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Thread: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

  1. #1

    Smile Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Hi, I am looking to buy an inexpensive but fairly reasonable mandolin for my husband who is an experienced guitar and ukulele player. I know nothing about musical instruments, but have done a bit of research. I have read that it is important for a mandolin to be set up properly. I have found a starter Ozark 2001 at Eagle Music (I am in the UK) which they say is set up by them before being sent out. I have also looked at the Stagg M20 (which looks prettier ). Has anyone got any advice for me about which to choose? I know these are only very basic models but I don't want to spend too much on something he might not take too and no doubt if he does he will soon be looking to upgrade to a more expensive instrument! Thanks

  2. #2

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    1. A-style is cheaper than F-style
    2. Solid wood is better than laminate
    3. A setup is indeed important
    4. I always recommend the Kentucky KM-100 as a first instrument. Great quality for short money. Can be acquired for $200 used.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Inexpensive is different for everyone. Given your husband is already a player, the probability is great that he sticks with it. So I know prices in the UK seem astronomical to us in the US, but a Kentucky KM 150 or an Eastman MD 305 are both going to always have value. If Celtic or old time is going to be played, I’d just look for the most reasonable UK builders. I know that is a significant expense, but saves in the long run. The plethora of Aisian mandolin shaped objects likely will not serve you well.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Inexpensive is different for everyone. Given your husband is already a player, the probability is great that he sticks with it. So I know prices in the UK seem astronomical to us in the US, but a Kentucky KM 150 or an Eastman MD 305 are both going to always have value. If Celtic or old time is going to be played, Iíd just look for the most reasonable UK builders. I know that is a significant expense, but saves in the long run. The plethora of Aisian mandolin shaped objects likely will not serve you well.
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  4. #4

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Thanks for your advice!

    - - - Updated - - -

    Thanks I will look for these, but as you say prices in the UK are high!

  5. #5
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    The two models you're looking at are quite different. The Stagg is an all-plywood, f-hole mandolin, with a heat-pressed, laminated basswood arched top. I'm pretty sure it's Chinese-made. The Ozark is made in Romania, is all solid woods (spruce top, maple back and sides), has a flat top (it's called "Portuguese style" in Europe), has a slotted headstock and, just from looking at the pictures, has a slightly shorter scale and wider fingerboard. The Stagg's bridge is adjustable, the Ozark's isn't. Neither appears to have an adjustable truss rod in the neck.

    These two instruments are likely to sound different as well, the Stagg having a sharper, more percussive sound, with less sustain -- the Ozark a more "mellow" sound, with the notes ringing longer. You don't say what kind of music your husband plays, but the Stagg's designed, as they say, for bluegrass musicians, and the Ozark might be more suitable for general "folk," Celtic or classical playing. These are generalizations based on design; individual instruments are, well, individual, sometimes in regard to their sound.

    Overall construction-wise, I'd take the Ozark; solid woods are better than plywood, as a rule, and I don't think laminated basswood is as good a choice for the top -- the major vibrating surface -- as solid spruce. As you have said, you're aware that you're buying "student grade" instruments, and as pointed out above, there are more expensive mandolins that are better. However, a well-set-up "beginner" instrument can be very suitable to learn on. Eagle Music says they'll set up the Ozark for you, a plus; since its bridge is non-adjustable, better to have the shop do any modifying that may be necessary.

    I will slightly disagree with the idea that buying a student-grade instrument will "turn off" someone who's already an experienced player on other instruments. However, to be safe (though it'll spoil the surprise), you might make your present in the form of a joint trip to a dealer who stocks a range of instruments, and let him make the choice -- within your reasonable budget parameters, of course. Good luck however you choose.
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  6. #6
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    And, by the way I call "ham sandwich" (long-time Cafe-ers will get the reference). First thing you do is answer OP's question about the two mandolins she was considering; then you say, "You might also want to look at other models."

    IMHO, anyway.
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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    And, by the way I call "ham sandwich" (long-time Cafe-ers will get the reference). First thing you do is answer OP's question about the two mandolins she was considering; then you say, "You might also want to look at other models."

    IMHO, anyway.
    And then someone says, "if you add a few hundred dollars to your absolute maximum price, you can buy the Acme Deluxe, which is a much better instrument."
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  10. #8

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Ok, I’ll try again. Neither of the mandolin shaped objects listed above meet my minimum standards for a satisfying beginner instrument. YMMV.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Frankly, IMHO i think the idea of someone with no musical knowledge buying something for someone with lots of experience is a tough one. I lnow everyone loves surprises but I might recommend either taking your husband to a store and giving him a wad of cash and suggesting he try out some mandolins since he has been talking about that. Otherwise, I truly think he may not want to play an inferior instrument.

    Frankly, my wife, who is also a musician would never buy me any instrument. She did get me a subscription to an advanced fiddling video site that i am very excited about.

    Do you know what guitars and ukes he plays? That might give us a better idea of the quality he is used to.

    You might buy him something that he will feel bad about returning because it was a gift from you.

    Sorry to sound crass about this, but it is just my humblest opinion.
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  13. #10

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Totally concur with what the other contributors have already said.

    My son got a great Eastman 305 from Eagle, nicely set up. It’s a terrific starter mandolin - really good build quality, solid woods and a punchy tone. A 305 would be a significantly better instrument than the Stagg or Ozark. Miles better in every way.

    Hope this helps

    John

  14. #11

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Starting out with a poor quality, poor sounding instrument does no good to newbees. I went thru that pain. After 3 or 4 cheap mandolins, I finally pay for a good quality one to play with, properly setup of course. That was when I start making good progress.

  15. #12

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Quote Originally Posted by kkmm View Post
    Starting out with a poor quality, poor sounding instrument does no good to newbees. I went thru that pain. After 3 or 4 cheap mandolins, I finally pay for a good quality one to play with, properly setup of course. That was when I start making good progress.

    Which brand/model mandolin did you buy that you liked and found that it helped your progress ?

  16. #13
    Registered User Aaron Bohnen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    One step up in the catalog from the entry-level Eastmans and Kentuckys might be a good place to look for a great instrument to start on. You might find yourself with something very good and maybe even hold onto it over the long term.

    For instance, I had a Kentucky KM-256 that sounded good and was easy to play. That would have made a great first mandolin, or even long-term mandolin. It was similar in many ways to the universally acclaimed Eastman 305 that others have already mentioned.

    We are lucky nowadays that as soon as you go up a little into the Eastman and Kentucky catalogs there are good solid-wood instruments at sensible prices. If you could get one well set up from a dealer (there are plenty of cafe sponsors who'll do a great job for you) it's hard to imagine going too far wrong. Of course if you're willing to go another way, there's also the Cafe Classifieds with many great instruments available from knowlegeable sellers. Of course the same advice about a good setup applies there too.

    best luck!
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    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    I am a newbie at mandolin almost a year now , but played guitar for 40 years.
    I wasn't sure I like mandolin, so I bought, probably the cheapest, new one, you can get, a Rouge RM-100a. 50 dollars,
    It actually played ok out of the box,
    with a minor bridge adjustment. I knew I was not going to get the best sound out of cheap
    Mandolin,
    But It gave me an idea if I wanted to continue to learn to play mandolin, and the answer is yes!

    I stepped up to a new all solid wood Kentucky KM-270, 375 dollars. It also needed a minor
    Bridge adjustment, out of the box. The Kentucky sounds really good to me
    And world difference over the rouge. I realize now that I won't be giving up
    Playing mandolin, it is part of life now..

    Hindsight, I think, I take the suggestions of buying a lightly used, solid wood, Kentucky, km150, or Km270,etc, hopefully one that was already set up properly.

    Good luck, Chuck

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Question Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed (buy Local?)

    In UK a simpler build, Say a flat top and back A, by a local British Isles maker,
    may be more than adequate , in comparison, Vs an Asian Import ,
    with several layers of cost Markup, VAT, and Duty.. for similar money..

    [see builders data base link, at top of page ]




    Liking my Imported from UK, David Hodson D'jangolin..





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  21. #16
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Frankly, IMHO i think the idea of someone with no musical knowledge buying something for someone with lots of experience is a tough one. I lnow everyone loves surprises but I might recommend either taking your husband to a store and giving him a wad of cash and suggesting he try out some mandolins since he has been talking about that. Otherwise, I truly think he may not want to play an inferior instrument....
    The point I made above. I think the musical instrument presents that work out best, are the ones where the recipient helps make the selection. Although, my wife Joan, who doesn't play herself, went to the store where I often shop, and asked the owner, Dave Stutzman, what instrument would make a good 25th anniversary present. He picked out a Taylor XX-MC "20th anniversary" guitar, which I played as my #1 guitar for many years, and still own.
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  22. #17
    Registered User DoubleE's Avatar
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    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    I have no experience with either of the two instruments mentioned by the OP, but if I had to choose I would go with the Ozark. I would much rather have solid woods than laminate, especially a basswood laminate. No matter what instrument you choose, a good setup is essential.

    I honestly think that a desire to play mandolin will trump any instrument you purchase, provided itís setup and playable. Your husband might just want to dabble and see if he really wants to play mandolin seriously. But, if does decide to pursue it be prepared for him to make an upgrade of his choosing and possibly a serious case of MAS!

    For me personally I would be thrilled to be gifted any instrument! Mandolin, guitar, sitar, balalaika! Itís the thought that counts!

  23. #18

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Quote Originally Posted by DGtryin View Post
    Which brand/model mandolin did you buy that you liked and found that it helped your progress ?
    To make it clear, here are what I bought
    1) a mandolin on a trip to Vietnam for 50$, look very nice. Knew nothing about setup so I could not play it in tune.
    2) a friend gave me her cheap mandolin (A-style), I could play it but it cannot stay in tune (probably bad tuning hardware).
    3) I bought another cheap chinese made mandolin, this one plays much better (when plugged in), still not happy with its acoustic sound.
    4) an use Ovation and made a lot of progress with this one as it sounds pretty good to my ears
    ... and about 10 non famous brand, including Ibanez, Fender, bowlbacks, etc...
    5) an used Kentucky KM-100 (pancake) that sounds really good to me,
    6) a Tacoma M1, pretty solid and play well
    7) a vintage Chicago mandolin (about 100 yrs old) bought from local flea market. This one had a sunked top which I fixed (reglue the loose braces) and it sounds really good now.

    Long story made short: I sold ALL except the last 3 which I still keep and play quite often. I do not play bluegrass so these 3 are good fit for me. The Kentucky KM-100 cost me 110$, the Chicago 30$. Pretty low cost for good quality mandolins.

  24. #19

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    Thanks for the advice, I will look at that one.

  25. #20

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    I have also looked at a Tanglewood. I have decided to go to a local music shop (apparently the oldest in Britain!) and the place where my husband bought his ukelele and look at some instruments there. Hopefully they will give me some good advice and I can hear them played. I do want to get him a surprise even though he might want to choose. As I say he might upgrade later. He did start with a cheap ukelele bought as a gift (not from me) and then caught the bug. Thank you all for your advice!

  26. #21
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    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    I definitely would not buy the Stagg. The company make fairly good things like microphone stands, instrument cases etc, but in my experience (and I have seen quite a lot of them) their mandolins are not that good.

    Ozark can vary, but I would say you could get an ok instrument from them, certainly at an entry level.
    However, I'm glad you are going to a local music shop (they need our support and can give advice), particularly as your husband has already been a customer there so they know him.

    Much better idea.
    David A. Gordon

  27. #22
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    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    FWIW I'd echo what Dagger says, I have heard a few decent Ozarks, I can't say the same about Staggs, the ones I have heard have been pretty weak and thin.

    A lady I played with had an Ozark Army and Navy that I thought sounded pretty good, Eagle has it at £169, I haven't heard the cheaper model you mentioned, but I have seen it recommended as a starter.
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  28. #23

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    I bought a Tanglewood for about £130 and he seems pleased with it anyway. He is busy practising now! Thanks for all your advice ��

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  30. #24

    Default Re: Inexpensive starter mandolin advice needed

    When he's ready to upgrade...call Trevor at TAMCO...I think thats the name of the store in the UK I see mentioned here often.
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

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