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Thread: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Hi folks. New member here.

    I am sure there have been hundreds of prior threads on this subject, but hopefully you're willing to help a guy out! I have been playing guitar for 50+ years. I have goofed around on friend's mandos from time to time over the years, but have decided to buckle down and actually learn how to play mandolin now that I have retired and have the time to do so. I have a really nice high end collection of guitars such as Collings and Bourgeois, so have grown accustomed to fine instruments.

    So I am seeking advice and recommendations for an "affordable" yet high quality mando.

    I am concerned primarily with these attributes:

    1. Sound
    2. Intonation
    3. Tuning stability
    4. Playability

    I would like to try to limit mando acquisition cost to no more than $1K. New or used, I don't care. Aesthetics are of little to no concern to me.

    Any recommendations or am I deluding myself that I can get a good solid "professional" level instrument in this price range?

    Thanks folks!

  2. #2
    Gummy Bears and Scotch BrianWilliam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Welcome!

    You can get a “good solid” mandolin for sub $1k.

    However, if you are searching for a “Collings or Bourgeois level” mandolin, prepare to pay more.

  3. #3
    Registered User chris.burcher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    My recommendation? Visit bigger shops that have a bunch and play them. In lieu of that (because distance or feasibility or whatever), find something you're curious about here on the cafe. Just pull the trigger. Try it out. Try different strings. Experiment with set up. Play it awhile and then resell it here. Has worked for me and many of us. And it's super fun to discover these things on your own. Sure, it takes time and sometimes you take a little hit on the resale, but sometimes not. Sometimes you give the next person a killer deal you can feel good about. The only way I know this side of living near Nashville as a means of playing different things, getting to know them, and developing your own tastes. Have fun!

  4. #4
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    it's the 2x factor. Can you get a good solid, "Professional" level guitar for $500 bucks?

    Maybe a Flatiron, "Festival" grade a-model?

    f-d
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  6. #5
    Mando-Afflicted lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Fat-Dad is right a Flatiron Festival A is a great choice, as are the Eastman MD605 and Kentucky KM900. Best is to find a used mandolin that is well cared for and give it a set up by a recommended luthier. Some used instruments are already well set up and nicely broken in. Ask about fret wear and any cracks or repairs. Get to know the seller so you gain confidence in their word. They should give you a 1 or 2 day trial period which takes the risk level down several notches. A lot of good folks sell Mandos on the cafe classifieds, which is a community that is worthy of trust. Morris is a very nice sounding, affordable instrument. The one I had was a great mandolin, literally. Check out the Morris blonde flattop in the classifieds right now.

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  8. #6
    Fingers of Concrete ccravens's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    From the start, since you mentioned that looks don't really play a part in your decision, the best bang for your buck (to meet your 4 criteria) would be a used A model mando. An A model is cheaper than F, and so is is used than new, of course. Combine those two things and you can get a very good mando in your price range.

    Given your other criteria (intonation, playability), it would be great if you could find one at one of the stores that advertise here on the cafe. Or from a builder who has a used one for sale.

    As has been stated, I agree that a used A from the following would fit your criteria: Flatiron, Morris, Ratliff. If you went import you could consider Kentucky or Eastman.
    Chris Cravens

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  9. #7
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    The above advice is spot on. Take a day trip to visit some more mandolins if possible. 1K will get you an instrument you can play for years to come. Definitely an A model as a scroll hikes the price. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  10. #8
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    In addition to the above recs, keep an eye out for used Silverangel “Econo” models, Lafferty (built by Summit for TMS), and Ratliff A styles...

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  12. #9
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    If you are used to guitars like Collings and Bourgeois, you could just start with a used Collings MT A body, F hole mandolin, probably close to $2k used, but worth every penny. If you don't overpay for it used, you can sell it later for what you paid for it, or trade it in on something else, once you know what you really want in a mandolin. You may never need to replace the MT, they are that good, but you may decide you want a different sound. An MT will hang with a Collings guitar...
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  14. #10
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by SteveS View Post
    Any recommendations or am I deluding myself that I can get a good solid "professional" level instrument in this price range?
    You’re going to have to get a little lucky to find a “professional” level archtop mandolin below $1K, although they do happen. There was a Lafferty listed earlier this week, and you’ll occasionally spot one from some of the other makers listed (Ratliff, Silverangel, Flatiron, etc.). However, depending on what kind of music you play (by which I mean if you’re not intending to play bluegrass at a jam right away), it is possible to buy a lifetime flattop mandolin within your budget and sometimes for half that figure. I had a Flatiron pancake like this one, and it was a real screamer:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156292#156292

    An alternative often recommended is Big Muddy (though, as a Sox fan, not necessarily this particular Big Muddy):

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156331#156331

    If you like the independent builder, this Crystal Forest by Terry Majewski is a great opportunity:

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

    If you are open vintage, you could hunt for a Martin A like this one:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156308#156308

    These instruments make great “starter” instruments for migrating guitarists because they give you the opportunity to buy into a mandolin made of solid woods right here in the United States for the same price as an imported factory archtop. Then, should you ever decide to “upgrade” so as to attend that bluegrass jam, the flattop won’t need to be sold or traded; instead, it can happily slide over to backup, alternative voice, travel instrument, or beater.
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  15. #11

    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by BrianWilliam View Post
    Welcome!

    You can get a “good solid” mandolin for sub $1k.

    However, if you are searching for a “Collings or Bourgeois level” mandolin, prepare to pay more.
    I fully understand Brian. "good solid mando in the $1K range" is an excellent way to describe what I am hoping to find!

  16. #12

    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Thank you so much Pheffernan!

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  18. #13
    Registered User Aaron Bohnen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Pheffernan's suggestions are most excellent. Flat-top mandolins can be really good and have a feeling about them that's really different from a carved-top instrument.

    Dave Sheets' recommendation of a Collings MT is also very worthy. Many here on the Cafe have written in praise of the MT family in the past. I have found that although a used MT is typically above the OP's price range, the Collings quality, playability, consistency and attention to detail are exceptional. A used MT in good condition would be an excellent introduction to quality mandolins and could easily be the only one you ever needed to buy. A great way to have your "starter mandolin" potentially become a forever instrument.

    Enjoy!
    Gavin Baird F4 & F5, Weber Octar, Gibson K-1, Guild D50, Martin D35, Yairi DY-84, etc...

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  20. #14
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    This Breedlove Cascade just landed in the classifieds...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156382#156382

    NFI
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  21. #15

    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    If you're looking for a bluegrass mandolin, it'd be hard to go wrong with a used Kentucky KM900 or 950 in an A5 or a KM1000 in an F5. They pop up in the classifieds every now and then under 1K. Some of the best imports models--a big step above other Kentucky models and other imports IMHO.
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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Question Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Weber Gallatin for example, finishes those without edge binding Saving money in the process..
    but still the the same workmanship.. made in Bend Oregon..

    2nd hand will save even more money..
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
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  23. #17

    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by SteveS View Post
    Hi folks. New member here.

    I am sure there have been hundreds of prior threads on this subject, but hopefully you're willing to help a guy out! I have been playing guitar for 50+ years. I have goofed around on friend's mandos from time to time over the years, but have decided to buckle down and actually learn how to play mandolin now that I have retired and have the time to do so. I have a really nice high end collection of guitars such as Collings and Bourgeois, so have grown accustomed to fine instruments.

    So I am seeking advice and recommendations for an "affordable" yet high quality mando.

    I am concerned primarily with these attributes:

    1. Sound
    2. Intonation
    3. Tuning stability
    4. Playability

    I would like to try to limit mando acquisition cost to no more than $1K. New or used, I don't care. Aesthetics are of little to no concern to me.

    Any recommendations or am I deluding myself that I can get a good solid "professional" level instrument in this price range?

    Thanks folks!
    I'm a little biased, but find yourself an american made (quartz or better) breedlove (discontinued). They are an incredible value at the price point people are looking for these days.

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  25. #18
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Infield View Post
    I'm a little biased, but find yourself an american made (quartz or better) breedlove (discontinued). They are an incredible value at the price point people are looking for these days.
    See post post #14.
    Last edited by Charles E.; Jun-20-2020 at 8:44pm.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  26. #19

    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by charles e. View Post
    see post post #14.
    exactly!!

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  28. #20
    Fingers of Concrete ccravens's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Maybe a bit outside the box as far as looks go, but fits perfectly in this discussion:


    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156390#156390
    Chris Cravens

    Girouard A5
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    Passernig Mandola
    Leo Posch D-18

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  30. #21
    Mando-Afflicted lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by ccravens View Post
    Maybe a bit outside the box as far as looks go, but fits perfectly in this discussion:


    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156390#156390
    +1 What Chris Cravens said!

  31. #22
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Late to the suggestions here, but another vote for Flatiron Performer A model. My 1989, purchased earlier this year, is now my main performance instrument. Replacing a beautiful Collings MT. Of course, am just one person and I don't play bluegrass. So please take what I suggest with a huge grain of salt.

    Another recommendation would be to find a used Morris A style. Have played one and it was quite nice and in your price range.
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  33. #23
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    Another Morris just hit the classifieds...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156491#156491

    A bit less blue.

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    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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  35. #24
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    If you are keeping it to a grand or less, I'd add a vote for a flatiron A. A lot of value there.
    -Dave
    Flatiron A
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  36. #25
    Registered User Mike Arakelian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recommendations for a quality but affordable mandolin

    +1 for a Flatiron A style. I found a really nice 1991 Performer A several years ago for $1K. Excellent build, playability and sound.
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