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Thread: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

  1. #1

    Default Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    I recently decided to try the mandolin and purchased two used from guitar center to see if I could find something acceptable. I play some violin/fiddle and would like to try the mandolin as well. The first mandolin I ordered is a Kentucky km 161 in black. It looked beautiful until I saw the crack in the back. The second is a Kentucky km 500. It looks like the older model 500. It arrived with the bridge not installed and rusty strings and possibly a repair of some sort under the fingerboard. I can likely figure out how to install the bridge and new strings, but what other issues should I look out for? I am beginning to wonder if I should just purchase a new cheaper model that may be less likely to have issues. I appreciate suggestions.
    Last edited by theghostis; Oct-02-2017 at 10:39pm. Reason: Title clarification

  2. #2

    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    Did you return the two damaged ones? Hope so, you shouldn't be stuck with defective mandolins!! That said, if the issue with the second Kentucky is just that the strings were dead and loose enough and the bridge came out of place, you can probably take it to a physical Guitar Center to have it restrung and they can reinstall the bridge. I'd insist they do it free of charge. If the fingerboard is damaged, I would not waste my time and I'd just return it.

    Depending on where you live, there may be better options than the Guitar Center for buying a mando. If you can play them in person at a shop, that is preferable. You can really inspect the instruments and play some tunes and compare them side by side. You can try new and used, a vs f body style, oval and f holes, and different price ranges.

    If you want to buy a mando from a reputable dealer or individual, you should scout this forum's classifieds. You may have just gotten unlucky before, but I think it's unlikely a Mandolin Cafe person would do you wrong in a transaction. Reverb.com has been good to me as well.

    If you want to go new, I strongly suggest you look for an Eastman dealer near you and try their 300 series instruments. It's just my opinion and subjective, but I think they do the entry level mandolin better than the others I've played. I don't know Kentucky or Loar quite as well but suspect you can find a pretty decent one of those brands, too.

    Good luck in your quest!

  3. #3

    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    It looks like the older model 500
    A big percentage of these had issues (not all). If the particular mandolin is fine, no problem. The older 500 was being made just before the new generation of Kentucky's started into production. At the time, the 500 stacked up well, but compared to the latest Kentucky's, it really doesn't. A current KM-150 is a better mandolin.

    It is common for mandolins to come without the bridge installed if you buy from some place that does not do setup. I wouldn't worry about that.
    Robert Fear
    http://www.folkmusician.com

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  4. #4
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    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    I'd return the ones with issues and get a KM-150 or Eastman 305 from a Café sponsor. It will come set up and ready to go. My first mandolin was an eBay disaster. I'd have been much better off following the advice I'm giving you now!

    If you really like the KM 500 there's plenty of info about set-up at frets.com, and Rob Meldrum, a Café member, has an ebook that he'll send you free of charge if you email him. search his name, and threads with instructions should pop up.

    Or, check the classifieds here. I've had 7 or 8 transactions through the classifieds that all went off without a hitch. Odds are better that something bought there will come with a decent set-up than used from GC or eBay, though that's not always the case.

    There have recently been some corporate changes at The Loar, so I'd want to play before buying any of their newer instruments.

    Good luck!
    Chuck

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    That is really a shame. The Guitar Center should make you whole again. I wouldn't deal with them again. Make sure where you buy the mandolin that it comes with a proper set up. Good luck. The idea of using one of the Cafe's sponsors is a great idea.
    Last edited by Denny Gies; Oct-03-2017 at 10:29am. Reason: additional thought

  6. #6

    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    I have a kentucky km-162 if you are interested.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    Thanks for the input and suggestions. I am going to try to get the KM 500 evaluated for potential issues and look elsewhere if it has any other issues outside of needing strings and a setup.

  8. #8
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Sothoth View Post
    ...Depending on where you live, there may be better options than the Guitar Center for buying a mando...!
    Ya think?

    Taking the KM-500 back to Guitar Center for new strings and set-up, assumes that the staff there can provide you with either. Locating and height-adjusting the bridge takes some knowledge, and OP might avail him/herself of Cafe member Rob Meldrum's free e-book on mandolin set-up. (Send him a private message with your e-mail address, he'll send it to you.) It would at least make it possible to evaluate what kind of job the GC people did in setting the mandolin up.
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  9. #9
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    IT is a FAQ, perhaps read through all the other responses to the same Question?
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  10. #10

    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Ya think?

    Taking the KM-500 back to Guitar Center for new strings and set-up, assumes that the staff there can provide you with either. Locating and height-adjusting the bridge takes some knowledge, and OP might avail him/herself of Cafe member Rob Meldrum's free e-book on mandolin set-up. (Send him a private message with your e-mail address, he'll send it to you.) It would at least make it possible to evaluate what kind of job the GC people did in setting the mandolin up.
    No disagreement that GC will likely not do a pro job on the strings or bridge, but if it arrived with rusty strings and he might not want to keep it anyway, it seems like putting that back on GC is a good start. He can insist on a refund if he’s not happy wth it when he plays it after the strings are put on. GC carries D’addario mando strings and he should get those free since his came rusty.

    I just didn’t want to suggest he buy his own strings or pay for a pro set up (or learn to set it up himself just to evaluate if this one should be returned) if he’s not sure he wants to keep it anyway. GC has a pretty liberal return policy so he can exercise that right away if they do a crappy job on the strings.

    If he’s not near a GC or a pro quality shop, doesn’t like the Mandolin, or simply doesn’t want to monkey around with it, I’d just return it and follow the other advice about buying from the classifieds or from one of the Cafe sponsors, as you suggested.

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  12. #11

    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    I don't know that GC should be obligated to give a free string change and a full setup if the instrument was used and not advertised as having those things. I see that falling on the buyer. If GC was known for these things, it might be different. But they are surely not known for setting up instruments. It isn't their business model. They are known for selling at cheap prices. As Allen mentioned, even if they did set it up, what are the odds of them doing a good job?

    Taking the KM-500 to a local luthier for a quick look and setup quote would be my advice. If the luthier thinks it will setup nicely, proceeding that way is an option.

    Aside from the occasional exception, if the neck is straight and able to get proper relief and there is no structural damage, the mandolin can normally be setup great. Bridge work, fret work, etc,, is usually going to be needed to get a high degree of setup, but that is true of brand new instruments as well.
    Robert Fear
    http://www.folkmusician.com

    "Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't.
    " - Pete Seeger

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  14. #12

    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Folkmusician.com View Post
    I don't know that GC should be obligated to give a free string change and a full setup if the instrument was used and not advertised as having those things. I see that falling on the buyer. If GC was known for these things, it might be different. But they are surely not known for setting up instruments. It isn't their business model. They are known for selling at cheap prices. As Allen mentioned, even if they did set it up, what are the odds of them doing a good job?

    Taking the KM-500 to a local luthier for a quick look and setup quote would be my advice. If the luthier thinks it will setup nicely, proceeding that way is an option.

    Aside from the occasional exception, if the neck is straight and able to get proper relief and there is no structural damage, the mandolin can normally be setup great. Bridge work, fret work, etc,, is usually going to be needed to get a high degree of setup, but that is true of brand new instruments as well.
    GC has a used gear policy that says it should have been cleaned and restrung prior to selling. For sure it should have the bridge installed.

    I see that you run a shop that's competitive with GC. While I'm sure you do a better setup than GC, not everyone needs to pay the money for a repair or pro setup on a $500 mandolin. I'm sure most good shops charge $75+ for that. I think the OP should know they have options.

  15. #13

    Default Re: Beginner mandolin purchase advice

    Ahh, I hadn't seen that policy. Well, that would change things!

    That must not apply to new mail-order instruments though. It is very common for them to ship new mandolins without the bridge installed, or even having ever been fitted (as in foot doesn't match the top, string slots sawed in). I see this a lot.

    I am not sure GC and I our competitors. They do make the best selling mandolin (at least in the USA) though.

    I tend to disagree on not getting a pro setup for cheaper mandolins. These are the ones that need it the most. After you move up into the higher range, the factory setups are usually acceptable, even if there may be room for improvement. Most of the popular sub $500 mandolins we recommend here on the cafe, can and do have serious setup issues from the factory. Especially the frets and bridge. A handful of these mandolins have great potential, but only if setup well. Now doing the setup yourself, is a perfectly good option. Do It yourselfers probably won't get it to the level of someone that has done thousands, but if they are willing to level and dress frets and do some bridge work, they can get a highly playable mandolin, at a very low cost.
    Robert Fear
    http://www.folkmusician.com

    "Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't.
    " - Pete Seeger

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