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Thread: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

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    Registered User Resolve's Avatar
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    Smile Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Hi Everyone. This is my first post. I come seeking wisdom and advice... hopefully both.

    I've been playing guitar for about 10 years. I'm just a strummer. Somehow I've managed to get paired up with amazing lead players and have never really progressed beyond that for which I was needed and know little about music theory. I currently play/sing in a duo and we get gigs here and there.

    I've become acquainted with mandolin through the music to which my duo partner has acquainted me but claim no real knowledge of many of the genres that feature mandolin. I love the music of Della Mae... probably more of what one might call "newgrass".

    Just as when I took up guitar, there are questions asked that are intended to guide one toward mandolin purchase. Now as back when I knew nothing about guitar, I couldn't answer those questions. I have a "general curiosity".

    I find that little instrument intriguing with its 2 strings per note construction as well as its long history. I love the idea of something so small in size on which to noodle...like having a lap dog instead of a golden retriever while loving both. I bought a couple of inexpensive little ukes (Dolphins) in hopes of engaging my granddaughter (now 3) who loves to "strum along on her Barbie guitar" when I play my Martin. With some accompanying chord charts I can play/sing with that little thing and it's "fun" but I don't like the sound enough to really spend a lot of time/effort.

    I have a lot of questions... but don't know enough about the instrument to even know how to formulate them! One thing I know is that I'd like to be able to pick out more melodies than I do on guitar. I don't play lead at ALL and I don't "jam" but I'd like to be able to do both as "goals" for learning mandolin. In terms of the instrument itself, I'll be most attracted to a more bass-y sound.

    One thing I learned in my guitar journey is "start with a good instrument". I played for 2 years on a $200 guitar before buying my Martin. I wish I'd bought the Martin from the get go.

    I'm female and don't have very big hands. I've been doing a little reading/research and think the Eastman 305 could be a good choice. However I have a friend who is a luthier who is on the lookout for a used instrument that he'd repair/set up for me if he finds one. He's really good so I trust him and it would be nice if I didn't have to lay out a lot of money upfront.

    I contacted my former guitar teacher and got his recommendation for a mandolin teacher. Once I get an instrument I will contact him

    Soo... that's about as much as I "know" at this point. Any "thoughts" you have after reading this would be most welcome.

    Thanks for letting me join the party.
    Last edited by Resolve; Jun-01-2015 at 11:09am.

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    Registered User Resolve's Avatar
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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Sorry... just edited.... the mandolin I was considering is the Eastman 305 not 505

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    The 305 is a great little instrument and is hard to beat at any price under $1000. I bought one almost brand new for $400 and my luthier friend says it sounds and plays darn near as good as his Collings.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    One thought to help you calibrate the mandolin market. A mandolin typically costs about twice that of a guitar of similar quality. So if you have a quality in mind, and you have a rough idea what a guitar of that quality would cost, then double it and that is the ballpark for the mandolin of that quality.

    Or as many think of it - determine your budget. Then think of what quality guitar you can get for half of that budget. That is roughly what to expect.

    There are exceptions. Try and play on one before you buy.

    Getting a good mandolin teacher is excellent. Get someone who plays and teaches mandolin mostly, not someone who is a guitar teacher mostly who also plays mandolin. There is enough difference that it really matters.

    Lots of good videos and stuff on line to get you started. Pay attention to the differences - you want to play mandolin, not play guitar on a mandolin.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    a few thoughts, not well considered either, so bear with me

    I too am a guitar player come to mandolin. I however, am able to play solos and breaks. That being said, I happen to feel good rhythm playing to be perhaps the epitome of a good guitarist in the broadest sense of musical accompaniement.

    yes the mandolin is delightfully portable. I love only having a small case to schlepp to gigs.

    mandolin is also, in BG , largely a rhythm instrument as well, the snare drum on beats 2 and 4 if you will..AND, if you play mando, more or less, you will need to be able to play a break eventually.

    the mando has greater string tension, so you will have a period of adjustment and may find chording and fingering take a bit more effort at first. mando has less sustain, so you may think its plinky sounding compared to guitar, for a while.

    I found it very easy to learn, and after only a few months, almost intuitive as to how to pick out melodies. I suggest that first you learn to play some songs, by chording (two finger easy ones to start) and singing along. Here on this forum at the top left of the page, there are many nice tabs, and songs you will know. Chose 3-4 you like and try to learn them.

    Mandolin, good or bad, will likely make you play more bluegrass than other genres. BG is not my first love, but I have been playing a lot of it since getting serious about mandolin. the music fits, and mandolin players are useable, and perhaps, favored to some extent.

    first suggestion, pre purchase , is to buy mandolin for dummies-for about 20 bucks you will get a lot of info and oversight.

    second, decide your budget. simply, and sadly, mandolins are 2-4 times the price of an equivalent guitar-ie your martin is 2K, an equivalent mandolin will be between 2.5 and 5 k, or more, deciding on the body shape you chose. a or f. soundwise, there is no difference, provided the neck length and shape of hole is the same. this price jump is very hard to accept at first. I hated it. then I accepted it.

    I also will add, and many will differ, a better mandolin, ie 'spensive, to me is inspiring, and does sound and play better, generally. As it is a 'fussy' or precise and demanding thing, a good mandolin is a leg up. You have pride in your instrument and you know you can get the good sound, and there is no hurdle, no excuses, other than your willingness to work and practice and refine your technique. Sounds like 'stuff'?

    I guarantee that within a year of work, your ear will be highly sensitized, and you will recognize the difference in sound as well as feel.

    F holes are most popular for the 'cut' and acceptance in bluegrass, jazz and other genres. oval holes are more folkie, celtic, oldtime, and, of course, jimmy page and john paul jones used them in the zeppelin tunes. imho, a f hole mandolin will have better resale to a general market.

    I cannot suggest strongly enough, a teacher will make your progress much faster. once you get legs, then self teaching will be easy.

    after a while playing melodies, I found it very easy to 'find' or pick out melodies on mandolin, the step towards soloing. once you get there, you may well return to guitar and do the same.

    to cut to the chase, the eastmans I have heard and played seem very nice value.

    Depending upon your budget, I might start with an A shaped collings mandolin. why? they are really consistent in build and sound, they sound great, and are very very playable. this mandolin will carry you a long time, until such time as you may want more or higher end. There are many other fine makers. I suggested this one because of its uniform quality and ease of resale and recognized name. buy from a good seller.
    I mention this only because of your wish I had started with a martin comment.


    if you prefer bassy sound, then, you may well prefer an x braced mandolin over a traditional tone bar bracing. you may also prefer an oval hole , known for their tubby sound compared to an F.
    if this seems cryptic, go to you tube and do 2 searches, one for oval hole Gibson clips and one for f style Gibson clips (I refer to the f hole versions) listen compare and decide. I don't think you can go wrong with either. I too prefer more bass, and this can be found in more expensive f hole and f style mandolins. more importantly, imoh, is a good balance, ie bass, mid and treble clarity-you ear may be accustomed to guitar and mandolin my indeed sound shrill until you dial in your ear-this took me a little time to do.

    you cannot imagine how fun mandolin is , and, even more so when you play with others.
    Last edited by stevedenver; Jun-01-2015 at 11:52am.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    An Eastman 305 would be a great first instrument. They have very thin finish and generally should good, some very good. the 305 would also be a good choice for smaller hands. You should be able to find a blem or used one as well. The Kentucky 150 and their other entry level mandolins would be a good choice. Note that the necks will be a little fatter so you may want to try one. One more thing to point out is set-up. It is critical on a mandolin and will make playing much easier. since you have a luthier have him check it out and do a set-up.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Also...the great thing about the mandolin is that it is tuned in 5ths. This means that you can change keys and use the same fingering just by shifting up or down to the next string, or up and down the fretboard. I found this to be a great help when learning tunes. Eventually, it almost becomes as easy as singing or humming a tune...you seem to know where the next note is located. Try that on a guitar tuned in 4ths, except for the b string...oh yeah, I also noticed after the first few days on the mandolin that the open strings are basically the reverse of the guitar (G, D, A, E vs. E, A, D, G, B, E) so chords are simply upsidedown from guitar on those 4 strings! Hope I didn't confuse you....

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Resolve View Post
    ....

    One thing I learned in my guitar journey is "start with a good instrument". I played for 2 years on a $200 guitar before buying my Martin. I wish I'd bought the Martin from the get go.
    I think you will find the same to be true for the mandolin. I quickly upgraded my entry level mandolin to something I can enjoy playing more, and keep for life. While Eastman does make good quality mandolins, I would recommend stepping up a level. And buying used is a great way to get more value for your money.
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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Resolve View Post
    One thing I learned in my guitar journey is "start with a good instrument". I played for 2 years on a $200 guitar before buying my Martin. I wish I'd bought the Martin from the get go.
    The Eastman is a fine starter mandolin but the equivalent of your $200 guitar. If you wish you'd bought the Martin from the get go, you may well feel the same about a higher end mandolin.
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    If you want to expand out of bluegrass (or newgrass), the mandolin is accepted in any other music out there, so don't worry that you'll be stereotyping yourself by picking one up. There are many of us who don't play bluegrass or any of its varieties, sort of like there are lots of guitar players who don't just play rock and roll. If you're starting out fresh with a teacher, I'll suggest you learn how to read standard notation if you don't already. It opens up a lot of new experiences and music.

    Also, although mandolin is what you want, you might try to find a mandola to test -- it's a slightly lower toned-instrument, comparable to a viola (as opposed to violin, which is tuned like a mandolin). Just a thought.
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    Chu Dat Frawg Eric C.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    You can pick up a Kentucky KM950 (A-style, F-holes) for right around $1,000. That is more than enough mandolin for many, many years. IT is the most bang for your buck when it comes to mandolins. It has a nice throaty growl on the low strings, a radius fretboard, and to many who have played them, you'd have to spend a couple grand more to upgrade from it.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric C. View Post
    You can pick up a Kentucky KM950 (A-style, F-holes) for right around $1,000. That is more than enough mandolin for many, many years. IT is the most bang for your buck when it comes to mandolins. It has a nice throaty growl on the low strings, a radius fretboard, and to many who have played them, you'd have to spend a couple grand more to upgrade from it.
    After reading the thoughts here about the relative price of mandolins vs guitars as a reference (VERY helpful!!) I've bumped up my budget to $1000 so I was just about to ask for suggestions for that price point.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Where are you located? Are there stores that you can get to try some? That would be ideal so you see what feels good and sounds good to you. If you are not going to be playing bluegrass you might consider an oval hole mandolin in stead of f holes? For $1000 the will be many good options.

    The Kentucky MM 900/950 1000/1050 are made in a separate factory from their other mandolins and tend to be great mandolins. I do have a 1050 and it is really great, my teacher who owns several high end instruments said it is a keeper the first time he heard it. If you have smaller hands I would think you might lean toward the 900/1000. The difference is the neck is thicker in the 950/1050"s, they have a radiused fret board and the bigger frets. The 900/1000 have a flat fret board, standard frets and a smaller neck profile.

    Howard 'Sonny' Morris builds mandolins in northeast Oregon. You can search here and get a fair amount of information. His mandolins are highly thought of and you could get a brand new mandolin built by a single luthier and made in the US for $1000.

    Check the classifieds there are some great instrument for sale there.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    I haven't really looked at any stores yet. I have been tossing around this idea for awhile now but have only made the decision to pursue it in the past couple of days so I'm in "fact-finding" mode at the moment.

    From what I have seen I like the look of the "A" style more than I like the look of the "F" style (similarly to how I like the non-cutaway shape of acoustic guitar). On the other hand, I like the fact that the "point" (is that the right term?) on the lower bout of the F shape probably helps it stay in position on one's lap. (I have a small scale Cargo guitar (carbon fiber) and that thing scoots all over when I try to hold it in my lap even if I use a strap--I've gone to using one of those Dynarette supports to play it).

    From what I've been reading, it appears that a "better" instrument can be had for the same price by choosing A style over F style.

    I don't have a strong feeling for one style over the other at this point as I can see pros and cons.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Resolve View Post
    From what I've been reading, it appears that a "better" instrument can be had for the same price by choosing A style over F style.

    I don't have a strong feeling for one style over the other at this point as I can see pros and cons.
    If you're not strongly in the F-style fan club, then yeah, your money is better spent on an A-style. Generally speaking, you'll get twice the mandolin in an A style for the same price as an F-style. Or, an F-style will cost twice as much for the same quality as its equal in an A-style.

    Any lap-stability issues can be solved by wearing a strap, even when seated. This makes it easier to stand up and play when you need to as well, without having to adjust your playing style.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    The Kentucky 900/950 would probably be just fine in the $1,000 range, but you can get a handmade instrument from Howard Morris for that, too. Search the site for reviews by owners. There's one in the classifieds now for $995.

    You'll probably get a dozen suggestions on what to buy. It can be overwhelming, especially because shops with dozens of nice mandolins to try are rare. You've made a good decision to go up in price; you can get a sweet mandolin for that kind of money.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Easman 305 is a great mando for the price.

    some people complain about the tuners but personally I'm convinced the tuners are fine, just that the thin finish on it makes it more sensitive to changes in the environment.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Try before you buy. There's a bit of a range of sound difference, especially between oval hold and f-hole mandolins. Buy one who's sound appeals to you. If you like the sound of your particular instrument, playing can be addictive and you'll probably progress much more rapidly than on one that sounds dull or harsh to your ear.

    I started on an oval hole A style mandolin that had a really bright sound, and have migrated to an F-hole after a few years of playing. I honestly think that if I'd started with a more 'bluegrass/newgrass' instrument right off teh bat, I might have lost interest.
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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Marino View Post

    I started on an oval hole A style mandolin that had a really bright sound, and have migrated to an F-hole after a few years of playing. I honestly think that if I'd started with a more 'bluegrass/newgrass' instrument right off teh bat, I might have lost interest.
    That is confusing to me. Are you saying that if you'd started with the F style, the one to which you've migrated (and therefore prefer?), you'd have lost interest?

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    I thiink you should either go for the Eastman and see how you like playing the mandolin, or go ahead and spend $3-5k on a nice mandolin. If you spend $1,000 you're going to end up spending the $3-5k later anyway. Right now you have no idea what sound, style, wood, finish, neck profile or radius, bridge, pickguard, tuners, tailpiece.....whatever you want.

    You'll see lots of debate here but the Eastmans are a great value mandolin. I bought an Eastman 315 for $400 on a whim a few years ago and ended up falling in love with the mandolin. After playing many different mandolins I decided on a custom Northfield, I still love that little Eastman tho' and will not part with it (I have offers to purchase it but it's a keeper).

    Find a festival nearby and go check out the vendors, I was at a festival recently and the Eastman dealer was there with great deals.

    Then, when you're ready you can go for a spendy custom mando.

    Welcome to the Cafe and have fun learning, it's good to take lessons and there are lots of great resources on the web as well.

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Quote Originally Posted by bigskygirl View Post
    I thiink you should either go for the Eastman and see how you like playing the mandolin, or go ahead and spend $3-5k on a nice mandolin. If you spend $1,000 you're going to end up spending the $3-5k later anyway. Right now you have no idea what sound, style, wood, finish, neck profile or radius, bridge, pickguard, tuners, tailpiece.....whatever you want.

    You'll see lots of debate here but the Eastmans are a great value mandolin. I bought an Eastman 315 for $400 on a whim a few years ago and ended up falling in love with the mandolin. After playing many different mandolins I decided on a custom Northfield, I still love that little Eastman tho' and will not part with it (I have offers to purchase it but it's a keeper).

    Find a festival nearby and go check out the vendors, I was at a festival recently and the Eastman dealer was there with great deals.

    Then, when you're ready you can go for a spendy custom mando.

    Welcome to the Cafe and have fun learning, it's good to take lessons and there are lots of great resources on the web as well.
    Thanks for the welcome. Your thoughts run close to my original plan which was to get the Eastman, try it awhile and then upgrade once I knew more. You are right....given what others have said about what it costs to get a really nice mandolin, it could well be that my 1K purchase may end up being my "starter" instrument. Quite frankly, I guess I'd rather have spent $500 and then upgrade than spend $1000 and then upgrade.

    I've been watching some YouTube reviews and that little Eastman does seem to get decent appreciation.

    My head is spinning after all the research and contemplation today. Going with that Eastman will help me pull the trigger and "get going" rather than experience the paralysis by analysis that I'm experiencing at the moment! LOL

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Resolve View Post
    Quite frankly, I guess I'd rather have spent $500 and then upgrade than spend $1000 and then upgrade.
    If I might introduce one other possibility, as a way of keeping costs down you might consider a flattop mandolin as your first purchase. They may not be ideal for a big bluegrass jam, but you probably won't be starting there anyway. And since flattops require less time to build, and therefore less labor to produce, the savings are passed on to you. Otherwise, you'll find the build quality is very high -- solid wood instruments made in the USA by independent luthiers and small workshops -- the kind that you'd probably be happy to keep as a second voice or travel mandolin when you do eventually upgrade. I'm going to link to an eBay auction for a Flatiron:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/FLATIRON-3MB...item3cfad177d7

    However, you will notice that people o viewed this item also looked at another Flatiron, a Redline Traveler, and a Mid-Missouri, all of which I have owned and can recommend as a great option on which to get started.
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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Resolve View Post
    That is confusing to me. Are you saying that if you'd started with the F style, the one to which you've migrated (and therefore prefer?), you'd have lost interest?
    F-Style refers to the shape with the scroll and the points, and the A-style is more almond-shaped. As noted in the thread, F-style is more expensive. Either the F-style or the A-style can have F-hole or Oval hole for the opening(s) that let the sound out of the resonant chamber formed by the body. F-hole projects more and is preferred for bluegrass. Oval hole is a rounder tone, preferred by classical and Celtic players. But you will find oval holes in bluegrass.
    The best mandolin IMHO in the $500 range is the J Bovier A5 Tradition.
    This is the same song played on a J Bovier F 5 (F style, F hole) and Weber Gallatin (A style, oval hole). To be fair, by the time I got the Weber I was a little more practiced up on the song.
    https://youtu.be/V-YTCwvGzlw
    https://youtu.be/IRblaZuqCxc

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  40. #24

    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    Quote Originally Posted by bigskygirl View Post
    I thiink you should either go for the Eastman and see how you like playing the mandolin, or go ahead and spend $3-5k on a nice mandolin. If you spend $1,000 you're going to end up spending the $3-5k later anyway. Right now you have no idea what sound, style, wood, finish, neck profile or radius, bridge, pickguard, tuners, tailpiece.....whatever you want.

    You'll see lots of debate here but the Eastmans are a great value mandolin. I bought an Eastman 315 for $400 on a whim a few years ago and ended up falling in love with the mandolin. After playing many different mandolins I decided on a custom Northfield, I still love that little Eastman tho' and will not part with it (I have offers to purchase it but it's a keeper).

    Find a festival nearby and go check out the vendors, I was at a festival recently and the Eastman dealer was there with great deals.

    Then, when you're ready you can go for a spendy custom mando.

    Welcome to the Cafe and have fun learning, it's good to take lessons and there are lots of great resources on the web as well.
    This is great advice!

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    Default Re: Rhythm guitar player seeking mandolin advice

    At the risk of being a bit of a contrarian (which comes naturally :P) I don't see anything wrong with getting a "starter" mandolin. Eastman, Kentucky, The Loar or J Bouvier all make sub-$1000 instruments which are well-constructed and sound great. Playability has to do with the set-up, not the brand or the price. Tone is in the fingers. My $0.02. The main thing is to get one in your hands and get started on a fantastic adventure!

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