a price north of what they could get from a dealer, or go to a dealer, compare their inventory hands on, take advantage of the services they offer and leave with the confidence they will stand behind their sale. The choice is ours to make, but one shouldn't disparage a business for needing to meet basic business needs.Those that don't aren't around for long.
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    Registered User bluegrasser78's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    I'm just saying I've gotten better deals from individuals. I'm not knocking dealers they have to have some markup but some I've seen is terrible on high end stuff like Vintage F-5's, Gils etc... Like ya said its our choice.

  24. #19
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question for Used Mandolin

    Dealers charge what the market will bear. If their prices are "ridiculous," buyers won't pay them, and the dealer will mark the price down, or else go into another line of work.

    If you want to see some ridiculous prices, go on eBay and see what some individual sellers are asking for particular mandolins -- five or ten times what the current market price would be. Then, you look again, and another seller's asking half of what a dealer would price the instrument.

    Dealers know the market -- or should. Individual sellers often only know what they paid for the instrument they're selling, and perhaps some information they've picked up via Google. It says "Gibson" and it's old, so why not ask what someone's selling a late '20's Fern F-5 for? The fact that this instrument is from the early 1970's, considered to be a low point in Gibson's mandolin quality, may not be factored into the individual seller's asking price, but it surely would be weighed by a reliable, experienced used/vintage dealer.

    Not all dealers, of course, are reliable and ethical, and many don't know squat about mandolins, since they have spent their careers buying and selling Telecasters and Les Pauls. We all have had a chuckle or two watching Pawn Stars trying to price faux Gibson mandolins, and they're held up as examples of sophisticated, canny dealers.

    I've bought from individuals, and I haven't been disappointed by the prices I paid, or the quality of the instruments I bought. But OP identifies as a "newbie," and for an inexperienced buyer, I'd still recommend going through a dealer. You may not get the "deal of the century," but at least you have a seller you can go back to with questions you may develop. And you have a seller whose continued success depends, to some extent, on satisfied customers. If Joe Shmoe sells you a mandolin, you'll probably never see Joe again; if Schmoe's Instrument Shack sells it, they want to see you again buying strings and a gig bag, and hope you'll tell your pickin' buddies to shop at Joe's.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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