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Thread: Choosing a mandolin

  1. #1
    Registered User Fu-Leng's Avatar
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    Default Choosing a mandolin

    Hi there!

    I'm new on the forum, and only just starting the mandolin. I used to play the accordeon, but not any more.
    I decided I wanted to start learning a new instrument, and I chose the mandolin.
    I'm having a hard time choosing my first instrument, and I'd love to have some advice.

    First off, I live in a small town in France where you can't find mandolins in music stores. So, a friend of mine, knowing I wanted to learn the mandolin bought me one : This One.
    But when I started using it, it broke. So I sent it back and now I must choose another mandolin on the same web-site to replace it.
    Which mandolin would you recommand for a beginner? (I don't really have a lot of money so I cannot buy a really expensive one.)
    Should I just order the same ?
    As I was searching on the web-site, these two seemed nice? Which one would you recommand? This and this

    I really am looking for a cheap instrument for now, just to see if I like playing a string instrument (I will probably get a few lessons at some point). And if I like playing the mandoline, then I'll try to buy a good one.


    Could you please help?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    Probably an Eastman or Kentucky . A style will save you money !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    I see that they list "The Loar" branded mandolins on that site. You might look at those mandolins. Most of the brands that are on the site are not known to me. I see many Hora built mandolins with the Thomann name on them. I would stay away from those.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    Assume you plan to buy from Thomann, the "Musician's Friend" of Europe from what I've seen. You're looking at a couple of Asian-made instruments; the Epiphone MM-30 has a solid top (I believe that's true, even though it doesn't have the "s" after its name; I know the MM-30s has a solid top). The Ibanez is all plywood, and has a magnetic pickup -- which you surely don't need for learning the instrument, but which might be useful later if you decide to play mandolin in a group.

    You say you're limited as to budget; Eastman, Loar and Kentucky mandolins are generally regarded as better than the Epiphone, which I would consider a better instrument than the Ibanez. The least expensive Loar Thomann carries is the Honey Creek, €100 more than the Epiphone (I'm referencing Thomann's UK listings). Thomann says Kentucky mandolins aren't "part of our current product line," and I've not seen them listing Eastman instruments either. In any case, you would pay more for either of those brands, and they'd probably have to be bought in, and shipped from, the UK or the US.

    Of your choices, I'd get the Epiphone -- not that it's a great instrument, but from reading Cafe posts I conclude that quite a few people have learned on MM-30's. Make sure you get it set up -- bridge height, bridge location, nut slots checked, neck adjusted if necessary, probably new strings -- which should be done by a reliable instrument shop, or you can learn to do it yourself. Thomann won't set it up, in all probability, so this is something you'll have to take charge of; a proper set-up is essential to learning to play mandolin.

    Good luck, and let us know what you choose, and how it works out. And my advice would be to stay away from those Harley Benton instruments; pretty low-end.
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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by yankees1 View Post
    Probably an Eastman or Kentucky . A style will save you money !
    Those brands might not be on the webpage/dealer were the credit is being offered.

    For what it's worth... what type of music do you want to learn to play? I saw a couple flat top styles on the webpage provided that might be better choices if you want to learn say, classical or Celtic music. Look under "traditional instruments"... "folk".

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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    I have a friend that got the Epiphone and I didn't think it was a good idea, but it sounded and played quite well. I was surprised.
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  9. #7
    Registered User Fu-Leng's Avatar
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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    allenhopkins : Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer me as you did. It is very helpful.

    Zach Wilson : I actually want to learn to play celtic or medieval music. But as I said, I will be buying a good instrument at some point later, and then I'll try to find one that sounds better for what I want. I will probably end up going to a "big city" to find a good music store.


    I haven't really chosen yet, but as soon as I do, I'll tell you what I bought.

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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    I vote for the Epiphone MM-30 as well.

    If they could get a lower model A-style The Loar (I don't see them listed on the website), I would choose that over the Epi,
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Fu-Leng View Post
    Zach Wilson : I actually want to learn to play celtic or medieval music. But as I said, I will be buying a good instrument at some point later, and then I'll try to find one that sounds better for what I want. I will probably end up going to a "big city" to find a good music store.
    I would strongly suggest you consider a flat top mandolin. Something along the lines of a Fylde Touchstone. For me mandolins like that do an amazing job with celtic and medieval music. The arch tops you are looking at, to my taste, are merely adequate for the type of music you indicate.

    The sound is the thing.

    The big city music store might be your best alternative, because you get to chose with your ears.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    Jeff has good advice with regard to the "keeper" mandolin you should eventually get. For your first instrument, the one you "learn the ropes" on, the main factors are that it should be playable, decently made, and have an acceptable sound -- so that you enjoy playing it and thus make progress. It probably isn't the ultimate instrument you'll end up with.

    However, if you want to start out with a flat-top. Thomann also sells the Gewa Pro Natura mandolin for €239, about €50 more than the Epiphone. It's apparently German-made, in the so-called "Portuguese" style, and has a solid top. It might be better suited to Celtic/medieval music, in terms of sound, than the carved-top Epiphone.

    On the other hand, the MM-30 is pretty much a "known quantity," since it's widely sold in the US and quite a few Cafe members have probably played one. The Gewa, not so much, so you'll get less feedback and evaluation.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    It's apparently German-made, in the so-called "Portuguese" style, and has a solid top. It might be better suited to Celtic/medieval music, in terms of sound, than the carved-top Epiphone..
    I agree.
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  16. #12
    Registered User Fu-Leng's Avatar
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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    I don't really know much about mandolines yet (I have to admit) . So, could you please explain to me what the difference between a portuguese mandoline and a"normal" mandoline is ? Is it only the flat-top or is there more ?
    On the web-site I was able to listen to the sound of those different instruments, and I agree that the portuguese one sounds more celtic or medieval.
    I would really love to start on a portuguese mandoline (being from a portuguese migrant family myself), but I've seen online that the flat-top are very loud. And I live in a small appartement with a lot of neighbours. Is it really a lot louder then the carved-top?

    What do you guys think ? Is it better to start with a carved-top or a flat-top ? I was going to get the Epiphone but now, I'm kind of lost. It's a conundrum. The Gewa seems really nice as well, and after listening to it, I probably like the way it sounds better than the Epiphone.


    (PS : Sorry for my bad english )

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    Default Re: Choosing a mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Fu-Leng View Post
    What do you guys think ? Is it better to start with a carved-top or a flat-top ?
    Because flattops are less labor-intensive, you will get more instrument for your franc. There are certain types of music that justify the greater expense of an archtop, like bluegrass, but those genres aren't what you're pursuing. I'd recommend a flattop from a European builder.
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