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Thread: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

  1. #1
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    Default Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    Hey everyone. I am trying to do my research for buying my first Mandolin in the coming weeks and I have a few questions. Are there tonal differences between A style and F style Mandolins and if so what are they? Also what should I watch out for when buying a new or used mandolin. What should I avoid and what should be looking for as positives? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
    Eternal Beginner Seamus B's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    Hi Lee - welcome to the forum! I think people have different answers to your questions dependent on their experience and preferences. For me, the only difference between A and F styles is the price. I generally advise beginners to go for an A-style as you will get more 'bang for your buck' to put it in crude terms. For instance, a great-sounding and dependable entry-level second-hand/used A-style Eastman or Kentucky mandolin can often cost the same as a new, badly built, horrible sounding high-street F-style mandolin. As you begin playing it is important to have a good instrument. And if you decide you hate the instrument or don't want to play anymore, a good mandolin will sell pretty quickly on the Mandolin Cafe classifieds if priced appropriately.

    When buying a mandolin, it is a good idea to check the action, although you can get any mandolin set-up. So make sure the body does not have any cracks and the neck is straight. Play it and make sure it doesn't go out of tune right away and take a look at the frets, especially near the head of the instrument, for wearing or breaking. On this subject you will get much better advice from the experienced folks here.

    All the best!
    Eastman MD305 - set-up by Simon Mayor.

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    Registered User Mike Snyder's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    If possible, get as many mandolins as possible into your hands. Even if you don’t play yet. Have someone play at you, like in your face. Answers to your (very well thought out) questions will have more meaning if the instrument is right there with you. Festivals, jams, performance, dealers and repair shops are possibles. The cafe is an excellent resource, just a little dryer than an in-person experience.
    Mike Snyder

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  6. #4

    Default Re: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    Hi Lee. Welcome to the forum.

    The advice above is very good. The only thing I would add is that if you decide to buy new, buy from one of the sponsors here at the Cafe. They will do a proper setup before they ship the mandolin to you (unless of course you visit them in person). A good setup is very important.

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  8. #5

    Default Re: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    Hi Lee. Welcome to the forum. My advice is to get one from a shop that does a professional set up. The Mandolin Store comes to mind. I was able to get a really nice "first mandolin". Just get the best you can afford. An A style with F holes would be my choice, for reasons that I won't go into. But it's partly about value. But if you can play some mandolins, or have someone play some for you in stores, all the better. Then, get a good teacher. Right away!

    Good luck, and fill us in on your progress.

    Svea

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    Registered User colorado_al's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Svea View Post
    My advice is to get one from a shop that does a professional set up.
    +1 to this! If you do buy a used mandolin, make sure you get it setup properly too.
    You will get a better sounding and playing mandolin for the money if you buy an A style instead of F style.
    As far as the construction of the mandolin, most will be better if they have a solid spruce top and solid maple back and sides (instead of plywood/laminate). The usual suggestion for a first mandolin purchase is the Kentucky KM-150
    https://www.elderly.com/acoustics/ma...0-mandolin.htm

    Or here is the same mandolin but with a different color stain and it comes with a gig bag for the same price, the Kentucky KM-156:
    https://themandolinstore.com/product...-with-gig-bag/

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  12. #7

    Default Re: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    When I hear (or read) a question like this, I always begin by asking, 'what kind of music do you like and are you planning to play?'. I think it makes a lot of sense to begin with an instrument in the general style associated with the music you're trying to fit in to.

    And that question gets left out of lots of discussions about whether an instrument is 'good' or not. A lot depends on what sounds are in your head to begin with, and who you'd like to emulate.
    BradKlein
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  14. #8
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    Here are my subjective guidelines. They're worth approximately what you're paying for them (0):

    1. Decide on a firm budget for your mandolin, and test only instruments within that budget. Otherwise you'll be dissatisfied with the mandolin you can afford.

    2. A-models and F-models are pretty undistinguishable acoustically; F-models cost more because they're harder to manufacture. Unless you're really captivated by the F silhouette -- many folks are -- get an A model.

    3. Nine chances out of ten a first mandolin will be imported from Asia. Asian manufacturers have sewed up the entry-level market.

    4. If you know what you're doing, or have a friend whom you trust for advice, used is the way to go. You save up to 50% of the cost of a new mandolin. If you don't, buying new is marginally safer. In any case, I advise buying from a dealer, to whom you can go if there's a problem, or an adjustment/set-up is needed, rather than a private sale.

    5. Solid wood's better than plywood. Check the specs on-line of the instrument you're considering; if it doesn't say "solid," it's plywood. Weasel adjectives like "select" don't mean diddly.

    6. You might want to consider what kind of music you plan to play, as part of your selection process. If it's bluegrass, you probably want to get an arched-top mandolin with f-shaped soundholes, like those on a violin. If it's Celtic, jazz, folk etc., you can also consider a mandolin with a flat rather than arched top, and an oval soundhole.

    7. If you get a mandolin with an arched top, it's better if it's described as "carved" (otherwise it's heat-pressed into an arch), and even better if it's "hand carved."

    8. Here on the Cafe there are favorite brands for first-time purchases; among them are Kentucky, Loar, and Eastman. These are Asian-import mandolins that have good track records for design, construction, and quality control That's not a guarantee, and there are surely other acceptable brands, but these are the ones that get consistent recommendations.

    9. Crucial to an acceptable first mandolin, is a proper set-up. Many of the larger on-line sellers, like Musician's Friend, don't offer dealer set-ups; you get the instrument as it was shipped from the factory. Dealers affiliated with the Cafe, like Folkmusician.com, Mandolin Store, Elderly Instruments, do shop set-ups. You can get set-ups from a local dealer, or you can learn to do it yourself (not brain surgery!), but bridge fit, location and height, neck relief, nut slot depth, and other variables determine whether the instrument plays easily and in tune -- or not.

    Lots of things to think about. My personal preference is to find a good local dealer with a decent selection of new and used instruments, and give him/her your business -- good for the dealer and for you. Not everyone has that option; many must buy on-line, pretty much sight-unseen. If you go that route, get a trial period if at all possible, so you're not just "stuck" if there are problems.

    Good luck! Let us know what you end up buying.
    Allen Hopkins
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    Default Re: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    A huge thanks to all you guys giving advice. I did a lot of research and decided to get a Eastman MD315 from the Mandolin Store. After speaking with them and using the advice here I am sure that I made a good choice. Now I just need to spend the hours on learning to play it. Thanks again.

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  18. #10
    Eternal Beginner Seamus B's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    Fantastic news Lee! You have basically done what I did a couple of years ago, except you went for the F and I the A. It's a lovely instrument. Now you have to be patient waiting for it to arrive. The good thing is you can be assured they will do a great set-up.

    You might want to do some searching around on the forum for information on picks, strings, tuners, general care, but for now just grab a pick, use an app to tune her up (if you don't have a clip-on) and learn your G, C and D chords! You'll be playing a song before the day is out. Happy picking, joyful strumming.
    Eastman MD305 - set-up by Simon Mayor.

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  20. #11
    Registered User colorado_al's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeE View Post
    A huge thanks to all you guys giving advice. I did a lot of research and decided to get a Eastman MD315 from the Mandolin Store. After speaking with them and using the advice here I am sure that I made a good choice. Now I just need to spend the hours on learning to play it. Thanks again.
    Excellent choice!
    Enjoy it!

  21. #12

    Default Re: Looking to buy my first Mandolin

    Spend six months learning to play some, and you will have a good idea of where you want to go musically. You may or may not want to upgrade later. I bought a 505 from TMS for my first mandolin.

    I would not do an upgrade of your 315 until you are willing to go $2000+ for the mandolin. The 315 is a solid choice. If you are willing to buy an A used,drop that to $1200.

    Now start trying picks of all shapes and sizes. Thicker will get you better tone. I recommend Mandolessons.com. for instruction.
    Silverangel A
    Michael Kelly LSFTB
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

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