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Thread: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

  1. #1

    Default American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    Hey everyone, I'm a newbie on the site. I am a long-time guitar and bluegrass double bass player who is close to cracking the mystery of the E-A-D-G tuning. I have played a lot of electric blues in the past, and finally realized that a lot of the lead patterns I've figured out on my own on the guitar are actually based largely on major and minor pentatonic scales. Duh! Anyway, now that I've figured out the patterns for these scales on the mandolin, and of course the essential chop chords, I am thinking of upgrading my $500 Michael Kelly to something a little more ... refined? I have a mental block against paying $3,000 or more for a mandolin that is unlikely to generate much income in performance. I know that Kentucky or Eastman produce some great instruments in my price range, but I do like the idea of buying an American-made mando from one of the "boutique" builders. Looking on the Mandolin Cafe classifieds, I see instruments from two makers that are in my price range: Harlan from Michigan and Bruce Clark/Nichols Road from Ohio. Before you tell me, I know very well that the best mandolin is the one you go and play and it looks and feels and sounds the way you want it to. I'm not sure I have the patience for that. My question is just whether either company has a particular reputation for build quality or sound that might influence my decision. Thanks for your input!

    PS - Reading through other posts on this site I don't think I've ever seen a forum where so many people are so welcoming, friendly, and supportive. I have been on some other sites where almost anything you say will piss somebody off and bring out the worst in them. Kudos for that!

  2. #2
    Registered User tbown's Avatar
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    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    There's a "Glenn" in the classifieds made by Allen Jones (RIP):

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/135270#135270

    I've head a couple of Allen's mandolins and they all had great tone and volume -- never played one. Might be worth considering.
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    I was going to suggest a Girouard mandolin, they are great but in your price range you would be limited to A-style instruments.

    However there is this in the classifieds.......

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/135133#135133

    NFI
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    Summit mandolins are a great value, Paul used to work for Gibson building them. I have played a couple and they were nice.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/134474#134474

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    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    Dang. That Ratliff looks like the ticket.
    Mitch Russell

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    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    I had the opportunity to play several of Bruce Clark's mandolins while at Augusta Heritage music camp several years ago. I found them to be well built, played very well and had a very good tone. I thought strongly about buying one, but was not in the market for buying at the time.
    Phil

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    Sonny Morris builds great mandolins for well under $2500. So does Tom TJ Jessen.

  8. #8
    Registered User thecelloronin's Avatar
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    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    You might look around for used Pomeroy's, but those are like hen's teeth so far as I can tell...
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  9. #9

    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    Thanks for all the input so far! Of course, you are making my selection even more difficult, but that makes it more fun. So far no one has mentioned the Harlan mandolins. Anyone have experience with them? By the way, that blonde Ratliff looked like a great deal, but I am partial to more traditional sunburst finishes.

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    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    I thought Sonny Morris stopped building F styles?

    Maybe look into Eddie Blevins or Crystal Forest. Also Arnold Cross (carried by Cumberland Acoustics, Gruhn, and others) or Keith Terry (Buckhorn mandolins).
    Don

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  11. #11

    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    F style mandolins for $2500 will take patience. I'm going to ignore your America comment in the interest of giving you more options. A Kentucky master series, that is 1000 and up, is a very nice step up from the rest of the Chinese factory instruments. Play one if you can. The next logical step up, and it would be significant, would be a Weber Galatin or the import/ US hybrid Northfield F5S. These are mainstream instruments you can find if you are patient. I think I saw a Galatin for $1700 recently.

    There are a host of lessor known builders like Ratliff, and often there are hobby builders selling instruments they have built. Of all the above, the can't miss for me is the Northfield F5S. You could sell one in a minute should you want to.
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  13. #12

    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    Thank you sir! I have no doubt that a Kentucky KM1000 or a Northfield F5S would be a fine choice. I remember many years ago it was said that China made some of the best musical instruments in the world and some of the worst. If I am prejudiced against a Chinese mandolin I fully admit that it is simply snobbery or some other character flaw on my part. Nonetheless, I appreciate the advice as I pursue this adventure while testing my own patience.


    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    F style mandolins for $2500 will take patience. I'm going to ignore your America comment in the interest of giving you more options. A Kentucky master series, that is 1000 and up, is a very nice step up from the rest of the Chinese factory instruments. Play one if you can. The next logical step up, and it would be significant, would be a Weber Galatin or the import/ US hybrid Northfield F5S. These are mainstream instruments you can find if you are patient. I think I saw a Galatin for $1700 recently.

    There are a host of lessor known builders like Ratliff, and often there are hobby builders selling instruments they have built. Of all the above, the can't miss for me is the Northfield F5S. You could sell one in a minute should you want to.

  14. #13
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    F style mandolins for $2500 will take patience. I'm going to ignore your America comment in the interest of giving you more options.
    I am going to ignore the boutique builder comment in the interest of giving you more options. If I were looking for a $2500 American built F5, I’d seriously consider a Nashville era Flatiron Festival, which is going to have many of the features of a Gibson F5G only without the Gibson name on the peghead and the surcharge for that privilege.
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  16. #14

    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    I'm not ignoring the America comment as I went down that road & ended up commissioning a build from Audey Ratliff and it was a great experience to be involved with picking out wood, bindings, frets, nut size. color & finish you won't get that buying off the rack. Reach out to some of the builders get feel for them. My Ratliff plays as well as my 4K Weber & is just as loud but has a different voice more mids, seems to cut better I guess more of a BG sound ? Anyway could I have bought a used (fill in the blank) that sounds or plays better maybe, maybe not but having something built to your specs and supporting small business is a win win IMO.
    Good luck in your search
    Lou

  17. #15

    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    When I bought my Silverangel, I had some questions regarding some details, and Ken Ratcliff answered me as If I had bought directly from him. I think most small makers realize that they live by word of mouth and do what they can, plus they love what they do, so I'm not going to dissuade anyone from going this route either new or used. But in trying to stay at $2500, your options are few. Now you could probably find a Gallatin or Northrige in a store new you could play, and then buy one used with a fair bit of comfort. But a Silverangel ot Ratliff will be a leap of faith. But what I think one that is none too experienced should do, given the budget, is narrow things down to three or four possible brands and pounce on the first one of those that comes along.

    It would be hard to go wrong with any of them. Gallatin, F5S, Country Boy, you could live with any of them. Either will be your platform from which your next upgrade will be chosen.
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    This just landed in the classifieds.......

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/135420#135420

    NFI
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  19. #17

    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    Thanks to all for their thoughtful advice. In the end, I went with the approach Br1ck suggested: narrow down my choices, take a leap of faith, and pounce. I bought the Glenn mandolin that was brought to my attention by tbown in the very first response to my original posting. A lot of factors came into play: the price, Allen Jones' apparent emphasis on performance over aesthetics, and generally just all the nice things I read about Mr. Jones. He was clearly a very well-liked and respected gentleman, and I feel good giving one of his mandolins a new home. Mandocafe member and current owner Steve Zimmet was great to work with. He went out of his way to give me honest answers to my questions about the mandolin, and sent me a couple of audio files so I could hear what it sounded like (in the hands of someone better than me )

    So, whatever you think of my choice, it was informed by all your helpful ideas and for that I'm very appreciative.

    What a great forum!

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  21. #18

    Default Re: American-made F-body mandolins around $2,500

    Another Cafe happy ending. Play it in good health.
    Silverangel A
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