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Thread: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

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    Default Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Hi folks, thanks for having me as a member to this incredible forum!

    I've been doing some reading over the past few weeks, both on this forum and at some other websites, trying to learn what I can about mandolins. Lots of great information and plenty of recommendations. It's actually a bit of an overload!

    A very short bit about me:

    I certainly don't consider myself an accomplished musician, but I do play some guitar- primarily strumming cowboy chords, I've never been a picker. I enjoy buying and setting up low to mid-tier guitars and reselling them. I go through a couple every year, usually breaking even on investment. It's fun, and I enjoy the learning experience each new project brings.

    I'm primarily interested in playing folk, everything from Stan Rogers to Oysterband to Steeleye Span.

    Even at my price point ( <$500), there are a surprising number of options, especially when getting into the used market.

    After reading many of the hive-mind's suggestions to other beginners on this forum, I have some ideas taking into account on my own specific criteria. I'd like to start with an "A" style archtop mando to get the best bang for my buck. I'd like to go with something that is solid. I'll be honest- more important to me than tone and output to me is durability and playability. Essentially, my only goal is to learn the basics on a stress-free instrument to see if a mando is right for me. I'm looking into spruce/mahogany bodies and a V-neck. I believe that a quieter instrument may actually be beneficial for my practice habits (and my family that has to deal with the noise).

    If you would please, let me know if I'm way off in my decision making process. I'll most gladly accept your wisdom and any suggestions that you may have for me.

    Again, thanks very much for having me here.

    Cheers,

    Zack

  2. #2

    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Welcome. IMHO, the decision on what to buy for your first mandolin is not too important, provided it is of good quality, which your budget will provide. Any Kentucky above the 150 or an Eastmann 305 will be fine. Your family is out of luck regarding noise, LOL.

    What is of premium importance is a good setup. If buying new, one of our sponsors would be a good bet, as they set up all their instruments properly. Once you can play some, you can try other mandolins and have a reference point to go by.

    You might luck out in the classifieds here, but folks tend to keep their good starters as backups.
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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Essentially, at my price range, I'm wondering if there are really any significant differences in instruments that affect the playability.

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    You're definitely right to go with an A-style mandolin if you want the most bang for your as far as quality and playability goes. Even for under $500 you can score some pretty sweet A-style mandolins with money left to spare for books, strings, picks, whatever else you might want.

    In my experience, and as is often pointed out here, the Kentucky A-models are hard to beat in this price range. The KM-150 and also the KM-250 series (250 252 256(?),) can easily fall within your price range, especially if you buy used.

    When I was started, I had about the same budget as you. I bought a used KM-252 for less than $400, with the set up included. Then I bought a few picks, strings, a cleaning cloth, and a method book with the extra money. The Kentucky was definitely the perfect first mandolin for me until I upgraded a year later (and to this day I still use the picks and method book).

    As others will point out, the Eastman models are another favorite in this price range. I don't have as much experience with them, though I'm sure the testimonies are true. I went with a Kentucky because the price was right, and more experienced members of the forum affirmed that I couldn't go wrong with the recent Kentucky builds. No regrets here!

    Anyways, it sounds like you're on the right track! Definitely let us know what you end up with.

    EDIT: And just to be explicit, if you are concerned with playability, probably the number one thing you should make sure of is that whatever mandolin you get is set up and properly intonated.
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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    Welcome. IMHO, the decision on what to buy for your first mandolin is not too important, provided it is of good quality, which your budget will provide. Any Kentucky above the 150 or an Eastmann 305 will be fine. Your family is out of luck regarding noise, LOL.

    What is of premium importance is a good setup. If buying new, one of our sponsors would be a good bet, as they set up all their instruments properly. Once you can play some, you can try other mandolins and have a reference point to go by.

    You might luck out in the classifieds here, but folks tend to keep their good starters as backups.
    Thanks very much for the kind advice!

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Quote Originally Posted by MoreThanQuinn View Post
    You're definitely right to go with an A-style mandolin if you want the most bang for your as far as quality and playability goes. Even for under $500 you can score some pretty sweet A-style mandolins with money left to spare for books, strings, picks, whatever else you might want.

    In my experience, and as is often pointed out here, the Kentucky A-models are hard to beat in this price range. The KM-150 and also the KM-250 series (250 252 256(?),) can easily fall within your price range, especially if you buy used.

    When I was started, I had about the same budget as you. I bought a used KM-252 for less than $400, with the set up included. Then I bought a few picks, strings, a cleaning cloth, and a method book with the extra money. The Kentucky was definitely the perfect first mandolin for me until I upgraded a year later (and to this day I still use the picks and method book).

    As others will point out, the Eastman models are another favorite in this price range. I don't have as much experience with them, though I'm sure the testimonies are true. I went with a Kentucky because the price was right, and more experienced members of the forum affirmed that I couldn't go wrong with the recent Kentucky builds. No regrets here!

    Anyways, it sounds like you're on the right track! Definitely let us know what you end up with.

    EDIT: And just to be explicit, if you are concerned with playability, probably the number one thing you should make sure of is that whatever mandolin you get is set up and properly intonated.
    Very important considerations to make, strings, books, ect. I've looked around and some folks have posted some tutorials for beginners, which I'm also very excited to take advantage of.

    Kentucky A-models definitely seem to get quite a bit of recommendations for beginners over here, and they're certainly on the short list for me!

    The confusing bit, especially when looking at models that are no longer in production, are the differences between series. For a starter, I suppose that differences in wood quality shouldn't be my primary concern. However, I do want some decent tuners. Seems that maybe I should be leaning a bit towards the 250 series in that case. Have you had any issues with yours?

    While I'm not afraid to try to fix a setup on a used mando, I do believe that I will take your advice (and the advice of so many others on these newbie posts) and purchase from a respected retailer. Frustration-free is the way to be when it comes to learning any new instrument. Perhaps I'll have the opportunity to learn more about the intricacies of proper mando-setup if I progress with the hobby.

    Thank you for your advice!

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Hi Zack,

    There are good options out there for you. The first mandolin I bought, about 11 years ago, was a Kentucky KM 150S, which I bought from a friend for $85. New, now, they're a maybe $300 (not sure of the actual price). It's a very nice playing and sounding mandolin and a great starter. It has f holes and is solid wood. Now I'm playing a Breedlove Crossover O, also solid wood, oval hole and very nice sounding and playing. Brand new it was $499 (got it from Folkmusician.com, who frequents this forum). I like this mandolin a lot and I play it in a couple of folk groups and a mandolin orchestra. There are others out there also in your budget range, but these are the ones I'm familiar with. I highly recommend both of them.

    Jack

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Quote Originally Posted by zakry3323 View Post
    Very important considerations to make, strings, books, ect. I've looked around and some folks have posted some tutorials for beginners, which I'm also very excited to take advantage of.

    Kentucky A-models definitely seem to get quite a bit of recommendations for beginners over here, and they're certainly on the short list for me!

    The confusing bit, especially when looking at models that are no longer in production, are the differences between series. For a starter, I suppose that differences in wood quality shouldn't be my primary concern. However, I do want some decent tuners. Seems that maybe I should be leaning a bit towards the 250 series in that case. Have you had any issues with yours?

    While I'm not afraid to try to fix a setup on a used mando, I do believe that I will take your advice (and the advice of so many others on these newbie posts) and purchase from a respected retailer. Frustration-free is the way to be when it comes to learning any new instrument. Perhaps I'll have the opportunity to learn more about the intricacies of proper mando-setup if I progress with the hobby.

    Thank you for your advice!
    Hey,

    Nope, I haven't had any issues at all with mine! In fact, I recently restrung it and it sounds as good as the day I got it.

    I can't tell you the differences in the production and models, maybe someone who specializes in that type of thing could help, for example Robert at Folkmusician.com. He was very helpful in providing me information when I was purchasing, and in fact, he posts here quite frequently. He is the one who told me that in recent years (~the past 3 years or so), even the lower series like the 150s and the 250, 252, 256 line from Kentucky are top notch instruments relative to their price. According to him, since in 2016/2017, the build quality of these lines has been really impeccable.

    I took his word for it and got a 2017 Kentucky when I bought mine, and like I said, no issues at all and I think it's a stellar instrument.
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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Quote Originally Posted by JCook View Post
    Hi Zack,

    There are good options out there for you. The first mandolin I bought, about 11 years ago, was a Kentucky KM 150S, which I bought from a friend for $85. New, now, they're a maybe $300 (not sure of the actual price). It's a very nice playing and sounding mandolin and a great starter. It has f holes and is solid wood. Now I'm playing a Breedlove Crossover O, also solid wood, oval hole and very nice sounding and playing. Brand new it was $499 (got it from Folkmusician.com, who frequents this forum). I like this mandolin a lot and I play it in a couple of folk groups and a mandolin orchestra. There are others out there also in your budget range, but these are the ones I'm familiar with. I highly recommend both of them.

    Jack
    Thank you very much for the benefit of your experience, as well as the link to Folkmusican!

    I'm very glad to hear that you're enjoying your Crossover, as it's also on my short list!

    The first two would require a bit more saving up on my part, but if it's worth it...it's worth it. Determining value at this price point is proving to be difficult for me- hence the paralysis!

    Kentucky KM-272 (I'm also an oval fan!)
    Eastman MD304/305
    Gretsch G9311 New Yorker Supreme (Doesn't seem to get wonderful reviews, but that seems mostly due to a more quiet output and poor initial setup - hopefully someone can tell me what they think of theirs).

    As well as the Breedlove Crossover, the Seagull S8, and this curious Travolin by Silverleaf (though I'm having difficulty finding one for sale).

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    My own theory, which I've followed with mandolin and previous instruments, is survey the pricing of appropriate used instruments and buy the first big bargain that comes along. That way once you learn to play and figure out what you really want you can get your money back to use towards your second instrument. Given your experience with guitars I think you might be comfortable with this approach.
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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg P. Stone View Post
    My own theory, which I've followed with mandolin and previous instruments, is survey the pricing of appropriate used instruments and buy the first big bargain that comes along. That way once you learn to play and figure out what you really want you can get your money back to use towards your second instrument. Given your experience with guitars I think you might be comfortable with this approach.
    Thank you very much for your advice!

    I've replaced nuts/bridges, adjusted the action, and set intonation on a fairly wide variety of guitars and I'm thinking that it can't be much more difficult with a mando, but lacking any experience with the instrument does make me a bit nervous. Perhaps if a deal too good to pass up comes along I'll bite, but I haven't seen anything in the local ads as of yet.

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Another resource is Rob Meldrum's e-setup book for mandolin. With your experience, the book would immediately boost your capability. Rob will send it to you free if you contact him. He is on the forum.

    Also, the Mandolin Store sometimes has blems for sale at very good prices. I bought an Eastman MD 505 from them that is supposed to be a blem, but I have never found the blem. Good guys there as well as Robert at Folk Musician.

    Speaking of the forum, welcome!

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    With your guitar setup experience and Rob Meldrum's e-book, you would be totally fine setting up your own mando. My guess is that you'd read through Rob's book and say to yourself "oh, that's pretty easy." Most of the techniques and tools are exactly the same.

    And you can't go wrong with the Kentucky and Eastman models that have been mentioned here. Pick one you can get a good deal on and go for it!

    Careful, tho... those are often called Gateway Mandolins... My MD 315 certainly was for me.

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Thanks very much folks, I'll be absolutely sure to pick up Rob Meldrum's e-book!

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Quote Originally Posted by zakry3323 View Post
    Thank you very much for your advice!
    I've replaced nuts/bridges, adjusted the action, and set intonation on a fairly wide variety of guitars and I'm thinking that it can't be much more difficult with a mando, but lacking any experience with the instrument does make me a bit nervous. Perhaps if a deal too good to pass up comes along I'll bite, but I haven't seen anything in the local ads as of yet.
    You can do your own set up just remember, if a 32nd on an inch works for a guitar a mandolin needs at least a 64th. The short scale and "twin" strings make everything about a set-up more critical. Good luck

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    You can do your own set up just remember, if a 32nd on an inch works for a guitar a mandolin needs at least a 64th. The short scale and "twin" strings make everything about a set-up more critical. Good luck
    Very good to know, thank you!

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    One other thing if not mentioned above. If your budget is $500 then that will have to pay for the instrument plus the case and possibly shipping/tax.

    Online dealers often will setup the mandolin and ship for the price but local shops often not.

    As far as the case, you have to decide between gig bag and hard shell depending on how you intend to travel with it. I use both but prefer gig bags as I can do shoulder carry and where I live rain is more of an issue than handling since I am the one doing the handling.

    So whatever your budget is there are variations that affect what you can spend on the instrument itself.

    Good luck!

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Another thing to consider is that this segment of the mandolin market has gotten better over time. A ten year old KM 150, while certainly a good player, will likely not be as good as a new one. The imports are upping their game. What you need to avoid is a lot of fancy inlay and other cosmetic features. Your budget will buy you a very solid mandolin, but it won't be fancy. Put your money into the wood.
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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    I bought my sister a Kentucky A style mandolin for Christmas in 2005. It's an archtop, has f holes and not an oval. She still has it and it still sounds a plays great. I think I paid in the neighborhood of $300 dollars, plus or minus a little bit. It was definitely qualified as a very good beginner instrument. She's still playing it today although she migrated a bit more to fiddle in the last 5 years. Her time and money has probably gone more deeply into that. In her household she has a really great playing 50s F5 and the Kentucky is still out and within reach all the time (and I don't think it was just because it was a gift from her brother).

    Consider all the analysis and worrying time as potential practice time you are wasting. Make a choice and get started!

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Quote Originally Posted by ukenukem View Post
    One other thing if not mentioned above. If your budget is $500 then that will have to pay for the instrument plus the case and possibly shipping/tax.

    Online dealers often will setup the mandolin and ship for the price but local shops often not.

    As far as the case, you have to decide between gig bag and hard shell depending on how you intend to travel with it. I use both but prefer gig bags as I can do shoulder carry and where I live rain is more of an issue than handling since I am the one doing the handling.

    So whatever your budget is there are variations that affect what you can spend on the instrument itself.

    Good luck!
    I love your username! Thanks for the suggestion! My preference would be a gigbag, but who knows what shopping around may turn up?

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Agree with the advice to get a well set-up Kentucky or Eastman of recent vintage. Buy from one of the Café sponsors so you don't end up with an Ebay mess, as I did with my first purchase back in 2004. I ended up spending as much getting that Kentucky 675-S playable as I did buying it. I'd have been so much better off (financially and from a satisfaction perspective) just getting a new one ready to go from one of the sponsors. My current "beater" is an Eastman 315. My main mandolin is a Skip Kelley A5 that sells for much more than the 315, and it's immensely better than the 315, but the 315 is really a good sounding and playing instrument.

    Don't overthink this purchase. I tend to do the same thing, and did so before my first purchase as well. If it's well set up, it's good enough to learn on, and the more you play the better you'll get at deciding what you really like for the upgrade, assuming you take to mandolin like so many of us have! One thing to consider when deciding between Kentucky and Eastman models is that the Eastmans all have radiused fretboards, and some of the Kentucky models do not (ie, comparing Eastman 305 to KM 150). Eastman's nut width is also a bit narrower. That said, either can be set up well, and, as a newbie, you won't know the difference!
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    Another thing to consider is that this segment of the mandolin market has gotten better over time. A ten year old KM 150, while certainly a good player, will likely not be as good as a new one. The imports are upping their game. What you need to avoid is a lot of fancy inlay and other cosmetic features. Your budget will buy you a very solid mandolin, but it won't be fancy. Put your money into the wood.
    Thanks very much for the advice! The more I search, listen and learn, the more I'm coming to the conclusion is that at this price point, the differences in A-design mandos seem to be fairly trivial from a beginner's perspective.

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Quote Originally Posted by BillytheB View Post
    I bought my sister a Kentucky A style mandolin for Christmas in 2005. It's an archtop, has f holes and not an oval. She still has it and it still sounds a plays great. I think I paid in the neighborhood of $300 dollars, plus or minus a little bit. It was definitely qualified as a very good beginner instrument. She's still playing it today although she migrated a bit more to fiddle in the last 5 years. Her time and money has probably gone more deeply into that. In her household she has a really great playing 50s F5 and the Kentucky is still out and within reach all the time (and I don't think it was just because it was a gift from her brother).

    Consider all the analysis and worrying time as potential practice time you are wasting. Make a choice and get started!
    Great to know, thanks for the story and advice! Seems I can't really go wrong with even the lowest tier modern Kentucky. It's been refreshing to learn that some companies are able to maintain a tremendous following through excellent QC, even on Chinese-built imports!

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    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Quote Originally Posted by CES View Post
    Agree with the advice to get a well set-up Kentucky or Eastman of recent vintage. Buy from one of the Café sponsors so you don't end up with an Ebay mess, as I did with my first purchase back in 2004. I ended up spending as much getting that Kentucky 675-S playable as I did buying it. I'd have been so much better off (financially and from a satisfaction perspective) just getting a new one ready to go from one of the sponsors. My current "beater" is an Eastman 315. My main mandolin is a Skip Kelley A5 that sells for much more than the 315, and it's immensely better than the 315, but the 315 is really a good sounding and playing instrument.

    Don't overthink this purchase. I tend to do the same thing, and did so before my first purchase as well. If it's well set up, it's good enough to learn on, and the more you play the better you'll get at deciding what you really like for the upgrade, assuming you take to mandolin like so many of us have! One thing to consider when deciding between Kentucky and Eastman models is that the Eastmans all have radiused fretboards, and some of the Kentucky models do not (ie, comparing Eastman 305 to KM 150). Eastman's nut width is also a bit narrower. That said, either can be set up well, and, as a newbie, you won't know the difference!
    Thanks Chuck!

    I think that "Stop worrying and just buy one" is some fantastic advice, and probably something that I badly was in need of hearing

    Not being in the biggest hurry, I'm trying to stay patient and see if I can find a deal on the classifieds or locally on Craigslist. No Ebaying instruments for me! I've been lucky a few times, and burned a few times: I'm not going to take a chance on my first mando!

    The big used stores like Guitar Center and Reveb have some options, but in my guitar-buying experience there really isn't much in the way of great deals coming from them- you really get what you pay for, the "Cheap" buys are usually damaged, blemished, or repaired instruments.

    I'll probably give it another week or two and see if something pops up. If not, I have some options picked out from the Mandolin Store, thanks due to yourself and the other very helpful folks at this forum!

  36. #25

    Default Re: Newbie here, suffering from analysis paralysis

    Hi Zak. Looking at your music choices and disinterest in volume, you are a pure Celtic music dude. (Canadien comme moi?) Thus I would say, not only are you a candidate for an oval soundhole, (F-holes tend to be louder), there is no reason not to consider any flattops that come within your reach. You mentioned the Seagull S8, that is actually well worth a look. As a player of several decades, I really enjoy mine and the thing I like least about it is what you want: lower volume! Another advantage is that it comes set up right out of the box, you will not be tempted to start customizing a relatively low-value instrument as so many do with the Eastman and Kentucky starters. (The reason for that is the hardware is both unique and good quality—the bridge in particular is one-of-a-kind and most unusually is glued on.)

    Welcome to the 8-string world!

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