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Thread: Newbie needs equipment advice

  1. #1
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    Question Newbie needs equipment advice

    Hello everyone. I am a newly joined member here although I have been reading and browsing things for a couple of weeks.

    I have been bitten by the Mandolin bug which apparently is easy to catch and difficult to shed (why would anyone want to shed it anyway?).

    I am looking to buy my first mandolin. I would like to get a good quality F-style upper beginner type of mandolin. Will consider an A-style mandolin. I have established a $500 budget for this acquisition. After a lot of reading I think that my best bet may be buy used. Used mandolins often come with strap, case, pick (maybe) and so forth. I am not opposed to buying new but it appears that I would need to up my budget by a couple of hundred bucks.

    Any and all advice will be most welcome. Right now I have my eye on a Michael Kelly F-Style Legacy Deluxe which appears to be in really good shape. I am looking forward to learning and practicing on the mandolin. Right now I am a professional banjo player. Yessir, I make big bucks by detuning one of me resonator banjos and then sitting out on the back deck while practicing finger rolls for forty five minutes or so. My neighbors usually pay me handsomely to stop.

    Everybody out there have a great day and stay safe.

  2. #2
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    You may get a better bang for your buck with an a Style. There is a long argument about whether the f has better or even different tone to an a, but when you’re starting out, I don’t think it matters.

    I can’t help you with price because i’m in Australia, but it’s worth noting that Mandolins are worth about twice a guitar. So a 500 dollar mandolin is about the quality of a 250 dollar guitar. Of course with the quality of manufacturing today, you may get a decent instrument for that price.

    Get it setup. Either go to a luthier or tech, or if you’re handy get a copy of rob Mel drums book - search the cafe for details. It’s free.
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  4. #3
    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    In your budget you're going to do much better with an A than an F. That scroll adds a lot of labor and therefore cost.

    I've played lots of Michael Kelleys. Some of them seemed tonally dead. Some seemed within the range of acceptability. One was freakishly loud and had good tone.

    I think the standard Cafe recommendation for a $500 mandolin is an Eastman 305. But let me beat pheffernan to it and suggest a flattop. You can get a really fine flattop for about $500. There were a bunch of them recently in the classifieds. There's still a Keith Newell for $600. If you can stretch your budget, that'd likely be a fine instrument.

    You can learn on anything, but a quality flattop is something you'll be likely to keep. If you decide to sell later on, there's always a market for these.

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  6. #4
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    Default Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    Take a look on the Reverb site at the Kentucky used A model mandolins. There are several there within your budget range. I would be "concerned" about a Michael Kelly mandolin. I have played a few good ones but more that had poor tone and or playability. Enjoy. R/

    https://reverb.com/marketplace?query...%20mandolin%20
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  8. #5
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    Default Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    If your heart is set on an F style, look for a used Eastman 315. I sold one in a recent downsizing that I bought as a “beater” after being really impressed with it in the big box store where my wife was buying lesson books for her piano students. They’re really making some nice instruments right now. Mine had 75-80% of the tone of a Collings MT I had, and I mean that as a compliment to the Eastman, not a knock on the Collings. The Collings was definitely a better mandolin, don’t get me wrong. But, if I could only have 1 and the 315 was my budget, I would have been happy to have it. Know going in that the tuners and bridge are cost saving measures; they’re functional enough that I never changed them out, but don’t expect Waverly precision...

    That said, The advice about Flat tops is good, unless you want to be bluegrass jamming soon, in which case you need a carved top, f hole instrument. You can get a nicer instrument in a A style than F style, for sure. Good luck with your search!

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    Default Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    I would also recommend a used A style over an F style to start out. I would recommend buying from one of our sponsor vendors as they do the set up for you (that alone is worth 1/4 of your budget if you have someone else do it). My personal preferences in that range would be for Eastman and Kentucky models.

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  12. #7
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric F. View Post
    But let me beat pheffernan to it and suggest a flattop. You can get a really fine flattop for about $500. There were a bunch of them recently in the classifieds. There's still a Keith Newell for $600. If you can stretch your budget, that'd likely be a fine instrument.
    Thanks for saving me the effort. I think a flattop is a great opportunity to get a “starter” priced mandolin that is made of solid woods by an independent luthier or small shop right here in the United States.

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric F. View Post
    You can learn on anything, but a quality flattop is something you'll be likely to keep.
    And here is the other benefit of the flattop as starter mandolin: when you’re ready to “upgrade,” it can shift happily over to backup, beater, beach mandolin, or alternate voice. It never needs to be replaced, unless by a better flattop!
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  14. #8
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    I have never been impressed with the Michael Kelly brand. I think you would be better served with an Eastman or a Kentucky.
    This used Eastman is in the classifieds at pretty much base price but it does have the extras you mentioned...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/154734#154734

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    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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  16. #9

    Default Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    All I can add is that I bought a new Eastman 315 last year and I love it.

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    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    I have never been impressed with the Michael Kelly brand. I think you would be better served with an Eastman or a Kentucky.
    This used Eastman is in the classifieds at pretty much base price but it does have the extras you mentioned...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/154734#154734

    NFI
    Agree 100%. Dollar fir dollar, your going to farther ahead with an Eastman or Kentucky over the MK.

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  20. #11
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    Smile Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    I thank all of you for taking your time to reply. I will start looking for flattops too. I have decided to not buy the Michael Kelley based on your advice as well as that of several other members. This particular one was made around 2006 and was manufactured in Korea. It would appear that the same geographic migration that we saw in the banjo world also took place in the mandolin world. Many high quality mass producers of banjos first migrated their manufacturing to Japan or to Korea. After that they were lured into moving it to China. I am sure that there are many good quality instruments coming out of China but for some the quality (at least in the banjo world) went on a downward spiral.

    I will also look at A's now. Thanks again and have a great weekend.

  21. #12
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    Default Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    OK, all of your good advice which I really appreciated bore fruit. After looking and looking I bought a used Eastman MD304 this afternoon. It was reasonably priced (I hope) and looks like it will be a really good (I hope) first mandolin for a beginner. Now I have to be see about the lessons that I have read about on here. I am open to all suggestions and hints about that as well.

    So thank you all once again. Stay safe and have a great afternoon.

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  23. #13
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newbie needs equipment advice

    Congrats! I think you chose wisely. Make sure the instrument is set up properly (either from the seller or from a shop).

    While you should definitely look for an in-person instructor, you can start here in the meantime: MandoLessons.com

    Lots of beginner lessons and tons of fiddle tunes broken down into bite-size chunks
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