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Thread: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin?

  1. #26
    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I bought a Flatiron A5 Jr in 1985 - still have it (but I ain't dead yet, so I haven't kept it for a lifetime). It was $389 then, which is equivalent to nearly $1000 now.

    D.H.

  2. #27
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    What amount of money gets a forever mandolin? That depends on so many things. Everything after my first mandolin has been a forever mandolin. What amount gets an instrument you will never outgrow? For me same answer. My second mandolin, and everyone I purchased since, is way ahead of me. There are secrets waiting to be unlocked.

    I don't believe that the mandolin you purchase need have anything to do with the experience or accomplishment or ability you have. After the first mandolin, everyone should be the very very best you can afford at the time. Hold nothing back thinking you don't deserve it. I will never, ever deserve it.
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  4. #28

    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Barry Canada View Post
    Welcome JR
    I think it would be helpful to mentioned the types of music you like to play. This woukd enable members to give you more “streamlined” suggestions. Are you set on a new instrument or would you be open to a used mandolin?
    You may want to specify if your preference is an f hole or an oval hole. Do you want an f style or an a style mandolin (f style have the scrolls which are significantly more costly and in my opinion per dollar value do not necessarily give you a better tone or playability.
    Hi Barry, I like bluegrass, blues, and jazz on mandolin. I'm open to used instruments and my ideal mandolin is an f-style with f-holes. I just love the look of the scroll.

  5. #29

    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I bought my forever mandolin in January of this year for $725. There are, of course, better mandolins in the world. But, there is no reason for me to buy one. My Eastman MD 505 is not holding me back in any way, nor is it likely to in the mandolin learning years that I have left. I could not justify spending more.

    My mandolin dreaming time is better spent practicing.

  6. #30
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I guess a clarifying question is in order. What aspects of any particular mandolin would you consider disqualifies it as a forever mandolin?

    When I tried to answer this question, I found only mandolin parameters I would not accept in any mandolin I purchase. An interesting exercise.
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  7. #31
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    As others have said, it depends on what you are looking for in an instrument. While I have others, there is no reason I couldn't have stopped at my first "good" one, the 1929 Gibson A Jr. It really does everything I need.

    To the right person, a good Strad-O-Lin could be it. For others, it needs to be something like a nice handmade F style. And others want a great flat top that cut through in a session.

    Honestly, price between $750 and $5,000 should be it for many.

    Oh, did some gigs this past weekend with my Weber Gallatin, and yes, while a very modest instrument it also does everything I need it to do and sounds good in a fiddle/mandolin duo.
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  8. #32
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    To me, the question is "What amount of money gets an instrument you will never outgrow?"
    That's just what I was thinking is the definition of a lifelong keeper instrument.
    $4,500 for a used A-model would get you into an Ellis, Kimble, Duff, Givens, etc.
    Probably 95% of us will never outgrow a mandolin like that. We may look at others...but one of those would never hold us back.

    Kirk

  9. #33
    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Less than $4K will get you a brand new Mike Black mandolin that is guaranteed for life.

  10. #34

    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    The Martin you describe is about 2300 retail. Historically, here in the Cafe, the common ratio of similar dollar value quality in a mandolin is double that of a guitar. So you are looking at approximately 4600 retail. If this is the case and you are set on an f style mandolin I would recommend seeking out a used instrument. My opinion is that a fine newly built F style needed to provide you with a good jazz tonality would be hard to come by. I play mainly jazz, international and classical. To satisfy my definition of a keeper I demand that my mandolin provides me with clarity and a nice tonal range throughout the fretboard and evenly across all the strings.
    Last edited by Barry Canada; Jun-15-2021 at 2:52pm. Reason: Correction

  11. #35
    Fingers of Concrete ccravens's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by UsuallyPickin View Post
    IMO a 0015 is a mid grade instrument. A mid grade instrument should play in tune up the neck, have good workmanship and materials, be reasonably priced and have or be able to have good playability. For you a keeper. A mandolin of the same level of quality will be an upper grade Eastman or Kentucky. Something in the neighborhood of 2000.00$ used. Good luck in your search.
    I agree with all of this. I would not consider a 00-15 a"lifetime" or "keeper" instrument, but that just shows you how subjective all of this really is. Given that for you, I also agree that an upper Eastman, Kentucky, or used Silverangel or used Flatiron would be in the same ballpark for you.
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  12. #36
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    In my opinion, $2,000 and up. I got lucky and was able to buy a once in a lifetime purchase, which is my keep for forever mandolin. It is a special Weber Yellowstone which was more than $3,000, but there are used/vintage Gibson A styles for around $1,800 that would certainly be keepers.

  13. #37
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by J.R. Jersey View Post
    Hi Barry, I like bluegrass, blues, and jazz on mandolin. I'm open to used instruments and my ideal mandolin is an f-style with f-holes. I just love the look of the scroll.
    You can usually find a Nashville era Flatiron Festival f-style (essentially a Gibson F5G) in the $2500 range used.
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  14. #38
    Moderator JEStanek's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    This is impossible to answer. We have members here who bounce around top tier builders like floozies looking for "The One" We have people here with beat up old Gibsons they won't part with that they got for a few hundred. My forever mandolin was $1700 ish. Paul Prestopino of Peter Paul and Mary plays a Stradolin.

    I think you can connect to an instrument if it can be set up well. If you're chasing the tone dragon I bet you'll never be satisfied. Sometimes, the problem is the player not the instrument.

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  16. #39
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    OK, so now that we know you really want an F-style (and, hey, I get it and will probably get one myself one day, just because I like the look), in addition to the Kentucky and Eastman mandolins mentioned, I’d suggest you look at Northfield. I played one of their more basic models at TME a couple of years ago alongside Pava and Collings, and it more than held its own. The other 2 were great mandolins, but the Northfield was in their league for substantially less. Eastman and Kentucky are making some very good mandolins, but none of theirs that I’ve played (and I’ve owned an Eastman 315 and Kentucky 675-S and played higher tier models of both) were in the same league as that Northfield, or my old Silverangel, for that matter.
    Last edited by CES; Jun-15-2021 at 4:56pm.

  17. #40
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    +1 for the Northfield, I have played some up against much more expensive mandolins and they held their own. If you can buy used you can get a lot of mandolin for the money. I was fortunate to find a barely used Girouard F-5 for 3K a few years back, it's not going anywhere.
    Charley

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  18. #41

    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I bought my keeper in 1978 for $675 (Givens A model). I suppose it would go for around $5,000 today so that would be my price point if I were trying to replace it.

  19. #42
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I think a keeper or lifetime instrument has to been structurally solid, tonally interesting, play in tune and be something you can do a good set-up job on, and you have to really like the sound, which is a personal thing. If it's a keeper, you can find instruments that are different, or work better in a specific style or band, but it's hard to say that one or the other is simply better playing or better sounding than the other.

    With a "non-keeper" instrument, you can find a similar style "keeper" that does much the same things musically, in the same settings, and does it better.

    You can pay a lot more for looks, of course.

    I'd agree that the stradolins, teens Gibson oval holes and flatiron A bodies are the best bets for finding an inexpensive keeper mandolin. It's good to seem them getting the love on here.
    -Dave
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  20. #43
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I think it very much depends on what you need to do with the instrument.
    When you see Thile play, you see that he is all over the fingerboard, way up the neck, playing on every string. Yet every note sounds clear and the instrument as a whole sounds balanced.
    That is simply not true of every mandolin.

    If your instrument is holding you back, whether in terms of playability, volume or anything else, then you could make a case for getting another one.

    I think it is certainly possible for a better instrument to make your playing MUCH better, and if you can find such an instrument then it is worth upgrading - for sure.

    It isn't necessarily a much more expensive instrument - but generally in this world I think you get what you pay for.
    David A. Gordon

  21. #44
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Another thing to keep in mind is that if you're jumping from a Rogue to hoping to buy a "keeper", you'd want to know what things work for you and what don't - flat vs. radius fretboard, nut width, neck profile. Some folks figure that stuff out by playing as many mandolins as possible before taking the plunge on a more expensive mandolin, and some folks learn by trial and error - engaging in catch and release until finding an instrument that checks all the boxes. Just for the craic, here are the reasons I moved on several mandolins:

    Weber Custom Gallatin F (bought second hand): This was the least expensive of the mandolins on this list, and for my needs could've been a keeper - I loved the sound and playability of this mandolin - it was one of the mahogany back and sides Gallatins so sound wise might not be to everyone's taste but it worked for me, it just felt right. I stupidly got my head turned when someone commented that I deserved a "better" mandolin, so I sold it to fund the purchase of a Weber Vintage A.

    Weber Vintage A (bought second hand): I didn't really have this one long enough to bond with it, but I do remember that in the short time that I had it I consistently missed my Gallatin. Ended up having to sell this one because I unexpectedly lost my job and was literally a week away from homelessness.

    Mike Black A2Z (bought second hand): Six months after the job loss, staying afloat with 4 part time jobs I got the chance to buy this one via paying instalments to the seller who kindly offered that option. Unfortunately all my part time jobs had "independent contractor" status so I was whacked with a huge tax bill and this one was sold after about a year to pay the taxman.

    Hilburn A5 (commissioned): I had originally commissioned this one a month before losing my job and was determined to not have to cancel the build so worked like mad to sock the money away so as to be able to pay for it. When it finally arrived at the end of that year it was nice to play and sounded great, but for other reasons I won't go into here I never bonded with it (never even recorded a single video with it - every other mandolin I have had has been documented on video) and it was eventually sold.

    1927 snakehead Gibson A-jr: I've always loved old Gibson A's, particularly the A-jr's. This one was a really lovely example but try as I might I couldn't get used to the flat fretboard. Kinda like when you try on a jacket that you really like in a shop that's a size too big, but you try to convince yourself that it's fine because you like everything else about it so much. Then whenever you wear it it just feels wrong. If it had a radius fretboard I'd still have this one. Sold this one to fund an MT-O.

    Collings MT-O (bought secondhand): I'd always wanted an MT-O and this one was lovely. When I bought it I wasn't aware that it had a wide nut, and I just assumed that the slight difficulty/discomfort I felt playing it was down to being rusty as I'd been focusing more on the tenor banjo. It was only when I got a chance to play a Girouard oval A at one of Marla Fibish's winter mandolin intensives that it dawned on me that it was the nut width that I'd been struggling with on the Collings. I was so smitten with the Girouard's playability and sound that I immediately emailed Max when I got home that evening to inquire as to commissioning a build with the same specs as the one I played. That was in February 2018 and by December my mandolin arrived and I was not disappointed. So I finally have my "keeper".
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  23. #45

    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    A keeper is not a necessarily your permanent keeper!
    You have been playing a Rogue and jumping to a better instrument and experiencing it over time would probably give you a better objective idea of what a keeper for “you” really would be. I would suggest a used A style for now which could be resold with minimal monetary loss or no loss at all. You also usually are given a 48 hr audition through the members posting on this site as long as you cover the shipping. If you purchase and stick with a common brand they will be easier to repost and resell. A mandolin choice is very personal and dependant on sound preferences, genre preferences, ergonomics, hand size, aesthetics and so on. I have enjoyed the journey over many of playing different mandolins and find each quality mandolin has it’s own personality and soul. No two are alike even from the same builder. Personally one day I like one and the next day I like the other. I suggest you get an A style following up on many choices suggested in the thread you started. Experiment, learn and then seek your keeper keeping in mind the next one you chase may be the real keeper! Beware though! Often the real keeper gets resold prior to purchasing the next attempt at purchasing the so-called keeper! (Just a little humorous truth thrown in) Feel free to PM individuals if you want more specific information and details about their posts. This is a wonderful and warm community you have joined and welcome to the mandolin journey!
    Do you happen to live near a dealer that has several mandolins to try? If possible It could be worth your time to travel to one.

  24. #46
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    "What price level and up ..."

    That could be anywhere from free to sky is the limit. Price paid has less to do with an instrument being a "lifelong keeper" than nearly any other factor, IMO.
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  25. #47
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I don’t think a price-range can be assigned to a “lifelong keeper,” regardless of “tier.”

    Many folks find joy and pleasure and their keeper in entry-level/budget instruments. Others are on a never ending quest for theirs among the rarified air of boutique builders.

    My wife, who is a much better instrumentalist than me, has a 2000 Martin 00-15. She also has a 000-42, an M-36, a 1953 0-18, a 1954 00-18, 1964 00-21NY, a Gibson J-185, an SJN Country-Western, and a few other makes and models, including some custom luthier builds. Yet she truly enjoys the voice and feel and playability of the 00-15. She is fond of saying that it is the guitar that she’ll take to the nursing home. It’s not a budget guitar, but it’s not in the price range of others that she has.

    I’ve told this story before (specifically about MAS), but I think it bears repeating here.

    In 1972, I had the unique privilege of sitting with John Hartford, Vassar Clements, and Earl Scruggs. I had just started exploring the mandolin and, being a college kid with no money, had picked up a very cheap Kay at a junk shop. I told them as much. John Hartford interrupted me with a statement that “any instrument is capable of making great music. It just needs all of your heart and soul to give it heart and soul.” Vassar Clements picked it up, ran a couple of licks, and said “nothing wrong with this; it makes music just fine.” And Earl Scruggs said “son, just remember, the audience doesn’t care what you’re playing, just that you’re playing what they came to hear.”


    Too many times, we allow ‘newer,’ ‘greater,’ ‘better’ influence our opinion. Too many times we don’t allow ourselves the energy, the opportunity, and the years to become comfortable with an instrument. And, as a result, our wandering eye prevents any heart and soul from going into and out of that instrument.


    So, all that said: (1) purchase the best instrument you can afford that offers the voice and playability you desire. (2) be comfortable with that instrument.

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  27. #48

    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by NursingDaBlues View Post
    I don’t think a price-range can be assigned to a “lifelong keeper,” regardless of “tier.”

    Many folks find joy and pleasure and their keeper in entry-level/budget instruments. Others are on a never ending quest for theirs among the rarified air of boutique builders.

    My wife, who is a much better instrumentalist than me, has a 2000 Martin 00-15. She also has a 000-42, an M-36, a 1953 0-18, a 1954 00-18, 1964 00-21NY, a Gibson J-185, an SJN Country-Western, and a few other makes and models, including some custom luthier builds. Yet she truly enjoys the voice and feel and playability of the 00-15. She is fond of saying that it is the guitar that she’ll take to the nursing home. It’s not a budget guitar, but it’s not in the price range of others that she has.

    I’ve told this story before (specifically about MAS), but I think it bears repeating here.

    In 1972, I had the unique privilege of sitting with John Hartford, Vassar Clements, and Earl Scruggs. I had just started exploring the mandolin and, being a college kid with no money, had picked up a very cheap Kay at a junk shop. I told them as much. John Hartford interrupted me with a statement that “any instrument is capable of making great music. It just needs all of your heart and soul to give it heart and soul.” Vassar Clements picked it up, ran a couple of licks, and said “nothing wrong with this; it makes music just fine.” And Earl Scruggs said “son, just remember, the audience doesn’t care what you’re playing, just that you’re playing what they came to hear.”


    Too many times, we allow ‘newer,’ ‘greater,’ ‘better’ influence our opinion. Too many times we don’t allow ourselves the energy, the opportunity, and the years to become comfortable with an instrument. And, as a result, our wandering eye prevents any heart and soul from going into and out of that instrument.


    So, all that said: (1) purchase the best instrument you can afford that offers the voice and playability you desire. (2) be comfortable with that instrument.
    Exactly. Great post. What an honor to have met those legends!

  28. #49
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I had played guitar for 30-odd years before buying my first mandolin, and by that time I had moved up into custom luthier-built acoustic guitars in the $3,00-$5,000 USD price range.

    When I decided to try playing mandolin, I just assumed that I'd have to spend at that price range to get a similar quality instrument. Note: this was before intermediate-grade instruments were being outsourced to PacRim manufacture with final quality control here in the US. I did a ton of research before buying, mostly here on the Cafe, and settled on a redwood-top Lebeda F-style mandolin that sold for $4,500 new. At the time, the Czech makers were offing a great bang for the buck in handmade instruments.

    I bought that Lebeda mandolin 14 years ago, and it's still my only mandolin. I'm not sure a Bluegrass player would love it, but it has a very clear, fundamental tone that works well in the Irish/Scottish trad music I eventually drifted into. Especially in loud sessions.

    After that, I found a secondhand Weber F-style octave mandolin on Ebay and jumped on it, because the price was half what they were selling for new at the time (around $6-7k). I got lucky with that one, and it's my other lifelong keeper.

    So it's possible to land on your "keeper" the first time out like this, but I think your odds are better if you aim somewhere over the threshold between factory mass market instruments, vs. luthier-made or small shop instruments.

  29. #50
    Registered User Steve Lavelle's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I bought my "lifelong keeper" mandolin in '93 for about $1850.. See my signature below. I consider myself an intermediate skill player.

    I've put almost as much into repair and upgrades: re-fretted with SS frets, CA bridge, replaced the nut, installed twin JJB piezos under the sound board after trying a Fishman bridge, armrest, binding repairs after falls onto one of the points.

    I still get MAS (hello Apitius J model with floating HB), but I can't justify it. The money I've spent on finding the the Grail preamp rivals the initial cost of the instrument (Tonedexter is under consideration, but I should really sell the other 3). Apparently I'm much more susceptible to GAS.

    The original case is wearing out......
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