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Thread: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

  1. #1

    Default Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Hello!

    I've been looking forward to taking up the mandolin for a couple of years now, and 2018 is going to be the year!
    I'm looking into buying my first mandolin at the moment and would really appreciate some advice before I buy. Hoping to get started by around February.
    So far, I've looked in my local music shop her in Cambridge, UK. I chatted to the guy there about good mandolins to start to learn on. He had a few in there around £200 as a starting price. I've also had a look at ebay. Everything looks much cheaper, but I'm not sure what I'm looking at yet...!

    Any help with this would be great. Very excited about getting started.

    Best wishes,
    Yvonne

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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Welcome to the club! Any info on the brand of mandolins your local shop has for sale and the type of music you'd like to play might help guide our advice. I typically encourage people to consider Kentucky KM 150 or Eastman 305 as initial mandolins, but they're a bit more expensive. (300-400 USD new, typically). Ebay is cheaper, but with a starter mandolin you'll end up spending any discount cash on getting the mandolin set up to play well. That factor (set-up) is more important, IMO, that the brand or price range with which you start. A well set up 100 dollar mandolin may be just what you need to learn on, but a poorly set up 1000 dollar mandolin may discourage a beginner from playing.

    The Mandolin Café sponsors typically offer set ups on their mandolins, which is why they're slightly more expensive than buying Ebay or a big box store like Musician's Friend or Guitar Center (maybe Hobgoblins on your side of the pond?), but well worth the extra money. If you're unable to take a trip to see Trevor at TAMCO, see if you can find someone who plays to go to your local shop and check out their inventory. I'm a huge fan of buying locally whenever possible, but you don't want something that's impossibly hard to play. Good luck!

    Good luck!
    Chuck

  3. #3

    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Hi Chuck,
    thanks so much for your reply.
    I've taken note of the makes you mentioned and I'll go back to the music shop to ask better questions. Funnily enough, good questions failed me when I went last week, as I was Christmas shopping with my children..! I'll pick a better time I think.
    I'll also check out Hobgoblins. Your comments on value and setting up the mandolin to play well make very good sense. You asked what kind of music I would like to play.. I love listening to Irish trad (I'm a Cork girl!), American country/blue grass and anything that comes out of Nashville makes me happy! At the moment, I'm listening to Sierra Hull. I'd love to be able to play any and all of these styles. My god mother at home in Ireland plays the mandolin with her church choir and some trad. Sounds fantastic.
    Again, thanks very much for your advice. I'll go ask better questions!
    Best wishes,
    Yvonne

  4. #4

    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    You cannot go wrong with a Kentucky KM150 or one of their oval holes. I have both and they both sound more expensive than they are. They are on ebay at really reasonable prices.

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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    You might talk to your God mother about mandolins, seeing she plays one she may be able to suggest something or somewhere she is familiar with.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  6. #6

    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    I bought my first Irish bouzouki rather spontaneously in Cambridge - it's the sort of place where you just do! I think it must have been at Millers. I just looked up what they have by way of Mandolins, and if I were to happen by, I like the look of the Ashbury AM-130, an all solid Sapele A style that looks very handsome to my eyes. I don't have the necessary experience to give an opinion about it, except that all solid may give a good tone. Maybe someone here has played one? Just an idea -it's about 300 pounds, and I don't think I'd spend less than that for something new. Don't be tempted to buy something that sounds like a shoe box - follow your ears! That's what I did - and bought a 60 year old 2nd hand instrument for the same price (a bit cheaper, in fact) as a new one, and the tone was ten times sweeter!
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    en kunnskapssøker James Miller's Avatar
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Tim, do you know Philip Lipsky perchance, who also plays the didgeridoo with his Irish Bouzouki? Think he uses a drum, but think he recently switched to a shruti box to play with his bouzouki. He also knows Throat Singing - something I wished could figure out to do too.

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    en kunnskapssøker James Miller's Avatar
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    If you want an oval hole, get a used Weber Bridger :D
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim N View Post
    I like the look of the Ashbury AM-130, an all solid Sapele A style that looks very handsome to my eyes. I don't have the necessary experience to give an opinion about it, except that all solid may give a good tone.
    They look OK... but have very little volume and the tonal quality is sub-par. Really not impressive at all.

    I'd avoid those.

    As often stated here, the Kentucky KM-150 is a vastly superior choice as a beginner instrument. Might not look as fancy - but the tone and volume is really all there. One of my students here got one earlier this year, and it is a really good sounding, nice playing instrument.
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Quote Originally Posted by James Miller View Post
    If you want an oval hole, get a used Weber Bridger :D
    Unbelievably hard to find in the UK and prices are going to be way over the OP's budget.
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    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Quote Originally Posted by New to Mandolin View Post
    Hello!

    I've been looking forward to taking up the mandolin for a couple of years now, and 2018 is going to be the year!
    I'm looking into buying my first mandolin at the moment and would really appreciate some advice before I buy. Hoping to get started by around February.
    So far, I've looked in my local music shop her in Cambridge, UK. I chatted to the guy there about good mandolins to start to learn on. He had a few in there around £200 as a starting price. I've also had a look at ebay. Everything looks much cheaper, but I'm not sure what I'm looking at yet...!

    Any help with this would be great. Very excited about getting started.

    Best wishes,
    Yvonne
    I bought my first mandolin off eBay, but only after reading the Mandolin Cafe for several months. If I had to do it over again, I would go pick something out in person.

    In my experience, the most important things starting out are: 1) To make sure the mandolin you pick out is comfortable to play (i.e. has good action, easy to press down the strings); fighting with an instrument only means it won't get played much. 2) Make sure it holds tune well. The sound isn't that important because when starting out, pretty much all mandolins sound good. The whole endeavor is new and any mandolin sound is a new and exciting sound. All the tone-chasing will come later. Plenty of time for that. You'll find your ear leaning toward tones somewhere down the road, and that's when it'll be time to upgrade.

    All that said, best wishes in your new mandolin journey.
    ...

  12. #12
    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Unless you’re prepared to do it yourself (and if you do Rob Meldrum’s ebook is an excellent guide) make sure that where you buy it from does a good set up.

    I bought mine from a now defunct local shop and it came with no set up. I tried on and off to play it for a few years, gave up. Then I found this place, learned how to make it playable and am now looking for my first upgrade.

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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Oval hole mandolins are great for everything except bluegrass (with a few arch topped oval holes excepting). That doesn’t mean you can’t play bluegrass on one, but in a bluegrass jam they don’t cut through the mix as well. I have a Flatiron 1N that I really like and would highly recommend as a first mandolin, but they’re usually 500-700 usd used, as they’re not made new anymore (avoid the current Chinese Flatiron line, IMO).

    KM 150 and Eastman 304 or 305 gets you a lot of mandolin for your money and the versatility you want, but you may have better luck finding a flat topped oval hole in your budget given your location. Happy hunting!!
    Chuck

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Here's the Miller's Music mandolin page.

    Looks like the main lines they carry are Barnes & Mullins, Miguel Fernandez, and Ashbury. They have solid-top "pancake" models as low as £169; with their slotted headstocks, I'd guess either Romanian or Portuguese manufacture. Can't speak to the overall quality of Barnes & Mullins, who are UK distributors and not manufacturers, but Ashbury's solid sapele (sorta mahogany) model looks like an acceptable first instrument, and comes with a gig bag. However, it's £99 above your budget level.

    My prejudice -- and it is that, not really totally rational -- is to buy local when possible; you can go back to the store if you have problems or issues, you can interact with the dealer's staff while making your choice, you can try a variety of makes and models. Also, you can usually trade in your instrument there when (if) you decide to upgrade, and quite possibly get repairs and adjustments done. And sometimes "regular customers" can get a deal on strings, picks, accessories (I just got 25% off on a Stetson hat at Bernunzio's, for example).

    There's not a lot of Cafe expertise on some of the models Miller's offers for sale, but I'd say you have an established dealer there (since 1856!), and were I in your shoes, I'd start local.
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    As has already been suggested, Kentucky and Eastman have excellent mandolins worth looking into. If you have a local Hobgoblin at all then it’s worth a trip to try what Kentucky mandolins they may have. The KM-150 gets high praise all around and I’m curious myself to try one...only they seem quite difficult to get hold of here at the moment.

    Unfortunately when I was in the market to upgrade from my beginner Tanglewood, I had no choice but to buy online. The only local-ish music shop selling somewhat decent mandolins was Hobgoblin. And at the time I didn’t have a drivers license to travel far afield due to health issues. I decided on an Eastman MD504 from Eagle Music. I asked a lot of questions before buying and each were answered promptly and professionally. Also came with a setup by the shop. In truth I would have loved to have chosen my mandolin in person, but my circumstances at the time limited me. Regardless, I love my Eastman immensely. An MD304/305/315 would be an excellent choice were I in your shoes...

    Good luck!

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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Unfortunately, the nearest Hobgoblin to Cambridge is in the middle of London and shops which sell half decent mandolins in the UK are few and far between. If you're a complete beginner, Yvonne, you won't be in a position to tell whether an instrument has been set up properly or not and the short answer is to take someone with you who is able to advise.

    Personally, I'm very sceptical about supposedly "set-up" instruments. I've found that even with expensive instruments there is always something which needs sorting. New instruments always seem to come with nuts which are too high - not necessarily a bad thing as it's easier to take some off than put some back on. Taking someone with experience along can help othwise expect to incur additional expense in setting a mandolin up.

    The problem with set-up costs is that they're the same for a £200 mandolin as they are for a £2000 one but don't be afraid to come back with as many questions as you'd like to ask.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Hi Yvonne,

    I would avoid Ashbury, tanglewood, fender,Barnes and Mullins, Mcbrides and countryman mandolins. Most if not all of the mandolins in this price range are made in the same factories and just badged differently. I've played alot of these intsruments over the years. I'm in the south east of Ireland and good mandolins are few and far between. If I had to rate mandolins in this range I would say the Ashburys are probably the best with the Barnes and Mullins being the worst of the lot, although to be honest I dont think there is much between them.

    I think Ashbury is the house brand of Hobgoblin.

    I would also recommended the Kentucky 150. I bought one from Hobgoblin in Birmingham for my nephew, I played it at a house session this St. Stephens day and was really impressed with it, I had forgotten just how good they were considering their price.

    Apart from Kentucky, there is also Eastman and The Loar. Eastman mandolins start around 600 euro and are excellent. The Loar are more of mixed bag and quality varies from instrument to instrument but they offer good instruments at a competitive price.

    Kieran moloney in Galway sells Eastman and The Loar, he posts all over Europe. http://www.moloneymusic.com/



    Best of luck with your mandolin hunting.

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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Hobgoblin's shop in London sometimes has mandolins by London builder Paul Hathway which are worth a look.
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    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    Hobgoblin's shop in London sometimes has mandolins by London builder Paul Hathway which are worth a look.
    Just got back from there and they currently have some Paul Hathway mandolins in stock, albeit one less than they started the day with . Also a good selection of the Ashbury range, some Kentucky’s and Blue Moon. Literally just down the street is Ivor Maraints who have Eastman and a couple of other brands.

    Both lovely shops to deal with.

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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    The Hathway's are nice. I have a friend out here who has one (plays mostly Irish music). It sound great and is very nicely put together.

    Congratulations! Good choice.
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    They should have bloody mandolins in the UK. I wouldn't use an inferior instrument on a gig so how can anyone learn on one. Having a fine instrument may encourage more practice! I bought a really good guitar over 30 years ago, but didn't get serious about it until many years later. If I got a really good deal on something excellent, I had no regrets ever. Finding a good mandolin player to help you check them out is always a good idea. Setting it up is easy with help from youtube for working on it and also playing. As long as the neck is not warped, as many are! is the most important thing. Each and every one is different. Someone's XYZ brand may be excellent but you may get the same model and it could be a dog. (I love dogs but not in instruments. lol) Please save up for the best instrument you can afford. You may not need to spend it all. I search pawn shops, and found an excellent real wood A model for $150. then $125 for a good case, wtf? lol Years ago I got a 1947 Gibson LG 1 for $50, then a case for $100 and new X braces for $250. No regrets. A laminated instrument projects outward and real good wood the sound projects from all sides. This is a good time to buy a real wood mandolin made in China. Please take your time and check them out carefully. The clearence between the first fret and the strings should be about 12 thousands of an inch. I have seen some so high that no one could play it. Some guys like it even lower. I am sure that some people like a different set up, but these things are easy to do, and if you ruin a part, they are cheap. A warped neck however is very bad and very common. If you search long and hard you can find instruments that you will be glad to pass down to your grandchildren. Remember that the search is part of the fun. Music is a journey not a destination. Cheers, and good hunting .

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    A couple of guide posts to consider:

    Know going in that mandolins are costly. If you have experience with guitars, you can expect, roughly speaking, that a mandolin will cost you twice what a guitar of similar quality would cost. So, for example, as a general statement, a £200 mandolin can be expected to be of comparable quality to a £100 guitar.

    Know that if you really take to the instrument, you will likely justify a higher expenditure and at some point either upgrade or get another mandolin. What one buys as a first mandolin is rarely what one stays with for ever. That should free you up to not sweating the small stuff, get something and get playing. Let the future-you worry about the future-mandolin she will play.

    Enjoy!


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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Checking out Post #19, appears the OP's bought a Hathaway. So the decision's made...

    And -- while the Hobgoblin in London doesn't quite qualify as "local," OP did give his business to a dealer with whom he can interact face-to-face, rather than only on-line. As I suggested in Post #14, a good choice.
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    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    No, I’m the one who bought the Paul Hathway but I wasn’t the OP. She’s been quiet since 28th December.

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    Default Re: Buying a new mandolin for the first time

    Happens regularly. Someone pops up, asks a question and goes away with never so much as a by-your-leave or a thank-you.

    Does anyone remember the person who found he had a Loar and never came back - perhaps they did and I missed it!

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