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Thread: What's the real difference?

  1. #1
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    Default What's the real difference?

    Hi mandolin geniuses.

    So, I'm either getting a Kentucky km-508 or an Eastman 605. Both are beautiful. Ebony fingerboard, solid spruce top, solid maple sides and back. Beautiful binding front and back. Both sound terrific. Both of these instruments are around $800 range.

    My question. I see some beautiful much more expensive mandolins. What is the difference between the $800 mandolin which seems to have all the top of the line stuff versus the $3500 mandolin, or the $20,000 mandolin? What am I missing?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    The workmanship is better, the hardware is better, they sometimes have more bling, the finish is more expensive and they typically sound better. Time, material and knowledge/experience all costs money.
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    Registered User doc holiday's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by DevinG View Post
    What is the difference between the $800 mandolin which seems to have all the top of the line stuff versus the $3500 mandolin, or the $20,000 mandolin? What am I missing?
    This question can apply to any product: a hardware store bicycle and a Tour de France ride, a bottom dollar car and a Ferrari, timex/rolex, fast food or five star.... We could add builder experience and reputation to the list.
    "Both sound terrific"..... What does your ear appreciate? and what can you afford. When we went to buy my daughter her first non-rental fiddle, Byron Myhre (a great fiddler who subs in w John Reischman) commented on my daughter's choice. "She's got a good ear......that's going to cost you a lot of money...."

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    From my experience, some of the higher quality and consequently higher priced instruments have: better tone across all of the strings and in all positions up the neck: they're louder; and more responsive. The longer I play the more I realize that I can play faster, cleaner and with a sweeter tone if I play very lightly with the pick, just brushing the strings with the very tip or edge of the pick and with as little physical exertion as possible on my part. A very responsive instrument will respond to the light touch and still be loud enough for everyone to hear it.

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by DevinG View Post
    My question. I see some beautiful much more expensive mandolins. What is the difference between the $800 mandolin which seems to have all the top of the line stuff versus the $3500 mandolin, or the $20,000 mandolin? What am I missing?
    The established quality of the materials employed and the person(s) working with them.
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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    I appreciate the question. I remember when I started to play banjo, I had an inexpensive banjo and really didn't know how good or bad it was. What I did know was this: more expensive banjos in stores were generally easier to play and easier to get a good sound from, and that I couldn't afford a a better banjo. That started me on my journey of examining, observing, reading and learning about stringed instruments to try to understand what made one better than another. I didn't realize that I was at the edge of the slippery slope that leads to becoming a luthier or I might have escaped... but that's another subject.

    In the lower price ranges there is a marked difference in materials quality, build quality, finish quality and so forth as you go up in price. Once you get to the price range where materials are consistently good and build quality is consistently good, you will find differences in the details. Binding details, finish details, other physical details, but more importantly, details of sound. More nuance, greater range of expression, differences in response and so forth. When you get to the top of the quality range you will find that one is not better than another, just different. Some may like mandolin "A" better and some may like mandolin "B" better, but they roughly equally good.
    From there price continues to go up but quality does not; we can't go up from top quality, so from there what you pay more money for is a name.

    Perhaps I should add this:
    Lots of instruments are sold to people who take the word of someone else on quality. It can be a brand name that they are seeking, it can be what their hero plays, it can be a suggestion from an internet forum, there can be a lot of influences on folks purchases. To me the best approach is to learn what quality is and from there learn what sound and feel we want in a mandolin. Unfortunately, it takes a while to learn to judge quality. When we do learn to judge quality and fit on our own and do not have to rely on our fathers, teachers, peers and familiarity of names, we can then find value. We don't have to pay $20,000 for top quality, but in order to know that, we have to be able to judge quality on our own.

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  12. #7
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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Cheaper mandolins are built down to a price whereas expensive mandolins cost what people are prepared to pay for them.

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Bill got it right, the workmanship is much better and, usually, they sound much better. Also, in my experience, you grow out of a cheapo so it makes more sense to invest a little more in the beginning. Good luck with your decision.

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Thanks, Bill!

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    This is hilarious! Thanks, doc.

    I absolutely get this. And there has been no shortage of things I bought that just weren't worth it even though they were supposed to be.

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Interesting. Again, I played an $800 dollar mandolin yesterday. I think it's really fantastic. I also haven't seen one expensive mandolin anywhere. So there's nothing to compare it with.

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    For me, the Collings MT basic model A (approx. $1,800 USD used) is the benchmark in my mind. A mandolin forever IMO. Extremely high quality and consistency in build perfection and sound quality, less the frills. Everything upward of that in cost is what folks have already addressed and what your bank account supports.

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Hi sunburst,

    Thanks for your thoughtful answer. Personally, I have needed to take the word of people on forums with a mandolin because they just are many of them in local stores to try out, particularly imtermediate-level stuff and above. Moreover, learning what my take on quality, as you say, will come with time. So, I take it you're a luthier now. Honestly, sounds fun.

  22. #14

    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Sounds much like my daughter, what she said was she's not much after that Gibson guitar tone oh, she's one of those Martin girls.

    I think with the mandolin, after two thousand bucks it's all pretty and pretty isn't tone.

    On the other hand, if it's that good looking and you're in at $5,000, you're probably going to play it a little more often.

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    It only matters to you.
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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    The higher end mandolins have the best woods in them, the finest quality hardware and often are higher end because they play significantly easier than a cheaper copy, with more response, amplitude and the general tenor of the instrument is richer, has more sustain and greater presence. There is a depth to them that is not apparent on those of lesser quality. Sometimes you can find a builder who brings several of these qualities to the build for less than the "bigger" names. The mandolin may lack one of the attributes that the very best may embody. If that missing element does not matter to you, you can save a lot of money and be very happy. Knowing what you want becomes more important. So how do you do that? Play a lot of mandolins. Pay attention to how they feel in your hands. Listen to them. Assess their tonal qualities, projection and sustain. Listen to how you sound, how it feels and how it makes you feel to play each one. Listen to that voice in your head. You will learn what it is you like and you will want from an instrument.

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Quality of sound.
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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    Quality of sound.
    I agree with pops1, although you also get ease of play/responsiveness as a side benefit. I started with a The Loar LM220, I thought it was great for the first few months I was playing (and it is not a bad mandolin, I still have it to loan to people who want to try mandolin before they buy one.) But I have been an amateur musician for 55 years, and I quickly decided the tone was not what I was looking for. I immediately decided to move to a mid-level mandolin ($2000 range,) and I have never felt the need to move on.

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    As a different point of view, (I often have one here, ha, ha), consider the instrument as a 'tool for making music'. Does it do a good job or not?

    Also everyone is 'coming from' a different level of experience' in determining what is a good instrument. A few can play really well, a few make instruments and a few own a great instrument for cheap. Like most, I'm not in any of these groups.
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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Thanks, everyone for the great insights.

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Above a certain point it's the name. When I was a kid and starting out ( late 60's early70's ) Gibson ,
    Mandolins were JUNK. several people were making hand made copies of older mandolins and putting Gibson on the peg head.
    I knew Johnny Hutto when he started building mandolins, he put Gibson on his. I asked why not Hutto. he saidbyou couldn't give avmandolin away if it didn't have Gibson on it but NOBODY wanted a new Gibson. Go figure!!! That is the value of a name!!!

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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    If you can't tell the difference between a $300.00 mandolin and a $3,000.00 plus mandolin consider yourself lucky. You've saved yourself a fortune.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  39. #23
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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Gibson (and Fender) is one of the reasons I wrote the initial post. In the guitar world, I wouldn't consider buying a new Gibson: quality control problems, overpriced, much better value elsewhere etc. I wanted to see if the same thing happens in the mandolin world. I have a 1950 Gibson L4 guitar that's pretty fantastic.
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    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    We'll see how I feel about my recent mandolin purchase and whether the drive to need/want a more expensive mandolin plays out.
    Eastman MD605

  41. #25

    Default Re: What's the real difference?

    Quote Originally Posted by DevinG View Post
    Gibson (and Fender) is one of the reasons I wrote the initial post. In the guitar world, I wouldn't consider buying a new Gibson: quality control problems, overpriced, much better value elsewhere etc. I wanted to see if the same thing happens in the mandolin world. I have a 1950 Gibson L4 guitar that's pretty fantastic.
    The Gibson mandolins in recent years are reported to be fine instruments. It is a boutique shop overseen by one guy. At least since the mid 1990s quality has been good and since mid 2000s excellent. Their prices are competitive with other small boutique builders. They are not mass producing lots of mandolins. What has happened on guitars is not the case with Gibson mandolins. There are other small factory mandolins that are comparable but with different sound and appearance. Collings and Weber are two major examples. Any one of those would be a really nice mandolin but you may prefer one over the other.

    Your Eastman should be a decent mandolin. Keep in mind a mandolin will be priced about double a guitar of comparable quality. There is a much smaller market and a lot more work in a carved top mandolin. An $800 mandolin is like a $400 guitar.

    Just like guitars whether you want something more is up to you. A Blueridge or Recording King will give you 75 or 80 percent of the sound of a D-28 Martin. An extraordinary one might be just as good. Whether you want or need that extra 20 or 25 percent is up to you. Mandolins are the same way. Mass production is less of a thing on mandolins than guitars except on the cheaper Asian brands. Above 1500 dollars or so mandolins are handmade to a large degree because of the smaller market volumes.

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