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Thread: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

  1. #1

    Default Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Hi, I am new to the forum and also to the mandolin and I’d love to get some feedback on a good first mandolin. I currently play the guitar and wanted to branch out into a new instrument. I’d like to buy an F-style mandolin that is somewhat future proof and one that also has a nice sound that makes me want to keep picking up the instrument.

    Just an FYI, I’ve come across a few used models. Not sure if anyone would recommend any of these?

    Eastman MD 315 - I’ve heard good things about these on some of the forum posts. Was considering purchasing this new from The Mandolin Store for $745, but I also came across a used one in excellent condition that’s going for $550 (comes with hardshell case).

    Eastman MD 515 - $655 Owner said it’s in great condition but has some wear. Not sure the year. Comes with flat hard case.

    Loar LM 600 VS - $500 Kept in great condition. Less than four years old. Owner said it has a couple fine scratches but they’re hardly noticeable. Comes with nice hardshell case.

    Gold Tone GM 70+ - $500 Great condition. 2013. Comes with Gold Tone hardshell case.

    J Bovier “Z” Mandolin - $1,000 Mint condition 2019 but has a few blemishes in the clear coat on the back of the mandolin (came like that directly from Jeff Cowherd). Comes with nice hardshell case. This one is a bit more than I was looking to spend but I believe these go for close to $2k new, so this might be a good deal.

    Kentucky KM-620 Korean made - $350 Like New condition and comes with hardshell case.

    I’m also open to other suggestions. I really appreciate any feedback you all may have. Thank you in advance!

  2. #2
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Bui from a dealer that does pre delivery set up of each mandolin they sell..
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    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Those prices are only as good as the setup of each individual instrument. A mandolin that doesn't play well (fret buzz, poor intonation, etc.) probably wont be picked up very much and could end up just sitting in its case.

    Also, your money will go a lot further, nicer sound- most likely, if you decide that a scroll isn't the most important thing. It literally doesn't do anything special for the sound or playability of the instrument.

    Also also, something that I tell all players coming from guitar. Remember, it's a fretted fiddle not a tiny guitar. Spend some time learning how to hold, fret and pick mandolin and not just expect to transfer your guitar skills.

    Cheers to a new musical journey!

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    It's definitely good advice to buy from someone who will ensure that your instrument is well set up. But I also feel that, if you have access to someone who can do that work, and you find a great deal on craigslist, etc, it can be fine. All 4 of my instruments have been tweaked after I bought them. I just got one back today that had to have a brace glued. One string was super buzzy when I bought it, but it looks and sounds great now, and the repair cost was very reasonable. It was a local sale, and I talked to the luthier before I decided to keep it. I'm just saying, that can be okay, too.

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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    All great advice ! Good setup is top priority !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    What do you mean future proof?
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    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    The "Z" in J. Bovier “Z” Mandolin I believe is for Zebra wood for the back and sides, which I imagine has a different tonal quality all together. Its something to consider.

  10. #8

    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Sorry, I probably should have clarified. By future proof I mean a mandolin that will continue to serve me well as my skill increases in the future.

  11. #9

    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Just wanted to thank everyone so far for the advice! I definitely hear you all that a good set-up is key, so point well taken. Even if I purchase a mandolin from a private party seller I will definitely take it to a luthier to make sure it’s properly set up.

    Zach Wilson, that Z is definitely for Zebra wood, which is guess makes up the back and sides, although the top is still spruce. Not sure what tonal difference this would make? And although I understand an A-style is more affordable, I’m still pretty set on an F-style, even though it’s mostly decorative. I guess I’m a sucker for the way F-styles look haha.

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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Try to play them prior to buying, it may result in one jumping out and speaking to you.

  13. #11
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Quote Originally Posted by Denny Gies View Post
    Try to play them prior to buying, it may result in one jumping out and speaking to you.
    This also is very good advice, but when you are a newbie (like me) it can be hard because you really don't know what you are doing yet. Someone in another thread mentioned bringing someone with you who can play it while you listen. This seems like it would be a great idea if you only know a handful of scales and a few chords. Not that playing your handful of scales, few chords, and maybe a tune or so isn't helpful. But it's not too comprehensive

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    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoloar View Post
    I’m still pretty set on an F-style, even though it’s mostly decorative. I guess I’m a sucker for the way F-styles look haha.
    No, it's all decorative.

    The lower point I guess can help "anchor" the instrument for some. Not for me.

    The scroll does make for a neat strap holder. But there are plenty of ways to attach a strap without one.

    I'm glad you know what you what though. 😀

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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoloar View Post
    Eastman MD 315 - I’ve heard good things about these on some of the forum posts. Was considering purchasing this new from The Mandolin Store for $745, but I also came across a used one in excellent condition that’s going for $550 (comes with hardshell case).
    The MD515 will have better hardware, but given its wear and uncertain year, I’d go with the MD315. You might find different in the same general price range, but you’re really only going to find better at 4x the cost.
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    I'm glad you know what you *want* though. Ha! I wish I would have edited this earlier.

    However, knowing what you want is important. If your interested in only F shaped mandolins I'd definitely go with an Eastman or a Kentucky in your price range if looking at new. The cafe sponsors are a good place to look. If buying used you may find a deal on something else that might need work or not. The classifieds here are a start.

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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Buy the best used "A" model you can afford. Be willing to spend a little more money on it for a setup or repair. PacRim instruments from Kentucky and Eastman are usually good student level instruments. Northfield in the next price level up is also a good choice. Then you are into small luthiers or larger companies like Gibson, Collings and Weber. You pays your money and you takes your chances. Download Rob Meldrum"s mandolin setup book here on the Cafe`. Good Luck. R/
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Quote Originally Posted by UsuallyPickin View Post
    Buy the best used "A" model you can afford. Be willing to spend a little more money on it for a setup or repair. PacRim instruments from Kentucky and Eastman are usually good student level instruments. Northfield in the next price level up is also a good choice. Then you are into small luthiers or larger companies like Gibson, Collings and Weber. You pays your money and you takes your chances. Download Rob Meldrum"s mandolin setup book here on the Cafe`. Good Luck. R/
    Interesting side note... not to deviate from the original posting too much.

    I've never played one of the brands mentioned above (Collings, Northfield, Webber. Add in Pava and Flatiron) and didn't like it. Wasn't blown away necessarily. But have played many Kentucky's, Eastman's, (the) Loars, Washburn's, etc. (Upper and lower tiers) that were very underwhelming. Not to say that there can't be a diamond in the rough though.

    But back to your question. I agree with what phefferman said and would go with a MD315 already setup. You can then see if mandolin sticks and maybe save for something more if you get the bug. Hope you do! Mandolins are fun!

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    Registered User Pappyrich's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    My vote would be for the Eastman MD315. I purchased an Eastman305 from TMS just over a year ago as my first mandolin. It is serving me well. TMS did a good setup, and it plays and sound fine, and should last me for years to come. I think we all need to sometimes be cautious of the advice we get here on MC. This site is loaded with mando "Geeks" (like me) who all have very definite opinions about their, and other, instruments. It seems there is the general impression that the more you pay for a mandolin, the better it must be. In my case, I jam with a couple of folks, one has a almost new Collings MT, and the other just got a new Ellis. I have played both, and while they are obviously much better mandolins than my Eastman, my Eastman does just fine at the jams and does not sound that bad. I don't feel the urge to move up.

    My point is that mandolins like the Eastman that are built using quality tone woods and well constructed will most often sound just fine and last for years. I think that moving up often just brings limited improvement or small differences in tone, and more "bling". A personal example is that when I decided to by a Martin guitar I went for a D16 GT. It is made with outstanding solid tone woods, and is obviously well made, but lacks a high gloss finish. I could have bought a D28, but the tone of the D16 is wonderful, and close enough to the D28 for me. The D28 would have cost me another $1000, and would have mostly been "bling". Most amateur musicians couldn't tell the difference in tone, anyway. The D16 will last me forever. I think the same goes for mandolins.
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Quote Originally Posted by Pappyrich View Post

    My point is that mandolins like the Eastman that are built using quality tone woods and well constructed will most often sound just fine and last for years. I think that moving up often just brings limited improvement or small differences in tone, and more "bling". ,,,,,,,, I think the same goes for mandolins.
    This is true to an extent, but not completely. I think there is a very definite, noticeable improvement between the "entry-level" mandolins and the $2000 - $3000 level mandolins, and after that point there is a larger increase in money with a diminishing return in quality improvement of the mandolin.
    I have kept my "entry-level" mandolin (which is not a bad instrument) to loan to people who think they might like to learn mandolin to try out. I don't play it anymore, as I have several "mid-level" ($2000 area) mandolins that play MUCH easier and sound noticeably better (to me.) So even if you eventually move up, you may want to keep your entry-level mandolin.

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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoloar View Post
    Sorry, I probably should have clarified. By future proof I mean a mandolin that will continue to serve me well as my skill increases in the future.
    1. I dare say that no mandolin is future proof, even if you do know the future.
    2. All the choices you present are what many might call "decent entry level mandolins". Some more decent than others.
    3. I would vote for the Eastman 315. It is one of the "decenter" ones. Buy it. Learn on it. Sell it when ready to move up. It could serve you well into (and maybe even through) your intermediate level.
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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    +1 on all of Hank's comments above.

    I started on a 315 and it served me very well until I was able to move up a notch (or two). $550 for one in excellent condition (especially with a hard case - new ones come with a gig bag) is a great price. Spend another $75 or so for a local luthier to set it up and you are good to go.

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    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoloar View Post
    Sorry, I probably should have clarified. By future proof I mean a mandolin that will continue to serve me well as my skill increases in the future.
    Then, assuming you know you are going to like it, I would get the best mandolin you can afford. The very best. Get what you think will be your for ever mandolin. Get a mandolin so good that whenever something isn't right you know its not the mandolin its you.


    In general, roughly speaking, acknowledging there are exceptions, a mandolin costs about twice a guitar of comparable quality. So you can use that as a guide.

    If you are not sure if you are going to like it, borrow one or rent one for a week or two and save the money till you are sure.
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  27. #22

    Default Re: Mandolin purchase advice for a new player

    I would get more info on the exact condition of the Eastie 515 before choosing between it and a 315. As a longtime Eastman player, I don’t care about dings and finish wear, what needs to be repaired is worn frets. Eastman frets are narrow and seem vulnerable to excessive grooving. I’m pretty sure they use the same fretwire on all standard models. I had a partial refret done on my 505 after about 8 years of hard playing. It was a necessity because it wouldn’t note properly—played 2 different notes on the E at 5 and 7. Cost me $280 Canadian, partial being the first 12 frets. In retrospect I would have paid more for a full refret and had different, wider fretwire used (possibly EVO). Cause all the frets gotta match. The reason for this “retrospect” is that the new frets were showing wear after only a year of playing. I guess I play too much and too hard. Mostly on my new Collings now though =

    But to be cleary, I would consider both of the Eastmans above anything else on that list. Have fun.
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