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Thread: Question about Collings mandolins

  1. #1

    Default Question about Collings mandolins

    Hello all,

    My local shop has a pretty large selections of mandolins, mostly new. I currently only have one mandolin, a $300 Savannah SA-120. It stays in tune, and has served me well for learning, but I've been playing for about five years and decided to look at an upgrade. I mostly wanted to see if I could notice the difference between my mandolin and the higher end models.

    My local store had three or four used models. One was a ~$600 Loar F type. I immediately noticed a difference in volume and playability (especially in first position). I realized the quality of my current instrument was holding me back quite a bit. i could play much better on the Loar. But before settling on that, I decided to try some of the newer, higher end mandolins.

    I really fell in love with the Collings, and noticed an appreciable difference between that and the Loar. I tried several other higher end makers, but still really liked the Collings MF model I played. Of course, no-one here probably needs to tell them that these are pricey instruments. I figured you only live once and I would have the instrument forever, but also wanted to check if i could find a discount online. I also don't really care too much about cosmetic wear and tear on an instrument, I'm mostly interested in sound and playability. So I've started looking at used Collings MF models online.

    My question is this: with a maker like Collings, how much difference do you think there is between individual specimens of a given model? Are most MFs more or less the same? I know that they offer a MF deluxe (which as far as i can tell is the same instrument, but with a pick guard and additional binding and appointments), but within a certain type, are they all more or less the same? In other words, can there be an appreciable difference between two individual Collings MF mandolins?

    I ask because I am considering purchasing online, without trying the instrument beforehand. Thanks in advance for any input.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by glissando View Post
    I've been playing for about five years...
    Make that nine years. I just noticed my registration date.

  3. #3
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    While it is always best to plain an instrument before buying, Collings Mandolins are very consistent. The Collings MT (A style body) is another alternative to consider if you are buying online, the sound should be pretty much the same as the MF.

    Good luck!
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  5. #4

    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Collings instruments are pretty consistent. If you take 10 of the same model from any maker you will notice some differences and a coupe will probable stand out and a couple might not be quite as good as the rest. The better the builder the more constant they will be. But you will have some difference in the wood and at a larger shop who did the final carving of the plates. You may have played a really good one? Right now there is a shortage of new instruments. Good used instruments go quickly and they are bringing a premium. If you are patient and check often you should be able to find one. Good luck in the search.
    I understand the appeal of a scroll but I found a deal on a A style mandolin from a top maker. I could have never justified spending the money for a F5 from that same maker and it has cured me of scroll envy. If an A5 is good enough for the likes for Tim O'Brien and Joe K. Walsh it is more than good enough for me.

  6. #5
    Registered User J Mangio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    That $600 Loar you tried was probably an OK mando, when you get into the LM 600 or 700 series, your at pro level, if you can find them. If you want to save a bunch, call The Mandolin Store about the 600 and 700 blems at reduced price. Check out their videos on those models, you might change your tune.
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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Used instruments with an approval period can be fairly safe purchases. You’ll pay return shipping if you don’t like it.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by Northwest Steve View Post
    ...a coupe will probable stand out...
    Over, say, a sedan or an SUV?
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  10. #8
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    With all due respect, I would not consider the upper line "The Loar" mandolins to be in the same class as a Collings instrument.

    I know two fellows who worked for Collings. I don't know if anything has changed since they left, but back then they had one or two folks whose full time job was to voice the instruments. That was one of the major reasons for Collings' consistency in tone.

    Every instrument is going to sound a little different from its neighbor, but when a shop takes the extra step of having each instrument voiced by the same workers, the instruments will be much more consistent than those built without taking that step.

    I do not advocate purchasing instruments on line unless the seller offers a 1 to 3 day approval period. Read the seller's terms carefully. Normally, the buyer is responsible for shipping both ways. Be careful. Some sellers charge a restocking fee on returned instruments.

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  12. #9

    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    I’ve owned 3 Collings mandolins, including an MF.
    They were very nice, with the excellent playability and perfect fit and finish that you’d expect from Collings.
    Sound-wise, they were OK (waaay better than The Loar you mention), but not as good as I’d hoped.

    Having played a few Northfield Big Mons, I would highly encourage you to play one before you buy a Collings MF.
    Northfield mandos have a modern sound that is similar to Collings, but a step above in my opinion. Deeper bass, sparking trebles, solid mids, and just more character in general than most Collings (Collings often sounds a bit sterile to me)

    The Northfield Big Mon is also fantastically easy to play and the fit and finish is excellent.
    You could also get some great (used) mandolins made by small builders for the price of a Collings MF

    Nothing against Collings... I think their A-model MT is a good value for what you get, but when you start talking about the MF, you have a LOT of other choices for that money, and I think some, like the Big Mon, are better.
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    Registered User rnjl's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Building on what Jstring just said, do also remember that different instruments have very different neck and fretboard designs. I don't like the V profile of the Collings mandolins I've played (I suspect a wider nut would compensate a bit) but I really liked the roundy feel of Northfield necks, at least the handful I've tried.

    Obviously it's a very personal preference around subtle differences but just something to consider. I agree that any good deal you get on a quality mandolin from say the Cafe, a reputable dealer, or Reverb will include an approval period. Don't buy if you can't get that.

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Another one here who thinks Collings are fairly consistent from instrument to instrument. Have a MT and it is similar sounding to other MTs I've heard. And even similar to a few MFs I've handled.

    That's for the regular models, one you get to the MT2 (or MF2) or any deluxe upgrades, all bets are off. They will still sound similar, but there can be more variation due to the different woods and finishes.

    Full disclosure - also own Northfield and Weber F style instruments. But even with those, I could easily be happy with just my Collings. They are an instrument that can end the journey if you choose.
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  15. #12

    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    I'm going to echo what several others have said about A styles.

    I recently picked up a used Northfield Model M from the Classifieds. Previously, I'd only owned F mandos, and was a little worried that I'd wish I'd held out to buy another F. It took about 10 seconds of playing it for scrolls and points to disappear from my list of qualifications for a great instrument. Check out the videos of Aaron Ramsey, Adam Steffey, and Emory Lester playing them. For the record, this used Model M cost less than half of what a new NF5S goes for.
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  16. #13
    Registered User withfoam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    There's a lot of personal taste that will occur here. Make sure they have a good return policy or try out period.

    I bought a new MF Deluxe late last year and I absolutely love it. I upgraded from a Kentucky KM-1050, which is really nice, but the difference is...incomparable.

    I will say though, I walked into the store thinking I was going to buy a $9k Collings MF5 they had on consignment, but after playing it and playing the MF Deluxe, I actually preferred the MF Deluxe. I also tried a Big Mon and a couple others from Northfield and they didn't hit me right.

    All of Collings are going to be similar, but will have variances. For example, the store I bought from had 3 new MF Deluxe's in stock and they brought them all out for me. I played each one and I remember the moment I strummed the one I bought, it hit me just right and really a bit different than the other 2. I knew immediately that that was THE ONE. So again, consistent, but not exactly the same. All were great though.

    Hope that helps!
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    Registered User jim simpson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    I've owned a black gloss top MT, a blonde gloss top MF, and a MF5. They all played well and sounded great with the blond MP being my favorite. I no longer own any but enjoyed them while I did. I am currently enchanted with a couple of Gibsons. Different flavors but all good.
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by J Mangio View Post
    when you get into the LM 600 or 700 series, your at pro level
    Ummm...I would beg to differ. The Loars are great for what they are, but I've have never heard anyone (until now) describing them in this manner.

    Having said that, to the OP I would add to the chorus about Collings consistency: given the variations in any wooden instrument even from the same builder, Collings instruments are amaingly consistent. Not only their mandos but their guitars as well. One of the top builders that I would say you could buy without being able to try in person, if you already like the Collings sound.
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  19. #16
    Registered User J Mangio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Then you heard it first, maybe just my opinion.
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    I have owned two Collings MT mandolins. They were both excellent in every facet: fit and finish, playability and tone! You are on the right track. If Loar is what you like and can afford, you will be pleased. They make a very nice solid wood, hand carved instrument in the 600 and 700 series. All the best!
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    Registered User Mandolin Deep Cuts's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    I am so happy I paid extra and got my Collings. It’s phenomenal. Its my favorite thing I own. It’s also made in the USA, if that’s important to you.

  22. #19

    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    OP here.

    I really, really liked the Collings I played at the local dealer (Gryphon Stringed Instruments). But - they always have five or six new Collings in stock, as well as some Kentuckys and Loars.

    Since I'm thinking of spending $5-7K on a mandolin, I'm actually now starting to consider taking a trip to Nashville and visiting a lot of the shops around there (in addition to enjoying a vacation in Nashville). I'd really prefer to buy a used mandolin and would love to be able to try a bunch of them. I've never played a Weber, for example. There are a couple more local shops to visit as well, but even in the SF Bay Area it's hard to find a large selection if mandolins.

  23. #20

    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    A used MT popped up on the Classifieds for well under $3k recently. Keep your eyes peeled and your credit card handy
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    Mando-Afflicted lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by glissando View Post
    OP here.

    I really, really liked the Collings I played at the local dealer (Gryphon Stringed Instruments). But - they always have five or six new Collings in stock, as well as some Kentuckys and Loars.

    Since I'm thinking of spending $5-7K on a mandolin, I'm actually now starting to consider taking a trip to Nashville and visiting a lot of the shops around there (in addition to enjoying a vacation in Nashville). I'd really prefer to buy a used mandolin and would love to be able to try a bunch of them. I've never played a Weber, for example. There are a couple more local shops to visit as well, but even in the SF Bay Area it's hard to find a large selection if mandolins.
    You have a great budget to acquire a tremendous mandolin. Your plan to travel and shop in the best places will give you the chance to find your lifelong instrument. Take your time and enjoy the process. I did the same thing looking for the guitar I spent a lifetime performing with, my 1976 Guild D55. I went to every Los Angeles-based guitar shop I could find, and bought it at the one, the only and first Guitar Center at that time. I took time to play Martins and Guilds in many stores and when I played “the one” I just knew I would write and sing with her. It was on Sunset in Hollywood, and was a hole in the wall store. It became my forever instrument and is a member of our family. I have had that “dread” longer than I have been married to my wife and or became the father to my three grown sons. We were married 40 years ago. I wish you great travels and happy playing!
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  26. #22
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    You might want to drop by Schoenberg Guitars, also in your area. They are currently listing a Kimble A-5 and a Gibson F-4 that are within your price range.

    Or you could wait until you can make that trip to Nashville, even though the number of available instruments is a bit lower than usual. I can only find about two dozen that are in your price range.

  27. #23

    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    You might want to drop by Schoenberg Guitars, also in your area. They are currently listing a Kimble A-5 and a Gibson F-4 that are within your price range.
    I love Schoenberg Guitars, but I called them and their voicemail said they're not yet reopened post-covid. I figured I could make an appointment if I was interested in a specific instrument, but would rather just be able to go in and play what they have and see if anything strikes me.

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  29. #24
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Smart move going to Nashville, if you can, and are spending that much. Should be a fun trip as well!
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    Default Re: Question about Collings mandolins

    Quote Originally Posted by withfoam View Post
    All of Collings are going to be similar, but will have variances. For example, the store I bought from had 3 new MF Deluxe's in stock and they brought them all out for me. I played each one and I remember the moment I strummed the one I bought, it hit me just right and really a bit different than the other 2. I knew immediately that that was THE ONE. So again, consistent, but not exactly the same. All were great though.
    This is where ignorance could be bliss. If THE ONE hadn't been there, you probably would have been happy with one of the other two. (The glass half-full.) The flip side, though, is that if you had crossed paths with it at some other store down the line, you would have been frustrated that the one you had bought wasn't as good. (The glass half-empty.)

    Quote Originally Posted by glissando View Post
    I'd really prefer to buy a used mandolin and would love to be able to try a bunch of them. I've never played a Weber, for example. There are a couple more local shops to visit as well, but even in the SF Bay Area it's hard to find a large selection of mandolins.
    It's especially hard to find a large selection of used mandolins here, so as others have mentioned, Nashville is the place to go! At Carter's and Gruhn's, you can usually find lots of them that were made by builders who never sell through stores, but whom you'll read about all the time here.

    Sylvan Music in Santa Cruz is a Weber dealer, but right now, they only have three in stock, and those three have been there for years. The Yellowstone and Diamondback would be in your price range.

    Quote Originally Posted by glissando View Post
    I love Schoenberg Guitars, but I called them and their voicemail said they're not yet reopened post-covid. I figured I could make an appointment if I was interested in a specific instrument, but would rather just be able to go in and play what they have and see if anything strikes me.
    I've never been there, but I sure hope to go someday.

    On the website, they're discouraging "frivolous calls" for appointments, but I would guess that if you are genuinely in the market to buy, then Eric wouldn't consider it frivolous, and might let you play whatever you want (except maybe the Loar) to "see if anything strikes [you]."
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