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Thread: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Hi everyone, I'm brand new here and I'm looking for a little direction in buying my 1st mandolin. I'm a bedroom guitar player who's wanting to get into the mandolin. I've got lots of questions (most of which I'll save for other posts for now). But first, I'll be needing a mandolin.

    I have seen a few online lists of "The Best Beginner Mandolins" but was hoping to hear from some of you fine, knowledgeable people before making a purchase.

    I'm *trying* to keep it at or below $200. I recently went to my local Guitar Center hoping to buy the basic Rogue RM100A for $50 new, but it wasn't in stock (I could still order it online). So I played around with a Mitchel AM100VS for $180 (their in-house brand I believe) and The Loar LM110BRB for $250. I preferred The Loar. Both were in need of a good setup.

    Based on the feel of the two I got to play, I think I'd ultimately want to use a light-gauge string set, to help make it a bit easier on my hands. *BUT* if I change the string gauge, would I also need to adjust the action or truss rod? Or is this not really necessary due to the short scale of the mandolin? Do most Mandolins even have truss rods?

    Also, I kinda have fat fingers, so do some models have wider fingerboards than others, or are they all pretty much the same from one manufacturer to another?

    How about A-style vs. F-style? Are the differences minor, other than appearance?

    It appears that many have a spruce top with a maple back and sides. Is this what I should be looking for?

    I understand that what feels right to one person may not to another. That acknowledged, I'd really appreciate any suggestions for my first mandolin. Any thoughts or any advice or anything else I should also take into consideration would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.
    Last edited by Lapk; Jun-29-2019 at 1:10pm.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    I put a light gauge set on my first mandolin. After a few months I changed to medium, mostly because under $1000 mandolins tend to be weak on the lower pitched strings and I wanted heavier wound strings for more bass. I could not tell the difference between the feel of light and medium strings under my fingers so I'm sorry I even tried lighter strings. What you say bout the effect on intonation and neck bend is true, but not necessarily even noticeable. Unless it offends your ear or fingers don't worry about it for a while.

    My first mandolin was $230 and it is a very good instrument (other than the weaker G and D strings). But I was familiar with the brand and love to do research. $50 and throw it away in a year when you buy a better one is not a bad strategy but it is dependent on your individual makeup: are you the type of person that needs the feedback of a good sounding instrument or would you be content with a "practice" one while you periodically try out better ones and dream?
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  3. #3
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    The first question would be: what type of music do you intend to play on the mandolin? Your answer will help inform the advice that you receive.
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    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    In my humble opinion I would suggest you skip Guitar Center and purchase from one of the Cafe sponsors to insure a good set-up unless you have confidence in yourself to do it. Another, alternative would be to buy used from the Cafe classifieds with a 48 hour trial period.
    Happy Shopping
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  5. #5

    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Hi, i just picked up a used Johnson MA 120 for 50.00 and it's amazingly good for such a cheap instrument. All solid wood with a Spruce top, Maple back and sides, Maple neck and Rosewood board. It sounds pretty good and plays even better. I'm a long time guitarist and intermediate mando player and i wanted an A style to electrify with an old DeArmond pickup i have.
    If you can find one of these Johnson's i can't imagine a better bang for your buck.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    What you could buy for $200 that will work with your fingers is a decent electric mandolin. You can feel confident buying used because the electric guitar style bridge is easy to set up. My Eastwood Mandostang was my 2nd mandolin, also $230 including tax and shipping. The nut is 1 1/8", which is pretty standard for acoustic mandolins, but with only 4 strings instead of 4 pairs, the string gaps are huge. With this strategy you can buy something that works well for a beginner but will complement your acoustic instrument once you find the right combination of playing comfort, sound and price a year from now. It won't sound like much unamplified but then a Rogue doesn't either.
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  7. #7

    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    The first question would be: what type of music do you intend to play on the mandolin? Your answer will help inform the advice that you receive.
    Mostly Norwegian Death Metal.

    Kidding. Ya know... I really don't know...

    I've always liked the sound of mandolin in nearly every context I've ever heard it. From more mandolin-forward music such as bluegrass, Irish folk, American folk, to more ornamentation uses like in rock or pop. I really think it enhances everything... except for maybe Norwegian Death Metal.

    I'm really hoping to find an instrument that is comfortable and sounds halfway decent, then learn it and see what happens and what I'm inspired to play. 😃

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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Cafe sponsor is good advice! Look at Kentucky or Eastman. Solid carved top.

    Expect twice the budget of entry-level guitar.

    Get an a model.

    f-d
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    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    I'll agree with all previous advice and add my own tuppence. The difference between an F vs an A style at this price point is minimal, except that you get a better instrument for the price with an A. If you can stretch your budget (someone had to say it) to 300$ check out the Loar LM310F (I think that's right) it's a pretty good mando for the money. If you only played instruments at GC then they probably were set up very badly, and about twenty minutes of basic setup can make a huge difference in playability. Spruce/Maple is a typical wood combo, what makes more difference is whether it's solid wood (as opposed to laminate, or plywood). Hope this helps

  11. #10

    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    What you need to come to grips with is mandolins cost double what a comparable quality guitar does. You can buy a decent Yamaha acoustic guitar for $200. $400 gets you a Kentucky KM 150, one of the go to starter mandolins here. They have been seen on Amazon for discounted prices, but you will need to pay someone $75 to set it uo or do it yourself.

    Km 150s, Loars and Eastmans show up used in the classifieds here once in a while, but more would be available except they are nice enough to keep for travel, and camping. My feeling is you will double the chance you will be playing mandolin in a year if you spend the money up front for one of the above.
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  12. #11
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Lapk View Post
    I've always liked the sound of mandolin in nearly every context I've ever heard it. From more mandolin-forward music such as bluegrass, Irish folk, American folk, to more ornamentation uses like in rock or pop. I really think it enhances everything... except for maybe Norwegian Death Metal
    Thanks for this useful feedback. I only ask because some musical forms (like bluegrass) point to particular types of mandolins (predominantly archtops with f-holes) while others (such as folk) allow for others (including flattops and oval sound holes). The next question becomes: what guitar do you play and/or consider a suitable starter? As both fattdad and Br1ck have noted, an old axiom around here is that you should expect to pay twice as much for a mandolin as its equivalent guitar.
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  13. #12

    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Wilde View Post
    Hi, i just picked up a used Johnson MA 120 for 50.00 and it's amazingly good for such a cheap instrument. All solid wood with a Spruce top, Maple back and sides, Maple neck and Rosewood board. It sounds pretty good and plays even better. I'm a long time guitarist and intermediate mando player and i wanted an A style to electrify with an old DeArmond pickup i have.
    If you can find one of these Johnson's i can't imagine a better bang for your buck.
    Where is a good place to look for used? Reverb? I've look briefly through the classifieds here, but it doesn't seem like many affordable instruments (in my price range) are listed.

  14. #13
    Mando Training Wheels kegcrowe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    here's my 2 cents as a fellow newbie (my rogue arrived March1).

    I was astonished by the cost the cost of mandolins when I first started looking. Could I even justify the cost of a 2-3 hundred $ Mando if I tried it and gave it up (as I had done on guitar multiple times)? So I bought a rogue and set it up per Rob Meldrum's e-book instructions. And I liked it. However, It only took a couple weeks to convince me that I would stick to mando and my first good one was a Morris flattop, bought from him via cafe classifieds (really love it). And now (4ish months into learning), I am the proud owner of a Silverangel, but even the Econo model is considerably more expensive than a starter Kentucky or Eastman.

    SO, am I sorry I 'wasted' 50 bucks on a rogue? no. I learned a great deal in the buying/setting up. But part of me questions how much quicker my mando joy would have been if I had gotten an Eastman from the mandolin store, ready to play (without the setup hassle) as soon as I pulled it out of the box.

    Just be aware that any rogue coming from any big box music store will need help from someone. Do you want that to be you or are you willing to cough up another 50-75$ for someone else to do it?

    Bottom line, if you like to tinker and have no objection to delaying your mando playing, get a rogue and do the setup yourself (and start saving for your second dream mando ). Or order a mando from a cafe sponsor that will set it up beautifully and have it in your hands playing in a week or 2.
    Last edited by kegcrowe; Jun-30-2019 at 9:45am. Reason: typo

  15. #14

    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    Thanks for this useful feedback. I only ask because some musical forms (like bluegrass) point to particular types of mandolins (predominantly archtops with f-holes) while others (such as folk) allow for others (including flattops and oval sound holes). The next question becomes: what guitar do you play and/or consider a suitable starter? As both fattdad and Br1ck have noted, an old axiom around here is that you should expect to pay twice as much for a mandolin as its equivalent guitar.
    Well, after many years of noodling (and before I had kids), I bought myself a Martin DX-1 (made in Mexico ~$500 USD 10 years ago). But the majority of my playing (when I can make time to play) is on my Fender Player Series Strat (made in Mexico ~$675) which I've had for a year. All of that said, there are many better-than-decent starter guitars at much lower price points. I definitely wouldn't have purchased either of those as my *first* instruments.

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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Lapk View Post
    Well, after many years of noodling (and before I had kids), I bought myself a Martin DX-1 (made in Mexico ~$500 USD 10 years ago). But the majority of my playing (when I can make time to play) is on my Fender Player Series Strat (made in Mexico ~$675) which I've had for a year. All of that said, there are many better-than-decent starter guitars at much lower price points. I definitely wouldn't have purchased either of those as my *first* instruments.
    This feedback is also instructive. Given your budget, your best bet is probably an A-style import from a manufacturer such as Saga. Browsing through Reverb, you might be interested in a Rover RM-50 like these:

    https://reverb.com/p/rover-rm-50b-de...&hfid=21847906

    An alternative would be the Kentucky KM140, although it has less desirable laminate back and sides:

    https://reverb.com/item/25428394-ken...n#&gid=1&pid=1

    Good luck!
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  19. #16

    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Another thing to consider, you can sell an Eastman 305 or am Kentucky KM 150 easily if you find mandolin is not for you. A plywood instrument will likely linger in a closet forever.
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    Registered User lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    IMHO-- In this price range, I don't think laminate is that big an issue. Mandolins and guitars can produce excellent tone with veneer tone woods. I agree that the ideal is solid and carved as goals for a second and third mandolin. Something dependable, that plays easily enough, is able achieve proper intonation and tuned up to pitch, are the priorities. Buying a quality, used Eastman, Rover or Kentucky would be an excellent approach. YMMV

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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    and you can always try a bowlback. They're relatively cheap, have all the same strings and tuning, you can play anything on them, you just have to find one with a straight neck. And learning how to hold one is certainly a great skill to have. And flat-tops work well, too, and aren't quite as pricey. My first mandolin was a bowlback and I still have one that I occasionally drag out for classical and an Italian tune or three. My second mandolin was a strad-o-lin, which was -- I think -- a Sears model I got from a music store for a reasonable price. If you don't mind used, you can try any of the cafe sponsors and see what they have that isn't new but is a good solid instrument.
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  23. #19

    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    In my humble opinion I would suggest you skip Guitar Center and purchase from one of the Cafe sponsors to insure a good set-up unless you have confidence in yourself to do it. Another, alternative would be to buy used from the Cafe classifieds with a 48 hour trial period.
    Happy Shopping
    Are the sponsors simply the retailers whose banners appear on this site's main home page? Or are they listed somewhere else? I'd definitely like to do what you're suggesting *IF* I can find a sponsor that sells the Washburn M1SDL... especially if they would properly set it up before shipping. I think the oval-hole A-style is what I'm interested in, and for what you get for the price, and from the other reviews I've read, I think this Washburn is what I want. But it seems that many retailers don't carry Washburn. Can you point me to any sponsors who sell Washburn? Thanks.

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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Lapk View Post
    Are the sponsors simply the retailers whose banners appear on this site's main home page? Or are they listed somewhere else? I'd definitely like to do what you're suggesting *IF* I can find a sponsor that sells the Washburn M1SDL... especially if they would properly set it up before shipping. I think the oval-hole A-style is what I'm interested in, and for what you get for the price, and from the other reviews I've read, I think this Washburn is what I want. But it seems that many retailers don't carry Washburn. Can you point me to any sponsors who sell Washburn? Thanks.
    In your price range, Kentucky is more highly regarded than Washburn:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/140962#140962
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  26. #21

    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    I found mine a Music go Round, i went there but it was available on their website too.

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    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Randi Gormley View Post
    and you can always try a bowlback. They're relatively cheap, have all the same strings and tuning, you can play anything on them, you just have to find one with a straight neck. And learning how to hold one is certainly a great skill to have. And flat-tops work well, too, and aren't quite as pricey. My first mandolin was a bowlback and I still have one that I occasionally drag out for classical and an Italian tune or three. My second mandolin was a strad-o-lin, which was -- I think -- a Sears model I got from a music store for a reasonable price. If you don't mind used, you can try any of the cafe sponsors and see what they have that isn't new but is a good solid instrument.
    Bowlback is exactly how I started. I still have it, it has a great sound. This is the Vega I bought from Mr Garber here on the cafe! I canít see ever letting it go.
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  28. #23
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Lapk View Post
    Are the sponsors simply the retailers whose banners appear on this site's main home page? Or are they listed somewhere else? I'd definitely like to do what you're suggesting *IF* I can find a sponsor that sells the Washburn M1SDL... especially if they would properly set it up before shipping. I think the oval-hole A-style is what I'm interested in, and for what you get for the price, and from the other reviews I've read, I think this Washburn is what I want. But it seems that many retailers don't carry Washburn. Can you point me to any sponsors who sell Washburn? Thanks.
    Do yourself a favor and listen to these knowledgeable people and stay away from Washburn. I bought a Washburn mandola to enter into mandolas. Made a fairly good instrument after I done considerable work and bought a new bridge and installed it. Point is I have played mandolin for 50+ years and could figure out whatbwas wrong, would not risk such an instrument on a novice unless he was prepared to take it to a mandolin repairman ( not a guitar man) and pay up to what he gave for it to make it playable.

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  30. #24

    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    Do yourself a favor and listen to these knowledgeable people and stay away from Washburn. I bought a Washburn mandola to enter into mandolas. Made a fairly good instrument after I done considerable work and bought a new bridge and installed it. Point is I have played mandolin for 50+ years and could figure out whatbwas wrong, would not risk such an instrument on a novice unless he was prepared to take it to a mandolin repairman ( not a guitar man) and pay up to what he gave for it to make it playable.
    So then what do you recommend for an A-style oval-hole for $300?

  31. #25
    Registered User lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for My 1st Mandolin

    A used Kentucky KM272 comes to mind as a nice option...

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