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Thread: New mandolin for an old man

  1. #1

    Default New mandolin for an old man

    I知 75 and taking up mandolin as a total beginner. I played guitar for many years but not for a while - meaning my callouses are long gone and will need re-growing, hopefully without too much blood on the fretboard 😏. Right now I am renting a Savannah 120 for two months to be sure I知 serious before buying. Adequate sound but lousy tuning heads - retuning once or twice per practice session. I知 using the two basic Mike Marshall basic DVDs, which I like a lot for exercises.

    But to the point. My fingers are on the short side - index about 2 7/8. But perhaps more important, less finger flexibility than when I played guitar - probably age related. Maybe even some early arthritis. When I go for the idealized left hand angled finger position, it痴 hard to get enough pressure on the strings or reach.

    Assuming I buy an instrument after the rental, I知 looking at a budget of $600, give or take a bit. The Loar LM-520 interests me. Maybe the Kentucky KM-150. Or any other you might recommend. One question. Is there any difference in playability for 田hallenged fingers among instruments in my price range - nut, fret height, etc.? Finally, and totally off the reservation, if I lost my senses and decided I liked the sound of an octave mandolin or mandocello, would the left hand work be harder or easier on my fingers? Thanks for your patience reading this book. Love finding this amazing forum.

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    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    I wish I knew what to tell you but someone will. I'm 68 and just bought an Eastman MD305 A Style around $470 I think, that I'm liking fine except I just don't know how much better I'd like an upper class instrument. Maybe one day I'll get to visit a store than has some nice mandolins to compare. But I'm sure your choices would be fine.

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    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Your rental mandolin is most likely not set up well. A well setup mandolin will play easily and most likely after playing this your fingers will thank you and you will be able to play longer, and easier. The 520 would be a good choice and I have set these up to play quite well. Enjoy.
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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Congratulations on taking up a new instrument!

    Since you're concerned about small hands and less finger flexibility, you need to try different instruments yourself and see what might feel best for you. Not only is nut width a factor, but also the shape of the neck. Since you're a beginner with mandolin, it's going to be more difficult for you to know how much discomfort is due to the mandolin and how much discomfort might go away with regular practice and stretching.

    The pain in my fingertips lasted longer for me with mandolin than with guitar. I built up callouses pretty fast with mandolin, but had finger tip pain for over month. Worth it though! I've played lots of different instruments over the years, but the mandolin is my favorite.

    Good luck!
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    Registered User Al Trujillo's Avatar
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    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Congrats!! I bought one when I was 59 and at 63 the only regret is that I didn't pick it up when I was 13!

    The arthritis has affected how I play but you know what? I'm playing for my own mental health and not anyone else's. Once the neighbors get used to your efforts they'll quit tossing rocks across the fence at you. Play on my friend and have fun!!

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  9. #6

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Yes, congratulations, more music is always a good decision!

    I bought an octave mandolin, an Ashbury about two months ago. I’m sixty years old but quite young for my age (they say). I played mandolin quite badly (I thought it was a small guitar) and guitar for years before that. With the Octave I found the finger work was heavy going, but then I do push a bit. Now, certainly my left hand has stretched out a lot, so I’m happy about that. Very slight left fore arm tendonitis but I can afford to relax more now, so it’ll be ok.

    Remember I’m biased (love can do that) but I’d say get an octave, the most expensive one you can possibly afford! That’s it, I’ve said it.

    Two main reasons:
    1 They have great sustain so if you get tired you can play songs with double stops (2 note chords) and sing. You can learn to slide the double stops too, which in a way is less labour intensive on your fingers. That takes a lot of the work out of it, and if you’ve played guitar and your rhythm is ok, then you’re good to go!
    2 You can capo the octave all the way up to the seventh fret which is about where the mandolin scale starts. You can actually set the capo for the size of your hands.

    Most important is to remember that the mandolin is a melodic instrument. It’s quite different from the guitar. If I were you I’d give it at least 2 or 3 months to see how an octave goes, and if you’re having difficulty with tuning in fifths then why not tune it GDAD or as a guitar. (I can hear a gasp of indignation from some of our members, but whatever it takes).

    I have the action down to less than 1.7 mm at the 12 fret on the 4th fret. That’s quite low, it affects intonation etc, but it’s easier to play, so...

    Good luck, and welcome!

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    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Well my index is only 2.5" and I can play fine but I'm just a kid only in my mid 50's. I notice the more I play the better my finger stretch gets and the stronger my callouses get the better my reach. You won't have any issues. I do finger and wrist stretches. I use the same stretching routine I use when I teach Combat Hapkido and it helps a lot! As for instrument, these guys will know better then I will. I started with a Vega Bowl back which I love and it was under your budget and added an Old Wave which is over your budget. But first and foremost get it set up properly. It will make a world of difference. Also think about strings and sizes. Do not overlook used instruments from the classifieds there are nice one listed and sometimes within your budget. Better bang for the buck.
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  11. #8

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    But perhaps more important, less finger flexibility than when I played guitar - probably age related. Maybe even some early arthritis. When I go for the idealized left hand angled finger position, it痴 hard to get enough pressure on the strings or reach.
    I had a Django level left hand injury in the mid 1990s. That restricts my playing somewhat but does not make it impossible. I have found as I work with it I get more and more finger mobility over time. I had very limited mobility especially on the damaged fingers after it happened. I do not believe I have arthritis at this time which might change things. So take heart that there is a good chance you will get more mobility as you work with it.

    Mine has occurred over some years. There are chord positions I can make on guitar in the last couple of years that were impossible in 2008. Playing mandolin helped with the more precise fingering required. I do some simple finger and wrist stretching exercises I learned from a Yoga instructor. That helps a lot also.

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  13. #9

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Thanks for the reply. That Eastman looks like a nice instrument.

  14. #10

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Quote Originally Posted by CBFrench View Post
    I wish I knew what to tell you but someone will. I'm 68 and just bought an Eastman MD305 A Style around $470 I think, that I'm liking fine except I just don't know how much better I'd like an upper class instrument. Maybe one day I'll get to visit a store than has some nice mandolins to compare. But I'm sure your choices would be fine.
    Thanks for the reply. The Eastman looks like a nice instrument.

  15. #11

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Makes sense - and that is encouraging. Thought I'd give the rental a few days in case the issue is new strings stretching, but if there's no improvement, I'll bring it back and ask for a different instrument. Meantime, I'll keep scouting out what's out there. Thanks!

  16. #12

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Sorry folks for the reply mess above - new to the cafe and learning the interface. Thought in the replies above I was responding to individual postings below each and can see I am not. Thanks to all for your very kind input and help. The welcome, the encouragement and the specific suggestions are terrific. CB - sounds like you got a decent deal on the Eastman. Pops - the advice you've offered makes complete sense; I won't get discouraged by the rental. Doug - I live in the DC area and will be checking a few places that have some nice instruments and trying them for "fit." Al - I say if the neighbors can't take a joke, to hell with them :-). atsunrise - I was over at Guitar Center today to get a few picks and saw this lovely used handmade Bayard octave that was practically in tears asking me to give it a new home. I suspect the price tag of $1999 would have an add-on of alimony payments, so maybe I can't afford it. But, God, what an instrument! John - I'm doing Mike Marshall's finger exercises, which are good and probably could use some general finger stretches. Re used. Seems like you could get a good deal on a better used instrument you couldn't otherwise afford, but how do you spot safe sellers? Or do you assume that when the mandolin arrives, you'll add the investment expense of a local luthier setting it up if it arrives in bad shape? Carl, the injury sounds awful, although Django was amazing in what he did with his. I admire your grit. What kinds of finger and wrist and stretch exercises do you recommend? Again, thanks all for making me feel welcome. Music has been central in my life and family all the way back to my earliest memories. Can't imagine a day without some in my life. Right now I'm dealing with a bone marrow cancer which seems stable at the moment, but making and listening to music has always been restorative for my soul. So this is a brand new opportunity that I look forward to.

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  18. #13

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    If you could find an old Flatiron 1N you might be a happy camper. It is a flat top and maybe the easiest mandolin to fret I've played. Great for fiddle tunes.

    If you hit the reply with quote box, the quote will appear and you can then reply to that, all in the body of your post.
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    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    IMHO for the price, the low end Eastman mandolin has the most finger-friendly neck , if play-ability is the primary issue , simply because its radiused .I've owned one and LOVED the play-ability . It is FAR more playable than your Savannah ( I've played those too ) .
    Sound is another issue altogether , of course . With a good set-up your Savannah may sound better than , say , an Eastman 305. My Kentucky 150 is tougher to play than my Eastman was but I found the sound so much better so ...yeah ...it's a trade-off but I'd suggest at least trying the Eastman for your fingers' sake .

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    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Quote Originally Posted by glaxelson View Post
    Sorry folks for the reply mess above - new to the cafe and learning the interface. Thought in the replies above I was responding to individual postings below each and can see I am not. Thanks to all for your very kind input and help. The welcome, the encouragement and the specific suggestions are terrific. CB - sounds like you got a decent deal on the Eastman. Pops - the advice you've offered makes complete sense; I won't get discouraged by the rental. Doug - I live in the DC area and will be checking a few places that have some nice instruments and trying them for "fit." Al - I say if the neighbors can't take a joke, to hell with them :-). atsunrise - I was over at Guitar Center today to get a few picks and saw this lovely used handmade Bayard octave that was practically in tears asking me to give it a new home. I suspect the price tag of $1999 would have an add-on of alimony payments, so maybe I can't afford it. But, God, what an instrument! John - I'm doing Mike Marshall's finger exercises, which are good and probably could use some general finger stretches. Re used. Seems like you could get a good deal on a better used instrument you couldn't otherwise afford, but how do you spot safe sellers? Or do you assume that when the mandolin arrives, you'll add the investment expense of a local luthier setting it up if it arrives in bad shape? Carl, the injury sounds awful, although Django was amazing in what he did with his. I admire your grit. What kinds of finger and wrist and stretch exercises do you recommend? Again, thanks all for making me feel welcome. Music has been central in my life and family all the way back to my earliest memories. Can't imagine a day without some in my life. Right now I'm dealing with a bone marrow cancer which seems stable at the moment, but making and listening to music has always been restorative for my soul. So this is a brand new opportunity that I look forward to.
    I would just watch the classifieds then ask a question here. These guys will let you know if they have done business with them and what they think of the instrument. That was how I got my Vega. I hung here awhile chatted with a few people then one day one of them had one for sale. I jumped.
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  21. #16

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Quote Originally Posted by atsunrise View Post
    Yes, congratulations, more music is always a good decision!

    I bought an octave mandolin, an Ashbury about two months ago. I’m sixty years old but quite young for my age (they say). I played mandolin quite badly (I thought it was a small guitar) and guitar for years before that. With the Octave I found the finger work was heavy going, but then I do push a bit. Now, certainly my left hand has stretched out a lot, so I’m happy about that. Very slight left fore arm tendonitis but I can afford to relax more now, so it’ll be ok.

    Remember I’m biased (love can do that) but I’d say get an octave, the most expensive one you can possibly afford! That’s it, I’ve said it.

    Two main reasons:
    1 They have great sustain so if you get tired you can play songs with double stops (2 note chords) and sing. You can learn to slide the double stops too, which in a way is less labour intensive on your fingers. That takes a lot of the work out of it, and if you’ve played guitar and your rhythm is ok, then you’re good to go!
    2 You can capo the octave all the way up to the seventh fret which is about where the mandolin scale starts. You can actually set the capo for the size of your hands.

    Most important is to remember that the mandolin is a melodic instrument. It’s quite different from the guitar. If I were you I’d give it at least 2 or 3 months to see how an octave goes, and if you’re having difficulty with tuning in fifths then why not tune it GDAD or as a guitar. (I can hear a gasp of indignation from some of our members, but whatever it takes).

    I have the action down to less than 1.7 mm at the 12 fret on the 4th fret. That’s quite low, it affects intonation etc, but it’s easier to play, so...

    Good luck, and welcome!
    Simon, let me pursue this a bit more. I am increasingly intrigued by the idea of starting my Mandolin experience with an OM instead of a standard. I’m not all that interested in playing Irish music but am drawn to an instrument’s sustain, rich bass and melodic “prettiness.” So I think I’d be most interested in playing music that shows off double stop harmonies and the sustain than ripping. Did you investigate different OMs for sound quality and, if so, how did different instruments compare? For the moment, forget the $600 parameter I first posted. One other question. Scale length: 20 v 22”. I read that a 20 is easier to play. Any difference in sound between the two?

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    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Quote Originally Posted by glaxelson View Post
    One other question. Scale length: 20 v 22. I read that a 20 is easier to play. Any difference in sound between the two?
    摘asier is a relative term. A shorter scale is probably 兎asier for moving around the fretboard when playing melody. A longer scale is likely 兎asier for getting sustain when providing accompaniment. Horses for courses.

    Can I ask (as someone who made a similar migration) why you set down the guitar and picked up the mandolin? What are you hoping to do musically? Your answers might help posters trying to provide you with the best advice.

    From what I致e read, you池e experiencing some discomfort due to either a poorly set up particular instrument or the inherent strain in the shorter scale and double courses of any mandolin. Can you get to a shop like Picker痴 Supply in Fredericksburg? Not only will they have well set up mandolins for you to test, but judging from their website, they値l have other instruments for you to sample, including the octaves you have mentioned as well as the mandolas, mandocelli, and tenor guitars that you haven稚.

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  24. #18

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    I've been all over string tension, sustain, ease of play, and have gone farther than most down that road, meaning explored to unreasonable (to some) levels of excess. Taller fets, veery very light strings, all these help.

    My hands aren't huge either. 2 7/8 is a bit shorter than mine depending on how you measure. It's the pinky that matters though.

    I find string spacing makes more difference than neck width, that said I don't like necks wider than 1 1/4 or less than 1 1/8, and generally cut new nuts when I have a playability issue. I have made eastman 1 3/32 necks work well with a new nut. I made the courses narrower so there was more space between the courses. I was having issues with muting adjacent strings when playing classical music.

    I like low string tensions 12-15 lbs, instruments need a setup for strings that light.

    Oval holes will have more sustain and bass than f holes, but only a little. Om's are great for that.

    Om's for the same string tenson are slightly easier to play IMHO. But converting to a tenor guitar (4 string) but with similar tension strings really made a bigger difference.

    For melodic work I don`t like scale lengths greater than 18", and recently restrung an 18" electric mandola to be an OM with great success. It's still a reach for some things though, everything is faster on the shorter scale of a mando.

    The longest sustain will be found on electrics, and the purest tone will be on a 4 string, but they will sound like a high pitched electric guitar. 2 strings per course is necessary to get the sound of a mandolin.

    I can't play guitar very well, so having guitar-like sounds in my mando collection is important to me, but likely not to guitar players. I can claim to be a tenor guitar player...

    I find 2 strings per course makes less sense as you go lower, the bass gets thin and muddy at the same time, but that sound is used in many types of music.

    Of the two cheap but good acoustic OM's out there (trinity college and eastman) the TC is much more bassy, and still has a nice short scale length. It will not play in tune untill you restring it with plain steels on the A course, or get a new saddle. I simply restrung mine, and found it sounded more guitar-like with flats, while still retaining some of the mando character. Ultimately it became a 4 string tenor guitar with a new bridge.

    Pono makes some nice guitar-bodied oms too, but scale length goes up a bit.

    Personally I think if you are going to learn mando, you should qet a mando, or maybe a mandola. An OM wont lend itself well to mando literature, but if you want something for rhythm accompaniment it will do well.
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  25. #19

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    “Easier” is a relative term. A shorter scale is probably “easier” for moving around the fretboard when playing melody. A longer scale is likely “easier” for getting sustain when providing accompaniment. Horses for courses.

    Can I ask (as someone who made a similar migration) why you set down the guitar and picked up the mandolin? What are you hoping to do musically? Your answers might help posters trying to provide you with the best advice.

    From what I’ve read, you’re experiencing some discomfort due to either a poorly set up particular instrument or the inherent strain in the shorter scale and double courses of any mandolin. Can you get to a shop like Picker’s Supply in Fredericksburg? Not only will they have well set up mandolins for you to test, but judging from their website, they’ll have other instruments for you to sample, including the octaves you have mentioned as well as the mandolas, mandocelli, and tenor guitars that you haven’t.

    https://www.pickerssupply.com/
    I guess I don't want to overplay the difficulty issue, recognizing that the rental instrument they gave me has set-up problems and isn't a high quality instrument in any case - plus knowing that only time will sort out how much of this is simply what I went through when I began guitar 50 years ago - building callouses, loosening fingers to new patterns, adapting (on mandolin) to different scale patterns and the like. And I am willing to do the work if, after working with what I have during the rental, I still want to commit. So the two month rental gives me a chance to look around, solicit experienced opinions here and decide where to go.

    Regarding the migration. It's been a long one :-) Started playing accordion as a kid - with four Swedish grandparents, it was pre-ordained. Still pick it up now and then. Trombone in high school. Then began teaching myself guitar in my 20's, also got lessons and loved it all. While I love almost all kinds of music - jazz, classical, rock, choro, folk - the main influence for my own playing in the beginning - and still is - folk. Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, etc. Some bluegrass but not a lot. Finger picked, melodic music with pretty harmonies and nice picking patterns. I am still a sucker for good two or three part harmony of any kind.

    Guitars have been a nice Ventura (probably Takemine then) Martin D-35 copy, a Guild classical, a wonderful Fender Villager 12 String - which I sold, sadly, to get money to buy a Gretsch Tennessean to join a Gibson ES 330. Went back to school and got a doctorate in clinical psychology in my early 40's and my career from then on took away more and more time from giving playing sufficiently serious time, other than picking it up now and then. After I retired at 69, I developed multiple myeloma a couple of year later. During the five weeks at Johns Hopkins for a stem cell transplant, I got a tenor uke, because I could play it in bed! Now I have time to get back to more music. And learning a new instrument potentially does two things for me, as I see it. It gives me something beautiful I can control in my life, in a medium - music - that has always spoken to and moved me - at a time when other things are beyond my control - and it is something new to look forward to every day. Mastery is powerful life force.

    As for why the mandolin, I never got the wonderful sound of that 12-string Fender out of my head and the mandolin's drone string sound grabs me by the throat! LOL. Not that I'll ever be a mandolin version of Leo Kottke, but I think it will give me joy. I think I can be happy with a standard, but the OM seems like a nice cross between my old 12-string and the mandolin sound. Ringing bass, sustain, nice melodic possibilties, etc - guess that's it. Hadn't considered the OM option until I saw the YouTube video of Mike Marshall trying out a new Northfield Octave and the sound of it almost had me in tears with its beautiful timbre. Bet you're sorry you asked! But I appreciate the question because it has me thinking more about what I might want out of this. Thank you. Seriously.

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  27. #20

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Man, I just now jumped onto the Mandolin-Cafe website before heading to bed, as I often do, and saw: “New mandolin for an old man”. My first thought was that this was a “want ad” (someone wanting to trade, WTT, their new mandolin for an old man)…my immediate reaction being, “I’m history if my wife sees that ad”.

    Then I wondered for a second, if maybe the trade was the other-way-around, thinking that my wife might propose to trade my new mandolin for another old man. My thought then was, "Well maybe if the new old man played the guitar or something, or maybe if he played pinochle, then the three of us…"

    Once I realized that I was on the “Forum” tab and not on the “Classifieds” tab, I breathed a sigh of relief. A trade either way just seemed too complicated as to how that all might work out.

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  29. #21
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    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Quote Originally Posted by glaxelson View Post
    Now I have time to get back to more music. And learning a new instrument potentially does two things for me, as I see it. It gives me something beautiful I can control in my life, in a medium - music - that has always spoken to and moved me - at a time when other things are beyond my control - and it is something new to look forward to every day. Mastery is powerful life force.
    Quoted for truth. Thank you for sharing your story!

    My simple advice would be to buy the instrument which inspires you to achieve that mastery.

    If it is the mandolin, I would suggest that a flattop makes a wonderful starter. Because they are less time consuming to produce, it is possible to buy an instrument built entirely of solid woods by an independent luthier or small shop right here in the U.S. I started on a Mid-Missouri (now Big Muddy), and a beautiful one hit the classifieds here recently:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/141809#141809

    I also owned a Flatiron pancake (which Br1ck recommended upthread) that sounded great:

    https://reverb.com/item/25240141-flatiron-1n

    If it is the octave mandolin that speaks to you, then the best choice in your price range is probably the Eastman:

    https://reverb.com/item/26086049-eas...-tobacco-burst

    His asking price ($660 shipped) seems a little high considering that you can get one new for $699, so I壇 recommend an offer (as four others have apparently done). Or, if budget is not truly a limiting factor, there is always this one apparently looking for a good home:

    https://www.guitarcenter.com/Used/In...AR-Mandolin.gc

    They do offer special 6 month financing, after all. Life is short. Use the fine china.
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  31. #22
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    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    OK, I’m an old man (72), but I have been playing a while. I’m going to recommend (although it’s totally your-the OP-decision) a mandolin vs an octave to start. More learning resources, better selection and to me at least portability. As to a recommendation as to which to buy, that’s a totally personal decision. Flat tops do offer a good bang for the buck (Big Muddy, Flatiron, Morris, etc) or Kentucky or Eastman as entry level instruments are also a great place to start (NFI on any of these). Just this old hack’s worthless $.02!
    Thanks

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  33. #23

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Don't forget the benefits of a good brain workout, and nothing stimulates more areas of the brain than playing an instrument. As we age it is important to keep mentally active.
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  34. #24
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    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    Don't forget the benefits of a good brain workout, and nothing stimulates more areas of the brain than playing an instrument. As we age it is important to keep mentally active.
    Who's aging? I refuse!

    Seriously though it also does a good job of soothing the soul.
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  35. #25

    Default Re: New mandolin for an old man

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    Your rental mandolin is most likely not set up well. A well setup mandolin will play easily and most likely after playing this your fingers will thank you and you will be able to play longer, and easier. The 520 would be a good choice and I have set these up to play quite well. Enjoy.
    My only reservation about the 520 is that Florida peninsula, which looks like it might make picking harder for a newbie. The LM 590 doesn’t have one. Would that be comparable?

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