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Thread: Mandolins for 6k and under?

  1. #1

    Default Mandolins for 6k and under?

    So it’s come time to upgrade... The old Eastman 815 has been through a lot and has done well for over 10 years, but more serious gigs are coming and I need a new instrument that will hold up to playing serious bluegrass and the wear of tour life.

    Like a lot of musicians I don’t have a lot of cash to shove out for a mandolin, but I also realize you gotta spend a little to get the good quality sound you want so I’ve been looking around for mandolins in the 6k and under range (where I won’t be making payments the rest of my life like I’m in student debt.) Unfortunately even in the great twin cities of MN, high quality mandolins run scarce and there’s not a lot to try out, so I’ve been going off of online research for the most part though I have tried some that have caught my ear.

    I few that I’ve tried and liked so far are...
    -Collings MF Deluxe
    -Collings MF5
    -Gibson Sam Bush

    Some others I'm interested in are...
    -Northfield Artist
    -Northfield Big Mon
    -Flatiron Artist
    -Weber Fern
    -Gibson F5 Fern
    -Gibson Monroe Model

    How do people feel these compare to each other? I realize everyone has their preferences and mandolins will differ year to year, but any input would be helpful.

    My wishlist:
    -F-Style (I can hear the difference)
    -Something that has that bluegrass bite, but is also versatile.
    -Lots of volume to cut through a jam.
    -A nice neck suitable for big hands.
    -A radius fingerboard for easy playability (would be nice).
    -I’m also a sucker for the vintage look.

    Thanks for the help!
    Last edited by Yellowhouseroad; Jul-24-2019 at 11:34am.

  2. #2
    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    You'll get more mandolin for your money if you get an A style...... out of the ones you've listed, they should all be good instruments, and should have what you're looking for.
    Mandolin: Kentucky KM150
    Other instruments: way too many, and yet, not nearly enough.

    "Imagine life without mandolin. Now slap yourself! Never do it again!" -Gunnar Salyer

  3. #3
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    I would add Pava to the list......

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/141449#141449

    She works in the Ellis shop and makes a great mandolin.

    NFI
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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  5. #4
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    I would add Lou Stiver. I bet you could find one for under 6K. They are wonderful.
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  6. #5
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    Sounds like the Gibson Sam Bush model was made for you!

  7. #6
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    Quote Originally Posted by sgarrity View Post
    Sounds like the Gibson Sam Bush model was made for you!
    And one at budget just hit the classifieds: https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/142177#142177
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  8. #7

    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    I just went on this exact journey with a similar budget. I bought a Sam Bush and had a new nut cut for it. It has a 1.24 inch nut (spec'd at 1 3/16 or 1.188" but measured at 1.24" with my calipers) and just feels great under my big 40-years-of-guitar-playing fingers. It had my favorite tone of any instrument I played that was in my budget and was for sale. The next best instrument I played that was in my budget was the Gibson Black Night mandolin (1 3/16" spec) at The Mandolin Store. I actually liked the neck shape, maybe just a little more than the Bush but it was splitting hairs. The V on the Black Night is a little more pronounced and slightly filled the hand a little more. The string spacing was excellent and I used a very close up image of that nut as the template for my Sam Bush nut. There were two reasons I didn't buy the Black Night and they are subjective at best: It was brand new and sounded excellent but new, it had no binding on the back or headstock (it had an unbelievable flamed back and neck).

    Another instrument I played that was out or my budget according to the price on the tag was a $9500 Hutto at Carter's in Nashville. I didn't really have the gusto and certainty to try to talk to them about pricing but it was another wide neck mandolin that they spec'd at 1 3/16". I really liked it but it was like being attracted to a married woman. The price made it feel off-limits so I didn't really take it seriously. Playing it was just flirting to flatter and not to tempt if you know what I'm saying. It was a damn fine instrument. If it was available for around 6ish-k I would probably have been more serious. I did drive back to Nashville for another listen but it was kind of convenient.

    I used a portable Zoom recorder to record every instrument I played. I wasn't insanely scientific about exactly placement but I always tried to be about 30 degrees within the center of the pair of mics and about an arm's length of distance. At some point while I was playing I would play through a few the same bits and pieces of things that were speedy and slow, that had some pull-offs and hammers as well as the standard chops on typical bluegrass chords. After my trip I assembled them in a pro tools session I just sat there listening and ruling out what I did and didn't like. I tried to be objective about the sound of the instrument and not what I played. That isn't absolute and can be hard but I do feel like my choice was right for me.

    I played several Northfields at Carter's but no Big Mon was in stock. They had 1 1/8" necks and felt pretty good in a lot of ways but decidedly slimmer than what I was shopping for. I don't know if they do wider necks or not. It definitely sounded good among the new instruments I played. It was the neck width that made me look away.

    I played a few Collings mainly because I play a Collings guitar that I love but none of them blew my hat off.

    There are a few Sam Bush mandos around for sale. In a perfect world I would have played them all but love the one I got. It's loud, sounds awesome to me and I'm not a MAS guy so it will probably be a life partner.

    A note on the Sam Bush nut and string spacing: I went back and forth, hemmed and hawed, exchanged several messages with friends about getting the nut recut. The more I played it, the more used to it I got but I was having one specific issue. Hammering inside a chord. Say you're fretting at the 6th fret of the G with a pinky, and you want to hammer the D string form the 2nd to the 4th fret using index to middle with an open A string on top - the spacing made it really hard to not touch one of the adjacent strings with my big fingers. On the other hand, it was pretty easy to ham-fist it and still get a big sound. For me, a more traditional nut is probably the best in the long run. The spacing at the saddle is wide too. In the beginning I kind of heard that pick going across the course with more distinctive "clicks" as a defect in my playing. Then I started listening to some solo Sam Bush recordings and kind of hear it in his playing too. I never noticed but it was there before and it didn't really bother me when I heard it, it was just a personal critique.

    My choices and my opinions are just that. The Black Night at the Mandolin Store is the best sounding instrument that I've heard in your price range, and is for sale that I know of at the moment. Any of the Sam Bush mandolins are worthy of consideration. Unless Northfield has a wider neck option I think you'd find it unsatisfying after playing a few wider neck mandos. On my trip I did spend an evening playing an amazing sounding (not for sale) Goldrush with a 1 1/8" neck that sounded so good I might have seriously considered getting used to it. It was the daily driver of a pro and was well played and setup.

    Finally, I thought a used Sam Bush that I expected to slightly modify with a new nut was a better value than a brand new instrument negotiated from retail. The Black Night was probably setup a little better for me right off the rack. To me, that stuff is malleable and subjective. I used the same fossilized mammoth ivory as a stock Sam Bush for the new nut. I had a Fishman transducer saddle reshaped and notched rather than change the stock saddle. If I wanted to get back to stock I would just need to recut a new nut with the specs and photos I collected. The original cracked during removal.

  9. #8
    Registered User Drew Egerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    You can't go wrong with anything from Northfield, but you should play the Big Mon and the Artist and see which one sparks your interest because they are surprisingly very different.

    For $6k you can also look at a lot of small shop builders. I would highly recommend Skip Kelley. I have had one of his F5s for 3 years now and it is just really killer. Lots of compliments on it all the time. His latest build is listed at 6499.
    Drew
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  10. #9
    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    At $6k, you can nearly get a custom mandolin as well. Something to think about if you have the time.

    Otherwise, there's A LOT of mandolin's that you can get for that money. For "Big Hands" you may want a wide nut. I personally don't like them, but many do. Might be a good fit for you.

    I would suggest spending a few bucks to take a mandolin-buying vacation in Nashville. Check out Gruhn and/or Carters at least and you'll get to play some really nice mandolins. Great way to figure it out IMO.

  11. #10
    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    You can get an Ellis A5 for 5900 if you don't mind a ham sandwich
    Mandolin: Kentucky KM150
    Other instruments: way too many, and yet, not nearly enough.

    "Imagine life without mandolin. Now slap yourself! Never do it again!" -Gunnar Salyer

  12. #11

    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    Thanks for the input so far! I originally thought the Sam bush mandolin was the perfect choice, but it has been a while since I tried one and since then I’ve played a couple other mandolins, a Gibson F-7 and a custom F5g with a wide neck and I didn’t really like them. They felt almost too wide and the neck then felt thin like it was a ukulele neck. I was told they were similar to the same bush so that’s really the only reason I hesitate. Plus when I tried the Collings, sure the neck was pretty standard (1 & 1/8”) but the radius and the soft V shape kind of filled it out and it was quite comfortable for me so I don’t necessarily mind a standard neck.

    I am curious what do people think of the Flatiron F5 Artist? There’s one up for sale thats a beaut, it hits most of the things on my list I believe and as an added bonus it’s X-braced which so far from what I’ve heard, I do like the tone (I’m a Ronnie McCoury fan). How does flatiron stack up tone wise?

  13. #12
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    Check out the Northfield F5S. Most of the same sound with less bling than the Artist and about half the price.

  14. #13

    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    My daughter and I just got back from a camp and the instructor for the Int. Mandolin had a Ruhland F5. I have seen the thread and praises of his mandolins but had not heard one. Had a week to hear Isaac Callender play his (#19?). Woody hollow log sound and loud, it is a very good mandolin. Definitely has a vintage look to it. They are built in Portland area, varnish finished and around $5000.
    Here are a couple of videos to give an idea of sound -
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdCWfGbOkMg
    Slow version for the class but good sound sample -
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDq1va8CwLg

    Last fall I heard a Duff F5 that was truly amazing. Check the nut width, a fair number seem to be 1 1/6". You might be ale to find a used one close to your budget?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TEuKongBY0
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Blmx4BqcFEg

    Glad to add to the confusion.

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  16. #14
    Registered User wildpikr's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    Quote Originally Posted by Yellowhouseroad View Post
    So itís come time to upgrade... The old Eastman 815 has been through a lot and has done well for over 10 years, but more serious gigs are coming and I need a new instrument that will hold up to playing serious bluegrass and the wear of tour life.

    Like a lot of musicians I donít have a lot of cash to shove out for a mandolin, but I also realize you gotta spend a little to get the good quality sound you want so Iíve been looking around for mandolins in the 6k and under range (where I wonít be making payments the rest of my life like Iím in student debt.) Unfortunately even in the great twin cities of MN, high quality mandolins run scarce and thereís not a lot to try out, so Iíve been going off of online research for the most part though I have tried some that have caught my ear.

    I few that Iíve tried and liked so far are...
    -Collings MF Deluxe
    -Collings MF5
    -Gibson Sam Bush

    Some others I'm interested in are...
    -Northfield Artist
    -Northfield Big Mon
    -Flatiron Artist
    -Weber Fern
    -Gibson F5 Fern
    -Gibson Monroe Model

    How do people feel these compare to each other? I realize everyone has their preferences and mandolins will differ year to year, but any input would be helpful.

    My wishlist:
    -F-Style (I can hear the difference)
    -Something that has that bluegrass bite, but is also versatile.
    -Lots of volume to cut through a jam.
    -A nice neck suitable for big hands.
    -A radius fingerboard for easy playability (would be nice).
    -Iím also a sucker for the vintage look.

    Thanks for the help!
    Check out the Silverangel mandolins. I'm one that is happy to have one...well ,two actually. And you'll have $2K leftover to play with...maybe a Hoffee case for it to live in?
    Mike

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  17. #15
    Front Porch & Sweet Tea NursingDaBlues's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    There’s a 1994 Randy Wood F5 for sale on Reverb. It’s overbudget at $6495 but you can always make an offer. I really like the sound of Randy Wood mandolins. About 5 years ago, I was able to look at the Randy Wood that Jenni Lynn Gardner of Della Mae has (I assume she still has it). Her mandolin features some beautiful craftsmanship, excellent fit & finish, and an outstanding voice. From what I understand, all of Randy Wood’s mandolins are highly praised – and I guess for good reason.

    https://reverb.com/item/16571903-ran...brown-sunburst

    While I’m a Weber fan, I’m not sure that a Fern will have the voice you’re looking for. Nonetheless there’s a 2004 Fern for sale at Avenue Guitars (formerly Tejon Street Music) in Manitou Springs, Colorado. It’s priced at $4495. John and Sean Ramsey are terrific people and will give you an honest in-hand appraisal of that instrument.

    https://www.avenueguitars.com/collec...-mandolin-2004

    And for what it’s worth, the 2002 Sam Bush in the Mandolin Cafť Classifieds that pheffernan pointed out in Post #6 seems like a really good value, provided that it does not come with any major issues.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/142177#142177

    Just my two-cents. NFI on any of the above instruments.
    And good luck.

  18. #16

    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    So many great mandolins out there in your price range. Best of luck with your search.

  19. #17
    Gibson F5L Gibson A5L
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    Yeah with that budget you are right in the sweet spot for obtaining a very good used mandolin. Just keep playing instruments until one calls your name. Flatiron mandolins pre 1993 are great. Some after that point are as well you just have to shop. Gibson mandolins from 88' through 93' from the Bozeman plant are definitely worth looking into also. Collings and Weber both make instruments that can last a lifetime. I have not played many Northfield mandolins but they do get good reviews here on The Cafe`. Patience ….. the one for you will come.. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  20. #18
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    Might want to check with Lloyd LaPlant up in Grand Rapids. He makes amazing mandolins, IMO.
    1935 Gibson A50, 2018 Collings MT, 1929 Gibson A Jr., 1941 Strad-O-Lin, 2018 Eastman MDO-305, 1950's Californian, 2015 Ashbury Style E OM
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  21. #19

    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    As mentioned there are LOTS of options in that range.
    I have only heard a Randy Wood when I have seen Della Mae (several times) and it sounds great. there have been some of his for sale for less than your budget recently. I would like to play one, there would be a lot of history in one of his mandolins.
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/142083#142083
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/142074#142074

  22. #20
    Quietly Making Noise Dave Greenspoon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    +1 for Stiver. Lou's work is incredible. His F models, brand new in stores, run between $5250-$5850. You may be able to find a used Rattlesnake in that range. Olin's work has moved beyond your budget for a new instrument. You can find a new, baseline A style from Oliver Apitius nicely in your budget. Finally, Bluett Bros builds a F for right at $6K. Have fun, and let us know what happens!
    Axes: Rigel A Natural #1774 w/mods, Andrew Jerman Irwin-style 5 string electric "Stealie", Eastman 515, Shiro F-5, Crafter M85E, Dillion 335 style, Grandmom's solid-mahogany teens bent-top, Baglamas 002
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  23. #21
    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    Consider Ratliff. Full custom will fit your budget. Freaky loud in a jam, great cut, big round bottom range, great craftsmanship, independent solo builder, plus he’s a great mando player, and knows what’s up.
    2007 Weber Custom Elite "old wood"
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  24. #22

    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Greenspoon View Post
    ...... You may be able to find a used Rattlesnake in that range. Olin's work has moved beyond your budget for a new instrument. .....
    I spoke with Olin a few weeks ago about an F5 that had been dropped and the top broke in half (not by me!!!). He no longer builds mandolins; he now owns and runs a commercial hemp farm....


    As for the original post: let your ears and hands and heart guide you with a $6000 purchase, not a bunch of internet ######'s advice!

  25. #23
    Registered User CWRoyds's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    I have a Northfield Artist 5-Bar, and I love it.
    Definitely worth every penny.

    If I were going for straight up Bluegrass, I would probably go for a Big Mon.
    I think the neck is good for a big hand, but it is very comfortable and super easy to play.
    It has that bluegrass tone, and deep bass clunk.
    At $4,500, it is a whole lot of mandolin.
    Very traditional look and feel, but with a modern setup and radius fretboard.
    Super cool mandolins.
    You will be heard just fine at a jam.

    I am also partial to Ellis A5s, which can be found around the price you are looking for.
    Ellis just rocks.

    Personally, I don't like the Gibson Sam Bush
    The neck is like a baseball bat to me.
    Mandolins: Northfield 5-Bar Artist Model "Old Dog", J Bovier F5 Special, Gibson A-00 (1940)
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  26. #24
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    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    my biggest thought for you, with that kind of coin, and it appears you want a long termer(unlike some of us who trade in and out), i would definitely try to arrange a few days in nashville to try out all these brands you've listed. all of them are mightly fine, but each one of these having a brand tone, and especially neck shape and size. take $500 of your stash, do the trip, and find what really fits and sounds right to you.

    i've owned a couple of Webers, Northfields, Collings, Phoenix, Pava,and Gibson, probably something else i'm not remembering. The tone is very different on all, and again the neck shape and feel. Loved the sound of all of them, but the neck shape is what really ended up making or breaking a brand for me.

    d

  27. #25

    Default Re: Mandolins for 6k and under?

    I'll put in a vote for Capek. Doyle Lawson has a couple. They are top quality from the Czech republic. My student has one, and it's a high quality professional mandolin.

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