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Thread: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

  1. #1
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    Default Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    I'm in my 40s and looking for a beginner mandolin. I have no string experience, but I feel like this is something I would enjoy.

    Researching A-Styles with a professional setup (a professional setup seems to be a must), I see a Savannah SA 120 on The Hut for $199 (with a tuner, book, DVD, picks, etc.). I also see a Rover RM-50B from Elderly for $155 on back order.

    The Savannah looks nice, with a solid spruce top. But I haven't seen any great reviews about it. The Rover, also with solid spruce top, seems to get better reviews, but I'm bothered that there is no pick guard. Why would they make it without a pick guard?

    I'm open to getting a nicer one that's used (an F Style would be great), but I have no idea where to get it set up professionally. I live in Charlotte, NC and don't know of any mandolin shops or luthiers.

    If anyone has any thoughts or advice, I'd really appreciate it. I'm really open to any brand, but I'm looking to stay under $200 since I'm a beginner.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Welcome to the forum Dave!

    I just got an e-mail from The Mandolin Store. They have a few Eastman MD605's and 615's that have slight blemishes. The MD605 is normally $1,050 but is on sale because of the blem for $650. This is outside your budget, but these are great mandolins. Also, the Mandolin Store includes a professional setup (+/- $50 if you can find someone to do it locally) before they send you the mandolin. The Eastman also includes a hardcase. I am a beginner also, but based on the information here on the forum, a beginner needs to be careful to not buy too inexpensive a mandolin because they can be harder to play and often don't sound as good, thus discouraging the beginner before he/she even gets started. I bought an MD505 (a step below the MD605) back in March of 2016 and could not be happier.

    Good luck with your journey and check out the Newbies group here on the site.

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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    One of the biggest misconceptions beginners have is that they should start on a cheaper mandolin. The only reason one should buy a cheap instrument of any kind is if that is all you can afford and the alternative is nothing.

    The nicer the mandolin, the more likely you will be to play it, and it will probably play easier too. I have no problem at all with a beginner playing a $3000 mandolin.

    If you invest $400 in a mandolin, you can get a solid wood instrument tha will always be sellable as a camping mandolin or as a beginner mandolin. You can look for something like that in the classifieds. Kentucky and Loar are just two brands. If you are unsure about an instrument just ask about it here. New, a KM 150 from Kentucky can be found from one of our sponsors shipped to you ready to go. Those Eastman Blems are a great value. I could not find the blem on mine.
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    I've just recently gone through the same search and ended up with a Gretsch New Yorker and I love it. No one would mistake it for even an intermediate grade instrument but it sounds and plays fine and is at your price point. Now, as a caveat, I probably played seven or eight New Yorkers before finding one I really liked but that's always likely to be an issue with mass produced instruments. That said, having found the one I did, I like the sound better than many of the instruments I played that cost two or three times as much. It would certainly be great if you could try an instrument before you buy. If you can't, though, I'd want to at least be sure you're buying from somewhere with a reasonable and reputable return policy, all the more since the workmanship on lower end instruments can be pretty iffy. Let us know what you get and how you like it!

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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Do yourself a favor and buy a Kentucky KM-150 from a reputable dealer who will set it up for you.
    Here are three you should contact
    folkmusician.com
    themandolinstore.com
    elderly.com

    This is a great beginner's kit:
    https://www.elderly.com/instruments/...lin-outfit.htm

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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    There have been several happy pickers lately that have bought Michael Kelly mandolins. I got one on flea bay with a nice tweed hard case for about $50 more than your budget. It is an F model with block inlays, it needed a lot of setup, but sounds really nice and is all solid wood. Would put it against any mandolin in the $1000 range. You may have to look a while, but worth it to find something that helps you want to play.
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    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Off the two you mentioned, buy the one from Elderly. It will come already set up. If you can swing more money, the Kentucky KM-150 mentioned above is a good buy.

  11. #8
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Personally, I don't like a pickgaurd. Have no use for one. Don't need one, as I do not plant my pinkie. Good for someone that has a need for one.
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  12. #9
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    im gonna second that . Eastmans and Kentuckys are the best beginner mandolins. i personally prefer Eastman and have a md514 oval hole myself which i very much enjoy . but in the lower range i would recommend Kentucky . and as for all beginner instruments setup is really important to have the action nice and low and easy to play so definitley go to a reputable store

  13. #10
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Speaking from my own experience in going cheap for a first mandolin, if you can afford it, go for something better now like a Kentucky or an Eastman. It will be a better instrument for the long term, you'll be happier with it, and when you want to upgrade it shouldn't be difficult to sell for a good price. I had similar thoughts to you when I started, having no prior strings experience. I thought stay cheap in case I don't enjoy it...well, I was very wrong.

    I got an £80 'used' Tanglewood when I started. Setup for it cost £25. I had it barely six months before I wanted something better. I got an Eastman MD 504 with free setup from the seller last summer and love it. Now I don't know what to do with the Tanglewood...it isn't worth much, so I keep it around for guests to play.

    If I could go back now I know more, I probably would have saved more money and started with the Eastman, or started off with one of those KM150s by Kentucky...

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    Front Porch & Sweet Tea NursingDaBlues's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Just my opinion, but….

    Let me start by saying that mandolins are beautiful instruments—in looks, in sound, and in the way they make you feel. Mandolins also have personality; rather, each make, model, and style of mandolin has its own unique personality that appeals to and attracts people who appreciate that personality. That’s why throughout this forum you find so many posts touting the benefits and joys of any given brand; the brand being advocated probably has a personality that appeals to that individual.

    However, not everybody who picks up a mandolin will become a mandoholic (like many of us who post on Mandolin Café). Hard to believe, but it’s true. For example, at a music school that is near to me, one of the beginning mandolin classes may have 15 students at the start of any given semester; it usually dwindles down to four or five by the end of the semester. But those that stick…well, they usually become avid mando players for life.

    Who knows why some people take to a mandolin while others lose interest and just wander away. Maybe it was the instructor or the method/style of instruction. Maybe it was personal motivation. Maybe it was the instrument. The right combination can make you love the mandolin and all that it represents. On the other hand, the wrong combination can turn you away or turn you off.

    It’s important to realize that at the very beginning of a mandolin journey, the initiate needs to do whatever they can to get the right combination of instruction, motivation, and instrument in place. In other words, give the mandolin a fair chance. In the beginning, if you are truly motivated to learn (for example, making time daily to explore the mandolin and how to make it sing for you) and you’ve got some instructional opportunities (whether book, on-line, DVD, or in-person teacher) that make it easy for you to learn, then the name on the mandolin isn’t so important.

    Yes, the brand can and probably will make a difference in your appreciation of the instrument. But, as contradictory as this may sound, the brand/model will not necessarily dictate your enjoyment of playing a mandolin. I have known several folks who chose to invest in a less expensive instrument. Maybe theirs didn’t sound as good or play as easily as a more expensive mandolin, but their personal motivation and the instruction that guided them on their journey was enough to stoke the fires of mandolin appreciation. After a while you will, like my friends, start realizing what kind of personality you are looking for in a mandolin. Maybe then you’ll start considering another mandolin purchase. Or, maybe, you might even find that the mandolin you purchase today has all the personality you’ve ever hoped for.

    Having said all that, make sure you give whatever mandolin you select a reasonable chance to provide you joy. Do what so many in this thread have recommended and ensure that the mandolin is set-up properly. A reputable retailer like Elderly Instruments can do that for you.

    So purchase what you can comfortably afford (in my opinion, the Kentucky and Rover recommendations are solid for your budget). Make sure it’s set-up properly. Find some good instruction that will get you going and keep you interested. And stay motivated.

    I wish you luck and success in your wonderful mandolin journey.

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    Mediocre but OK with that Paul Busman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    I agree with the idea of starting with a decent cheap mandolin with a good setup. That should hold you long enough to decide if you even like the mandolin . You can always sell it and buy a better one, or keep it as a beater. You may decide it's good enough for you,period. Don't convince yourself you need a better instrument.
    Do a Google Image search for "mandolin players". You'll see that many of the greats don't use a pick guard.
    I certainly don't count myself among those greats, maybe not even with the goods, but I don't like them. I found I was using it as a crutch for pinky planting and took it off and I've never looked back. I play a lot more freely without planting my pinky. You can always buy one if you think you need it that badly.
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Busman View Post
    Do a Google Image search for "mandolin players". You'll see that many of the greats don't use a pick guard.I certainly don't count myself among those greats, maybe not even with the goods, but I don't like them. I found I was using it as a crutch for pinky planting and took it off and I've never looked back. I play a lot more freely without planting my pinky. You can always buy one if you think you need it that badly.
    With the exception of my vintage models, none of my mandolins have pick guards. Don’t feel that they’re necessary. And I kind of like allowing the top to vibrate as much as possible without any damping from clamps/fasteners. But that’s just a personal thing.

  19. #14
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Welcome to the forum, daveclt, I hope we see more of you here. For clarification, in the posts above when someone writes, "get one from the classifieds" they mean the classified ad section of this site, not the newspaper or something, see the first link in the header up there. Also, when someone above invites you to join the Newbies group here, well, that's a social group of the forum (there are many) and to find it, choose the Learn/Listen link in the header, then Social groups (there is a direct link in my signature as well).

    You've gotten a lot of good advice above about buying starter mandolins economically, and I have nothing to add but emphasis.

    1. SETUP is more important than INSTRUMENT. Even the cheapest mandolin made of the cheapest materials can work as a starter mandolin if the setup is great.

    2. Some of the qualities of a good setup are affected by personal choice, the ACTION. This means how high the strings are from the frets. You need a low action to play comfortably. Personal choice determines just how low. Best case would be to find a real mandolin player, teacher, or luthier to look at your mandolin and help guide you. If you can't do that, you definitely should order a mandolin from a store that provides a full setup (no cheap mandolin ever leaves the factory setup properly, ever, for a host of reasons, including that personal choice is a factor in setup and it is cheaper for them to not worry about it). And finally, you can learn to make setup adjustments yourself, there is a great deal of help available, if you are a handy do-it-yourself type.

    3. Stretch your budget as much as possible and get the best starter that you can afford.

    4. Finally, SETUP is more important than INSTRUMENT.

    Happy mandolinning!
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Wow, thank you to everyone for all the great advice. I'm almost definitely going to expand my budget. I was worried about investing in something that was new to me, but I never considered the resale value. So stretching the budget makes sense. I just hope I can convince my wife of the same.

    Mark G, your post answered a lot of questions I had, particularly with where to find the Newbies group and "action". It's like you read my mind.

    In the few weeks I've been on this site, the people and content have been great. I'm really excited about learning to play, and I will give it more than a fair chance. Hopefully, I'll be contributing to these forums in the near future instead of just asking questions.

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    Registered User Roger Moss's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    For under $200 you cant go wrong with the Rover. If lack of pickguard bothers you I got my Rover from Elderly and it was an excellent deal. I then took it to the local music store (Stacys) and had a pickguard installed for $15.
    I agree with many though if you can swing the $350 you should go for the Kentucky km 150 but in all honesty it is really similar to the Rover.
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  23. #17
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Dave, I add my welcome and concurrance with just about all the above. We are having a good time over at the Newbies social group, so don't hesitate to check us out.

    Mark, that's a great idea on putting the Newbies link in your signature. I think I'll do that too when I get 'a round tuit'. It certainly took me a long time to find my way around the menus here and it is interesting how many comments we have gotten lately since we started mentioning how to find the Newbies.

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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Quote Originally Posted by daveclt View Post
    Wow, thank you to everyone for all the great advice. I'm almost definitely going to expand my budget. I was worried about investing in something that was new to me, but I never considered the resale value. So stretching the budget makes sense. I just hope I can convince my wife of the same.

    Mark G, your post answered a lot of questions I had, particularly with where to find the Newbies group and "action". It's like you read my mind.

    In the few weeks I've been on this site, the people and content have been great. I'm really excited about learning to play, and I will give it more than a fair chance. Hopefully, I'll be contributing to these forums in the near future instead of just asking questions.
    If all you can afford is the Rover, then make sure to buy it from Elderly or another good shop that will do a good setup for you. The Kentucky KM-150 is a good step up, but if your budget is $200, the Rover is a good choice! Let us know what you end up with. Have fun!

  25. #19

    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Just want to chime in to say that for most players, a pickguard is mostly decorative. It adds nothing to the functioning of the instrument, and only shredders (most of whom don't care about scratches anyway) scratch their instruments. If you're not planning on a career of punkgrass, you'll be fine without it.

  26. #20

    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    I'm casting another vote for the KM-150 plus a good setup. Check out some of my youtube vids and soundcloud tracks to hear mine. I'd also suggest getting a tone-gard.

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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    So I went with the KM 150 from Elderly. Can't wait for it to arrive!

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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Good choice, I've iwned seceral over the years & and some were not all that great. earlier Chinese builds and first run Korean made. This batch are some of their best made.

  30. #23
    Registered User Roger Moss's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Excellent choice both in model and seller. Elderly is an outstanding seller and the Kentucky is an outstanding instrument. I feel sure you will be happy with your choice for some time.
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  31. #24
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    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Quote Originally Posted by daveclt View Post
    So I went with the KM 150 from Elderly. Can't wait for it to arrive!
    I love it when a plan comes together!
    Have fun!

  32. #25

    Default Re: Looking for a Beginner Mandolin - Help

    Quote Originally Posted by daveclt View Post
    So I went with the KM 150 from Elderly. Can't wait for it to arrive!
    Hey Dave, Great choice. Read my rant about mine. Every time I mess with it, I can tell that it is maturing ( opening up) a little more. When you get a case, send for a Mandolin Café cap with some MC stickers. They make you a better player faster. Also, check out Barron's Mando Lessons on YouTube. Sometimes he uses his km150 on them. Good luck.

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