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

  1. #51
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    The serious violin world has the buying thing right. Go into a high end violin shop. Tell them you are shopping in the $15k range. They will pull out five or six, priced from $12K to $18K, don't tell you which is which, and you play them blind.You decide with no pre conceived notions.
    Sure, but suppose you throw one violin into the mix (or mandolin, for our purposes) that's a $750 instrument. And suppose that's the one that sounded best to you. Would you be able to contentedly make the purchase knowing you ended up with the "cheap" one?

    How about this - suppose you go into a shop and the deal is that you can pay $5000 for a mandolin after playing three of them them blind. You are told that in the mix of three mandolins, there will be one $10K instrument, one $5K instrument, and one $1K instrument. Would you take the gamble? Do you trust your ears and hands to discern the difference when there are a few thousand dollars on the line?

    Or we could up the stakes further. You agree to pay $50K for an instrument after a blind test. You get to play two instruments. One is a '23 Loar, one is a 2005 distressed Gibson Master Model. How confident are you in picking the right one?
    Last edited by jeff_75; Aug-30-2018 at 9:10pm.
    "I'm a farmer with a mandolin and a high tenor voice."

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

    This discussion about the "blind taste test", if you will, is intriguing. I don't think the name on the peg head is a small factor, though. If you love a particular maker by name, you will pay for that if you are able. It still goes back to quality of materials and expert time spent in the making once you have arrived at the best sounding and playing instruments. Then, you have to include the contrast between one's taste for either a small shop custom builder as compared with well known brand names and their popular models. A great conversation all around!

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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 don't think the name on the peg head is a small factor, though.
    I agree with you. I think many of us, myself included, are willing to shell out relatively substantial premiums for that name on the peghead. (And in many cases, there is actual value in that name - you know you're buying from a company/builder with a long history of standing behind a product with customer support, or with a good reputation for a problem-free product that won't need extensive repair in ten years, etc.). It's funny - as musicians, we'd like to think that we place an emphasis on the sound of the instrument. And I know we all do, to some extent. But I'd wager the vast majority of us would not play these blind taste test gambles when it comes time to buy.

    I have heard Loar mandolins that sound wonderful. And I am also partial to the "bluegrass" sound based on what I like to listen to and play. But I've never heard any mandolin with a sonic quality that justifies paying $150K for a box of wood. Now, obviously the Loar is not the best example here, because the Loar is not merely a box of wood for making sound, but it's an investment, an antique/art object, and for many, a piece of abstract mystique as well. Gibson is still making mandolins, but they ain't making anymore of those today.

    But what I find curious and worthy of thought and discussion is simply that premium we mere mortals, who are looking at these $3K or $6K mandolins, are willing to pay, any why we value the instruments at particular price points. Because ultimately, the "value" of any item is what the consumer is willing to pay for it.

    To address your actual question (sorry for any thread drift here, but I just find the topic fascinating) - to me, I can't tell you the difference between the $3K and the $6K unless I play them and one of them speaks to me personally and subjectively. I can say that I would expect most mandolins in that range to all sound "good" to my ear. I can say at that price point you have to play them. I would never be comfortable ordering a mandolin in that range without playing it first, and probably playing several others priced comparably. (Your mileage may vary - if you're a wealthy person, you might be willing to take that risk. I'm very blessed, my needs and many of my wants are met - but I'm not sufficiently capitalized to drop $3K to $6K lightly for anything.)

    And of course, I don't have any actual answers - just opinions like the rest of you - I'm just throwing out food for thought. Fascinating topic. I enjoy reading these threads.
    "I'm a farmer with a mandolin and a high tenor voice."

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  6. #54

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

    Here's what I see and this is an over-simplification:

    1. entry level might have laminated wood, poly finish, Titebond glue construction, low-end hardware, factory-made, probably Pac-rim, these days.

    2. next level might feature solid wood, maybe a better finish, such as nitrocellulose lacquer

    3. from there you get into prettier woods and detailing, such as binding, hand-carving, better hardware, maybe hide glue, maybe varnish by some makers

    4. more hand work, varnish, best hardware, at this stage the maker's reputation accounts for much of the price. (but you get what you pay for)

    Probably some overlap, but that's what I see. So, the "best" sounding poly laminate mandolin will never "fool" someone into thinking it is a $3K instrument.

    The exception "might" be an 80-year old Stradolin or other vintage mandolin sounding better than its current price point would indicate. But, again, that would be solid woods and a thin (non-poly) finish and aged woods -- still not sure if a Stradolin would beat a $3K instrument, but could be close, IMHO.

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

    Jeff_75, I really enjoyed reading your comments above and you did a great job of contrasting the branding aspect with the actual performance of the mandolin considerations. I couldn't have possibly said it as well and I appreciated reading your thoughts. The various opinions and considerations being expressed in this thread are helping me and I am sure others to shape their future plans for pursuing "the one." Or is it the additional one... I think we all have found that different mandolins have different purposes and function as a member of a team or family, if you will. Another topic for another day.

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

    Jeff Mando, I like the way you have broken it down to a continuum of attributes and materials, progressing with definitions for cost related factors. True, there is a fine line between the brand name and the cost associated but you often do "get what you pay for" with that name, as you said so well.

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

    Several years ago I walked into a music store, picked up the first Rover I had ever seen. It was priced at $99 and it blew me away. I had a 2000 Flatiron A at home that was a $1000 or &1200 instrument. The Rover would have given it a run for its money sound wise. I would have bought it in a minute except I thought if I brought another mandolin home I would have to get a new wife, so I didn't buy it. That evening I told the wife about it and she wanted to know why I didn't buy it so I went back the next day and it was gone. Store owner told me he would be getting more in and he did. All the rest I played sounded like a $99 mandolin.I said all that to say the price is not the only factor in the real value of a instrument. If I had bought that Rover I wouldn't have sold it for $500. Maybe I never would find someone to pay that but it was worth that in my opinion.

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

    I have a bias toward very simple, plain looking instruments at any price point. I figure I'm getting the best general construction, feel, wood and attention to graduation at my price point when I buy plain instruments, ideally used. But that's my bias. There do seem to be a number of builders making really nice sounding and playing instruments out there, I really love those folks!

    And stradolins? oh, yeah, ideal for us cheapskates!
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    I find my "happy place" of instruments at about $3000. I honestly can hear a small difference between the roughly $3000 instruments and the very high dollar instruments on the comparison videos, but I think the difference is small enough that I really don't need to make that price jump. And that makes me very happy.

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

    Quote Originally Posted by LadysSolo View Post
    I find my "happy place" of instruments at about $3000. I honestly can hear a small difference between the roughly $3000 instruments and the very high dollar instruments on the comparison videos, but I think the difference is small enough that I really don't need to make that price jump. And that makes me very happy.
    You are very convincing in your explanation about the $3,000 level. When you put it the way you have, the performance of the instrument contrasted with the high dollar versions, it brings to mind the fact that a great playing and sounding instrument can be had for that price to be sure, LadySolo.

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

    It has become clearer to me as I have shopped for mandolins-- there is no mandolin that is going to be better suited to my needs and uses than my 2001 Gibson Nashville Flatiron Festival. It plays and sounds great! I am realizing my primary focus will always be my singer/songwriter life and the guitar I play is first. I am adjusting my search to find a Martin HD-35, the version stolen from my apartment in 1975. The 1976 Guild D55 I bought to replace it has done the job nicely for 42 years, but I am going invest in a guitar so I can flat pick, finger pick and sing my ballads as my health allows. Thanks for all the support.

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  20. #62

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

    Way back in the beginning of this thread, I had the same thought. But, trust me on this, get your hands on a teens or twenties Gibson. You need one.
    Silverangel A
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    Way back in the beginning of this thread, I had the same thought. But, trust me on this, get your hands on a teens or twenties Gibson. You need one.
    Hey Br1ck, I have two things to tell you, my friend: 1) I have two of the early Gibson A's-- given me by my wife's grandparents-- one 38 years ago and one a few months ago passed on through generous cousins. The second one has such a big sweet voice and a wider fretboard that the 1909. I like playing classical mandolin with it. You are right! Now, for a twenties snakehead!!

    2) I spent the morning at guitar center and was disappointed at the lack of Martin's on the high end. I played a great sounding and playing HD28, but it was so dinged for a new guitar I just couldn't get myself to pull the trigger even with 15% off. My guitar stable is well stocked with a highest end Guild, a Takamine 12 string, a National Reso and a Fender Strat with a couple of amps.

    Now, I am back to looking for a domestic, quality mandolin with a modern tone, a radiused board and nice appointments-- A or F.

    Thanks for you support despite my fickle thought process.

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

    I think one aspect of this that is frequently overlooked, or assumed away, is that the more time we spend playing and listening, the more discerning we get. We are not going to hear the mandolin the same way.

    There is always going to be a point on the continuum above which we cannot hear a significant difference. This point moves with us however, as we become more discerning. Many subtleties in tone we discover later are just not available to our ears and mind at first.

    I think one should always get the very best that one can both appreciate and afford. Further down the mandolin road more and more differences can be heard, appreciated, and perhaps justified if not always afforded.
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    $3000 can buy a really good F-2 or oval A-4 or if you don't insist on that Loar thing or that snake thing.
    And 6 can buy a really good F-4 and even leave money over for something else these days . . .

    If you want modern, you have to pay more for the really good stuff unless you can find a good used one. Newsom is a best buy for a top notch instrument, but I think they're around 8 now. Gruhn's first Wienman was a fine instrument. It sold, but another has come in at 7 1/2. Haven't played it yet.

    The trick is to get one from a really top-notch maker who is not yet well known before the word gets out and the price goes up.
    Last edited by rcc56; Sep-08-2018 at 12:30am.

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  27. #66

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

    Quote Originally Posted by lflngpicker View Post
    Hey Br1ck, I have two things to tell you, my friend: 1) I have two of the early Gibson A's-- given me by my wife's grandparents-- one 38 years ago and one a few months ago passed on through generous cousins. The second one has such a big sweet voice and a wider fretboard that the 1909. I like playing classical mandolin with it. You are right! Now, for a twenties snakehead!!

    2) I spent the morning at guitar center and was disappointed at the lack of Martin's on the high end. I played a great sounding and playing HD28, but it was so dinged for a new guitar I just couldn't get myself to pull the trigger even with 15% off. My guitar stable is well stocked with a highest end Guild, a Takamine 12 string, a National Reso and a Fender Strat with a couple of amps.

    Now, I am back to looking for a domestic, quality mandolin with a modern tone, a radiused board and nice appointments-- A or F.

    Thanks for you support despite my fickle thought process.
    Have you played an Ellis?
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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
    Now, I am back to looking for a domestic, quality mandolin with a modern tone, a radiused board and nice appointments-- A or F.
    Dan my friend, this mandolin may not check off your entire wishlist -- no radiused board, a narrow nut, probably not a modern tone -- but it does show you what is possible in your price range:

    http://www.vintagemandolin.com/11mik...201108-09.html

    This A5 is an example of high quality woods assembled with hide glue and finished in varnish by an expert builder who geeks out about the details. It is from a period somewhat early in Mike's independent career, but judging by the videos of his ovals from that era, I suspect that he had a lot figured out by then. And the price might be a hair high, given that Mike's A5's now start at $3200, but Charles is a horse trader who is usually willing to cut a deal. Regardless, this A5 is going to offer a lot of bang for the buck and is the type of independent build that I'd like to see you acquire . . . so I don't!
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    My Friend Pheffernan, As you have noticed, I purchased a Collings. I do appreciate the great suggestion.

    The best part may be that I have more room in my closet after releasing several instruments.

  32. #69
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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
    My Friend Pheffernan, As you have noticed, I purchased a Collings. I do appreciate the great suggestion.
    It's hard to go wrong with a Collings. That MT probably does check more of your boxes than my recommendation and should provide a nice complement to your Flatiron. I still look forward to your thread on "What is the difference between a factory and an independently built mandolin?"

    Quote Originally Posted by lflngpicker View Post
    The best part may be that I have more room in my closet after releasing several instruments.
    Room for an octave?
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    I will be keeping that spot open, Pat. Maybe the Eastman version with the carved top.

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

    Getting in on this a bit late, but I’ll go through my experience. I traded up from a Loar 520 to a used 2015 Gibson F9 and then to a used 2016 Gibson Mandolin Store Custom F5. The jump in the Gibsons was roughly from the $3,000 to the $6,000 mark. The upgrade from the Loar to the F9 was obvious and immediate. Much better playability, clarity and tone in the F9 as expected. However, I just didn’t like the satin finish and overall plain details on the F9. The F5 MSC gave me everything I wanted over the F9 — radius ebony fretboard, larger frets, lacquered finish, fully bound body, neck and head, scooped Florida — plus it had a more balanced response across all strings.

    I’m sure there are exceptions to all instruments, but for me the upgrade was very worthwhile.

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  38. #72
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    You have explained your experience well, meado, and I enjoyed the story. The custom Gibson definitely sounds like it was a very worthy upgrade!

  39. #73

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

    Your jump from Gibson to Gibson certainly was a great example. I played an F9 at TMS. It gave you everything you could want in tone and playability, but a bunch of binding, shiney, and inlay gets you a "real" mandolin. The price for that is steep, but probably equates to fifty cents every time you open the case.
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  40. #74
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    Default Re: What is the Difference between a $6,000 and $3,000 mandolin?

    Not much experience, not much skill here, but I read through the thread and saw (noticed) no mention of the skill level of the player being involved. It is my suspicion as a listener more than a player that I might be able to make two mandolins sound the same, but in the hands of a real player, even my ears would hear a significant difference. Both mandolins would sound better in the hands of a good player than in mine, but one would sound better than the other in his hands. I'd not be able to use or make audible to others the difference in the instruments. Each of us has a different boundary in what we can push out of a mandolin into the ears of an audience (or ourselves).

    Or so it seems to me. Michael
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  41. #75

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

    If you use a company with multiple lines of trim, such as Gibson, sure much of what you will be paying for will be cosmetic, upgrades to varnish, a scroll, hardware etc. It is possible that they pick premium woods or set aside "special ones" or take more time on the more expensive ones, maybe not. You could get a cheaper trim that beats the socks of the more expensive ones. I think your dollar starts to count with small shop builders whose entry level (A) or F is towards the end of your range. That is your Ellis, Duff, Kimbles,etc. Then I think you see a difference. At that point most of the money is going towards the reputation of that builder and of the quality they put out.

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