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Thread: Looking for beginner mandolin.

  1. #1
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    Default Looking for beginner mandolin.

    After spending all my life playing guitar, actually have a Bachelors in guitar performance, Iíve decided that mandolin is a far superior instrument however I donít currently own a mandolin and donít have much of a budget so Iím looking for good quality entry level mandolins. Any advice?

    Iím in the UK so some makes and models might be slightly more expensive here Iím not sure.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    We don't know what you have on your side of the pond, but I imagine the usual suspects would be a Kentucky KM 150 or an Eastman MD 305. Both are all solid wood carved mandolins and a baseline of quality most serious players would recommend. The oval hole equivalent might be what you would want for the folk and Celtic traditions. We do realize how much more expensive mandolins are in the UK.

    My personal experience would be to steer you toward a high end shop. They usually won't carry something not worthy of the store, and likely have chosen the better low end fare. If you have such a place available you can have a better chance of getting something that is well set up.

    I find the term beginner mandolin problematic, the implication being beginners don't need or somehow don't deserve better. I find this to be totally false, as beginners are in need of the best playing and sounding instruments they can get. The used market can be a minefield worth crossing, but realize a good setup is essential for any mandolin, and budget accordingly.

    I'd also hang out where mandolins are being played and ask questions. We tend to like to hook people on mandolin. I sold a very decent budget mandolin recently to a young man for just such a reason. I wasn't playing it much.

    To sum up, buy the absolute best you can afford. A Collings would serve a beginner well, but an Eastman MD 304 or 305 is a very solid choice. Kentucky KM 150 if bluegrass is your thing.
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  4. #3

    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    There are loads of relatively inexpensive beginner mandolins that are pretty good. There was an entry level Kentucky which is a well regarded brand. All these mandolins are far eastern made and with modern production methods the build quality is pretty good. You might want to go into a music shop and just try a few mandolins at various price points. What you need to ascertain is how your fingers adapt to the mandolin fingerboard- I know a few guitarists who promptly gave up as they felt their fingers were too big and the mandolin is quite an unforgiving instrument. Of course, if you have good plectrum skills that makes life easier and your fingers will have strength in them and have calloused tips. Here is a random mandolin from the internet. I am not endorsing Washburn but it has a solid top and looks quite good and is relatively inexpensive. You may get as good or better for less but I recommend trying a few and deciding what you want in advance. This is £189 and I see that GAK in Brighton wants £259 for this model but you need to check some mandolins out in person.

    https://www.pmtonline.co.uk/washburn...ABEgJv6vD_BwE#

    Here is the Washburn site blurb: https://www.washburn.com/product/m1sd/

  5. #4
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    Your experience with guitar will mean that your ear is already accustomed to good tone. A similar quality mando costs roughly twice as much as a guitar.

    Let your ears guide you to the highest quality instrument you can afford.

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    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    Wow.
    This is all great advice. Iím currently looking at either a Kentucky or an Eastman. I really apprieciate pointing me towards some good trustworthy brands.
    If only I could afford the Collings ...

    As for dedication I sorta fell in love with the mandolin when I first tried one in a shop. The sound is heavenly and once you adjust your fingers to the smaller fretboard (I have very thin fingers anyway) itís not hard to play at all. I would have bought that mandolin, it is werenít for the fact the fret ends were sharp and it needed a full fret level and crowning.

  7. #6

    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    i would recommend the km-150 ... but do add in for a GOOD setup, and a change of strings, either d'addario ej73 or ej74. you may find the kentucky more than worthy, and the more it's played the more the wood and tone will open up.
    Mandolins are truly *magic*!

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  9. #7

    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    Apparently, https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...first-mandolin
    Chris Thile still has the beginner mandolin he learned on.
    And it’s understandable that he would probably want to keep it for sentimental reasons, but you could just give him a call?

    -if he let you have it there would definitely be a mixed reaction here on MandolinCafe

  10. #8
    Mando Mando Sperry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    Over the decades I've owned a dozen $40-$50 mandolins. The cheapest barely-playable mandolin was $40 in 1977, and $40 now gets you a new Rogue. But to really be able to run all over the fingerboard, I've found $300 is a decent starting point. The tone is better but the playability is markedly better better (double better, or Mo'Better, as some say).

    The 2007 Michael Kelly F recently picked up, which wanted a careful set-up, is 100% playable all over the neck, past the 17th fret even. I *think* new it is a $600 model but like lots of stuff, the build may have been better 12 years ago. It's tone is clearly not that of a $6,000 mandolin, and the faster you pick, the more apparent that shortfall becomes. But I've made lots of new tonal discoveries on it.

    As a serious beginner instrument, I'd be looking for something I can clearly and easily slide up to a minor 6th at the 12th fret, with the fingerboard and frets adequate to give me a clear two-note chord instead of ill-defined notes and string slap. So when you find the right player, don't be surprised if it costs £400. The £40-£200 instrument may look spiffy and play OK up into the 7th-9th fret, but if you start practicing scales, you may outgrow it rather quickly.

    A friend bought a 3-- series Eastman used. I found the frets to be too small, like a pre-war model. Small and narrow. And the string pairs were too wide at the nut, so it would want a new nut. (An A-style MK mando recently bought and sold had such widely-spaced pairs at the nut I made a new bone nut; three, actually, getting them more and more close to the ≈1.6mm grail.) No his Eastman is darn hard to play. Or maybe I'm getting old. And spoiled.

    As the famous Sneadly Sniver, traveling minstrel said, I'd rather have too much mandolin and not need it.

  11. #9
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    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    If you can make it to TAMCO, do so and play as many as you can in your range. If you're not looking to play a ton of bluegrass a flat top, like a Flatiron 1N, will get you a better quality instrument at 600-700 US dollars than arch tops in that price range.

    Eastman and Kentucky both offer excellent mandolins at excellent prices, and both are producing very good quality mandolins right now. Both will need some set-up, but the Eastman 315 I used to own only needed a little nut filing out of the box...frets were good to go!

    Good luck in your search, and welcome to the obsession!
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    My only thought would be unless you are truly enamored of a scroll, you will get much more "bang for your buck" if you buy an A-style versus an F-style. And enjoy whatever you choose - and you also get more mandolin for your money if you buy used. TAMCO will likely have used mandolins to try.

  13. #11

    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    There have been a few Eastman mandolins on eBay in the UK- some are collection only, so depending on where you are, you could try one out and make an offer. I have to admit that my Chinese mandolin which retails at £276 with the current better exchange rate has really got plaudits from those that have seen it and more importantly, heard it. I feel for your needs trying out a few and perhaps buying one you have played is the best option. However, I was prepared to go for a mail order- which I do all the time with the stuff I buy on ebay and I was thrilled with the instrument. The postage is free and the import extras- handling charge etc were minimal. The company makes less and more expensive instruments but I liked the look of this instrument and I felt it was not so expensive. Furthermore, I do have the services of a really great professional who in the past has sorted out my various eBay nightmares- which, thankfully have been relatively few in number. Mind you, he is of the opinion, that I am addicted to "no-hopers" and congratulates me on my purchases that need no work- he calls them my "mistakes".

    This is the review of my Chinese mandolin: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...pruce-top-quot

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    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rossjcw View Post
    After spending all my life playing guitar, actually have a Bachelors in guitar performance, I’ve decided that mandolin is a far superior instrument however I don’t currently own a mandolin and don’t have much of a budget so I’m looking for good quality entry level mandolins. Any advice?

    I’m in the UK so some makes and models might be slightly more expensive here I’m not sure.
    You should know what will happen ! You will buy a lower end mandolin and over the next ten years keep upgrading and buying more expensive and better sounding mandolins ! At least that is what your ears will tell you ! So, I recommend that you just go out now and buy a Gilchrist, Ellis, Girouard, or some other higher end mandolin and skip all the other purchases in between ! In the long run this will save you money and stress ! Of course I'm kidding !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

  15. #13

    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    If you have a Bachelors in guitar performance then you’re probably not going to be happy with an entry level mandolin.
    How many guitars do you have?
    Maybe sell one (not easy -use ‘transition’ as your motivator) and get yourself into the £600 and up?
    There are plenty of different people who make mandolins in the UK, Ashbury is well known. I seem to remember a guy down in Devon who makes really nice mandolins...

    The important thing is to have a mandolin and play it, rather than spend time thinking about one that you’re not playing.

  16. #14
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    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    I had 25+ years on the guitar before playing a single note on a mandolin. I started with an Eastman 515 I got from a store specializing in acoustic instruments. The setup was great from day one.

    I'm extremely happy with the selection. The D and A strings always sounded great, but the G and E strings took a while to fatten up. I play it every day, and I'm always in a good mood when doing so.

  17. #15
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    Exclamation Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    Weber for example, makes a series which has all the quality of their workmanship and materials ,
    just simplifies binding and finish .. and saves you money.. they sound fine..

    Gibson used to do that too, their Junior series .. version of their A models...

    In UK maybe one of your local, builders makes excellent flat top and back 'pancake' styles..

    Years ago, I got a David Hodson Djangolin.. the late British luthiers mixing
    of Selmer guitar look, in a Uke sized Mandolin.. passed down from another member here.. stateside..

    My favorite local pub session mandolin now ... in a rain protective hard case..



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    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    Thank you all for the great replies.
    In the end I found an ozark (Chinese made) F style mandolin for £400. The nut needed some filing and the bridge needed adjusting but it now plays well all over the fretboard. Better yet itís got a solid spruce top and solid maple back and sides.

    Only one problem. I havenít felt the need to touch a guitar since I bought it. 😂

  19. #17
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    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    Also, Iím already shopping for mandolin number two. I think Iíve caught the bug.

  20. #18
    Struggle Monkey B381's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for beginner mandolin.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rossjcw View Post

    Only one problem. I haven’t felt the need to touch a guitar since I bought it. ��
    Yea...that tends to happen....
    "It doesn't matter how much you invest in your instrument until you invest in you and your ability..."

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