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Thread: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandolin...

  1. #1

    Default A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandolin...

    I am a long time guitar player but new to the mandolin. I am looking to purchase an entry level instrument, but am worried about ending up with something that is junk (and thus inhibiting my interest). I have looked at Loar LM-110s, Kentucky KM-140s, and others.

    I am open to suggestions in the $0 - $200 +/- range.

  2. #2
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    I guess I'll be the first to break it to you - forget what you know about guitar pricing when it comes to mandolins.

    1. There is about a 100 or 1000 to one ratio of guitar players to mandolin players. The guitar market is HUGE. So mfrs have an economy of scale.

    2. Most mandolin family instruments are carved top and back (or at least curved) unlike the flat top/flat back construction of most acoustic guitars. They take more time to build.

    Bottom line - you can get a decent playable guitar in the $200 to $400 range. Those prices will only get you a mandolin-shaped-object. Roughly you need to double the price to get comparable quality - to get the same quality of a $500 guitar will cost close to $1000 for a mandolin.

    Here are the options as I see them if you want to get a playable, decent sounding mandolin for as little as possible:

    1. Get a used "pancake" style (flat top, flat back) mandolin from Red line or Big Muddy.

    2. Get it set up by someone who knows mandolins.

    Be prepared for some frustration. The high-tension dual string courses of the mando laugh at guitar calluses. Start playing with other pickers as soon as you can. Be willing to play the mando differently than you play guitar.

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  4. #3

    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    At that price range, those are probably good options. Like you, I’ve played guitar for years, and about a year ago decided to check out the mandolin. I got a Kentucky KM-270 at a good holiday discount. It was good enough that I could have fun playing with it (it benefitted mightily from a setup from my local luthier). Once I knew I wanted to stick with the mandolin, however, I pretty quickly started wanting something a little nicer. You can let your taste in guitars guide you somewhat. Whatever level of guitar you like to play, that’s probably the level of mandolin you’ll gravitate toward too. At least that’s how it is for me.

    Have fun learning the mandolin. The cool thing I found was that as a guitar player, I could start having fun on the mando almost right away (at a very basic level), unlike the slow learning curve I experienced with the guitar at first.

  5. #4

    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    Just picked up a used KM150 for... $150 Solid woods, not the best thing in the world but a decent instrument.

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  7. #5
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    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    Quote Originally Posted by mojocaster View Post
    Just picked up a used KM150 for... $150 Solid woods, not the best thing in the world but a decent instrument.

    Properly set up, the KY-KM150 is a very good mandolin. Play it in good health!
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  9. #6

    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    I guess I'll be the first to break it to you - forget what you know about guitar pricing when it comes to mandolins.

    1. There is about a 100 or 1000 to one ratio of guitar players to mandolin players. The guitar market is HUGE. So mfrs have an economy of scale.

    2. Most mandolin family instruments are carved top and back (or at least curved) unlike the flat top/flat back construction of most acoustic guitars. They take more time to build.

    Bottom line - you can get a decent playable guitar in the $200 to $400 range. Those prices will only get you a mandolin-shaped-object. Roughly you need to double the price to get comparable quality - to get the same quality of a $500 guitar will cost close to $1000 for a mandolin.

    Here are the options as I see them if you want to get a playable, decent sounding mandolin for as little as possible:

    1. Get a used "pancake" style (flat top, flat back) mandolin from Red line or Big Muddy.

    2. Get it set up by someone who knows mandolins.

    Be prepared for some frustration. The high-tension dual string courses of the mando laugh at guitar calluses. Start playing with other pickers as soon as you can. Be willing to play the mando differently than you play guitar.
    I agree with the general point, but differ in some of the specifics. My KM-270 cost me $320.00, and is easily comparable in quality to any sub-$500 guitar. I suppose “decent” is subjective, as is the line between a mandolin and a “mandolin-shaped object.” But I think a beginner can absolutely get a $200-$400 mandolin that will play and sound good enough to let them know whether they want to stick with it, at which point they’ll have a point of reference if they decide to upgrade.

  10. #7

    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    I agree with finding a $150 used KM150. It will never be worth less than $150, and a worthy keeper when you upgrade. But you can make anything play ok with enough effort or money for a setup, but I wouldn’t wish poor tone on anyone.

    We who have not bought these cheaper instruments in decades do tend to forget we were once there, and a mandolin is better than no mandolin. The mass producers are very good at making great looking poor sounding mandolins.
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  12. #8
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    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    Buy used. You beat the depreciation, and you can judge the tonality better on an instrument that's been around the block a few times.

    Consider what sort of music you'll be playing before you decide on an instrument.

    Try to play a few different types before you jump in.

    Your location defines your options regarding availability of instruments for examination. Roughly where are you?

  13. #9
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    Get a 300 series Eastman from a café sponsor where it'll be set up properly. I'd go with an f-hole.

    don't get your hopes up on a 200 dollar mandolin, unless you love 100 dollar guitars?

    Nothing wrong with Kentucky either. I'd go with the 180 or 250 lineup; however.

    Then again, nothing wrong with a Flatiron, "Festival" model, but it'll be closer to a grand. American made, hand carved and only available used. So many folks eschew these mandolins, but they are crazy! Folks just can't embrace the fretboard in contact with the top. Bear in mind that all Gibsons were made that way up until about 1921. My 1920 is like that and I just love it.

    Nothing wrong with getting a teens Gibson A-model either. The sound profile may or may not be what you want? They can also be had for under a grand.

    f-d
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  15. #10

    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    Here are the options as I see them if you want to get a playable, decent sounding mandolin for as little as possible:

    1. Get a used "pancake" style (flat top, flat back) mandolin from Red line or Big Muddy.

    2. Get it set up by someone who knows mandolins.

    Be prepared for some frustration. The high-tension dual string courses of the mando laugh at guitar calluses. Start playing with other pickers as soon as you can. Be willing to play the mando differently than you play guitar.
    Great advice.

  16. #11

    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    Quote Originally Posted by AgentKooper View Post
    I agree with the general point, but differ in some of the specifics. My KM-270 cost me $320.00, and is easily comparable in quality to any sub-$500 guitar. I suppose “decent” is subjective, as is the line between a mandolin and a “mandolin-shaped object.” But I think a beginner can absolutely get a $200-$400 mandolin that will play and sound good enough to let them know whether they want to stick with it, at which point they’ll have a point of reference if they decide to upgrade.
    There are always finds out there, but Mandobart is right that the small mando market means you generally have to pay more than you would for a comparable guitar.

  17. #12
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    Get one properly set-up and you'll be very happy! Also something of some quality with solid woods so Kentucky-Eastman-The Loar etc...or an old Budget brand depression era model even a 40's Harmony Monterey can be very fine!

  18. #13

    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    There are always finds out there, but Mandobart is right that the small mando market means you generally have to pay more than you would for a comparable guitar.
    Oh, I totally agree. I would just quibble somewhat with the specific price points that were mentioned.

  19. #14

    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    Quote Originally Posted by rbaraff View Post
    I am a long time guitar player but new to the mandolin.
    I was in this boat earlier this year - a guitar player for 30 years - also thinking I'd by a sub-$200 mandolin, and after reading and researching, came to the same conclusions that people are saying here. I went to a couple of local music stores who had Eastmans and others in stock. Even being a novice at the mandolin, the more inexpensive instruments kind of felt and sounded like toys to me and I thought I might regret it. Chatting with the employees, they did recommend the Eastmans, saying it would be an instrument I could grow into rather than quickly grow out of.

    I ended up buying an Eastman MD315 from The Mandolin Store. Yes, I spent more money that I thought I was going to, but I don't regret it at all. Love it. I play it every day and have to remind myself not to neglect my guitar.
    Eastman MD315

  20. #15

    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    BTW, same scenario here. Guitar player in love with the mandolin. I owned two different Eastman mandos in the past, and while I have nothing but wonderful things to report about them - one A-style and one F-style - I sold both because the V shape of the necks gave me awful cramps in my left hand, and it lead to tendinitis. So I didn't think I was going to be able to play mando anymore. A friend of mine who owns a gorgeous Northfield came to my house one afternoon to pick on a few songs, and recommended I'd try a Breedlove Crossover FF. I found one - MIC - used for $450, and the deeper U-shaped neck is perfect for me. Just putting it out there

  21. #16

    Default Re: A newbie player looking for an affordable entry level mandoli

    Place a want to buy ad in the classifieds and see if anything shows up. There just has to be a few mandolins gathering dust in closets. And those of you with those dust collectors, time to pass them on to someone who will use them.
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