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Thread: Help for a complete noob

  1. #1

    Default Help for a complete noob

    Hello everyone,

    I hope I am posting this in the right place. I am in a quandary and need some good advice. I have decided I am interested in learning the mandolin. I presently am also learning the guitar. I am in SEA and there are not a lot of choices for mandolins and most of even "inexpensive" mandolins require a significant investment in money. I do have a couple of good luthiers nearby.

    The most affordable is the Ammoon A Style. It is around $200 of my dollars. The next most affordable is the Hola! (maple top and sides) at $600 of my dollars. Then comes the Donner (walnut top and sides with gig bag and tuner and strings) for $850 of my dollars. After that, things really get expensive. There is a Cort (solid spruce top) for $1350 of my dollars. Finally, there are The Loar LM220 and LM370, both for $2500 of my dollars.

    I can forget Kentucky and etc. There are no Walmarts around here and the cost is waaayy too much.

    I need some advice. What would you choose, and why? (remember, I have a good luthier available.)


  2. #2

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    You've come to the right place. First we need to equate your dollar with US dollars.

    The only brands the typical American is going to recognize are Cort and The Loar, and Cort is generally a non factor here. The Loars are generally well thought of, and the higher the number, the better the instrument should be. All solid wood is desirable.

    A member here, Rob Meldrum, has a free eBook on mandolin setup. IF you e mail him with mandolin setup in the header, he'll send it to you. It is a good reference even if you have a luthier.

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  3. #3

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    Thanks! Of course, Hola! is known in America, mostly for guitars, I think.

    Think of the money this way: The cost would be equivalent as if in the USA $2500 were the cost of a mandolin. That is why I say it is a significant investment to learn.

    However, as an update, a Kentucky KM-140 has just been listed on sale for $2300. I do not know if they are better or the Loar, but both are very expensive here.

  4. #4
    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Oxfordshire, England

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    I’ve learnt the expensive way that starting cheap is often the expensive route. For each of my instruments I’ve started with a cheap model but soon upgraded to something mid=range and sold the “cheap” one at a loss.

    With a good luthier any instrument can be made playable but you may not like the tone.

    I can’t comment on the specific instruments you mention, the only ones I recognise are the Loars but I would be inclined to spend Moreton rather than less if I were starting again.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    Amazon features the Ammon and the Hola!

    Can you not order a Kentucky in the USA and have it shipped?

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  6. #6

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    Yes, I can do that. The exchange rate is high and shipping has to be figured in a more than 4x. However, if I can find one cheap enough I would do it. In that case I would choose a Loar or Kentucky. Cost is the big thing, here.

  7. #7
    Registered User
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    Feb 2011
    Conneaut Lake, PA

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    Please excuse my ignorance. I find myself having to guess at where 鉄EA is. Does that mean South East Asia? Or something else?

    In the USA, Amazon sells the Ammoon for $71. It is listed as having a basswood body. They also sell the Hola for $89. It is listed as having an all maple body (including the top). They also list the Donner for sale, although they say it has a mahogany body, not walnut. And currently unavailable, so price is unknown. Reverb dealers sell the Cort for $225. And, of course, many dealers in the USA sell the Loar 220 for $400 and the 370 for $500, respectively.

    Long story short, the prices you are finding would be considered huge rip offs in the US. It is unfortunate this is the best you can do in your location. The used Kentucky 140 has a solid top and laminate body. It is the only modern Kentucky with laminate construction. It costs about $300 new in the US.

    I would advise you to seriously look into crunching the numbers on importing a Kentucky or Eastman model. If you figure the cost, the exchange rate, any shipping and applicable fees, add it all up and come in under $1350 (the price of the Cort), that痴 the way I would go. Failing that, the Cort has in its favor the solid spruce top, and should have acceptable tone at 登nly slightly more than 5x what they cost here. But getting your hands on a Kentucky KM-150 or higher or any Eastman would get you all solid wood everywhere on the instrument, which gives much superior tone quality. The Ammoon wins the prize for ripping you off the least, at 登nly 3x markup over US prices. But you may not like the tone with its all basswood construction. The markup on the Hola is 7x and on The Loars 6x-7x.

    One last thing. Most of us would choose all solid wood for tone, but if you live in a very humid environment, or very dry, or any place subject to temperature and humidity extremes, laminate construction can actually be an advantage for avoiding instrument damage. Good luck to you.

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  8. #8
    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    For my 2-cents -

    Let's look at the key points that have been said so far:

    1. You are a 'noob' who is 'also learning the guitar'.
    2. 'Cost is the big thing here'
    3. You 'have a good luthier available'

    While it would be nice to own a better-quality mandolin, you must take into consideration the fact that you simply might not stick with it. (I am certainly glad that I did not over-spend on the many instruments that I tried to learn over the years, but found that I had no aptitude for.) Since you have a good luthier available to you, I see no reason why you can't buy something that easily fits into your budget, and just have the luthier do a set-up to make it play well. This way, if you decide against sticking with the mandolin, you are not out too much money - and if you decide to stay with the mandolin, you can continue to learn on the inexpensive instrument, while you save money for an upgrade at some later date.

    Good luck, and keep us posted!
    I recently finished a new homemade 4-song EP of original solo acoustic songs; (sorry, no mandolin content this time). If you are interested in a FREE copy, feel free to send me your address via Private Message, and I will be glad to send you one. Trust me, it will be worth the price!

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  10. #9

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    you must take into consideration the fact that you simply might not stick with it.
    This is exactly the advice I gave my beginner students (West African percussion, starter instruments are about $200, then usually a big jump to $600 or so... up to $3000... a significantly cheaper set of instruments :-) )

    the other thing I say is "if you do upgrade, think of the loss on the resale of the old instrument as a rental fee" lessens the pain. That and you get at new instrument... so starts the addiction.

    For my own story I have a $800 Loar. finally getting it properly set up by a luthier after 2 years (tried setting it up myself a few times, but I can't/won't fix inaccurate nuts or frets... to afraid!)

    I'm hoping that will buy me another year or so until I decide to break in to the $2000 range. So if it takes a total of 3 years since the purchase it comes out to about $22 a month, even if I don't sell it. It would be $11 a month if I get half price for it... so not to bad to look at it that way.



  11. #10

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    Thank you. I appreciate this practical input. I was leaning that way and that is why the wide range of options, but not knowing much about mandolins, it kind of scares me to think I might get a bad instrument that I will not enjoy playing and quit because of that, when a good instrument might make the difference. Still, there is that stinking cost factor.

  12. #11

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    Thanks, I appreciate it. The Cort sort of bothers me. There are not many reviews on this and that makes me a bit suspicious as to the quality. A tree branch is solid wood but does not sound good as an instrument.

    Yes, it is salt air jungle humidity here. So, a layered body is not a detraction. However, all wood would be nice.

  13. #12
    Confused... or?
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    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    You should know that, even here in the US, there are lots of good luthiers who don't have a clue about mandolin. Being smaller and about half the scale length of a guitar, the tolerances for both manufacture and adjustment/setup a FAR more critical; not even the 2X that you might expect, more like 4X the accuracy is required. And, to repeat, many "good" guitar-only luthiers just don't get that. THAT's why folks are pushing you to ask for Rob Meldrum's free set-up e-book: so that when your luthier says "I'll just glue the X to the Y and cut the Z in half", you can evaluate his brilliance or lunacy, as the case may be.

    And yes, I have had a luthier suggest lunacy in adjusting an arch-top mandolin (w/ neck & tailpiece in less-than-optimal alignment), even though he had built some beautiful arch-top guitars.
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  14. #13

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    I understand from Youtube that The Loar mandolins have wider fretboards. My hands are less than dainty, shall we say. I have seen some big guys playing the mandolin, so that can be overcome. I played the violin for a while years ago until an accident left me unable to hold it up for long. The mandolin is tuned the same and fills the same role. I find this attractive.

    Tomorrow morning I am going to take my bike and ride over to the shop with the The Loars and play around with them. I've seen pictures. They are all solid wood and sunburst.

  15. #14
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    I'll add that, in addition to the instrument itself, you'll need strings. Generally, the strings on many instruments out of the box are not optimal and need to be replaced pretty early on, if not immediately. That means that what you hear when you pluck the instrument may be affected by bad strings .. and certainly heat, salt and humidity wreak havoc on metal strings just in general. Once you choose an instrument, consider the strings as part of the cost, especially since mandolin strings -- unlike fiddle/violin or guitar -- need to be changed more often than once every year or two. Many of us change strings every three or four months, depending on our physical locations and body chemistry.

    Rob Meldrum's book is often cited as turning a Musician's Friend mandolin (which generally retails for about US $50 give or take) into a perfectly fine beginner's instrument despite being made entirely of plywood. And while I don't have one listed with my stable, I own one and keep it at the office.
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  16. #15

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    Well, I went and played both The Loar mandolins. I have never played a mandolin and I was amazed that I could actually do it! I even picked out some tunes. They played easy and were neither buzzy nor tinny sounding. I would have trouble deciding which to pick, the 220 A model or the 370 F model. Both are beautiful and sounded good to my ears. The "bass" was not as pronounced, but the mid ranges and highs were very good and clear.

    The cost is what held me back from buying.

  17. #16

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    I want to chime in about humidity here. I have personally seen three mandolins self-destruct after spending time in SEA. Mandolins with hide glue faired the worse. These instruments were obviousy in extremes. It didn't look like they were left in a climate controlled condo.

    I don't know that laminated would necessarily fair better than all solid, but I would try to get something durable! That said, there are plenty of high-quality violins over there so I imagine it is mostly about being careful.
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  18. #17

    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    Yes, the humidity is pretty rough on instruments and on people! Even clothes and books deteriorate very fast. Guess I will find out once I get a mandolin how it fares.

  19. #18

    Default UPDATE: Help for a complete noob

    UPDATE: Thank you all for helping me. Just to update you all, I decided that like a guitar, it is best to not buy a cheap mandolin as you never know what you are getting and I cannot try them out, first. So, I talked to the seller of the The Loar and he brought the price down to nearly what it would cost for me to buy it in the US and ship it over here. Now I do not have to worry about damage during transit.

    I decided to go with a The Loar LM-370.

    Again, thanks to all of you.

  20. #19
    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help for a complete noob

    Nice choice . . . play, learn, enjoy, and keep us updated!
    I recently finished a new homemade 4-song EP of original solo acoustic songs; (sorry, no mandolin content this time). If you are interested in a FREE copy, feel free to send me your address via Private Message, and I will be glad to send you one. Trust me, it will be worth the price!

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