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Thread: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

  1. #1

    Question Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    Hi all! I've been playing guitar since 1998, and picked up my first mandolin (a Rogue RM-100A for $60) last August. Since then, I feel confident saying that I have fallen in love with playing mandolin, and intend to continue playing it as my primary instrument for the foreseeable future.

    Here is why I'm looking to upgrade: my RM-100A had some setup issues, and for $20 I got the bridge adjusted, action lowered, and a nasty buzz removed from the 10th fret of the G string. That said, it still has serious tone/buzzing problems as I move up the neck. The luthier who helped with setup said that any further work on a $60 mandolin might be good money after bad, and I should consider putting that same money toward a superior instrument.

    So, here I am. I think I can afford to buy something better than what I have as long as it's ~$500 or less. I've been lurking on the forum for a little while, and have read all the threads I can find about buying an cheap/affordable mandolin. I have had a chance to get my hands on and play around with The Loar LM-220 and LM-520, Eastman MD-305 and MD-505, and Kentucky KM-150. After that experience, I found the MD-305 to be strongly to my liking, I think because it had very low action and round/warm tone. In short, it felt effortless to play and sounded great to my ear. My subjective ranking after testing them out was MD-305 > MD-505 > LM-220 > LM-520 > KM-150.

    I would pick up an MD-305 right now... but I have a concern that I'm ill-equipped to make an informed purchasing decision. In particular, my preferences seem to conflict heavily with the general rankings I've read on the forum, and with the pricing structure of the instruments in question. I suspect that I am confusing details of setup with details of construction, since I don't have an intuitive sense of what can/cannot be easily adjusted to my liking. Are there important qualities that I'm trading in when I choose a low-action MD-305, that I might regret down the road?

    I am looking for insight from all of you who have played and purchased various mandolins over the years. Should I go with my gut and just get the MD-305, or should I hold off and reconsider the options in a different light?

    Please let me know if you have any thoughts, advice, suggestions, or questions!

    (Also, in case it's helpful: I currently enjoy playing classical, traditional Irish, and american folk/bluegrass. I don't really focus more or less on any one of those styles.)

  2. #2
    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    Both Eastman and The Loar make a good product. If you've played one that feels good and sounds good to you, you'll probably like it. Unless you find one you like better, I'd go for it.
    Phil

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  3. #3
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    The MD 305 is a perfectly fine instrument, especially if it's what you like. It takes time to really learn what you want from an instrument so if the 305 works at this stage of your playing -- go for it. I really like mine, fwiw and I've tried more expensive versions. an instrument you like -- at any price point -- is going to get played more. in a year or three, if you want to upgrade to a more expensive instrument, you'll know why you're paying more money. You can think of instruments as any other commodity: for instance, there are wine connoisseurs who have no problem distinguishing between a $100 bottle of wine and a $1,000 bottle. Me, I find that any bottle of wine that costs more than $18 is wasted on me. I simply cannot tell the difference.

    The Eastman will do you well for your chosen music. if it has any drawbacks, it would be the thinner neck that Eastman modern mandolins have. some guitar players prefer a thicker neck. but if it plays and sounds the way you like, then go for it. my 2 cents.

    (I'll also put in a word for used, and for strad-o-lins, which cost less but usually sound much better than you'd expect.)
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  4. #4
    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    If you tried all those mandolins, and preferred the 305, get the 305. I've never played one, but they have a good reputation here. (Action can be lowered, though, so don't go by that alone.) I think the differences among Eastman models are mainly cosmetic. The 300 series also has cheaper tuners and a cheaper tailpiece. You can always change those if you feel so compelled.

    The thing is, though, they all sound different. So, if you tried another 505 vs. another 305, you might prefer the 505. Or the Loar 220.

    As far as setup goes, you can learn to do your own. Cafe member Rob Meldrum will send you a free e-book on request that will help you learn to do just that. Almost any mandolin can be made to play better. Your Rogue would probably benefit from a thorough setup. But if you pay someone to do it for you, it's likely to cost more than the mandolin itself, as your luthier noted.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    I was making the same kind of decision you were last week after having played quite a few at a local brick and mortar.

    I got lucky and ended up getting an Eastman 505, and I am absolutely thrilled with it so far.

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    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    "Effortless to play and sounds great to my ear" sounds a lot to me like "go for it!" If everyone liked the same mandolin, there would be only one kind. If it speaks to you, it's right for you.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    I have an Eastman 315 (the F style version of the 305) that I bought as a "beater" on clearance pricing. I played it once, thought it sounded great, but didn't pull the trigger. Went to the beach for a week, came back, and it was still there. Got random compliments from other patrons about how great it sounded, and bit. Haven't regretted it at all. The tuners, tailpiece, and bridge are cost saving features, but functional and easily replaceable if you choose. Get the 305 that spoke to you and don't look back!!

    I have a Silverangel and a Collings MT, and the Eastman's tone is not as complex as theirs, but it's not far behind. And, the build quality really is top notch...
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    Bam! $400 Eastman MD305 with MandoVooDoo:
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/111535#111535

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  10. #9

    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    Your problem, like that of many new to mandolin, is you don't have a real good frame of reference. You don't have experience with a mandolin that meets most cafe member's base line for a decent instrument. So get the 305 you like and play it for a while. When you go hunting again, you will find yourself thinking things like, you want a brighter sound, or a thicker neck, or I don't hear a huge difference until I spend $1500 ( my first thought). You really need some time with a serviceable instrument which the Eastman is.

    After six months with a 505, I was much more able to judge what I liked and didn't in a mandolin.
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  11. #10
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    Go with Colorado-Al's suggestion, hard to beat.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  12. #11

    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    It all depends on how much you want to spend.The MD 305 is a gem.Kentucky make excellent starter low price mandolins.

  13. #12

    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    The differences among the Eastman lineup are not just cosmetic (by which I think you mean the finish). Serious players are not dumb enough to pay $1500 for a tarted-up $400 instrument. As you have noticed, the hardware is better on the 500 series, and those improvements continue as you go up the line. So does workmanship, finish quality and options, and wood selection.

    I'm not disputing that a nice 305 with the 'it factor' is a good value. But since you indicate that you are the kind of person who likes to hot-rod and customize instruments, I'd suggest that the 505 is a better platform for you to work with. You might not feel the need to upgrade the features right away as you probably will with the 305, and if you do a hot-rodded 505 is certainly a better instrument to have or resell than a hotrodded 305. (Disclosure: I've owned a 2009 505 for seven years, and it has more than paid for itself through dozens of pub gigs and concerts. Only work ever done was refrettng this year. There is imho a legitimate beef with Eastman that their thin-wire frets dont last as long as others. But I'm very happy with the refretted baby. The knowledgable dealers on this site will tell you that the Eastmans have improved significantly in quality since then--maybe so, I like mine. Might get a higher end mando eventually, bit Im keeping this one. )

    To speak directly to a question you asked: you are correct in suspecting that you should _not_ buy an instrument based on low action. That is a feature, certainly in new decent-quality instruments, of setup, not of instrument quality. So is choice of strings. Other factors that affect Comfort in playing, based on neck shape, neck finish, fingerboard width and contour, are more intrinsic to the instrument and are legitimate considerations.

    Cheers. You cant really go wrong, it's a worthwhile journey.

  14. #13

    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    Thanks to all of you for your wonderful advice and words of encouragement. This is truly an amazing community.

    I decided to follow my heart and get the MD-305 from the local business, and have been having a blast playing it so far. I will be staying conscious about what is and isn't working for me with it as my journey continues. I expect in a few years I'll be back here with a whole new set of questions.

    Thanks again to everyone who helped out!

    P.S. Bill, your reply came just too late to affect my buying decision, but your notes will be of great use to me the next time I'm in the market, and also as I consider the range of possible adjustments I can make if I encounter issues with the 305.

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  16. #14
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    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    An Eastman 305 is a great instrument for the money.

  17. #15

    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    A couple of years? You seriously underestimate the power of MAS.
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    Default Re: Need Advice Choosing New Mandolin

    Nice! Glad you were able to pick something up locally that you like.
    The one thing that I have found lacking in the MD305 it's the poor quality tuning machines. Easily remedied and for not too much money.
    Here's a set of Grover 309N that are well received for $50
    http://m.ebay.com/itm/Grover-309N-A-...-/401333709200

    I like Rubner tuners, but you're going to spend almost twice as much.
    $80+shipping
    https://www.rubnertuners.com/hauser-...legance-series

    By the time you start spending that kind of money, you may as well have bought the MD505.

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