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Thread: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

  1. #1

    Default Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    I'm just a few months into learning mando, having played guitar for decades. I was trying to explain to a guitar playing friend that what I've seen so far is that the price curve for the top newer mandolins are far higher than all but a few boutique guitar brands.
    Is making a mandolin more like crafting a violin than a guitar?
    Thanks for any insights you share!
    Terry
    " Give me some words I can dance to and a melody that rhymes" - Steve Goodman

  2. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Quote Originally Posted by tjmangum View Post
    I'm just a few months into learning mando, having played guitar for decades. I was trying to explain to a guitar playing friend that what I've seen so far is that the price curve for the top newer mandolins are far higher than all but a few boutique guitar brands.
    Is making a mandolin more like crafting a violin than a guitar?
    Thanks for any insights you share!
    Terry
    I asked the same question so many years ago when I first started playing. Yes, crafting a carved top mandolin is more like crafting a violin than a guitar. The answer is simply that it takes more effort to carve the front and back plates than it does do run a piece of wood though a thickness sander. It's mostly the amount of work. A well known builder Hans Brentrup finally gave up building mandolins and started building guitars (very fine guitars actually) because it was just easier on his body.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    In general, carved, arched mandolins are not more expensive than carved arched guitars. Likewise, flat top/back mandolins are not more expensive than flat top/back guitars.
    (I other words, it's the proverbial 'apples and oranges'.)

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    I was going to use Collings guitars (arched top an flat top) compared to their mandolins (arched top and flat top) as an example but I'm too lazy to dig up the prices.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  8. #5

    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Here is a good example of archtop guitar pricing. Check out the prices on these. They exceed mandolin prices.

    https://benedettoguitars.com/guitars/guitar-guide/

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  10. #6

    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    I was going to use Collings guitars (arched top an flat top) compared to their mandolins (arched top and flat top) as an example but I'm too lazy to dig up the prices.
    I'm pretty familiar with Collings and that's a good reference - price, product wise. With the exception of the rare archtop, mandolins have a higher average price than their guitars.
    " Give me some words I can dance to and a melody that rhymes" - Steve Goodman

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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Quote Originally Posted by tjmangum View Post
    Is making a mandolin more like crafting a violin than a guitar?
    In many ways, yes. Mandolins with carved tops and backs are carved to shape out of thick pieces of spruce and maple in the same manner as violins.
    When this is even partially done by hand, it is a lot of labor. The fancy peghead shape and the body scroll of F model mandolins also require a lot of labor.

    I do not build, but I would estimate that it takes at least 2 to 3 times more labor time to build an F-5 or F-4 style mandolin than it takes to craft a guitar based on a D-28 pattern.

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  13. #8

    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    It stands to reason that a carved instrument would be more expensive than a flattop. Still difficult to generalize, though. The $900-$1,000 Eastman guitars Iíve played seem pretty equal in terms of quality to Eastman mandolins in the same price range. My Northfield is in the same price range as a Martin D-28, but the Northfield feels like the higher quality instrument to me.

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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    It's worth mentioning though, that a lot of very nice imported carved top mandolns, and a lot of excellent domestic small-shop boutique carved top mandolins, are available at very reasonable prices. I think part of the higher prices that are being discussed here are the result of having well-known brand names...

    Depending on the models, those well known brand names may or may not necessarily guarantee higher quality, but they frequently do talk about re-sale value and collectability. Both of these considerations are worth the extra money to a lot of people, but they are also really intangible given the condition and quality of the instrument and the prevailing economic situations at the time of a resale; in other words, for many purchasers the extra cost up front is a gamble.

    This is coming from someone who does appreciate well known brand names, but who also is very tempted by imports, and who is especially tempted by domestic small-shop boutique instruments.
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    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Mandolins are also a specialty market, there are way more guitars sold out there than mandolins, so there is an economy of scale effect here as well.
    -Dave
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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Sheets View Post
    Mandolins are also a specialty market, there are way more guitars sold out there than mandolins, so there is an economy of scale effect here as well.
    Somebody had to say it! I would say there are about 1000 guitar players for every mandolin player, even accounting for those of us who play both. And though construction is similar, there are also a lot more violin players than mandolin players. So although you can spend any amount imaginable on a violin and bow, a decent entry to mid level violin is still less than an equivalent quality mandolin.

    Since so many people all over the world have been playing guitar and fiddle for so long, there is a huge stock of good used instruments, too, which helps keep the new prices in check.

  19. #12

    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    All valid reasons... but at the end of the day, mandolins are the same as every other product / commodity when it comes to pricing. They are as expensive because people are willing to pay those costs. Period, the end. It's just the way markets work.

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    Registered User fscotte's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Itís generally supply and demand.

    Everyone has a guitar, everyone plays guitar. Itís a popular instrument, easy to play, many sizes for many ages. So thereís a lot of demand for it. This demand spurs a lot of supply. Thus increasing competition and lowers prices.

    Mandolins have traditionally been more niche. Less demand, therefore less supply, therefore less competition, therefore less builders.

    However, thatís changed a bit in recent years. Traditionally mandos have been expensive, but not any more.

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    And depends on what one considers "good". There are stores that consider a good guitar one that starts at $5,000. Have played many gigs on acoustics that cost under $2,000.

    Similarly, my most expensive mandolin is not considered good by many serious players. But all my mandolins are good enough for me.
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  23. #15

    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    I was going to use Collings guitars (arched top an flat top) compared to their mandolins (arched top and flat top) as an example but I'm too lazy to dig up the prices.
    The last new Collings archtop guitar sold for more than $22k. Average price for their flattops- between $5k and $6k

    Hans Brentrup told me that making mandolins was much more labor intensive than making flat top guitars.
    Last edited by Mandobar; Dec-10-2019 at 8:13am.
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Maybe I live in a unique part of the country (Pacific Northwest) but mandolins frequently outnumber guitars at the jams I attend. And, most of the players are really good so they have been playing for awhile. Roughly half are Eastman’s or Northfields, the other half, well, the sky is the limit.

    So, in my little microcosm of the universe, supply and demand doesn’t hold up very well. My guess is that you have to look at the effort and skill of the luthier required to make a mandolin.

  25. #17

    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Here is my example. Around 1999 (I know it's a while ago) I purchased a Mandolin and a Guitar from Lloyd LaPlant. Lloyd is a top notch builder of both mandolins and guitars. Guitar price $2800, mandolin price $6500. Carving verses flat top, hand rubbed varnish verses sprayed lacquer, same quality and talent built into each instrument. Carved instruments just take longer. I also would suggest that the carving also takes a special talent and feel.

  26. #18

    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Collings is the best example of pricing premium in the business. They have developed a reputation over a long period of time. What I have noticed is they have resisted putting their name on down scale instruments. Every mandolin like the MT and MF has a highly figured back and sides. Build quality has been flawless. So when you decide to buy a mandolin, particularly online, Collings commands a big comfort factor. For this performance over time, you pay a lot. This is really a great business model.

    An f style mandolin is very labor intensive, probably twice a guitar’s.

    There is no intrinsic reason a Collings should be more expensive than a Silverangel. I’ve played them side by side and it is only a subjective, not qualitative, judgement. But SA has no marketing or dealer network to support. But it is defenately at a comfort disadvantage. I’m thinking most well established luthiers make great instruments, but they would be a leap into the unknown for most of us.
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  28. #19

    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    I’ve seen and played a fair number of Silverangels, including some new ones. Ken is a great guy and builds a nice mandolin, but his finish work is no where near Collings, especially the fretwork. I don’t think it’s about being a small builder either, because builders like Heiden and Girouard, as well as Ellis and Pava rival the fit and finish of Collings.
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  30. #20

    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    In general, I agree with the statement that a good mandolin costs twice what a good guitar costs. Like Eric said, I guess it would depend on how you define "good." For example, a Paul Reed Smith guitar can be several times the cost of a Fender guitar. Not sure if there is any more handwork required in making the PRS, but they are certainly marketing it as more of a boutique instrument. Maybe a more fair comparison would be PRS vs Gibson Les Paul -- both being top tier set neck guitars. Even at that, $5K ain't $10K, so I guess the 2X mandolin comparison still holds........

  31. #21
    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    Bri1k, I noticed that you do not have a Collings mandolin...

    Framing the question this way seems a bit odd. And we're all expert consumers here, so lets discuss some more! * read my signature for the Latin version of cynicism.

    Let's compare a Larrivee parlor guitar and a Olson parlor guitar.... O.K. I'm giving in to the idea. (sheesh).
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  32. #22

    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    You know everyone that states that they find Collings mandolins sterile sounding has played probably one or two varieties, but Collings makes some very diverse wood combinations, including some things that most stores will never see. Ever see a Collings mandolin made from Italian maple (wood originally set aside for violins)? Ever played a Collings MT2 mandolin in varnish with a one-piece flamed sugar maple back? Ever played an all-torrified Collings MT2v?

    We talked about "education" in the other thread. A real mandolin education doesn't take place stores, or festivals, or camps. It has been a fairly expensive endeavor to carefully curate a collection, and some of it took a leap of faith, and there were some real clunkers along the way. But it's been a helluva ride.
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  33. #23
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    The difference between mandolin prices and guitar prices, IMO, has little to do with comparisons of relative difficulty of manufacture.

    It is almost entirely do to supply and demand. The market for mandolins is minuscule in comparison to the guitar market. Statisitically speaking a luthier has a much much better chance of selling a guitar he/she has made than a mandolin he/she has made. Even in the custom market, there are tons of people asking for custom guitars for everyone looking for a custom mandolin.

    It is apples and oranges, I would agree, but it is not apples and drain pipes. Some industry wide comparison is possible. Many many more people want guitars than those cute banjolukee things that that guy, whats his name plays, you know, Claire Coffee's wife, what is his name, on the radio.
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you can't tell the difference between a premium mandolin and an inexpensive mandolin consider yourself lucky.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  36. #25
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    Default Re: Why are good mandolins more expensive than good guitars?

    I suggest looking at Like With Like .. price carved top and back Guitars with Carved top & Back Mandolin family instruments ..

    mass produced flat top guitars (a lot are made & sold) , with flat top and back mandolins .. how they are made are more similar ...

    Although guitar sales volume is so much larger than mandolins..

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