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Thread: When or why to upgrade

  1. #1
    Registered User Cindy's Avatar
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    Default When or why to upgrade

    Chapter 1: My husband heard me say enough times that I'd love to play mandolin (I had a guitar I played folky fingerstyle) and he gave me a Rogue from Musicians Friend for Christmas. I was hooked immediately. Just playing the chords g, c, d I loved the sound. Learned a few tunes, played a little at jams. But hand hurt.
    Chapter 2: I saw an ad on Craig's list. Music shop bragged they had a new shipment of Kentucky mandolins. I bit and bought a 150, shop gave me a $50 credit for the Rogue.
    Chapter 3: Loved my mando, learned fiddle tunes, the fret board. Now I know most of the double stops, can improvise at maybe intermediate level. Playing mainly bluegrass. Still see a lot of people playing a lot better. Visit renown music shop and all the instruments cost over $1000 and many start at $3000. I am too intimidated to try these out!
    Chapter 4: Where to go from here? Is there a place between $300 and $2000 where I could hear much difference in how well I play or how I sound? Are higher-end instruments easier to play?!

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  3. #2
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Hi Cindy, there will be a big difference between a $300 and a $2,000 mandolin. In the $1,000 to $1,500 range you should be able to get a very nice used A-5 that would be an upgrade from what you are currently playing. I would encourage you to revisit the renown music store and play some mandolins in different price ranges. The staff should be able to answer any questions and guide you through the process. Do not be intimidated by the price tag.

    Good luck and have fun.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  4. #3
    Registered User Mike Arakelian's Avatar
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Hi Cindy and welcome to our crazy world. Mandolins are a special instrument with so many different looks and sounds. It’s important to play as many different mandolins as you possibly can to see what strikes your fancy. A good mandolin doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and buying used can save you a lot of money. Eastman and Kentucky make some very nice instruments in the $1,000-$1,500 price range. Some very good used instruments can be found here in the classifieds. You just have to have an idea of what you want. I’d suggest you make a trip to Lexington to visit The Music Emporium. They stock 40-50 mandolins, both new and used, at any one time. When you’ve had a chance to play a good number of mandolins you’ll develop a good idea of what sounds good to you, what feels good in your hand, and what style, look, etc. that you really like. I’m sure you’ll get many opinions with this post, and they’ll all be good. Good luck in what should be a very fun journey.
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  5. #4

    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    The truth is, it is unlikely you will ever need a better mandolin. Something like the KM-150 is fine for 99.9% of players. That doesn't mean a $3000 instrument won't sound better. You may also get more enjoyment from owning it. It will certainly be more impressive to other players. It will not necessarily play better. It just depends on the setup vs your Kentucky's setup.

    Don't be intimidated by them. Shops will appreciate you being careful with the instruments, but if they have them out on the wall, they are there to try out. Play some here and there and swap instruments with other players. You will get an idea of what you like and the differences.
    Robert Fear
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    You upgrade just because you want to...……….period.

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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Quote Originally Posted by Denny Gies View Post
    You upgrade just because you want to...……….period.
    Gees ...I think you've nailed it Denny . If you want to and can afford to ....upgrade .

    I also think Robert ( Folkmusician ) makes a great point above (''Something like the KM-150 is fine for 99.9% of players " )

  10. #7
    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Donít be intimidated, go in the store and carefully try it all out, how else will you ever know? I think you should be on the lookout for a used Gibson A9, they are in that price range and should be a step up in quality. If you get your hands on an actual instrument it sounds like you have enough experience to decide if it is worth it.

    ďAre higher-end instruments easier to play?!Ē

    Yes. To some degree... Any well set up instrument should be easy to play, but it seems easier to get the sound I want from the nicer instruments. YMMV

    Good luck!

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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    You can get a major upgrade in a used A style for $1200-1800. I think I paid $1400 for my Silverangel. Webers can be had for that, Collings MTs on the high side, with many in between. Yes you can be fine with the KM 150. But I both encourage and caution you when it comes to playing the nicer instruments. You'll quickly start mandolin lust for which there is only one cure, and that is temporary. May as well buy an F style and save yourself the anguish.

    A used Northfield F 5S would be just the ticket.
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Cindy, As one gets better and the more one plays, they will have better ideas of what they might like in a mandolin. Both comfort wise and sounds wise. Surely we all want them to be easy to play, which, as Robert said, is mostly a matter of setup. However, certain aspects of what is comfortable to you may be beyond a good setup. Neck profile is a good example. Some love a V profile neck, others D, or somewhere in between. Width and depth of the neck. Flat or radiused finger board. Small traditional sized frets or larger modern frets. 2 piece stamped tailpiece or solid cast. F style or A style body. ff holes or oval. Sunburst or solid color. Lacquer or varnish finish.
    There are so many variations in fit and finish and sound and only you can decide what suits you best. The only way to figure that out is to play a lot of different mandolins and find what you like.
    Sometimes that will be what you already have, sometimes not.
    I recommend bringing your KM-150 along so you can play it side by side with whatever mandolins you're testing and hear and feel the differences.
    If you like what you have better or can't tell the difference, then keep what you've got. If you like something better that you test, and can afford it, then upgrade. There are a lot of mandolins below $1000 to try. The KM-250 will sound very much like your KM-150, but it has some nice upgrades. Eastman MD-505 is nice and will sound different, and has a different neck profile. My pick for sub $1000 is the JBovier A5 for $900, and that is my subjective preference.
    $1000-$2000, you'll get many more choices. Used Collings MT, Used Northfield M, Kentucky KM-950, and many more.
    You'll need to play a bunch of instruments to find what you like best.
    Have fun!

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  16. #10

    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Cindy, not to sound crass, but on one level, its simply about money.

    I strongly hold that the only justification for an upgrade is that you WANT one, not that you need it or "merit" it.

    Long ago, when i was 9-10 , after one year practicing hard on a miserable silvertone guitar, i got a harmony sovereign. I could hear and feel the difference. It was so much nicer in every way. I was Still a pretty green player, but devoted. A year or two later, and after caddying many rounds, my first d28. The angels sang.

    I was/am committed to playing.
    I take joy from it.
    I work and pay for it.
    And, i marvel at the beauty of the woods, inlays, precision of build and ......sound. Every day, i take great joy from my instruments.

    There are many driving high end cars that drive no better than you or I.
    Because.....thats what they chose and could afford.

    Eight years ago, i fell in love with grisman, hearing mando anew. I heard a depth of tone i hadnt noticed before.

    I decided to play mando, and, bought a used fern as my 1st, as i had always deeply wanted one. (I used to build guitars, and was always in awe of the intricacies of an F). I have never regretted it, even though at the time, it seemed a lot of money, compared to guitars. More mando than i needed. I later upgraded. Twice. I play daily. Im ok at mando. Over years, the initial cost becomes less a factor. Provided, its reasonably within your means. Mandos are never inexpensive, especially compared to guitars of equal quality.

    Play them all. You are worthy. You will hear a difference, feel a difference.
    Imho, one tends to develop a highly personal relationship with the right instrument...its a unique experience that comes from a lot of time. It may be time for you to start thus.

    Play them in a quiet room, alone. Focus and take in each one. Frets, inlay and binding, finish and color and woods, ease of play, feel, etc.

    This alone will have value to you in terms of your hands eyes and ears.
    Then, and only then can you decide the value to you.
    Last edited by stevedenver; Sep-02-2018 at 8:07am.

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    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Cindy, the music store wants you to play its mandolins. How else will it ever sell you one?

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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Need vs want. 99.9% vs .1%er

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    Registered User MissingString's Avatar
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Cindy, based on your Boston location if your referring to the well know acoustic store in our area, my experience has always been outstanding when playing anything I’d like to demo. I’m far from an accomplished player but that has never stopped getting great advice, being treated with respect, never rushed and encouraged to take my time to find the right instrument. The ownership, management and mandolin experts are all on the same page. I have no financial interest at all here, I have gained great insight and understanding of what’s important to me by spending some time in a knowledgeable shop. You may find the same, good luck.
    ďWithout music, life would be a mistakeĒ Neitzsche

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Wait a minute, I'm confused. Are you supposed to have a reason for upgrading? This kind of runs counter to how this place seems to operate.

    Cindy, find a mandolin that speaks to you, that you are totally comfortable with. That's the one you're looking for.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    I find when I love the sound of my mandolin I play it "just to hear it". When I am tired and don't have the energy I play it because "I want to hear it". I love the sound. NOW, if that is the way you feel about your mandolin, you don't need an upgrade. If on the other hand you play a mandolin that you simply love the sound and feel of more than yours, it's upgrade time.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    It's a trap!!

    The sad truth is that you will find that you need more, far more, than one mandolin.

    By its very nature, as there is no one perfect mandolin, the multiplicity of designs and variations impose a near-infinite number of delightful tonal pathways to explore. Once you get out there and start picking out things to pick on, you will be charmed and moved to include a number of those which pleased you the most in your collection.

    And the Great Luthier looked at what He had created, and it was good.

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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    When? Yesterday ainít soon enough.
    Why? Because the mandolin told me do it.

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  28. #18

    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    I have found that the very best high class instrument stores treat the beginner trying to find an instrument in a first class manor. They realize that you finding an instrument that will inspire you to play will turn you into a long term valued customer. I have heard so many beginner horror stories about how they were treated in the big box stores. Do not let your level deter you. Stores are used to selling instruments to all sorts. I've seen beginners drop $4K, and so have they. I guess the equivalent would be for me to walk into Carter's and ask to play a Loar.

    I generally send folks to Gryphon, tell them to go in the morning on a weekday, tell them you are just starting, and have them educate you as to what your money will buy. A big bonus is getting a great setup. The box stores will never mention the need. A store like Gryphon will not carry junk either. I use Gryphon as an example only because I live close by.

    A good store will play instruments for you. All the folks working there will like nothing better than for you to play music for the rest of your life. And buy better and better instruments as you progress. They also won't mind if it takes you multiple trips to decide, but the absolute surest way to miss out on an instrument you really like is to decide to sleep on it and come back the next day. I have decades of instrument buying experience. There are hundreds of great instruments out there. I've learned the right ones come along very infrequently, and when that happens if at all able, to pounce.
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    Registered User KGreene's Avatar
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    Wait a minute, I'm confused. Are you supposed to have a reason for upgrading? This kind of runs counter to how this place seems to operate.

    Cindy, find a mandolin that speaks to you, that you are totally comfortable with. That's the one you're looking for.
    Yep... Then find another one that does the same thing for you … and another … and...
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    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Quote Originally Posted by Folkmusician.com View Post
    The truth is, it is unlikely you will ever need a better mandolin. Something like the KM-150 is fine for 99.9% of players.
    I'm curious as to why the gentleman who's in the business says that only one out of a thousand will need a better mandolin. Are the low-end Kentuckys that good? (I like mine.) Will almost everyone who starts mandolin bail out before long? Are almost all of us hacks, incapable of ever doing justice to a better mandolin?

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  33. #21
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Well ….. It's about love and what you love …. doing , saying , feeling …. Is a 300.00$ mandolin good enough is a 3.000.00$ mandolin good enough? In instruments imo it's about Tone , Touch , looks , price...… Will a 300.00$ mandolin sound and play like a 3,000.00$ mandolin …. not likely. Will you be as pleased and continue to be pleased with a 300.00$ one? That's up to you. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  34. #22

    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Ok, having never owned anything better than an Eastman, just from reading around here, this is how I think things are supposed to work (slightly tongue in cheek):

    Beginner instruments (gateway drugs) range from the bare-bones basic Rover, to the mid-range Kentucky's and Eastmans (both of which make pretty decent instruments). Once those instruments have effectively infected you with MAS, then...

    Once you decide you are going to get a great instrument, you have to buy a Gibson (preferably an F5), it's the standard against which all others are judged.

    Then based on that reference point you buy others, and try to brag (politely) how it's better than the Gibson in some way...

    Best I've seen lately was the Apitius thread, best sales job in a thread I've read in a while, made me want one. :-)

    Or... if you can't (or won't) afford a Gibson, you buy what you can afford that imitates it, Pava, Northfield, etc, and work you way up or around from there. If you started with a Rover it might be a long journey too, or you can just buy a Gibson...

    At least that's how I think it is supposed to work based on what I've read.

    Given that theory I've started looking at F9's (cheapest form of Gibson...), although Pava's and Northfield's seem more reachable.

    Mostly what holds me back is I can't play worth beans, so that limits how many beans I want to spend. :-)
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    Registered User Lou Giordano's Avatar
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    I find when I love the sound of my mandolin I play it "just to hear it". When I am tired and don't have the energy I play it because "I want to hear it". I love the sound. NOW, if that is the way you feel about your mandolin, you don't need an upgrade. If on the other hand you play a mandolin that you simply love the sound and feel of more than yours, it's upgrade time.
    This is so much like how I feel. I love the sound. I could be felling bad and I'll pull out my mandolin and start to play. After a little while I'm feeling better. I have two mandolins, a The Loar and a Weber oval. I am not good enough to play either well. I bought the Weber because I always wanted an oval. Once in a while, I accidentally hit some good notes on the Weber and it will WOW me to the point where I stop an think about it. For me it's always my wants, not my needs.
    Giving this another try.

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  38. #24
    bon vivant jaycat's Avatar
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Quote Originally Posted by MissingString View Post
    Cindy, based on your Boston location if your referring to the well know acoustic store in our area, my experience has always been outstanding when playing anything I’d like to demo. I’m far from an accomplished player but that has never stopped getting great advice, being treated with respect, never rushed and encouraged to take my time to find the right instrument. The ownership, management and mandolin experts are all on the same page. I have no financial interest at all here, I have gained great insight and understanding of what’s important to me by spending some time in a knowledgeable shop. You may find the same, good luck.
    Yes, and they are very devious too. The mandolins are hanging at easily reachable level (even the gazillion dollar ones), whereas the hotshot guitars are on hooks 40 feet in the air!
    "The paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculations, and often lose themselves in error and darkness!"
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  40. #25
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    Default Re: When or why to upgrade

    Quote Originally Posted by Cindy View Post
    Chapter 3: Loved my mando, learned fiddle tunes, the fret board. Now I know most of the double stops, can improvise at maybe intermediate level. Playing mainly bluegrass. Still see a lot of people playing a lot better. Visit renown music shop and all the instruments cost over $1000 and many start at $3000. I am too intimidated to try these out!
    Quote Originally Posted by Folkmusician.com View Post
    Something like the KM-150 is fine for 99.9% of players ... Shops will appreciate you being careful with the instruments, but if they have them out on the wall, they are there to try out.
    Finally, there is some group in which Iím part of the 0.1%!

    I agree that shops do want you to carefully try out any instruments that are accessible on the wall for several reasons:

    1. You may not buy anything this year, but you may buy something next year.

    2. Instruments that are significantly out of tune give the accurate impression that they have been for sale for quite a while, which invites customers to offer a lower purchase price. If you play an instrument, youíll probably tune it first.

    3. Although many disagree, I think that unplayed instruments close up.

    4. If you can improvise at an intermediate level, then by playing in the store, you're adding to the ambience and energy of the store. A music store should have music being played by people! Otherwise, itís just an instrument gallery.

    So, you're actually helping the store out by playing their instruments. Seriously! I also always buy at least $10 of strings and such to show my appreciation.

    All that said, the only way youíre going to know for sure whether you should upgrade is by playing some better mandolins. If you can hear the difference, feel the difference, and afford the difference, then the answer will be undeniable.
    still trying to turn dreams into memories

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