Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 32

Thread: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
    Location
    Southwest Washington
    Posts
    7

    Default Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    Hi folks,

    I'm looking for purchase advice. I currently own a Savannah SA-120 (beginner A style mandolin). It's a fine enough instrument for now, not set up very well from what I can tell.

    I'm looking for an upgrade in the near future. Mr. Collins-Hill over at MandoLessons recommends Kentucky mandolins. I listened to some sound samples at various online stores and they sound nice. I also like the Eastman offerings.

    I'm primarily interested in the Kentucky KM-205 or the Eastman MD305, mostly because of the price point and quality they appear to have. I want something that is going to make playing and developing my skills more satisfying that my current setup. My question is are either of these options good choices to help carry me through beginner and well into intermediate stages? Would there be much benefit to saving up an extra ~$150 - $250 for the KM-505 or MD505? I'm a little concerned with sound profile. The Eastman's are attractive because they seem to have a rounder sound from online recordings. Their deeper tones seem to come through better than the Kentuckys. Of course, it would be nice to play them both for myself if I can manage it, but that's going to be difficult, to say the least.

    Thanks in advance folks!

  2. #2
    Hands of Pot Metal
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Location
    Forest Grove, Oregon
    Posts
    1,442

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    it would be helpful to understand your budget and the type of music you are playing and would like to play. How long you are playing is also useful. And maybe setting up your Savannah might be all that's needed for now. You can reach out to Rob Meldrum here in the Cafe, I think a PM will work, for a great DIY setup manual.

    And typically better values are to be found in used instruments.

  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
    Location
    Southwest Washington
    Posts
    7

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    Bill, that would have been handy information to share, sorry. I'm looking to ideally stay under $600 but would be willing to stretch that somewhat if it would achieve a meaningful upgrade in quality. I'm interested in playing bluegrass, folk, and Irish style music. I prefer the A-style f-hole mandolins. I've relatively recently picked the Savannah back up in the last few months to start learning again, and I've been practicing with it daily. I'm not looking for an immediate instrument upgrade, perhaps by winter or early next year.

    Regarding the Savannah set up, definitely an option I have considered. I watched some helpful YouTube videos and done some work on my own. I've adjusted the bridge height for action to the point that I'm just above getting some buzz. Setting the bridge position to match the scale length between open and fret 12 so that 12 to bridge is the same results in very noticeably sharp notes up the neck. I set bridge position so that open and 12 are pretty much in tune and fret 7 and next highest string are fairly close. I'm still have intonation issues, erring on the sharp side on the low end of the fret board, which is more than a little frustrating to be honest. I know I'm not terribly experienced at this but I'm guessing this is an instrument quality issue that cannot be resolved. This is the primary reason I'm looking for an upgrade in the nearish future. The only other thing that could be done is filing the nut slots down some more. That would require me to purchase some files and the thought of trying this out is a little daunting, if I'm being honest. There is no truss rod in this mandolin. I will definitely message Mr. Meldrum for the setup manual to see if there is anything I'm missing.

    Regarding better value with used instruments, that is a good point. I've been keeping my eye out for sure. However, these days it seems that value is being marginalized by folks knowing what these instruments are worth. It seems as long as there isn't much sign of wear and tear, at best I could maybe save $100. I know that's nothing to sneeze at, but it's not substantial when the next best option is brand new and professionally set up. That being said, I will certainly keep my eyes open.

  4. #4
    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    Nacogdoches Texas
    Posts
    1,232

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    I'm not familiar with the Eastman but I've heard several KM505s and all had a very nice tone. You mentioned the deeper tones but in my opinion the upper frequencies are often weak in the instruments in this price range. The KM505 can be heard in a jam session.

  5. #5
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
    Location
    Southwest Washington
    Posts
    7

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    I'm not familiar with the Eastman but I've heard several KM505s and all had a very nice tone. You mentioned the deeper tones but in my opinion the upper frequencies are often weak in the instruments in this price range. The KM505 can be heard in a jam session.
    Good to know, thanks for the information. It's very difficult to distinguish sound profile on the online stores' sound samples. Also, I'm not the most experienced person to be judging this.

  6. #6
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Saint Augustine Beach FL
    Posts
    4,790

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    This Crystal Forest mandolin is in the classifieds....

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/154679#154679

    This is a screaming good deal on a small shop 100% American made mandolin. I don't think you will get a better mandolin for the $.

    NFI

    Here is a link to the builders website...

    https://crystalforestmandolins.com/
    Last edited by Charles E.; Jun-13-2020 at 8:41pm.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  7. #7
    Registered User J Mangio's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Location
    Las Vegas, NV
    Posts
    366

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    The Banjo Warehouse
    New, The Loar LM 600 BK
    $649.00
    NFI
    2019 The Loar Supreme LM700 VS

  8. #8
    Scroll Lock Austin Bob's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Austin, Tx - some call it heaven
    Posts
    1,126

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    What mandolin to buy? That is the question we all have to answer; from the very beginner who has never even held a mandolin, to those of us with years of experience wanting to upgrade to the next level. Surprisingly, the answer is very similar: buy the one that sounds the best to you that's in your price range.

    The one thing I know is that inventory levels and availability of models can change. And even with established brands, they sometimes change direction or strategies, or perhaps move to a different factory. Meaning that what was a great deal six months ago might not even be available now, or has changed considerably in quality. This is especially true in today's climate with many factories closed or at limited capacity.

    What I recommend is to go to the front page of the Mandolin Cafe and look at the sponsors. Call the ones who sell mandolins and ask what they have in your price range, and what they recommend. Get a feel for how they value you as a customer, what kind of setup work they do, as well as the return policy, etc. After a few phone calls, you will probably have your list narrowed down to a couple of vendors and two or three mandolins. Listen to them on YouTube and ask more questions.

    So I didn't directly answer your question, but hopefully this will help you to find your own path. Good luck.
    A quarter tone flat and a half a beat behind.

  9. The Following 3 Users Say Thank You to Austin Bob For This Useful Post:


  10. #9
    Dave Sheets
    Join Date
    Feb 2015
    Location
    Buffalo NY Area
    Posts
    362

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    The mandolins you mentioned, the KM 205 and the Eastman 305 are both a big step up from the Savannah, the KM 150 is also well thought of as a basic mandolin. You wind up paying a lot more for the next big step-up in sound, in my opinion. Any of these would do the job for you, The Loar as well. Figuring out which one appeals to you most and go with that one. You can learn to be pretty good player on any of these. To save money, don't upgrade it until you have played a lot of other mandolins, at stores or at jams, and have a pretty good idea of what you want in the upgrade. Nothing wrong with the catch and release approach to buying instruments, but it has to get expensive.

    Setup is really crucial with mandolins, they just don't play or sound right without a good set-up. You want to budget for a good setup after you get, or get it from a shop that is known for doing good set-ups even on the basic instruments. Either approach will cost a bit more, but it is well worth it to get a mandolin that plays well and in tune. If you are handy and know something about stringed instruments, get Rob Meldrum's guide and you can do the setup yourself.
    -Dave
    Flatiron A
    Way too many other instruments

  11. #10
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    NC
    Posts
    3,896

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    Since you’re not in a huge rush, contact The Mandolin Store and put them on alert for one of their Eastman 505/515 Blem deals. They come very well set up, and many have commented that they can’t find the blemishes on theirs (which are supposed to be cosmetic only). Dennis has always been very honest with me, and I’ve bought/traded a few instruments with them over the years. That way you get the nicer hardware/components, but at a nice discount. And, if he doesn’t think they’ll be getting any soon, he will help you out otherwise.

    Or, look out for a used Howard “Sonny” Morris mandolin, which are also a tremendous value and a definite step up from your Savannah that you’re unlikely to quickly outgrow. They’re a little above your budget, but not above your “stretch” budget used.

    Nothing against the Kentucky 150/505s, they are very good mandolins, I’ve just mostly seen Eastmans locally of late (we’ll, before shut down), and they really seem to have their builds dialed in right now.

    Good luck in the search!

  12. #11

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    I think the Kentucky KM250 (or 252, 256) are the sweet spot for a great beginner to intermediate mandolin.
    Less than $500 with setup from a reputable dealer. All solid carved woods, radiused fretboard with medium sized frets, reliable tuning machines, removable pick-guard.
    Good sounding, comfortable to play, good tone. Nice gloss nitrocellulose finish.
    I also like the Eastman MD305, but I like the Kentucky more.
    Both will be good.

    https://www.elderly.com/collections/...m-250-mandolin

    https://www.elderly.com/collections/...andolin-gigbag

  13. #12
    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Germany
    Posts
    1,722

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    Everybody talks about the usual suspects (lowballer: Savannah, Antonio Tsai, MK etc., intermediate "unpricey": The Loar, Eastman, Kentucky etc.). I don´t want to put these down, but:

    Have you ever read the ultimate mandolin purchase article here on Mandolin Cafe? It´s called: Great Vintage Mandolins Under $1,000.

    I think you should strongly consider purchasing a good mandolin. Vintage mandolins under 1000,- USD are ultimately preferable to some "new" "inexpensive" instrument.

    My experience: My first mandolin (I have two, my first mandolin and a pricey mandolin) is a Strad-O-Lin from the 30ies. It is as vintage as they make them. It sounds awesome. I do not "need" my pricey instrument (even though it makes me happy to play it). My Strad-O-Lin does everything anyone ever needs. Even pros have said so (so it must be true ).

    When I wanted to purchase my first mandolin I went to the (only known to me) shop that carried a variety of mandolins. I played a variety of mandolins, among them inexpensive Samick mandolins, Kentucky´s, higher priced vintage Gibson A mandolins (A, A-2, A-4) of various years and a (at the time) very pricey Gibson Bill Monroe model. I did this to educate myself concerning the sound/quality/price ration between the models.

    In my price range it was either a Kentucky or my Strad-O-Lin. I had specifically asked if they knew about Strads and they had this one. All these years that have passed I am so beyond glad that I (rookie that I was) decided to buy the Strad. It was not new, it looked "worn" but boy does it sing (still).
    Olaf

  14. The following members say thank you to grassrootphilosopher for this post:


  15. #13

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    Well Mr Redbeard, if you’re interested in the thoughts of a bearded old forestry tech/mando guy, I think you’re onto something when you consider the mid-range Eastmans. A body/f-holes: The 505 is a very good instrument without the economic compromises that inform the 305 appointments. I have had the same one for 10 years. Awhile ago I had a discussion with a highly regarded Canadian player who was interested in selling me his Collings. So we swapped for a couple of days (he’s a friend and was then a neighbour), when we got back together, he understood why I wasn’t interested in trading in the 505, it’s one of those well-worn instruments that is worth a lot more for its sound and playability than is reflected in its market value, about $500. I play the 505 in sessions full of devil-take-the-hindmost Cape Breton fiddlers and it holds its own and then some. So it does the full switch from bluegrass chop to Celtic...
    I particularly like the “classic” deep-red finish, not so much the sunburst.
    I have nothing against the Kentucky, a worthy competitor, I just have never found one that turned my crank the same way.
    Hope you find the one that suits you.

  16. The following members say thank you to Bill Cameron for this post:


  17. #14
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Location
    Richmond, Virginia
    Posts
    7,371

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    you should buy a solid wood, hand carved, A5-type mandolin. I think Eastman a good choice.

    f-d
    ¡papá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!

    '20 A3, '30 L-1, '97 914, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5, '14 OM28A

  18. #15
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
    Location
    Southwest Washington
    Posts
    7

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    Good advice, thank you Mr. Cameron! I've definitely looked at the 505 really hard and that classic finish is very appealing, indeed. I think it would complement my beard The Kentucky's are attractive, too. I think I need to find a store close by that sells both to hear the sound in person, if it's feasible.

  19. #16

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    I’ve played a fair number of Kentucky and Eastman mandolins. My first mandolin (after a failed start with a Savannah) was a KM162. It was OK. Not great, but it got me started. However, the flat fingerboard took some getting used to, so I then got an Eastman 505 which served me well for about 3 years.

    The one and only issue I had with the Eastman is that it had a very narrow fretboard, which ended up resulting in some hand cramping and tendon issues. However, it sounded really nice - a much warmer sound than the Kentucky.

    My youngest son got an Eastman 305 about 18 months ago, and it’s a great mandolin. The tuners are a little clunky, but the neck is a little beefier than my old 505, and it’s got a really deep voice, with a good chop. Really nice instrument.

    A musician friend has a KM505 - again, a decent instrument. It’s got a brighter sound than any Eastman I’ve played, but sound is subjective.

    Whichever model you buy, it’ll be a massive step up from your Savannah - just make sure you get it from a good dealer who knows about Mandolin set-ups.

    Good luck!

    John

  20. #17
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Saint Augustine Beach FL
    Posts
    4,790

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    This Eastman 505 just hit the classifieds...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156127#156127

    Right at your price point.

    NFI
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  21. #18

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    This Eastman 505 just hit the classifieds...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156127#156127

    Right at your price point.

    NFI
    That seems to fit perfectly
    Northfield NF5S
    Tracy Cox Nordic Mandola
    Gernandt Octave mandolin
    Crump B1 Bouzouki
    Davy Stuart Mandola
    www.singletonstreet.com

  22. #19
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    NC
    Posts
    3,896

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    There’s a Lafferty A5 that just hit the classifieds for $750.00. NFI. These sell new for about $1500...
    Chuck

  23. The following members say thank you to CES for this post:


  24. #20
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    Posts
    3,078

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    Quote Originally Posted by CES View Post
    There’s a Lafferty A5 that just hit the classifieds for $750.00. NFI. These sell new for about $1500...
    Nothing beginner about that one: https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156138#156138
    1924 Gibson A Snakehead
    2005 National RM-1
    2007 Hester A5
    2009 Passernig A5
    2015 Black A2-z
    2010 Black GBOM
    2017 Poe Scout
    2011 Passernig F5
    2018 Vessel TM5

  25. The following members say thank you to pheffernan for this post:


  26. #21

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    Nothing beginner about that one: https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156138#156138
    Looks like a great deal. Cafe coming through for the OP!
    Northfield NF5S
    Tracy Cox Nordic Mandola
    Gernandt Octave mandolin
    Crump B1 Bouzouki
    Davy Stuart Mandola
    www.singletonstreet.com

  27. #22
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Outer Spiral Arm, of Galaxy, NW Oregon.
    Posts
    16,063

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    I liked my Gibson A 40 That I had from the 70-80's.. cost $150 .
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

  28. #23
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Saint Augustine Beach FL
    Posts
    4,790

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    Nothing beginner about that one: https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156138#156138
    Well that did not last long. Some one got a good deal, the OP?
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  29. #24
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jun 2020
    Location
    Southwest Washington
    Posts
    7

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck Leyda View Post
    Looks like a great deal. Cafe coming through for the OP!
    It was a great deal. Apparently, I just missed it... Feeling a little bummed. Oh well.

  30. #25
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Saint Augustine Beach FL
    Posts
    4,790

    Default Re: Mandolin Recommendations - Beginner to Intermediate

    They don't seem to come up very often.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •