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Thread: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

  1. #1
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    Default New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Hi. I've played guitar most of my life (now 58) and am thinking I'd like to put my toe in some mandolin water. I don't want to invest a lot ($400) and have a few used options currently available. I'd appreciate any advice, or re-direction.

    1. Kentucky KM-505 $350
    2. Washburn M3SWE $400
    3. Kentucky KM-380s $300
    4. The Loar LM-500-VS $375

    One other question, with guitars, bone saddles are used for sustain, etc. I see a lot of mandolins with ebony saddles...why?

    Many thanks in advance.
    Phil

  2. #2
    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Without playing them all, I'd take the Kentucky 505. I've had two of these pass through my hands and both were very good. I think the Loar is kind of inconsistent, I've played a few of that model Washburn and they were meh, and the KM-380 is an older model that is probably not as nice as the 505. I've played one or two but it was more than a decade ago, so my memory might be off, but they were no more than OK. You might also find a used Eastman 305 in this range, or a used flattop if you are open to a different direction.

    Edit: As for your saddle question, tradition is one part of the answer. I think the other part is that lots of people who try bone or fossil saddles decide they impart a harsh tone to the mandolin. Also, the mandolin in bluegrass is a sort of percussion instrument. You don't want a lot of sustain on the chop chords. It's like a snare drum.

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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Thank you for your instrument recommendations, Eric. All the Eastman's seem to be a bit out of my budget. I know their guitars, owned two before moving to Martin/Collings, and thought they we the best of the Chinese made instruments. I'm surprised there are not any US makers finding the middle ground between these and Collings, etc. Like a Larrivee equivalent. Perhaps there are and I'm not privy.

    Excellent explanation re: saddle material.

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    I second the Kentucky 505 - I've played a number of them and found them to be quite decent bang for the buck.
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Do you have a particular music that you’re intending to play? Given some of your experience with guitars, you might be interested in an American flattop (like a Mid-Missouri/Big Muddy) over an imported archtop.
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    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    I have a sweet Larrivee guitar so I know what you mean, Philip. Mandolins are more of a niche item, and the carving is labor intensive. Apart from the above mentioned flattops, you're likely looking at around $1,000 (or a little more) as a "middle ground" instrument. Ratliff Country Boy, Silver Angel Econo and Morris are the three that come to mind. There are likely others I don't know.

  7. #7
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    This Eastman 305 just landed in the classifieds...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/162164#162164



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  8. #8

    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Quote Originally Posted by Flip17 View Post
    Hi. I've played guitar most of my life (now 58) and am thinking I'd like to put my toe in some mandolin water. I don't want to invest a lot ($400) and have a few used options currently available. I'd appreciate any advice, or re-direction.

    1. Kentucky KM-505 $350
    2. Washburn M3SWE $400
    3. Kentucky KM-380s $300
    4. The Loar LM-500-VS $375

    One other question, with guitars, bone saddles are used for sustain, etc. I see a lot of mandolins with ebony saddles...why?

    Many thanks in advance.
    Phil
    Good questions. I'm a guit picker, too, and mando is a whole different beast. So, to answer your questions.

    1. Tone and materials don't matter at first. It takes time to develop mando ears. So for a first mando, get the one you like looking at — and get a pro set-up!

    And while you're at it, get a bunch of different types of picks to experiment with. Pick choice makes more of a difference with mando than it does with guitar. It's amazing how much the sound changes from one pick to another.

    2. The materials are different because a mando is not a little guitar. This is by far the most important first thing for guitarists to learn when picking up a mandolin.

    (You will notice, however, that the four notes are the reverse of a bass guitar's notes. That won't help you on the fly, but it's very useful when you're sitting around trying to figure out chords.)

  9. #9

    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Quote Originally Posted by Flip17 View Post
    Thank you for your instrument recommendations, Eric. All the Eastman's seem to be a bit out of my budget. I know their guitars, owned two before moving to Martin/Collings, and thought they we the best of the Chinese made instruments. I'm surprised there are not any US makers finding the middle ground between these and Collings, etc. Like a Larrivee equivalent. Perhaps there are and I'm not privy.

    Excellent explanation re: saddle material.
    There are some good makers mentioned above. And I have a Red Line A that's wonderful (even though I'm selling it).

    Remember that A's sound like F's for a lot less money. The F's scroll, point, and headstock are decorative and labor-intensive. So if you're not into bling and don't have Monroe-itis, A's are a good buy.

    Also, I wouldn't rule out a flattop. I used to have a Mid-Missouri (now called Big Muddy) that was terrific, at a great price. Red Line has a flattop line, too, and used Flatiron flattops are highly sought-after. Used Martins are pretty damn cool, too.

  10. #10
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Used Eastman 305 in these classifieds for $375.00. May be what you aer looking for.
    I have owned both a 305 and a 304. Excellent mandolins in their price range.
    Stiver A style (MAS has stopped here)
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    Keith Edward Coleman A style, oval hole Mandola
    Weber Gallatin A Mandola "D hole"
    Rogue 100A (current campfire tool)
    Harley Benton A style (grandchildren's learner)

  11. #11
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    If it helps:
    I decided some time ago that if I had to procure a mandolin RIGHT NOW =no thought, no debate, no research, just DO it=, it would be a Kentucky KM-505. And yeah, no regrets!
    - Ed

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  13. #12
    Scroll Lock Austin Bob's Avatar
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    If you were to go to any factory that builds mandolins or guitars, and pick out two identical models that came off the line back to back, they wouldn't sound the same. The more expensive the instrument, the higher the quality control, and (theoretically) the smaller the difference in sound. The lesser expensive instruments are more likely to vary in sound by a wider margin.

    What I'm getting at, is that we can guess which one of the instruments you listed would be the best, but it's still a guess. Also remember that if you're buying a used instrument, someone is selling it for a reason. Often it is because they want to upgrade. If you play the same mandolin for a long time, you will likely want to upgrade as well. But the other reason might possibly be that the mandolin is a dud, and just doesn't sound well

    So just go with the suggestions above, and with your gut. Just remember that if you play long enough, you will likely want an upgrade at some point down the road. But by buying used, you're more likely to get a higher percentage of your money back if you decide to sell it later on.
    A quarter tone flat and a half a beat behind.

  14. #13
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    I've owned several Kentuckys and several Loars over the years, as well as several much more expensive mandolins. My only one currently is a Kentucky. I've owned a 505, and think that's a great option, and that's a good price.

    I'm surprised no one's mentioned it yet, it's a big topic here (and rightfully so) - be sure whatever you buy is properly set up to play well. Ask the seller about where they bought it, was a pro setup done by the original retailer, etc. This is much more important with mandolins than with guitars, IMO. Even if it costs you some $$, it's worth it. Do a search for threads on set up issues.

    Enjoy your new mandolin. The Cafe' is the best forum on the web!
    Riley

    Kentucky KM-250

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  15. #14

    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    I too have had numerous instruments. Some inexpensive ones and some high end models (guitars and mandolins). Due to the fact that I don't play as much as I used to, and to save some money, I now have a Loar. And frankly, I'm quite pleased with it. Build quality, tone and playability are quite satisfactory.
    Bottom line, any of the instruments you are looking at are likely good candidates for what you want. Spend a little time with each of them and see which one talks to you.

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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Thank you to everyone who generously provided input and advice. What a great community! Here's my report and my NMD photos!

    I took the road most recommended and bought the KM-505. It's in lovely condition and came with a hard case and several books/videos, capo, picks, etc. The prior player had lost interest. It appears to be a color no longer offered, deep wine, and I wonder if anyone knows how to date this brand??? SN starts 1108XXXX. I had my luthier set it up. New strings EJ75's. String height 5/64ths GD, 4/64th AE, and he said it could come down 1-2 64ths if I wanted. Intonation is spot on. I have to say about the only thing I don't like at this point are the tuners. The buttons are too small and crowded. I suspect the crowding is typical, but I wonder if new buttons are in order. There just isn't a lot to grab onto. Advice on this, or on replacement tuners, is encouraged!

    I've added a few photos, and repeat my thanks to this generous community.

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  18. #16
    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Congrats on the new instrument! I hope you enjoy the world of mandolin playing!

    The small tuning knobs are something you'll probably just have to get used to. I'm unsure if a new/different set will help much, but, who knows!

  19. #17
    Sheila's at it again! Round2's Avatar
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Congratulations and welcome! It's nice to see people newer than me here. I'm two months in (holy moly, that was fast!) and this group of folks is remarkable. I'm also continually surprised by the volume of information I find here. Let the search engine be your friend. Have at it, and have fun!
    Last edited by Round2; Oct-31-2020 at 6:02pm. Reason: left out a word!
    Call me Sheila. My mother did.
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  20. #18
    Scroll Lock Austin Bob's Avatar
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Congrats on your new mandolin, I hope you get lots of enjoyment from your purchase.

    I think you made a very good choice, it looks like it's in good shape. Make sure you check out all the resources that are available here on this site, there is a lot of information available to help.

    Enjoy.
    A quarter tone flat and a half a beat behind.

  21. #19
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    Default Re: New to mandolin. Looking for recommendations

    Quote Originally Posted by Flip17 View Post
    ... the only thing I don't like ... buttons are too small and crowded. I suspect the crowding is typical, but I wonder if new buttons are in order. There just isn't a lot to grab onto. ...
    Either new buttons or full tuners can't change the shaft-to-shaft spacing, so:
    - wider buttons will be closer together, meaning more crowded with less room for fingertips between them, while,
    - narrower buttrons would leave more room for fingers but give you less to grab onto, menaing less leverage for accurate tuning.

    Because your current buttons look to be of the "close-to-circular" variety, you probably won't find anything narrower anyway.

    A mandolin-specific tuning crank might help - more to grab and better leverage. Besides the common plastic variety, Lynne Dudenbostel sometimes offers his "exotic wood & high art" (my terms!) items here on the Cafe, and they only cost about $25K less than one of his mandolins!

    And, oh yeah: Enjoy!
    - Ed

    "Then one day we weren't as young as before
    Our mistakes weren't quite so easy to undo
    But by all those roads, my friend, we've travelled down
    I'm a better man for just the knowin' of you."
    - Ian Tyson

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