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Thread: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

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    Default Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Hey folks, I'm new here. I've plucked around with mandolins here and there but never owned a nice one. I'm an electric guitarist mainly. I've got around 30 in my collection including vintage strats, Les Pauls, and many non-vintage, high quality guitars. The 3 acoustic guitars I have are a Taylor, an old Guild and Collings.

    So I'm looking at mandolins now. I live in Nashville and the selection of used is generally pretty large. I know little about the instrument other than they sound unique and beautiful to my ears. But the question that is always on my mind when looking at the new and used mandolins is, why in the world are the good ones so expensive? What I'm seeing is that the good mandolins are $4000 and up. Why? I can buy a really good Martin guitar for much less than that. My Taylor cost half of that. The last Les Paul I bought was $1500. What is so unique about a mandolin that makes it worth $4000-$10,000? Is it because there are less of them? Supply and demand? Materials?

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    Registered User Chip Booth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Factory made flatop vs hand carved arch top. The cost difference is similar in the guitar world as well.

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    Registered User houseworker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Some Nashville dealers value on the high side.

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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    "Good" is a frame of mind and a matter of taste, and will vary widely from person to person. I have a 1917 plain A oval hole that I got from eBay about five years ago for about $900, and it sounds great. And this is something that was bottom-of-the-line back then, with no frills - not even a logo inlay in the headstock - for entry level buyers or those with small budgets. Even so, it was made well and has aged well. I don't know what will be suitable for you, but you might want to try looking for something like this instead of brand new high-ticket items.

    These days, no frills and low budget items could mean something like a $49 Rogue. I'm not recommending this, nor do I imagine these will age as well as old Gibsons, but I believe that is more or less the equivalent of what an A model was back then (though surely back then these were handcrafted and thus better made than Rogues and such). Of course, the more you spend the more you get - that's usually the case - and the price-value relationship is always on a sliding scale.

    Of your three questions at the end of your post, I would say supply and demand is the biggest factor. Guitars represent a much bigger share of the market for acoustic instruments than mandolins. Instrument makers are more interested in meeting the demand for guitars because of its high volume. Also, as Chip mentioned, flat tops are easier to produce. Overall, mandolins are more labor-intensive than guitars, especially F-models, so production costs per instrument are higher.

    If there are music stores near you where you can try out a range of mandolins, do so. You may be surprised at how good mid-range mandolins sound. Once you get an idea of what you're looking for, shop around the intenet for bargains - or support your lcal store. Whatever will put your mind at ease.

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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Racer X,
    Your question has been asked and the answers discussed on this forum before. Take some time and search the old threads, I'm sure you'll find lots of opinions.
    I think a lot of us suffered some 'sticker-shock' after discovering what it costs to get a nice quality mandolin.
    At least you live in an area where you'll be able to see, hear and try some nice instruments. Here in the Northern Ohio area, when you walk into a music store and ask where they keep the mandolins, they just give you a blank stare. Then they might mumble and point at a plywood ukulele hanging next to the plastic flutes they sell to the elementary school kids. At least that's been my experience.
    At any rate, welcome to the Cafe. Give my best to Speed, Spritle, Pops and Chim Chim too!

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    its a very very long song Jim's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    While I completely agree that American Made Mandolins can get very expensive, there are a number of very fine instruments in the $1500/$2000 area. There is a lot of work that goes into a fine archtop instrument and there is a premium payed to have certain name on the machine head. I am always amazed at the prices certain solid body electric guitars bring beacause in IMHO they are not that hard to make. The market seems to be there at that price point though.
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Price of a Collings dread or OM guitar is around 4 to 5k. Price of a Collings archtop....if you can find one is 12k to 22k. Why are violins so expensive? Same reason. The carved topped instruments are more labor intensive.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    As you have seen, a mandolin generally costs about twice as much as a guitar of comparable quality.

    The biggest reason is simply there are so few mandolin players. The guitar is arguably the most popular instrument on the planet, and all kinds of production infrastructure has been developed over the years to serve that market, from high volume manufacture of parts and pieces and assembly, to established distributors and distribution systems. Its all there.

    The mandolin is, by comparison, a niche instrument. At least in the US. In Nashville and Austin, and a few other places, and for bluegrass enthusiasts, the mandolin is pretty common, but most of the country could not tell you which instrument is the mandolin, given two guesses. So not as many are made and not as many makers, not as much competition, not many high volume manufacturers, not as many choices for the consumer... its just an entirely different market.

    Good luck and welcome to the café, I look forward to hearing from you.
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    And like many threads will say........if you use the archives.......lose the scroll and you get more sound for your money. That extra fabrication labor for the strap hanger adds to the cost.
    Last edited by SternART; Jun-16-2013 at 1:27pm.

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    man about town Markus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    A Collings MT costs a bit more tha half your figure, is by no means a bad instrument. I think that your price should be $2k+ to start to find some serious quality (Silverangel, Pava, etc).

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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Many mandolins made in North America, due to a much lower demand, are "custom shop" builds. In the electric guitar world, of which I have had some recent exposure to, it appears that even the big F and G "custom or master builds are pretty expensive. Collings is essentially a custom shop for everything (kind of like John Suhr guitars) but they do offer some loss leaders built on spec. Also, if instruments (and components) are made by lower cost labor that may be reflected in the price. Some builders are getting established so they work cheaper and some just build for the love of it and cater to a certain price market.

    I imagine some of the $4.5K I spent waiting for my Collings electric guitar to be built helped to subsidize some of the Collings mandolins (which as mentioned above are fairly priced).

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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    What is so unique about a mandolin that makes it worth $4000-$10,000? Is it because there are less of them? Supply and demand? Materials?
    I get this sort of thing all the time. Answer is the labour involved in making a mandolin is high. It is also unfair to compare prices of factory made instruments with hand made, so make sure you are comparing apples with apples. It takes me around 100 hours to make an A type mandolin. Multiply that by a reasonable hourly rate, add material costs and that is why they cost what they do. How much does your plumber or mechanic charge by the hour?
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Hi RX- You've certainly played enough quality instruments to know one when you pick it up an play. You'll know it when you find the mandolin that you are looking for. There many mandolins of comparable quality to the guitars you mentioned which can be purchased in the oh, let's say $1650 and up range for an A style (used Collings MT for instance). For A style mandolins, 4 Gs would put you into custom order A-Styles from some of the premier US small shop builders (Ellis for example). Some newer US builders who are quickly gaining popularity would build you a custom instrument for much less (Morris, Gerarrd, Newell, Jacobson, and many others). F-Styles cost more due to the added labor. Those lovely Two Points lie in between A's and F's in cost. Truly, most custom Fs and many small shop Fs wolud start around 4-5 Gs. And worth every penny. But, a used Dearstone FM5 in the Classifieds now for $2950 would qualify as nice for many. Keith Newell just sold one of his custom Fs in the Classifieds for $2,000 (somebody really scored a deal there). Take your time, watch the Classifieds here, and haunt Gruhn's, Cotten's and Big Joe's till you see the quality you want at your price point. Of course if you are going to end up with 30 mandolins to go with your guitar collection, might as well get started! Enjoy the Hunt!

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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by peter.coombe View Post
    I get this sort of thing all the time. Answer is the labour involved in making a mandolin is high. It is also unfair to compare prices of factory made instruments with hand made, so make sure you are comparing apples with apples. It takes me around 100 hours to make an A type mandolin. Multiply that by a reasonable hourly rate, add material costs and that is why they cost what they do. How much does your plumber or mechanic charge by the hour?
    Thanks for all the replies, folks. And Peter, I certainly meant no offense to the builders of fine instruments like yours. I know it is a labor of love. As for plumbing, I do my own. So I know what rolls downhill, and I never bite my fingernails.
    "C'mon man, this ain't rocket surgery."

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    Registered User dcoventry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/66895
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    These are all examples of great guitars that are similar in price to a great mando, but probably took much less time to build.
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Does anyone have a good handle on the actual guitar to mandolin ratio? I wouldn't be surprised if it were 1000:1 or better.
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Mandolins have alot of hand carving and time consuming work involved in the construction. However their are some relatively new and small builders out there that can build you a nice custom mandolin for under U$S 2,000. I know of a luthier in Tennessee who is a relatively new builder but building some great quality, hand-made/built mandolins for a VERY reasonable price. I am sure he would be happy to build you a nice "F" model for around U$S 1800. If you're interested, send me a POM I'll be glad to share you his contact details.

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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Hey Racer,
    We're Nashville neighbors. I would agree with what has been said above, especially that there is not much comparison between better carved mandolins, and solid-body electrics and flattop acoustics, and secondly that you don't have to spend anywhere near the kind of money you mention, unless you are set on a certain shape and a certain list of makes. I own 6-7 good, hand-made A-style mandolins, that cost me between $900-$1400. There are mandolins I expect you would agree were good instruments from anywhere $500-$600 and up. Ask and you'll receive any number of recommendations (that will continue long after you have stopped reading the thread!).
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by dcoventry View Post
    These are all examples of great guitars that are similar in price to a great mando, but probably took much less time to build.
    Maybe I've been around here too long, but 4K for a high quality, handmade mandolin is actually quite reasonable (even though it's still way over my pay grade). I've heard that it takes anywhere from 150 to 200+ hours to finish a quality mandolin, and for a 5K instrument, the hourly wage comes to $25 - $33/hr. That's more than reasonable in my mind.

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    Registered User Steve Sorensen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    "Acceptable" is easy; "Good" is can be reached with a little effort; "Excellent" is more rare than most folks realize; "Extraordinary" requires a blend of precision, finesse, subtlety, understanding of the materials, and attention to the Player's needs which make those instruments so special that they are well worth the value placed upon them in the balance of supply and demand.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Well: you own a Collings guitar, right? Per the 2012 Collings price list printed here, their cheapest guitar costs $4K list, and they offer MT mandolins as low as $2745.

    You can buy some very nice Weber A-models for less than $3K. If you define "good" as "Gibson F-model or small-builder F-model," even then you can find F-9's (if there were any in stock) for less than $4K.

    And as several have pointed out, there are hundreds of quality acoustic and electric guitars being sold daily, for every mandolin. Chances of running across a "bargain" Martin guitar are much greater than a "bargain" Gibson F-model mandolin.

    I have an eclectic mixture of vintage American and contemporary Asian or European mandolin-family instruments, and -- buying largely used -- I've found prices on both sides of the "normal" mandolin-guitar equivalencies. I'd say, play all the instruments you can find in your preferred price range (should be a large selection around Nashville), and see what you think then.
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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    It's possible to buy a really good mandolin at a good price more than ever these days,much the same as with guitars. If you look at the better quality Asian made ones,some of them are excellent ie. the Northfield range of instruments. There are also the Kentucky & the instruments & the Eastman range. The Kentucky's have a wide range of prices,the Eastmans maybe less so. The Northfield range starts off pretty high & gets higher according to the model,but they've come in for some very serious use by many well known players such as Adam Steffey & Emory Lester - in fact it think that Adam Steffey uses a range of Northfield mandolins on his latest CD - "New Primitive". From the Mandolin Cafe interview with Adam re.his new CD :- " The Northfield Big Mon model is my main ax these days. I used that on almost all of the cuts except for a couple of guitar and mandolin duets where I used a Northfield F-5S ...". For me,endorsements don't come any better than that. Emory Lester has also said that the Northfield mandolin that he plays,is the best sub-$10,000 mandolin he's played. I can't be quite sure,but i think thata Northfield 'Big Mon' comes in at around $3,500 US,considerably less than the price of any vintage 'Strat.' that i've seen,
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by StevenS View Post
    "Acceptable" is easy; "Good" is can be reached with a little effort; "Excellent" is more rare than most folks realize; "Extraordinary" requires a blend of precision, finesse, subtlety, understanding of the materials, and attention to the Player's needs which make those instruments so special that they are well worth the value placed upon them in the balance of supply and demand.

    Steve
    Well spoken.....er written. i've only played maybe two mandolins in my life that I would call exceptional...but I have played many excellent and good ones, most by small luthiers with little notoriety. Im suprised that their is all this pushing all the time for manufactured mandolins when their really are so many exceptional luthiers out there who will build you a really nice mandolin at a very fair price...for not much more an what they charge for some of these top of the line pac-rimmers. For four hundred bucks more or so you could have a kick hiney mandolin way better than any of these asian ones...even the best asian ones...just my opinion

  27. #24

    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Contact this gentlemen right here, an up and coming luthier who will build you an excellent F model for US 1800 www.ebmworks.com His name is Eddie Blevins from Tenn and he will be glad to answer any and all your questions. He's a really nice guy!

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking to buy nice mandolin. Why so expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Michael Pfeiffer View Post
    or four hundred bucks more or so you could have a kick hiney mandolin way better than any of these asian ones...even the best asian ones...just my opinion
    How many KM-1000's, KM-1500's and Northfield's (in particular) have you actually played? I assume you must have some experience to base your opinion on?

    Yes, there are some builders in the US who can turn out a very good instrument in the $1K-1.7K range. I've played quite a few over the years. Some I liked - some I didn't (for various reasons). I would not generalise, however, and say they were all "better" or "worse" than those I mentioned above. It really is not that simple. Some of them were real dogs, sound-wise (in my opinion). Build and finish quality was also all over the place. Others were very good value in all respects.

    Taking Northfield specifically, their F-models range from around $2.6-$5.5K. Now... people are not buying instruments like that because they are "cheap". They are buying them because they are a very, very good mandolin indeed. I can say that on the basis of owning one (a Big Mon) and also having quite a number of other very good instruments available to compare it with. To dismiss all Asian built mandolins as if they are automatically second-rate junk is a very outdated view. There was some truth to it 30 odd years ago, though even then, the Sumi-built Kentucky's were pushing the envelope, but now... no way.

    Go take a listen to Adam Steffey's latest CD. Sounds a long way from a second rate mandolin to me.

    Ivan, a Big Mon to the same spec as Adam's is around the $5,500 mark, or a bit above. That's with the best selected materials used.
    Last edited by almeriastrings; Jun-20-2013 at 2:49am. Reason: Added info
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