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Thread: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

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    Default Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Seems like Ebay and his brother has taken up mandolin/biking/you name it during lockdown, and nobody (here in UK at least) will accept anything as low as their true worth for cheap beaters that play to leave in the car. Any ideas about 'sleepers' out there that play better than they look? By 'cheap' I don't mean $500 for say a Kentucky 150 or Eastman 504/505, I mean nearer half of that, new or used.

    Thanks, Max

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    Registered User nultylynch's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    I found that the Musician's Friend Rogue A style (I think I paid $50US for a used model) to be serviceable. Mine has a decent nut and once I got the bridge in the right position/height and put a decent set of strings on it...it more than serves its purpose. It's model RM-100A. The black one is on sale for $59 US. I'm well under $100 US with a Kaces gig bag I picked up used from Amazon.

    I also "speed necked" it...the neck finish left something to be desired. But some time with a scraper (razor blade) and sandpaper made the neck nice and smooth.

    I keep it in my classroom (I teach middle school) and so I don't have to worry about it walking away or succumbing to one of the multitude of accidents that could happen in a building filled with over a thousand 11-13 year olds.

    Now, it isn't going to compete with my Collings, but to have to practice when I have a few minutes, I've played much worse at much higher dollar amounts

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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Trouble with cheapo instruments is that, if you’re used to something much better, you won’t want to play them. I used to take my ‘24 Snakehead but now I either take a Breedlove or a Fylde away in the motorhome (RV for our US friends!). My principle is that “I have it but I wouldn’t mind loosing it”.

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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Over the years I have seen a variety of bowl back mandolins around your price range, in pawn shops. Pawn shops are usually a good place to search for less expensive, lower quality instruments. There's much to be enjoyed with a bowl back mandolin. If you are a bluegrasser this advice does not apply.

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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    I can see that Ray and Hudminster, but where I have in mind to keep it, they sometimes play out in the cold and rain where bowlbacks can fall apart, sometimes on the beach in the sun, and so on. What I really need is a mandolin equivalent of my carbon Luis & Clarke fiddle, but I don't have the funds for that at the moment

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Please all, leaving a mandolin in the car is hardly ever if not never a good idea.

    I bristle at the idea of a mandolin, or any musical instrument being abused. Or even treated casually. I get that there are situations where you might not want to bring your best most expensive instrument, camping and hiking and the beach etc. OK. But even a so called "beater" instrument deserves better.

    I get it. It's not that one is going to deliberately leave it in the car or leave it out in the rain pour the beer and rain water out of it next morning. It is that despite our best intentions and deliberate care, things happen, and more things happen outdoors etc., and that should something happen, we would not commit suicide if it was the beater it happened to.

    But lets not relax our diligence just because its "a beater".

    Another note - if I bring a so called beater to a jam or party, I do not tell anyone it is a beater. If I let someone hold or play it for a while, I want that person to treat my instrument with the respect and care they would any instrument.
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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    A few years ago I bought a used "Shiro" mandolin for ~$200 for my wife to try to learn to play. Shiro was a line of instruments from the early days (1960's, 1970's?) of Japanese production. The guy who built them went bankrupt but re-emerged to start a new company, I think it was Aria. Shiro was the guy's given name. Anyway, the tone from that mandolin is far better than the sub $1000 imports we see filling the pages on eBay nowadays. And it is better constructed. So if that is any guide, perhaps keeping an eye out for older "noname" Japanese mandolin would be the ticket.

    This one was made at about the same time that some folks were making fun of anything "Made in Japan" but smart folks were buying things like Nikon cameras, Datsun cars (forerunners of the Nissan Z-cars), Mitsubishi motorcycles, etc.
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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    I can understand your feelings Jeff, but I regard musical instruments as tools. Leaving a handmade, historic, or classic instrument somewhere it'll get damaged is against my principles due to the historic or craft properties attaching to that object. However my preference is to play instruments that sound OK, and are either so tough I can't damage them in ordinary use (like my carbon fiddle), or cheap enough that they're replaceable. Many years ago I saw a guy hand round a (genuine) Stradivari violin at an amateur orchestra gathering. A number of the players there were scared to touch it, never mind play it - I'm not sure If I want to own that kind of thing.

    Then let's consider an inexpensive (say less than $200) factory mandolin. It may sport a resin fingerboard, and be held together with Cascamite. It was made with thousands of others as a standard consumer item, with little or no craft input beyond the design stage. I'd regard that instrument as a tool to be used for making music. I'd avoid obvious unnecessary damage, as you say - but if it's going to enable me to play music when I couldn't otherwise, them I'll take a risk on trashing it - it's an entirely replaceable object.

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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    In 2016 there was a Musician's Friend blowout sale of the Michael Kelly LFSTB models... $199(US) for most of them before they ran out. Made in the PRC, these are big-factory, mostly CNC-shaped F-style instruments with nice solid woods including solid figured maple necks, sides and backs, spruce top, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, nice Grover tuners, with a thick poly-sunburst finish and some "carved" parts (whatever that means). The MOTS peghead inlays are pretty ugly, but other than those inlay, they look pretty decent too.

    Before the blowout they listed for around $1K(US). After a thorough setup they sound and play decent compared to most of the bigger-name Asian imports in that price range. And the poly finish is like armor, these instruments will probably outlast most of us.

    I bought 4 of these, one for myself and 3 others for friends. From 20' away they look similar but consistency at the detail level was indicative of multiple factories with different focus and different levels of Q/A. Not terrible, but pretty obvious if you look closely.

    The irony, and the reason I mention these in particular, is that these were all purchased to be used as beach instruments that we wouldn't feel bad about if they got destroyed. In reality as of the current date, none of the 4 of these mandolins that I purchased are used that way. They are all used as either main-playing instruments or as travel/backup instruments. They are all literally too good regarding sound and playability, to be trashed.

    Having experienced this, I suspect that unless you are extremely careful to pick the lowest cost, worst sounding, worst playing, totally least desirable instruments you can find, you'll probably run into the same problem. And if you do find such an instrument, you probably won't want to play it. Economy of instruments being what it is, if it plays and if it sounds halfway decent, you'll probably feel pretty bad if it gets destroyed.
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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    ...Economy of instruments being what it is, if it plays and if it sounds halfway decent, you'll probably feel pretty bad if it gets destroyed.
    That may well be so, Don - but I'd feel a lot worse if an artisan instrument got trashed, which is a good argument for good sounding quality carbon fiber instruments ('cos they're tough). I played for years in semi-pro Scottish dance bands in UK. I often had to leave the fiddle on the stage at the tender mercy of wedding guests, drummers and accordionists. This was at the time good playing workshop made Chinese violins were first available on Ebay, and there was one particular Chinese seller there who knew his business and his customers well. I had three violins from him, none of which cost more than $300, Add a $200 setup and these played (and looked to most) like the average $7,000-$10,000 19thC violin you'd find on a violin shop wall. Not a fine concert instrument, but good enough sound to get by in anything but professional Classical style fiddling. I got used to those fiddles, and I got used to not worrying about them. I didn't bother to insure them either, 'cos they were cheap enough it wasn't worth it. One night I dug out the handmade violin I had from a Californian maker, and played it at a wedding. After the interval, I walked across to my seat, tripped over the mic lead and the violin went on the floor - fortunately with very little damage. From then on, I played 'tools' whenever I could, and I was happy to leave them on pub tables, and on my chair on the stage.

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    Question Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    I'd be fine leaving my Mix A5 in a car, hidden tn the trunk, not visible , if I owned a car..


    Martin's back packer mandolins might work for you..
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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Quote Originally Posted by HonketyHank View Post
    ...but smart folks were buying things like Nikon cameras, Datsun cars (forerunners of the Nissan Z-cars), Mitsubishi motorcycles, etc.
    Collector's items indeed!
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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Recording Kind Dirty 30's. It's a good "cheap but cheerful" instrument. $199US with solid spruce top. I think it's better than a lot of the vintage Harmony or Kay models from the 1960's. Have played one and it would work.

    Might also look for a used Kentucky KM-150. Have seen a couple around here in the $300 range recently.
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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    I own 5 mandolins, the "top line" being a 2004 Gibson F-9, followed by a Weber Gallatin A-style. I also have a Bruhn double-point and an electric mando. With all of that said, the instrument I tend to play the most is my Epiphone MM-30. Now, it may not be the one I play for serious practice or with a jam, but it stays on a stand right beside my desk and when I want to practice or maybe play along with songs on my mandolin playlists, I grab the Epi. I think it currently retails for around $220 in U.S. dollars and I think it's a pretty good bargain instrument. I do take care of it and I would not leave it in the car on a hot, sunny day or a cold snowy one if I can help it. But, it you want a decent instrument under $250, you might consider the Epiphone MM-30.
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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    A cheap beater that you wouldn't mind leaving in the car? That'd be a banjo. Hide it, though, or you might come back to find someone's put another banjo there.
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Did someone say, Rogue!? I've had a couple forever. Maybe fifty bucks for one. The other was like thirty. It was a blem. Sure I've got a couple other better mandolins, but it's amazing how inexpensive yet playable the Rogues are. You can chase tone all you want, but the ax is only 1% of the equation.

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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Right! There was a very skilled Russian guy here a little while ago (can’t find the link), playing classical on two items, a Rogue and maybe an Epiphone. A good instrument in some countries is one that you can actually have….
    And the virtue of low-end construction, like plywood and modern glue is that such things are insensitive to temperature, humidity, impact, sweat, sunlight, compared to the (maybe) fragile masterworks whose keeping seems to involve everything short of an argon-filled glass case.
    And in the uke universe, you can get waterproof, all plastic, and even one that stores upside down in the sand…..

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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Agree. To me there is a big difference between a craftsman made instrument and a mass produced budget instrument like Rogue. I wouldn't purposely put a beater in harms way but I'd be willing to take risks with it. That's the role of a beater

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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    I can understand your feelings Jeff, but I regard musical instruments as tools. Leaving a handmade, historic, or classic instrument somewhere it'll get damaged is against my principles due to the historic or craft properties attaching to that object. However my preference is to play instruments that sound OK, and are either so tough I can't damage them in ordinary use (like my carbon fiddle), or cheap enough that they're replaceable. Many years ago I saw a guy hand round a (genuine) Stradivari violin at an amateur orchestra gathering. A number of the players there were scared to touch it, never mind play it - I'm not sure If I want to own that kind of thing.

    Then let's consider an inexpensive (say less than $200) factory mandolin. It may sport a resin fingerboard, and be held together with Cascamite. It was made with thousands of others as a standard consumer item, with little or no craft input beyond the design stage. I'd regard that instrument as a tool to be used for making music. I'd avoid obvious unnecessary damage, as you say - but if it's going to enable me to play music when I couldn't otherwise, them I'll take a risk on trashing it - it's an entirely replaceable object.

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    As a tradesman, I bought high quality tools, used them as often as needed, ie, daily, and tried not to trash them as they were often expensive and couldn’t be replaced in the middle of the work day. They were all factory made and replaceable, but ‘beaters’, no. They show wear but are still fit for service after 40+ years.

    If you’re using your tool to the point of unreasonable risk of damage, it’s a place I won’t go.

    But it’s a choice. Ymmv
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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Strangely enough I think it would be good to get an old concert or soprano banjo and tune it in nylon string fifths.
    They’re clunky and heavy so they’re not in demand, and have a short neck and a small head that doesn’t react too much to damp and heat.
    The main thing though is that outside, if there’s even a little wind in the trees, with their warm projection these babies sound great!

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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Thanks all. Here in UK, used Kentucky 150/160's (or Eastman equivalents) currently just aren't available. I think Rogues sell in UK with 'Stagg' on the headstock, and they're either unavailable, or the solid wood body and top ones are listing new at about £150 (nearly $200US). The Recording King Dirty 30 may be worth a look (ply back and sides?), but I've found few reviews of that yet - anyone venture a character assessment? I don't really want a flat top, which puts a few other flatiron/frying pan types out. Quite a few of those in UK have 'mahogany' (i.e. brown Treewood) tops, and I haven't like the sound of those I've played.


    Changing the topic slightly - I've always been put off inexpensive F styles on the grounds that those I've handled have been heavy and unresponsive, often covered in thick glassy finish. Recently I've seen used Gretsch, Fender, Aria, and a number of generic Chinese Fs (with various brand names - Ashbury, Ozark etc) in UK listed under £300 on Ebay. Have you found any of these to play any well enough?

  30. #22

    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    NFN: a less expensive guitar runs a risk of having a not-so-straight neck. A mandolin has a much shorter neck, and poses less risk of getting a bad one. Tailpiece on the other hand, can be junk. One can either buy or make an upgrade.

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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    ... Have you found any of these to play any well enough?
    At least here, most of the least expensive (and some of the moderately expensive) Asian import mandolins require a full setup before they are playable. Between less detailed Q/A and shipping, frets almost always require being re-seated and leveled and truss rod adjustments, then nut and bridge slot adjustments, etc., etc... But after a good setup, they may play well and sound decent.
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  32. #24

    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    I've heard some good sounding Ashbury instruments. Tom Kimber makes em sound great but a lot of that's probably him!

    One of the problems of cheap instruments is inconsistency so while there are probably some gems out there I doubt they will be by brand. Haunt the guitar stores, pawn shops, etc. Maybe talk to a hobbyist builder. To get what you're looking for you probably need the mandolin in hand. There's a reason KM150s and Eastman 3x are popular. Consistency.

    The next thread is often how to improve said cheap beater. I got my brand x and as soon as I do a tailpiece swap, put on a Cumberland acoustic bridge, get a bone nut, some Rubner tuners, Evo frets, and a set up, I think I might have something. That can be fun but money spent is money spent whether that's up front or on down the line.

    I think get the best tool ya can, take the best care of it you can and use the heck out of it. I take all my instruments to pubs, ren fests, beaches, campfires, festivals etc. They stay in their cases when not in use. I don't swim with them. I don't use them to pound nails. I find em to be pretty durable. My wife's Martin D15 got a foot through it while we were busking (not while she was playing ), My Larivee got a Sm58 mic tipped over into the soundboard. We got em patched up and back into service they went. It's my experience that instruments overall are durable and we have great techs to fix what ails them. Use em up!
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    Default Re: Cheap beater mandolins that play, for leaving in the car etc?

    Disturbing image.....close your eyes if squeamish!

    Click image for larger version. 

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    A very likely result. Exactly what I was thinking with this one......

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