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Thread: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

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    Mando-Afflicted lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Question What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    I am sincerely asking if one were to buy a high end used $6,000 mandolin vs. a quality used $3,000 version, what would you gain? This question isn't meant to be scientific and it is a bit vague, so interpret it as you like. I love both A and F styles. I am interested in your ideas and experiences beyond mine. I have played guitar for 56 years, but mandolin only 5 years. I am working hard to improve. I am curious about the next level of mandolins as I have been fortunate to own and play the F-9's and MT's of the world. I am wondering what it is like to soar above those in terms of sound, fit and finish and hardware factors. Practicing on my Gibson A oval and Gibson Flatiron Festival F5, I get plenty of pleasing sound and comfortable playability. But, if I dream, what might I work toward? I always buy used to get the most instrument for my budget. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    This is a hard one to answer. A lot of the difference is pretty inlay, but the builders need you to hear some sonic difference to get you to part with a whole lot of money, so I think in general, people building instruments to sell at the higher price levels will use the wood they feel is superior. They simply could not sell or would choose not to sell a very plain Jane mandolins with their best wood. They need to maximize profit.

    You need to hop a flight to Phoenix , go to The Mandolin Store, play an F 9, then a fern. Play an MF, then the high priced Collings, and let your ears be the judge. They may have a Northfield F5S and a Big Mon. You might take a blindfold with you. The cost of a flight will be paid back in an education. A used F9, and a used fancy Gibson will roughly equate to your perameters.

    Now where things get dicey is take away the Gibson and Collings name, and see where your ears take you by playing the individual luthier fare. Very murky waters. If you want to go to grad school, you'll have to fly to Nashville.
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    This is a great start, Br1ck! Wow, you are so right about the amenities and the idea of going where there is a wide variety to play would be such a great experience. If there were a place I would like to travel to, it would be the Mandolin Store in Arizona. The F-9 vs the fern and the blindfold test, would be so educational! And fun....

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Were i crude and snarky, I'd say, "three thousand dollars!" But I'm not...

    In that price range, you're pretty sure of top quality. The difference, as Brick pointed out -- and I agree -- is the difference among individual instruments, not generic brands or classes. In a way, you can't go wrong, but from another perspective, you want to find the mandolin that uniquely appeals to you -- that sounds, looks, feels just the way you want it.

    Some of the price is related to maker's reputation, some to degrees of detail and ornamentation, some to vintage appeal. One can pay quite a bit for factors unrelated to the instrument's acoustic qualities; these may or may not be important to you, but most mandolinists would agree that they are secondary to how the instrument sounds.

    There is no substitute for hands-on comparative testing. The more direct, experiential information you collect, the better your decision should be. Spending that kind of money for a mandolin, don't be afraid to invest some of the "price" in travel to a dealer with a good selection of top-end instruments.

    You want the "best" mandolin, but need to settle for the best one you can find and afford. There's no hard-and-fast, generally accepted set of rules for determining the best instrument. We all have different criteria, different ears, and different opportunities to find and try various mandolins. But I'd be reassured that, at that price level, you're choosing among excellent instruments; one of them will suit you better than the others.
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by lflngpicker View Post
    I am sincerely asking if one were to buy a high end used $6,000 mandolin vs. a quality used $3,000 version, what would you gain?
    I think that the more you spend on mandolins, the more dedicated (wo)man hours that you're getting from respected builders with an established reputation for extracting the most from their instruments.
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Hi Pat and Allen, Thanks for the great ideas. Well said and very helpful, in both cases. Maybe I should venture to ask that individuals suggest how various makers upgrade woods and amenities as the go upline? I realize there is so much subjectivity in both my question and the assessment of the mandolin itself. And Allen, I would have to sell a few instruments to put that $3000 or more together... I didn't mean to be so tacky-- now that you mentioned it.

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    I think that the more you spend on mandolins, the more dedicated (wo)man hours that you're getting from respected builders.. .

    Maybe. But some of those hours have likely been devoted to bling. Or to getting the binding right around those pesky points and scroll!

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Well I have an answer I think you will get. On average most of the time a mandolin will cost about twice a guitar of comparable quality. There are exceptions but it is a good rule to avoid sticker shock.

    That being the case, your experience with guitars should inform you. What is the difference between a $3000.00 guitar and a $1500.00 guitar?
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Neverisky View Post
    Maybe. But some of those hours have likely been devoted to bling. Or to getting the binding right around those pesky points and scroll!
    Okay, interesting... so is it possible to conclude that the more simply appointed mandolin with quality woods and hand made time, sans some of the visuals is equal in quality and function?

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Well I have an answer I think you will get. On average most of the time a mandolin will cost about twice a guitar of comparable quality. There are exceptions but it is a good rule to avoid sticker shock.

    That being the case, your experience with guitars should inform you. What is the difference between a $3000.00 guitar and a $1500.00 guitar?
    Hi Jeff! Yeah, true, okay that makes sense to me. I can get a Martin D28 for $1600 that I could make do everything I need from an acoustic, but I would enjoy the bling of the D41 used for $2800. So true... the visuals and possibly the wood grain patterns would be the only qualitative differences. Applying this to mandolins, I would say the D28 of mandolins is the MT and the D41 is the MT2V? Yes, the mandolin carving time and tap tuning tasks are likely among the most time consuming aspects of crafting a great mandolin.

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by lflngpicker View Post
    Maybe I should venture to ask that individuals suggest how various makers upgrade woods and amenities as the go upline?
    You can certainly pay for tighter grained spruce, more highly figured maple, and more ornate headstock inlays. But that doesn't explain the price points of a Nugget A Jr. or a Dudenbostel 1-A.

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Neverisky View Post
    Maybe. But some of those hours have likely been devoted to bling. Or to getting the binding right around those pesky points and scroll!
    Dedicated (wo)man hours can be dedicated wherever the consumer dedicates dedicated (wo)man dollars.
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Pheffernan wrote:
    You can certainly pay for tighter grained spruce, more highly figured maple, and more ornate headstock inlays. But that doesn't explain the price points of a Nugget A Jr. or a Dudenbostel 1-A.
    I admit that I had to go and search for each of those examples-- I smiled when I realized your point was these are quality and simply appointed offerings! Great point!

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by lflngpicker View Post
    Okay, interesting... so is it possible to conclude that the more simply appointed mandolin with quality woods and hand made time, sans some of the visuals is equal in quality and function?
    Yes. I think there's a lot to be said for buying a pre-owned version of a respected builder's least ornate model.

    Quote Originally Posted by lflngpicker View Post
    I admit that I had to go and search for each of those examples-- I smiled when I realized your point was these are quality and simply appointed offerings!
    Quality and simply appointed offerings . . . from respected builders with an established reputation for extracting the most from their instruments.
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    The difference is cosmetic. At those prices the $3000 one may sound "better" ( more what you want to hear) than the $6000 dollar one. The higher price is for prettier grain wood more and better inlay etc. Also the name on the headstock, I know a Gilcrest or a Dudesenbostle (sp?) can't sound 5times better than my Dearstone, and I can't hardly see 5times better workmanship but they have the name.

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post

    Dedicated (wo)man hours can be dedicated wherever the consumer dedicates dedicated (wo)man dollars.
    1. The customer is always right!

    2. Bling has precisely the same effect on tone as does a scroll and points.

    3. Re-read item 1 above.

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    The difference is cosmetic. At those prices the $3000 one may sound "better" ( more what you want to hear) than the $6000 dollar one. The higher price is for prettier grain wood more and better inlay etc. Also the name on the headstock, I know a Gilcrest or a Dudesenbostle (sp?) can't sound 5times better than my Dearstone, and I can't hardly see 5times better workmanship but they have the name.
    Hi Mandoplumb, Tell me about the Dearstone. I am not as familiar with that maker. I will do some research of my own, but can you tell me about a few of the things you like best about yours? Thanks!

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    I think the difference boils down to cache. It can't be measured. Only you can tell the difference, and we all agree it's subjective.

    We all recognize that there are differences in the trees, the builder, the approach, the type of mandolin, and the appointments. Just too many variables.

    What's the quest? Oh, that's just completely different. Is the mandolin, "Something to cherish" or is it, "Just a tool?" Both?

    Seems to me, you've already had well made sharp screwdrivers. I mean an Gibson F9 and Collings MT are great, well-made mandolins. I'm sure that they sound like powerful, mandolin-sounding instruments!

    When I read folks looking for sonic improvements (i.e., more or less mid-range/bass/trebles), what would be my basis to contribute? Heck, half the time I think my hearing's bad!

    Now that the preamble's over, here's my point. Our ears acclimate. Your ears are both acclimated to the instruments you play, the instruments you love. The instruments that carry your stories. You go to the store and grab another and it'll sound different. They'll all sound different; well unless they imitate the profile of what you are playing.

    I'm confident that a blind-curtain test of a '23 Gibson F5 against a Kentucky or Eastman or Northfield would yield interesting results. I'm also certain the same would be true among the custom builders.

    I would have no reservations of ordering from any known builder and would likely have a great time getting to know the builder. Fully doubt that I'd get a mandolin of monumental improvement over something available from Collings or Gibson?

    Have fun though! I love buying mandolins!

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by fatt-dad View Post

    I'm confident that a blind-curtain test of a '23 Gibson F5 against a Kentucky or Eastman or Northfield would yield interesting results. I'm also certain the same would be true among the custom builders.
    I would *love* to hear and observe this. The closest I've found are these videos:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlf3wctqD3k

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SOmtaCXlzc

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    You put it so well, Fatt-dad! Thanks for the great prose and clarity of thought.

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by geoffa View Post
    I would *love* to hear and observe this. The closest I've found are these videos:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlf3wctqD3k

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SOmtaCXlzc
    Great links-- I am hearing them as I reply. That Phoenix had a sweet, warm tone! Thanks so much!

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by geoffa View Post
    I would *love* to hear and observe this. The closest I've found are these videos:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlf3wctqD3k

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SOmtaCXlzc
    Dude, you live in Nashville. You can spend all your free time comparing mandolins!

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    I went to Staten Island Sharon to buy myself a mandolin. I didn't go with Joni.

    I ended up at Mandolin Bros. RIP Stan Jay. An incredible place to shop for mandolins or any other instrument vintage or new. A little disclaimer, I bought several instruments over the years from Mr. Jay. I still own about about half of them.

    Anyway, I decided to play everything on the wall. Probably three dozen mandolins including vintage Gibson's and new models, a few different brands. I'm not certain if the F9's were out yet, they might have been. I started at the bottom and worked up. I played a particular F5G and set it aside. I was up in the Gibson signature models and kept coming back to that F5G. The list on that puppy was about 4 grand (might have been 3900.00). I was playing mandolins well above ten grand and kept coming back to the F5G. I'm sure the price was entering my equation but it just spoke to me. I own it, I don't imagine I'll ever get rid of it and I sold the Eastman I had at the time to help pay for it. As much as everyone wants to proclaim there is no difference there was. I didn't hear the difference in the upper models but I saw it. Just much more work to get the finishing touches right. It's a joy to own a nice mandolin but if the cost is an issue for you buy based on sound and how it plays. If money is no object enjoy the top of the line models available.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by doublestoptremolo View Post
    Dude, you live in Nashville. You can spend all your free time comparing mandolins!
    Ha! It’s a blessing and a curse. Where is this free time you speak of?

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Such a cool story, Mike E! I could almost imagine being there. Well, you are making sense for the musician in me. I would buy the D28 before the D45-- even if I had the money (a reference to JeffD's point). I have heard that the right F5G could match anything-- I would like to think my 2001 Nashville Flatiron Festival is close enough. Wow, I do love that mandolin. Mike it isn't that I have the money, but I always enjoy the process of planning and considering how to get there. It seems that the 4 K price point is an important benchmark. Listening to the videos above, the Kentucky KM1500 held its own pretty darn well with those $10-20,000 mandos!

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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by doublestoptremolo View Post
    Dude, you live in Nashville. You can spend all your free time comparing mandolins!
    In all seriousness, part of me wants to take all the different videos that music stores have put up, strip out the audio, and see if honestly we can identify the builders by tone alone.

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