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Thread: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

  1. #1

    Default Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Looong time lurker, freshly registered, and looking for the benefit of some of you experienced mandolin players...

    Very much still at the beginner level, I've had an Ozark 2250 for a few years, which I get a lot of pleasure from messing about with. My usual preference is for playing folky tunes.

    I made them mistake of touching a mandolin when Hobgoblin recently which immediately infected me with MAS...!

    so, I think I've read almost everything useful thread on mandolincafe from the last ten years. I also went back around and tried a few mandolins yesterday, and am now in the deep thinking stage. Should be noted that this is the first time I've played with any F hole mandolins.

    My budget is ideally no more than 500, very happy with an A style, but I'd rather not feel like another upgrade in a few months, so am considering going a little higher if required (see below!). A case is welcome, but this will really be for playing at home, so wont be on the road much!

    Of those considered:

    Kentucky KM150
    - was fine, but wasn't overwhelmed either in the playing or the sound, and the example I played seemed a little uneven in the finish.

    Hathaway Mandolin - loved the sound of this oval hole number, and it played really nicely. Couldn't help think it was a little bit chunky in construction. C 600

    Ashbury Lindisfarne - not exciting at all

    Eastman MD305 - lovely to play, although perhaps a little quiet. Felt like a delightful instrument. Compared to the MD304, sounded almost violin-like? I wondered if this might also be something that would open out with playing?

    Eastman MD304 - lovely again - seemed distinctly louder than the 305 and a lot warmer and more resonant

    While I probably preferred the 304 tone wise, I prefer the looks of the 305 - and asking for advice in the shop, suggestion was many start with an oval hole, but then look for an F hole when they often get a little more sophisticated.

    So, as it stands, I think it's an Eastman 305 for me. The only thing I'm trying to work out, and will need to go back and try again, is whether stepping up to the 505 is worthwhile.
    From everything I've read, seems all the Eastmans are generally well regarded, so it's probably just choosing the right one...!

    Any help to get me to the finish line much appreciated.
    Last edited by danjec; Mar-04-2018 at 11:56am.

  2. #2
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Quote Originally Posted by danjec View Post
    Eastman MD305 - lovely to play, although perhaps a little quiet. Felt like a delightful instrument. Compared to the MD304, sounded almost violin-like? I wondered if this might also be something that would open out with playing?

    Eastman MD304 - lovely again - seemed distinctly louder than the 305 and a lot warmer and more resonant

    While I probably preferred the 304 tone wise, I prefer the looks of the 305 - and asking for advice in the shop, suggestion was many start with an oval hole, but then look for an F hole when they often get a little more sophisticated.
    Sometimes an oval will sound more open from behind the instrument than a mandolin with f-holes which projects sound away. You might ask someone in the shop to play them so that you can hear how they sound out front. Alternatively, you could try playing the MD305 into a highly reflective surface, such as a walled corner, and see if you notice a difference.
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  3. #3
    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    I’ve just been on a similar journey. I came down to choosing between an Eastman oval hole (I tried a 504 but the 304 was more in my budget) and a Paul Hathway having rejected Ashbury and Kentucky models.

    Think you’ll be happy with whichever you choose as they’re all good instruments; it will come down to the sound that you prefer. When I was choosing someone gave me some good advice: “follow your heart, not your head”.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Worth considering what type of music you play.

    Different genres of music suit different mandolins.

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    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Quote Originally Posted by noah finn View Post
    Worth considering what type of music you play.

    Different genres of music suit different mandolins.
    Very good point. To my ear at least the Eastmans sounded more “bluegrassy” the Hathway more Celtic.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    There is no more reason for a beginner to play an oval hole than an F hole. Buy what you like the sound of. In order to hear what it sounds like, try to find a corner with hard walls and face towards it.

    Other things to bear in mind when trying mandolins in shops (1) depending on how long the instrument has been in stock, the strings are likely to be shot so its unlikely to sound its best. You could ask them to stick new ones on but most mandolins don't tend to sound their bset with new strings on, and (2) playing any instrument surrounded by other stringed instruments vibrating in sympathy can distort your impression of whichever one you're playing. It can be difficult but try to find somewhere not full of vibrating guitars and mandolins.

    As for cases, try to buy one at the same time. (1) you'll have something to carry it home in without looking like a wally on the bus and (2) you'll find numerous threads on here from people suffering from the angst of trying to find a case to fit their mandolin. You might also find that they'll do you a deal on a case if you ask them nicely.

    Edit - I'm assuming you're in the UK? Where abouts?

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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    The 505 has nicer hardware and a more expensive finish than the 305. I own a 315 that’s a very nice instrument, especially for the price. I may someday replace the tuners, but the stock ones work fine.

    If you like the tone of the 505 better, go for it. Otherwise, I’d say stay in budget and enjoy the 305! I’ve played 500, 600, and even 800 series mandolins that I wouldn’t trade my 315 for (I lucked into a good one, tone wise). I’ve also played some higher model Eastmans that were better than my 315 (but not by much), so, go by what your ears and hands are telling you, not by the model numbers. And, yes, see if they’ll deal with you on a case. The gig bags the 300 series mandolins come with offers very minimal protection, though they do at least have back pack straps. I currently own TKL and Gator hard cases and a Travelite soft sided but well padded case. All were < 100 USD, and all function well. I prefer the Gator and Travelite over the TKL, but the TKL is fine. Gator also makes a soft sided foam case that has gotten good reviews.

    None of these are “flight cases,” and none are as nice as a Calton, Hiscox, Airloom, Collings, etc, but for everyday use they do their job well. Have fun with your new mandolin!
    Chuck

  8. #8

    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    thanks all for the feedback so far - point duly taken re sorting a case at point of sale.

    did mention above, but possibly not as explicitly as I should have, that folk / celtic is probably the main thing I'd be playing with this new mando when it comes. I'm lucky to be in Brighton, so able to access TAMCO and a good Hobgoblin within walking distance.

    My three standouts were the Eastman pair, and the Hathaway (always had a soft spot for Hathaway after trying out one of his tenor guitars many years ago).

    The 305 is the most aesthetically pleasing for me, but was just a little concerned re the sound - that 'violin-ish' tone was nice, but lacking a little of the body offered by the Hathaway and the 304. I will try the reflective surface trick, or get someone to play it at me on the next try out for comparison. I'll also take a listening companion with me too!

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    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Don’t how far apart TAMCO and Hobgoblin are but in London Ivor Mairants is about 50 yards from Hobgoblin so I was able to do as close to as side by side test as was possible.

    On the basis of “recommend what you play” I’d say the Hathway but that’s a personal choice. If you do go that route I think the Hathway is a little smaller than average, certainly than the Ozark it replaced so I had to pad a standard Ashbury case so that it doesn’t move around.

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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Good - TAMCO has a room where you can play away from other instruments and they're all likely to have decent strings.

    Bad - you might find it difficult to find something in TAMCO within your price range.

    Good - if you ask Trevor nicely, he'll let you play a selection of mandolins well outside your price range which should help you discover how those within your price range compare.

    Bad - you might fall in love with something costing several thousand pounds.

    Good - you might buy it - personally, I've never regretted spending money on a decent instrument - you should be able to look back in twenty years time [by which time you'll own several mandolins] and wonder how you managed to spend so little money on it!

  11. #11
    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    This what I had to use to get the case to fit.


  12. #12

    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    A 305 will give you pretty much all the sonic qualities and all the playability of the 505. The 505 is a much more finished looking instrument, including nicer tuners and tailpiece. Check out all the threads of 300 series owners wanting to change to better hardware. Everyone is different in how important looks are to them.

    Bottom line advice would be to get a 305 and leave it alone and start a savings fund looking to the goal of getting something like a Weber Galatin or Collings MT, or if you are looking for a long term a acquisition , get the 505. I'm not a fan of incremental upgrades, and would advise a strategy that will get you a mandolin you'll want to keep for ten years.

    So go try that level instrument so you can decide for yourself which route you want to persue. All I can tell you is once I bought my Silverangel, I can walk out of any shop without any pangs of lust. I surely will upgrade again, but once you reach a certain level, it is not an overwhelming necessity.
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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Danjec - Make a visit to TAMCO & ask Trevor to let you try out a few mandolins in your price bracket. My first mandolin was a Michael Kelly 'Legacy' F5 style mandolin,which at the time cost me around 350. Trevor may have a few "A" styles,new & 'used' for you to try out - whatever it is,it'll most likley be well set up to deliver it's best !,
    Ivan
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Well I have just got an Eastman 504 that is simply beautiful. It is currently in the classifieds at not much more than your budget. Long story why I am selling it, but it is literally a week old!

    Robbie

    P.s I am in the UK, Bath or Bournemouth areas.

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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    For the styles you play, an oval hole will serve you well. If you really prefer the Hathaway or 304, go with one of them! They won't cut as well in a BG jam or really loud IT sessiun like the F hole, but that's about their only drawback. And, they may have more overtones and sustain. One of my favorite mandolins is a Flatiron 1N...play everything on it, including BG, at home, but take one of my F holed instruments to BG jams...
    Chuck

  16. #16

    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Thanks again for the fodder for thought all

    I will head back in again this weekend for a further round of playing and listening, with a mate in tow for second opinions!

    As I’ve had the Ozark for quite a while, I think this next one, whichever it ends up as, will have a few years in it for me again. Also, why I’ll give some of the more expensive than planned ones like the Hathway and 504/505s a shot.

    OneChordTrick - your Hathway looks beautiful (have only seen the paler model in my local Hobgoblin) and love the emoji supports in your case!
    UkRobbieJ - duly noted. Will see what this weekends testing leads me too.
    Br1ck - yep, I play and build modular synths when not mandolin shopping, so really don’t need another avenue for endless updates...! Hoping to find a satisfying instrument that’s a nice step up from what I’ve got.
    CES - the positive vibes about the oval hole also welcome and I suspect it may actually be what I end up with, tho this weekend will tell!

    Must stop researching videos between now and the weekend tho - F style mandolins are growing on me to look at and that doesn’t help the fiscal equation...

    Thanks again

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    Registered User colorado_al's Avatar
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    I think you might find the higher level Kentucky mandolins will have nicer woods and fuller sound.
    This deal on a Kentucky KM-505 is a sweet one:
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kentucky-KM...dp/B001OQC70K/
    277 with UK shipping! That is a pretty amazing price. Ebony radiused fingerboard and bridge. Solid spruce top, solid maple back and sides.
    It will need a setup. Your local shop can do that for you, or you can leqarn to do it yourself.
    Go with this Gator case for 41.00 and you're set!
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gator-GLMAN.../dp/B000GSY91M

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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_al View Post
    I think you might find the higher level Kentucky mandolins will have nicer woods and fuller sound.
    This deal on a Kentucky KM-505 is a sweet one:
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kentucky-KM...dp/B001OQC70K/
    277 with UK shipping! That is a pretty amazing price.
    That price scares me, Hobgoblin are selling the same model for 699. I'd be hugely skeptical of what would turn up in the post at that price.

  19. #19

    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Yeah - it did get my attention!! But it’s an Amazon Marketplace job, with a seller with only one rating (and a bad one). They’ve listed a few Kentucky’s very cheap...

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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    I know I'm guilty of doing what I hate to see others do - i.e. understanding your budget, then recommending you stretch it a little higher - but the difference between your budget and the basic Jimmy Moon mandolin models isn't much. I played one in a shop in Scotland and was astounded by the volume and tone. Hand made in the UK versus factory made in Asia isn't such a tough choice, unless you live in the shadow of a Bluegrass Police Station

    http://www.moonguitars.co.uk/index.php/mandolin-family/

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    Registered User Radish's Avatar
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    The Eastman 504 was my upgrade, which was from various recommendations on here, and because I wanted something better from my extreme cheapskate instrument I started with. Very happy with it, but the more I play, the more I learn, and the more I think about my next mando, which won't be bought just unseen again! In the end though, I'd go with what you can afford (one way or another), and what you like the sound of.

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    Registered User colorado_al's Avatar
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Quote Originally Posted by danjec View Post
    Yeah - it did get my attention!! But it’s an Amazon Marketplace job, with a seller with only one rating (and a bad one). They’ve listed a few Kentucky’s very cheap...
    Sorry about that. It does look like a poor seller.

  23. #23

    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_al View Post
    Sorry about that. It does look like a poor seller.
    No trouble at all! It could have been a great spot...!

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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    Well, I got what I considered a bargain Kentucky a couple of weeks ago - a KM-150 - which was half the price of Hobgoblin at 209 - but it was sold through Amazon themselves, and arrived in very good shape. That was a great spot, and it's working well for me atm - though I do crave an Eastman....

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Selecting a first step upgrade in the UK

    I don't believe in first step upgrades. The only justification I can see for not getting the very best mandolin you can afford is the first one, where you may not be sure how much you will like it.

    After the first mandolin, there are no more steps in quality as to what you deserve. It delays the inevitable anyway.

    My second mandolin is still more mandolin than I will ever need. What I mean is that I still haven't fulfilled the potential of my second mandolin, and I will never outgrow it. Over time I have given into MAS, but not to upgrade. Just because I fell in love with this design or that sound or whatever. (Seems to me that more than half the time we are calling it the quest for an upgrade as a rationalization of the truth we dare not admit, that the heart just wants what the heart wants.)

    As soon as you have more mandolin than you will ever need, you can grow into it, learn its idiosyncrasies, stop blaming the instrument, and get on with the playing. Its not the end of MAS, but it may be a future of a more honest kind of MAS.
    Indulge responsibly!

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