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Thread: upgrade thoughts

  1. #1

    Default upgrade thoughts

    Unfortunately I don't live near a music store with a wide variety of mandolins, so I'm looking for thoughts, and sharing an observation. I don't play bluegrass, but mainly accompany guitar players on typical folk/country/singer songwriter stuff. (I used to play a bunch of Mandolin Orange songs with a partner). I'm at the low-budget end of the mando world as an early intermediate player, and have had mid-missouri, Breedlove, and Eastman mandolins. For the past few years I've been pretty happy with a JBovier A5, and while the tone is good, sometimes I'd like a little sharper G string. I don't like the sound of Kentuckys I've played, as they sound thin and overly bright. I've also not liked Eastmans at all, but last night, waiting to play at an open mic, I played a humble MD315 in the store. I didn't have time to A-B it against my JBovier, but I was REALLY surprised at how much I liked it!
    My observation is that I probably shouldn't write off a particular make, but judge each instrument separately, as there is probably a big range in quality, especially when they're mass produced.
    And my question is: given the above comments, what suggestions do folks have for a different mando to try, staying under $1500 or so? Thanks.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by NYmando View Post
    Unfortunately I don't live near a music store with a wide variety of mandolins, so I'm looking for thoughts, and sharing an observation. I don't play bluegrass, but mainly accompany guitar players on typical folk/country/singer songwriter stuff. (I used to play a bunch of Mandolin Orange songs with a partner). I'm at the low-budget end of the mando world as an early intermediate player, and have had mid-missouri, Breedlove, and Eastman mandolins. For the past few years I've been pretty happy with a JBovier A5, and while the tone is good, sometimes I'd like a little sharper G string. I don't like the sound of Kentuckys I've played, as they sound thin and overly bright. I've also not liked Eastmans at all, but last night, waiting to play at an open mic, I played a humble MD315 in the store. I didn't have time to A-B it against my JBovier, but I was REALLY surprised at how much I liked it!
    My observation is that I probably shouldn't write off a particular make, but judge each instrument separately, as there is probably a big range in quality, especially when they're mass produced.
    And my question is: given the above comments, what suggestions do folks have for a different mando to try, staying under $1500 or so? Thanks.
    I would think for $1,500.00 you could pick up a very nice used mandolin. I believe most of the dealers and others that post here in the classified section allow you 48 business hours to decide. I think one weekend I'm going to go to a town nearby and visit a large mandolin shop.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    $1500 is a great budget in the used A style market. I’m Silverangel biased, particularly if you are not prone to bluegrass, but you’ll find some Weber’s for sure and someone will chime in with small builders that could work for you.
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  4. #4
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    you’ll find some Weber’s for sure
    For sure. Buy a used A5 appropriately depreciated and enjoy the ride: https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/147720#147720
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  6. #5
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Yes, instruments of the same make and model can vary considerably in tone and projection.

    In your budget, you can add Gibson oval hole A's to your list. Some are brighter than others, some are deeper, some are "thicker," some are "lighter." You might also want to see what a Lyon & Healy style C sounds like, and check out some flat-backs.

    If you're in the NY metropolitan area, Retrofret and Lark Street Music often have old Gibson A's.
    Last edited by rcc56; Dec-08-2019 at 6:05pm.

  7. #6
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by NYmando View Post
    ...My observation is that I probably shouldn't write off a particular make, but judge each instrument separately, as there is probably a big range in quality, especially when they're mass produced...
    Amen to that. And realize that "mass production" in terms of mandolins, is nothing like producing SUV's, Air Jordans, or even solid-body electric guitars. You can't call what happens in even an Asian shop like Eastman, "mass production." There's more computer-controlled process, but you don't see an endless conveyer belt of F-5 clones stretching into the distance.

    Each piece of wood is different, subtly or significantly, and each instrument is handled differently, exposed to different environments -- so no two mandolins are exactly alike, and every generalization based on "make and model" can be undermined by the discrepancies between two instruments built side-by-side in the same shop. With respected builders like Eastman, Saga/Kentucky, Loar, jBovier etc., I wouldn't expect a "big range in quality," but I would expect discernible differences.

    Play as many as you can get your hands on, within your price range, and don't be afraid to go into the used market as well. Good luck.
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  9. #7
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    For sure. Buy a used A5 appropriately depreciated and enjoy the ride: https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/147720#147720
    +1 on that.

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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    I agree with the used A-style advice. Why pay extra just to get a scroll? You MIGHT find a used Pava for your price, for sure (as evidenced by the above Cafť ad) used Weber Gallatins, and likely many others. Happy hunting!

  11. #9
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    I don't know where you are in NY (guessing by your name), NY has many good places to kick a few tires and then buy a mandolin. Many. Might be a fun road trip.

    I can tell you I have traveled a lot farther for a lot less.


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  12. #10

    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Thanks for all the advice. BTW, while my user name is NYmando, thatís because iím from there, but Iíve been living in southern CA for over 40 years. Best mando selection I know of here is 7 hrs up the road in Santa Cruz (Sylvan Music).

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    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Well I was gonna say go buy this one right now
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/148020#148020
    But it's sold already, no surprise there.
    So get this one
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/147930#147930
    No financial interest on my part, I'm actually financially quite uninteresting lol.
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  14. #12

    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by NYmando View Post
    Thanks for all the advice. BTW, while my user name is NYmando, that’s because i’m from there, but I’ve been living in southern CA for over 40 years. Best mando selection I know of here is 7 hrs up the road in Santa Cruz (Sylvan Music).
    I think if you got to Sylvan then Gryphon another hour down the road, you’ll get about the best selection in Ca. But you won’t see a huge variety of any one brand, except Gryphon has an impressive Collings collection. Eastman’s abound if that is your price range.
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  15. #13
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  16. #14
    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    With the last few mandolins I've bought, I've been amazed at just at how much difference the choice of strings and picks makes on the sound from a particular instrument. That makes it really difficult for me when I'm at the store trying to figure out where to sink my money!

    By the way, you mentioned a positive response to the Eastman MD315. I had a similar experience. I wasn't expecting much when I first ran my thumb across the strings of one hanging up at the music store, but I did a double take and went back to pull the instrument down and play it. The sound was so dark and rich. I ended up buying one a few months later and it has been my main instrument for the past year. I went through a variety of strings till I settled on the EXP74CM for the heavier treble strings to thicken up the sound on the E and A strings. Love it! (After deciding that the MD315 would be a keeper, I replaced the tuners and added a K&K twin internal pickup.)

    I subsequently bought an A for $1700 and it has a nice sound, but it gets lost at jams, so I'm playing the MD315 anytime I go out. I still plan to buy something in the $3k to $5k range, but I'm in no hurry.

    By the way, I also have an Eastman MD505 with gorgeous flamed maple back and sides, but I like the sound of the MD315 better. I've played lots of other Eastmans, including the MD915, but the only one that I felt was significantly better than my MD315 was an MD815V (varnish) that I loved.
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    To me, it sounds like you're pretty particular in what your ears like and dislike. If you feel you can adequately describe that to another person in a shop over the phone (and they have a good return policy) try that or, take a road trip to someplace with lots to choose from.

    I'll agree there is certainly some variation in production models. Some brands seem tighter than others in sticking to a sound (Collings, for example, seem very consistent if you like their voicing).

    If my assumption isn't completely off in NY you could visit Bernunzio's or drop down to Philly or even Deleware. There are bound to be other shops along the way in the North East.

    Jamie

    Edit to Add, i like what Doug Brock wrote about how much strings and picks can give you...
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  19. #16
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by NYmando View Post
    Thanks for all the advice. BTW, while my user name is NYmando, that’s because i’m from there, but I’ve been living in southern CA for over 40 years. Best mando selection I know of here is 7 hrs up the road in Santa Cruz (Sylvan Music).
    Jamie, he is in CA.
    Charley

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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Thanks. There are good shops in CA as well and the weather is now nicer for some shop visits. I stand by my suggestion of hands on before buying if you're becoming particular.

    Jamie
    There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second. Logan Pearsall Smith, 1865 - 1946

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  22. #18

    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Regarding the MD 315. Of all the Eastman’s I’ve played, the 315 stands out to me, some I’ve liked better than the 515s. But for me you need to buy a quality A style in the $1500 range to get a satisfying G string. At least in a carved instrument.
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  24. #19
    Registered User archerscreek's Avatar
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    I had read so many positive experiences regarding the Eastman MD315 that I fully intended on buying that model. The store owner setup all available Eastman models in both F and A shapes, including an 815 Varnish with a Red Spruce top. I liked my MD515 best of the lot so I bought it. It's good enough with EJ74 strings but excels with Monels on there.

    Since then I came across an interesting read on how Eastman retooled/redesigned their shop, getting rid of the loud machines that used to do a lot of the work and changing over to more hand carving, crafting and finishing. The shop floor is essentially quiet now.

    I do think about upgrading, mainly thinking a more pronounced V shaped neck would suit my hand and left thumb position better playing certain passages of music. But before plunking down $3000-$5000+, it's going to have to beat my MD515, and so far this particular one has kept money in my pocket.

    I bet if you did a blind test my Eastman would _____ (insert eye rolling ending here). Haha

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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Another vote for Silverangel. His Econo models are one of the best bang for buck instruments out there. If you can handle a little bassier G string, they really are exceptional. I kept mine over a Collings MT I got in a trade. The finish work on the Collings was a little cleaner, and it was also a very, very good mando, but I like the SA tone. Honestly, though, I’d have been happy having either one as my only mandolin. I also had a 315 as my beater for a while. Great instrument for the $, but didn’t have the complexity of tone that either of the other 2 have...a definite step up to the Collings or SA.

    Ratliff, Morris, Weber, and Kratzer are also other options to check out. Good luck!!
    Chuck

  26. #21

    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    If you do make the truck to Nor Cal, you can play my Silverangel. The trip would allow you to play Pava, Girouard, Weber, Collings, And Northfield, plus whatever else happens to be in the shops. But another altenative would be The Mandolin Store in Surprize Az.
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  27. #22
    Registered User Barry Platnick's Avatar
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Used Collings MT ~ $1500 can't go wrong
    Barry

  28. #23

    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Thanks! If I can ever make it up your way, where in no. cal are you?

  29. #24

    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    San Jose

    If you were to see an MT foe $1500, don’t think, act.
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  30. #25
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    Default Re: upgrade thoughts

    Plus one for Silverangel. You can buy Ken's Econo A for that price and even have it custom built to your specs. I luvr mine!!!
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