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Thread: OM Question

  1. #1

    Default OM Question

    Hello everyone,

    I have a question. My apologies if this has been already answered in the past. I am saving up to purchase an octave mandolin in the future, and I was looking for an instrument that doesn't cost too much, but doesn't sound like crap either. You know the drill.

    I saw that the mandolin store has the Trinity College models, then the Lafferty's. I know this is a subjective thing, but are the Lafferty models worth spending about twice as much? They appear to be made of the same types of wood.

    I appreciate any input!

  2. #2
    Lord of All Badgers Lord of the Badgers's Avatar
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    Default Re: OM Question

    Hi.
    Cost is not always an indicator - what IS important is how does it feel in your hands. Don't rush the decision. Remember that if you love playing OM then buying cheaper than you can feasibly afford could be a false economy. You'll need collateral if you decide to upgrade.
    Most important is how the instrument feels to you.
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    Default Re: OM Question

    At an entry level price point, the Trinity College (and their clones) is really your only choice. The good news is, these usually exceed expectations, and are generally good sounding instruments, with all solid woods and better than average build. But they are what they are, and that is a Chinese factory instrument. I have never played a Lafferty (also available as Red Valley at other stores), but it is a single luthier made in USA instrument, so I would have higher expectations for sure.

    I would advocate starting with the TC. Inexpensive and no, it will not sound like crap. One thing I would recommend. One of the reasons they sometimes sound bad out of the box is low quality factory strings. If you put some D'Addario J80s on that bad boy it's like night and day. In fact, that short 20 inch scale length begs for an even heavier set. My instrument is a TC clone (labeled Fender), and I went with J72 light mandola strings. Those really made it come alive. If you go with the TC, and set it up with heavier and higher quality strings as I suggest, you may find, as I did, that it's all the OM you'll ever need. Yes, I have played other brands, and mine stacks up very well, thank you. On the other hand, if you ever get the urge to upgrade, the TC will be very easy to sell. They never seem to last long when they come up used. The smartest thing might be for you to scoop up a used one when you see it. That way, if you end up selling it to upgrade, you'll be likely to get most if not all of your original investment back.

    Hope this helps. Good luck.
    Don

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  4. #4
    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: OM Question

    I have a TC OM and I agree with everything that Don said. Mine had J80s on it when I got it so I can't comment on the factory strings, but I can say that the fit and finish, intonation and tuning are excellent.

    I played a Weber OM at Elderly the other day and it sounded really good. I didn't have my TC there to A/B the sound, but I can't say that the Weber sounded 10x better to my ear, even though the price tag is nearly that much.
    Never say "bouzouki" to a TSA agent...

  5. #5
    Registered User CelticDude's Avatar
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    Default Re: OM Question

    I used to own an Trinity College OM, and thought it was fine, although I did end up selling it. Since then I've played the Gold Tone OM-800+, and think that it sounds a good bit better than the TC. But as others have said, you should try to play a few.

    I also note that the classifieds have a couple of Weber OMs, around the same price as the Lafferty, and these would be nicer all around, IMHO.

  6. #6

    Default Re: OM Question

    Thanks everyone. Useful info here. I am definitely not against buying mass produced factory instruments. My mandolin is an Eastman 805, and I think it's an incredible instrument. Back when I took lessons, my teacher would have me play the piece twice because the mandolin sounded so good. Whenever I get the money, I will probably go TC.

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    Default Re: OM Question

    I have sampled numerous TC octaves in stores, and a few belonging to other people.
    I have never picked up a new one that was set up very well. But if you make some tweaks (strings, bridge, string spacing at the nut; etc), I think they are good players and sound decent. My opinion is that they are still NOT worth what they cost new (around $800, I believe). I would look for a previously owned one, and I think that would be a decent bargain and a fine first OM.
    Jeff Rohrbough
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    Market Man Barry Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: OM Question

    The gold tone is a fair bit longer scale. I have one and a 3 finger F chord takes gymnastics training. It's almost a 7 inch stretch
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    Default Re: OM Question

    Yes, the Gold Tone has a 22 1/2 inch scale, as opposed to the tad over 20 inch scale of the TC. Also, while both have a solid spruce top, the TC body is solid maple and the Gold Tone body is laminated mahogany. And the GT has a cast tailpiece, while the TC has the standard stamped tailpiece. Which one you choose at about the same price depends on how you feel about those differences.
    Don

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  10. #10

    Default Re: OM Question

    I have played some GT mandolins, and was actually pretty impressed with the sound and playability. I did notice some sloppy workmanship though.

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    Default Re: OM Question

    My opinion is 100 percent opposite that of acousticphd regarding the TC. I think they are totally worth the price, and more. It's actually amazing to me they can make such an instrument at that price point. And if you pay 800 dollars for one that is "not set up very well" then something is wrong. The Mandolin Store has them for 699, including their pro set up which is quite good. Octave mandolin is such a niche instrument, produced in small quantities relative to guitar, that we can usually use the rule of thumb that we use with regular mandolins, that it would cost twice as much as the equivalent quality guitar. But that would mean it's equivalent to a 350 dollar guitar, and that's not true. A 350 dollar guitar would not likely be all solid wood, or include a hard case. Yet the Trinity College has all of that. Just think about it a minute. Pretty good workmanship, all solid wood, hard case included, set up, for 699? What guitars are out there that can beat that? NFI but I think it's a screaming bargain.

    Yes, I agree they need to be tweaked. Mostly, what they need is good strings. I'm sure you could call TMS and have them put on the string set of your choice when they set it up. My preference would be the D'Addario J72 Light Mandola set. Some may prefer the John Pearse Custom OM set that Weber uses on their short scale instruments, which is very close to the same thing. Either way you would have an instrument that sounds and looks much better than it's price point would indicate.
    Don

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  12. #12
    Registered User Denman John's Avatar
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    Default Re: OM Question

    If I were in the market for an affordable (all relative) OM, I think I would be looking at a Red Valley. I know that Dusty Strings in Seattle carries Red Valley and sometimes have them on their website. Another option might be a Lafferty ... The ones I've seen have been flat tops. They are decent OMs and will give you a good chance to try out the realm of OMs and see what works for you.

    Scale length is something to consider as well. If you never played an OM before, it's different/more than just a big mandolin
    ... not all those who wander are lost ...

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    Default Re: OM Question

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    The good news is, these usually exceed expectations, and are generally good sounding instruments, with all solid woods and better than average build. But they are what they are, and that is a Chinese factory instrument.....

    They never seem to last long when they come up used. The smartest thing might be for you to scoop up a used one when you see it. That way, if you end up selling it to upgrade, you'll be likely to get most if not all of your original investment back.
    I think the opinion I was offering is not too different. It wasn't meant to be negative, just fair. I have a TC OM myself, and everything I mentioned applies to it as well.

    In addition to better/heavier gauge strings, my personal tweaks would include wider string spacing at the nut, and a proper bridge that is compensated for a wound 2nd OM string (TC uses a mandolin-type compensation on both the mandola and OM). I'm glad to hear there's a dealer(s) providing better-than-factory setups. The new ones I've seen myself have not had that attention. I would always opt for something previously owned, whether for myself or recommending to someone else, as you also encouraged. A used TC OM in the $500 range is definitely possible, and well worth considering.
    Jeff Rohrbough
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    Default Re: OM Question

    Jeff, nice to know we are on the same page!

    I hadn't thought about the bridge compensation issue. I wonder what Dennis and his crew does about that when setting up one?

    Mine is a Korean made Fender, which is a TC clone. My theory is that these must have been made by the same Korean factory that made TCs before Saga moved production to China. They were made in the early 2000s and seem to be almost identical to the TC. Interestingly, though, my Fender has a slanted saddle on the bridge, which gives it pretty good intonation, and a built in bridge piezo that works pretty well. I got mine for 400.
    Don

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    Default Re: OM Question

    I recommend that anyone who wants to play any instrument should buy what they can and start to play. At some point, you will either settle for the one you bought or you will upgrade and get a better result. A good player on a cheap instrument will sound better than a beginner on an expensive one. Ask any player who has become professional and they will tell a story of the cheap crap they started with. Just buy one and play. Start. Don't think too much. All this is for fun.

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  17. #16
    Registered User fox's Avatar
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    Default Re: OM Question

    I agree with Vernob, although I would say a poor quality instrument with a decent set up will help a lot.
    Nothing worst than a high fret or a high action to start off with.
    I also agree about how a confident player can make gold out of coal...

  18. #17

    Default Re: OM Question

    I agree that playing cheap instruments is fine, as long as it isn't holding you back. When I first started playing the mandolin, I was using a cheap Rover. It was a fine instrument until I played a different one and found that I could easily do the things I was struggling with on the Rover. A while later I got my Eastman 605 (not 805, I made a typo above) used from the classifieds for not a whole lot of money. It will probably be my only mandolin for life. For the next instrument I prefer to skip the first step in finding the right one.

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  20. #18
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    Default Re: OM Question

    I'll echo everything that's been said about used TC octaves being solid instruments to own. I bought one off the Classified a few years back. I put on new strings, had the lower string spacing widened a bit on the bridge, and was very happy that it served me needs as a hobbyist. A couple years later, while living in the UK, I got to visit Roger Bucknall's workshop and try several of his instruments. The new Touchstone OM didn't sound different enough to justify the price point for me (by contrast, I fell in love with a Whisky Malt mandolin that replaced the Eastman 505 I thought I was happy with). Shortly before I left the UK, a used Touchstone showed up on the classifieds. I took advantage of a very dollar-friendly exchange rate, courtesy of Brexit, and bought it. It is noticeably better than the TC, which lasted about a week on the Classifieds before going to a new home. To the point about getting most of your investment back, I paid $450 for the TC (including shipping), and pocketed $350 when I sold it.

  21. #19

    Default Re: OM Question

    I think you need to start by deciding the scale length you are looking for. OM's come in a variety of scale lengths and it makes a huge difference. I play a Weber short scale. If you end up with a shorter scale see my old thread concerning string gauge recommendations as otherwise you'll suffer with J80's and similar strings. (I put in some recommendations from Bruce Weber and note that someone above made similar comments.)

    If you can be patient, there are some good used OM's that you can find in the Classifieds. Some of the older Webers sell for around $1,000-1,200. They are professional grade instruments. You can also see other builders than TC for less if you are patient and some of them are very good.

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