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Thread: buying first mando without playing?

  1. #1

    Default buying first mando without playing?

    First, what an awesome community of folks - incredible information to be had at every turn - thanks for the content.

    I'm a guitar player looking at buying a mandolin - given the time I'm now spending at home, I'm excited to put the effort in to learn to play.

    I've now spent the last 5 days or so looking at posts, on the classifieds, learning all I can about some exceptional instruments, and in "normal" times, I'd go to a shop, play some, and go from there. However, that's not a possibility at this point.

    I've narrowed down my thoughts on purchasing to several - some new, some used. And I know there will be a number of opinions - but I welcome them, as I won't be able to play them prior to purchase...so here it goes, low to high on $:

    Loar LM-600
    Eastman MD315 or 515
    Ratliff Country Boy (pre owned)
    Sliverangel Econo A
    Weber Gallitan (pre owned)

    The cost is fairly wide-ranging, but I also want to buy something I'll have minimal MAS from (I continually have the guitar-related issue). I'm partial to handbuilt, american made instruments (I own Taylor guitars), but also hard to throw more money at something I haven't put a hand to in person. I prefer the look of the f, but know great value in some of the a body mandolins.

    Any suggestions or advice is appreciated. I'm a bluegrass guy in NC, so if that helps on how I want to use the mandolin, then even better!

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  3. #2
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    The used American made instruments on your list will hold almost all their value if you treat them right, those are both instruments with really good reputations that should keep you happy for quite a while. If mandolin turns out not to be your thing, or you want a different mandolin down the line, you should be able to get most of your money back out. I regret buying some less expensive instruments, I've never regretted buying a good one.
    -Dave
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  5. #3
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    I don't intend to slight the others instruments on your list, those are all good choices. I'm just a big advocate of buying the best instrument you can find used.
    -Dave
    Flatiron A
    Way too many other instruments

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  7. #4
    Distressed Model John Ritchhart's Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Almost all American luthiers (I know only one exception) will guarantee their instruments. If you don't like it they will replace it or just take it back. This happens every time you order a new one made. No way to test it first except to play some of the same model. We all know every one is different anyway. Most of the classified posters here will give you a 48 hour trial period with the same option as well. Make sure you know what the deal is.
    We few, we happy few.

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  9. #5

    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Let me be the first to tell you, minimal MAS does not exist. But the good news is that either the Weber, Country Boy or Silverangel, in order to be significantly improved would cause affordability to be the main MAS quasher. SAs, I have found, need the heavy strings they were built for to sound their best. The Weber’s I’ve played, no more than a half dozen, have not been loud enough for me, but plenty are used to play BG.

    This is perhaps the best case scenario for buying sight unseen. You have no reference. Whatever mandolin you buy will be that reference. Later on having this known sound and feel will guide you to your tone and feel. Buy whatever, there’s a Country Boy in the Classifieds right now, and spend six months or a year with it. It will be an education.

    I bought an Eastman first, but after trying Collings and Northfield and a Weber or two, it lasted just a few months. Four years later I still have my SA. As was stated above, buy the best you can afford. You already know and have overcome the learning curve on guitar, so success is a probable outcome.
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  10. #6
    Registered User J Mangio's Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Head on over to The Banjo Warehouse and jump on The Loar LM600 for $649.00 while they last.
    2020 The Loar Supreme LM700 VS

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  12. #7
    Bluegrass Mayhem marbelizer's Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Reverb has a 7 day trial period unless the instrument is specified "as is". I bought my D-18 there and had time to change to my preferred strings and get a feel for the guitar. I kept it.

    I'm sure you could search there and find quite a few used mandos in your price range.

    Of course the mandolincafe classifieds is the more ethical choice.
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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    I’ve played all your examples, other than the “The Loar.” I still own an Eastman MD315 and Silverangel A. I wouldn’t stress too much over not being able to play these instruments before buying. All have good reputations and are fine instruments if set up properly.

    Even playing an instrument in a store is only a hint of what that mandolin might be capable of. I’ve found that I’ve had to try different strings and picks to find the combination that most pleased my ear. That takes time and playing. On the MD315, for instance, I’ve settled on J74CM with medium G and D courses and heavy A and E courses. On the last two instruments I’ve bought, I’ve done less experimenting with strings - the Silverangels are built for heavy strings (J75); Will Kimble recommends J74’s and they sound fine to me. I’ve still had to try different picks to see how much brightness I needed to add or subtract.

    Jump in and start learning!
    Doug Brock
    2018 Kimble 2 point (#259), 2019 Silverangel Econo A (#446), Eastman MD315, 2020 Morris Oval Flattop A, Eastman MDA315
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  16. #9

    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    y'all are awesome and have great advice. i'm really leaning on the ratliff that's listed, the SA (new from Ken) or a pre-owned older Weber Gallatin (f-style). While the Loar 600 from banjo warehouse is very appealing, the idea of buying a handbuilt instrument from someone in the US may be stronger than the deal to be had there...challenge is that optically, I love the f-body of the weber (even though it has a few dings), while the value on the SA/Ratliff A-body is apparent as well.

    thanks for the continued advice/thoughts...all are helpful in this process.

  17. #10

    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Quote Originally Posted by J Mangio View Post
    Head on over to The Banjo Warehouse and jump on The Loar LM600 for $649.00 while they last.
    That seems like a fantastic value. $649 w/ HSC and shipping . . . DANG

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  19. #11

    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    My .02 is if you want an F style, and believe me I get it, resolve to buy a Country Boy F or a Siverangel F rather than something like the Loar. But the fact is, an A style will give you the tone and playability you need now. If after six months or a year, well like I said, the mandolin would have told you you really can't do without a scroll. You will know you want a scroll, or a flat or radiused board, or wider neck, or sweeter tone, or louder, or prettier, or varnish finish, or waverly tuners. Then you can save up for that perfect $12,000 mandolin.
    Silverangel A
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  21. #12

    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    I realize the a-body silverangel and country boy would have great resell value should I choose to move to an f-style (if I chose that route) - do thinks like the Loar LM600 mentioned have good resell value? I see Eastmans in the classifieds here, but not sure I saw a Loar (other than vintage ones) listed?

  22. #13
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Quote Originally Posted by kpow View Post
    I realize the a-body silverangel and country boy would have great resell value should I choose to move to an f-style (if I chose that route) - do thinks like the Loar LM600 mentioned have good resell value? I see Eastmans in the classifieds here, but not sure I saw a Loar (other than vintage ones) listed?
    Nothing holds resale value better than an already used and appropriately depreciated mandolin. We just went through a similar exercise here recently, and the OP acquired a Ratliff A5 for $950 shipped, but hers lacked the upgrades to this one:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/152761#152761
    1924 Gibson A Snakehead
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Sheets View Post
    I don't intend to slight the others instruments on your list, those are all good choices. I'm just a big advocate of buying the best instrument you can find used.
    Yep. Always aim for a better instrument than you think you can afford. You will rise to the occasion musically, and it will delay any regret that you didn't get something better.

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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    I prefer the Weber Gallitin, but any on the list would be fine, American made, I hear great things about Ratliffs, but I own a Weber the most local to me. I live and was born in Oregon.

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  28. #16
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    One thing you can do is scour YouTube for videos of those (and lots of others in your price range). While it's not perfect, you can start to hear the differences each builder has in their instruments. Also, if you have a certain mandolin sound on an album or from a particular player, you can use that as a guide for listening online.

    If you can afford any of the top three, I'd not even consider the bottom two. Like br1ck, I started with an Eastman 315, and it was great for about 9 months; until I played a Weber Bitterroot F and that sent me off on the MAS journey.

    I'll agree with the stated premises that buying a quality used instrument sooner rather than later provides 1) more incentive to pick the thing up a lot because you love the feel/sound and 2) you'll get most of your money back if you step up.

    Welcome to the fold!
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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    I’ve bought two instruments unplaced. My jbovier and my telecaster. Both bought from Ted eschliman. Both perfect. If you can trust the vendor it’s worth the risk.
    JBovier ELS; Epiphone MM-50 VN; Epiphone MM-40L; Gretsch New Yorker G9310; Washburn M1SDLB;

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Depending where you are in NC I would pay a visit to Kevin at MandoMutt in Efland.....

    http://www.mandomutt.com/products-page/new-arrivals

    It looks he has a couple in your price range and he is a great guy to deal with.

    Good luck with your search!
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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  34. #19

    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Buy used. That way you more or less make your money back when you sell it.

    Never played a Gallatin, but they look groovy, Weber has a great reputation, and I've never heard a bad word about them.

    If you like how A's look, they're a better buy, because less work goes into cosmetics. You can't hear whether a mando is an A or F.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    Depending where you are in NC I would pay a visit to Kevin at MandoMutt in Efland.....
    Sounds like Kpow isn't visiting anyone anywhere.

    I'm not, either!

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  36. #20
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    One thing to remember about the Gallitans is that some were made with mahogany back and sides and some with maple back and sides, I would go with the maple if that is what you are leaning toward.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    My 2 worth: As you look around, check some of the advertisers on this forum. They've been around for years, are honest and reputable. They will give honest assessments of their instruments. I'm not normally an advocate of buying sight unseen but I think you're safe with the advertisers here. In years past, I purchased 2 Breedloves from The Mandolin Store, sight unseen. I depended on Breedlove's and the store's reputation. Still have both of 'em and still play both of 'em. The Legacy continues to be my primary mandolin. Breedlove no longer makes mandolins in this country but the Mandolin Store is still going strong.
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  40. #22
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    I'll second David's comments about the shops that advertise on the Cafe'. I've purchased instruments from Elderly and Morgan Music and been treated very well both times. Instruments come with a good setup (super important) and are well-packed.
    "Keep your hat on, we may end up miles from here..." - Kurt Vonnegut

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  42. #23

    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Have been looking at the shops advertised for sure, and whatever direction, will be keeping it within the group - the info provided here is invaluable. And I would trust those sellers/shops on here way more than anything I could take a chance with online or, for that matter, locally (though that isn't an option now). I've been combing the classifieds as well as clicking on the sponsor shops frequently...lots of options at this point, just trying to narrow down the choices and then try (and it's hard) to use all the info I have to make a final decision - and frankly, I know I won't go wrong in any direction. again, thanks for the continued info and direction - it's all very valuable and very well received.

  43. #24
    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Don't overthink it. People tend to spend too much time trying to figure out if they should get a gloss or matte finish, or if that speed neck will be a liability or whether the cast tailpiece on the XT300 will give it more sustain than the stamped one on the XT100, or whatever. Get the best mandolin you can comfortably afford and start playing. A used luthier-built mandolin will hold its value better than a new anything, but if your heart is set on a scrolly import, that's fine, too. Just get one and play.

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  45. #25
    Registered User Isaac Casas's Avatar
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    Default Re: buying first mando without playing?

    Hello there. I've had a similar experience about the need to buy without trying the instruments and maybe it could help you. I live in Barcelona, Spain, and the chance to go out and play good mandolins on a store (or even just any mandolin) is very scarce, specially american made and high-end. Also, I can't really afford a good mandolin plus customs, so I need to buy from Europe sellers.

    Long story short, I've been playing guitar for many years, fell in love with bluegrass and mandolin around 6 years ago and decided to buy my first one without ever having tried one. I went for an online purchase of a The Loar 700vs for a little less than 800€ and, while being great value for the money, I liked the mando so so much -the mandolin as instrument, not that one mando- that after around 4 months I new I wanted to buy a better one. I comissioned a Prucha F5 for around 3.200€ and I've been incredibly happy with it ever since. I know, it's a hell of a price difference, but it was totally worth the saving.

    The thing is that the same happened to me recently, which convinced me that the best you can do is buy the most expensive instrument you can. A year ago I decided to buy an octave mandolin and, again, couldn't try one and went for an online purchase of an Eastman MDO305 for 845€ -probably similar quality to the The Loar. Again, great value but knew almost right away that I wanted more and better sound. This past january bought a used octave Weber Bitterroott F4 from a UK seller and I know that's a keeper for me.

    So, in my humble and not very wide experience trying mandos (oh, I need to say that the very kind and amazing Tony Williamson let me play his Loar for 3 minutes recently after a clinic ), aim for the best mando you can get your hands on. Totally worth it.

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