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Thread: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

  1. #1

    Default Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Forgive me if this is the wrong forum, but I'm in need of some advice.

    I'm not a gear guy and for the past fifteen-plus years, have been playing mandolins I either bought as a starter (Eastman) or had sold to me by a luthier (Ibanez). Despite taking good care of them over the years, both have eventually warped and become unplayable. Which I'm told is common for these two mandolins.

    I'm at the point where I'd like to buy an A-stlye mandolin that will last a little longer. Preferably for life. I don't know if it's ludicrous to assume there's something like that for my budget ($600~). I also play gigs, so it would be great if it had electric capabilities. I've been eyeballing Eastman MD505s and Kentucky KM 150s but with a little research here, there seems to be a ton of conflicting opinions on both.

    I'm hoping there's something that makes sense for me that isn't some Musician's Friend or Guitar Center-hacky POS.

    Any ideas? Thanks in advance

  2. #2

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    I’d think that would be a difficult budget to find what you are looking for in these times.

    I’ve never heard that it as common for either of those brands to become “warped,” even at the entry level. What gauge strings do you use? Do you keep your mandolin in a case? (Do you have a choice of luthiers?)

  3. #3

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Quote Originally Posted by danwarning View Post
    Forgive me if this is the wrong forum, but I'm in need of some advice.

    I'm not a gear guy and for the past fifteen-plus years, have been playing mandolins I either bought as a starter (Eastman) or had sold to me by a luthier (Ibanez). Despite taking good care of them over the years, both have eventually warped and become unplayable. Which I'm told is common for these two mandolins.

    I'm at the point where I'd like to buy an A-stlye mandolin that will last a little longer. Preferably for life. I don't know if it's ludicrous to assume there's something like that for my budget ($600~). I also play gigs, so it would be great if it had electric capabilities. I've been eyeballing Eastman MD505s and Kentucky KM 150s but with a little research here, there seems to be a ton of conflicting opinions on both.

    I'm hoping there's something that makes sense for me that isn't some Musician's Friend or Guitar Center-hacky POS.

    Any ideas? Thanks in advance
    Are you open to an flat top? Oval hole? That would expand your number of options. I have a very nice Big Muddy that I bought for less than your budget, and I could put a pickup in it for pretty cheap. There are other flat top oval holes that would work too, but maybe not a choice if you are playing in bluegrass ensembles.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    I’d think that would be a difficult budget to find what you are looking for in these times.

    I’ve never heard that it as common for either of those brands to become “warped,” even at the entry level. What gauge strings do you use? Do you keep your mandolin in a case? (Do you have a choice of luthiers?)
    Thanks for your reply.

    I have two good friends who are both luthiers and both said that the body caving in under the bridge was pretty common in cheaper mandolins (I can't imagine either cost more than a couple hundred bucks).

    I keep them in cases, generally, and play them all the time. Sometimes, they'll spend a little time hanging up on interior walls of my home. My buddies do the occasional "tune up" and as far as strings, I tend toward medium gauge.
    Last edited by danwarning; Aug-30-2021 at 1:38pm.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Are you open to an flat top? Oval hole? That would expand your number of options. I have a very nice Big Muddy that I bought for less than your budget, and I could put a pickup in it for pretty cheap. There are other flat top oval holes that would work too, but maybe not a choice if you are playing in bluegrass ensembles.

    Hi! I appreciate the offer.

    I'm cool with flat tops and don't care about the hole shape either. I'm just interested in an A-style that would last a bit longer (a good set up is preferred too) and sound good. I don't know Big Muddy at all (I'm more interested in how it sounds vs. who made it). What's the model? I'd like to do a little more research on it. Are they Golden Age StewMac tuners?
    Last edited by danwarning; Aug-30-2021 at 1:33pm. Reason: wanted to include quote

  6. #6
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Quote Originally Posted by danwarning View Post
    ...I have two good friends who are both luthiers and both said that the body caving in under the bridge was pretty common in cheaper mandolins (I can't imagine either cost more than a couple hundred bucks)...
    Well, new Eastman "300" series models, their least expensive, start at a little over $525, so tell me where I can get one for "a couple hundred bucks!" I'll buy two...

    Top collapse is not that uncommon, even on quality models (old Gibsons, e.g.), especially if a top brace loosens. And it can be an epidemic on real "cheapos," especially if you use medium-gauge strings. I'd be a bit surprised to find "pretty common" top collapse with Eastman instruments, which are generally well-made, but you could have the exception, or it could have sustained damage -- or dried out, which will often flatten the arch of the top. If you don't keep them cased and humidify them, that could be a problem.

    The two models you're considering are quality instruments; the Kentucky KM-150 is the most recommended model for those wanting a quality mid-price instrument, and the MD 505 is a very nice model in the middle of Eastman's range. Used MD 505's appear to list a bit above your budget, around $650; new ones are around $850. You can get used KM-150's for less than $300; a new one should run somewhere around $450.

    Neither of them qualifies as a "POS"; you'll find lots of happy Kentucky and Eastman owners on the Cafe.
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  8. #7

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Keep an eye out. There have been some good buys in the used mandolin section on Musicians Friend/Guitar Center. Several Eastman 500 series were listed for under $600 recently. They went fast, so you will have to be diligent in your search.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    I'm on to my £4k mandolin as my main instrument now but still value my KM150 I bought in 2009 for £295, they now go for about £490.
    I have since installed a pickup and endpin jack, replaced the tuners, bridge & tailpiece & it's a fine instrument.
    It spent the last couple of years on loan to our mandolin orchestra leader & has even appeared on an album & some other projects he did.

    However I'd think about looking for something 2nd hand that will deliver more for your budget, especially as your friends could give them a fettle if needed.
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  10. #9

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    I've been really impressed with all of the new Eastmans that I've played here lately. The Eastman 500 series instruments are a great value. You get a lot for your money with those.

    If it were me, I'd try to find a good used MD505. If I had to go a little over your budget, I would because I honestly believe they are worth the extra money. Then after you have your mandolin, save up again and have a K&K pickup installed.

    This setup should last you a lifetime, and I don't think it would ever disappoint you. Just my opinion though.

  11. #10
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs



    Sorry, could not resist.

    Hopefully you will find your mandolin.
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  13. #11

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Quote Originally Posted by danwarning View Post
    I'm cool with flat tops and don't care about the hole shape either. I'm just interested in an A-style that would last a bit longer (a good set up is preferred too) and sound good. I don't know Big Muddy at all (I'm more interested in how it sounds vs. who made it). What's the model? I'd like to do a little more research on it. Are they Golden Age StewMac tuners?
    Yes, they are generally Golden Age tuners. I've round references to Grovers, but I don't know if somebody else upgraded that instrument or if he just used those for a time and later switched to the Golden Age.

    Here, for example, is a Big Muddy for sale in the classifieds in your price range: https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/175475#175475

    Here is their website, where all the various models are for sale: https://www.bigmuddymandolin.com/

    Howard "Sonny" Morris is another luthier who makes flat top mandolins that I think are in your price range, at least used. People here seem to like them, but I haven't played one.

  14. #12

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    I think Kentucky and Eastman build fine mandolins. The common thought it the newer ones are better than older ones. Some of the Eastman 605's came with a pick-up, if you could fine a used one it might be an option. I had a Kentucky 150, it was a very good mandolin. But it had a flat fretboard and a chunkier neck that did not work for me, seems fine for others. I prefer the Kentucky mandolins with a radius fretboard like the 250's, 500's, 505's. As mentioned above Howard Morris makes a nice mandolin and you might find a used one in your price range. You might put an ad in the wanted section and see what is available. Good luck in the search.

  15. #13
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    I don't think you could go wrong with a Big Muddy (Mid Mo). I've got an M-15 mandola I bought in your price range that I love (<$500). I also have a Strad-O-Lin mandolin I bought <$300 that is my favorite instrument. Both are keepers. (I've also got a Morris flat top that's pretty dang nice, too). There's lots of options out there for you, IMHO.

  16. #14

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    I’ve been researching Big Muddy mandolins and, apart from some tuner-criticism (which means very little as I’m happy to swap them out), they seem pretty beloved. That said, I was trying to figure out how to PM you to learn more about the mandolin and your offer.

    Also, thanks to everyone else for all the solid advice!

  17. #15
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Just curious what model Eastman you currently have that is warping - I've been around the Cafe since Eastmans started to come onto the scene and have never heard folks reporting that as a common fault.
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  18. #16

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    I’m realizing I made a mistake. I was thinking Eastman but meant to type Johnson. My Johnson is the one that warped.

  19. #17
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Nothin' worse 'n' a warped Johnson...
    Allen Hopkins
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  21. #18

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Nothin' worse 'n' a warped Johnson...
    Lmao. The drink I was having is now on my shirt from laughing.

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  23. #19

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Save up and get something that is truly an upgrade.

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  25. #20
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    double post.
    Last edited by Charles E.; Sep-01-2021 at 6:05pm.
    Charley

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  26. #21
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Or at least bump it up a bit a get an Eastman 605.....

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/174630#174630
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  27. #22

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    I bought an Eastman 505 blem about 5 years ago, for under $500. I have been a guitar player since the early 60s and decided to try mandolin. I've become seriously hooked on mando and have been shopping for an upgrade. I've tried a few mandolins priced in the $500 to $2,000 range, but didn't find any to be much of an upgrade, if at all. A well set-up Eastman 505 is an incredible value and a joy to play.

  28. #23

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    I am currently caretaking an Eastman 515 for a friend who recently passed away and it is a very powerful mandolin. I think you'd need to jump up to the $3k range to surpass it.

  29. #24

    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Quote Originally Posted by MandoMan1 View Post
    Lmao. The drink I was having is now on my shirt from laughing.
    I honestly expected that, despite being careful with my phrasing. Hah

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  31. #25
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    Default Re: Advice on buying a new mandolin? Been playing for 15+yrs

    Yes, “structural failure” is more common in those bargain basement type instruments, though they do occasionally get one right. I remember seeing a video of a young Sierra Hull absolutely ripping it on a Johnson guitar that she made sound very good. FWIW.

    You’re getting sound advice, IMO. Eastman has been really killing it for a few years now. I used to own a 2015 315 that was my “beater,” and it was a very good mandolin, really exceptional for the price point. IME Eastman has a little more modern tone (think Collings), Kentucky a little more traditional, but that’s a generalization. My 315 had 80-85% of the tone of a Collings MT I owned simultaneously for a few months, which is crazy considering I bought it in a big box clearance deal for $429 (you’d be hard pressed to find a used one that low today). The Eastmans have a slight radius and a narrower nut width, the KM 150 a flat board. If well set up you’ll adapt to either without issue.

    Good luck!

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