Your First Mandolin?

  1. SaludaGrade
    Hey Everybody...

    I'm getting ready to buy my first mandolin. I play a little guitar and a lot of trumpet, so the world of music is not totally foreign to me.

    I've been reading a lot and trying to learn as much as I can before taking the plunge and buying my first mandolin. I'm beginning to suffer from the dreaded "paralysis by analysis" syndrome in trying to decide which instrument to purchase and where to buy. I figured a good source of information might be folks who had recently gone through the process. FWIW, my budget is no more than $750, so I'm looking for a decent "beginner" instrument but something a little better than the sub-$100 Rogues and the like.

    --Which mandolin did you end up purchasing and are you pleased with your choice?

    --Where did you purchase and would you recommend the seller?

  2. bbcee
    Saludos, SaludaGrade
    As with all things, "it depends". Your musical taste & location can determine what kind of mando, and from where, you'll get it.

    If you're in the States, you can buy from The Mandolin Store, Folk Musician and others and get a reasonably-priced instrument nicely set up & ready to play. In my case, living in Spain, I bought from a Cafe member I knew & trusted.

    The kind of music you are drawn to might decide what kind of instrument you'll buy. Let us know more, and we'll talk your ear off.
  3. SaludaGrade
    Thanks for the reply, bbcee...

    I'm located south of Asheville, NC. Despite this area being quite the musical hotbed, there seem to be very few local music shops that carry a good selection of mandolins, especially of the "beginner" type.

    So, unless someone can suggest a local shop that I'm not aware of, I'm mainly looking at the online dealers. I'm familiar with the usual suspects mentioned on the forum (Mandolin Store, Folkmusician, etc.), but I'm just curious as to...

    --which store other first-time players used, whether you would recommend it, and why
    --which mandolin you chose, whether you would recommend it, and why

    FWIW, my interests in acoustic music lean toward bluegrass/folk/country.

    Thanks again!
  4. MikeZito
    In 1998 a $100 mandolin would have been out of my price range - so I just went to eBay and found the cheapest thing available. It was a Santa Rosa mandolin that cost me $69, including shipping. It played pretty easily and because it was just enough of a 'junker', I wasn't afraid to take it with me EVERYWHERE that I went. Consequently, because I played it at every available moment, all day every day, it proved to be an invaluable learning tool . . . it's just too bad that I turned out to be such an awful player . . . .
  5. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter

    "--Which mandolin did you end up purchasing and are you pleased with your choice?

    --Where did you purchase and would you recommend the seller?"

    I can't give very helpful answers, I'm afraid, but I'll participate in your survey

    My mandolin purchases were made through eBay, with the exception of one that I bought from a musician friend.

    First, I bought a 1910 bowlback MarkStern mandolin. I didn't have a goal, as you do. I just liked the way it looked, and it was cheap, so I bought it and replaced the nut and the tuners and the bridge, and played around with it for a day or two.

    Six months later, I decided to learn mandolin, so I bought a pressed top Ibanez from the Bay and learned on it. I would not recommend one, but it worked for me for a short time to begin my journey.

    Then, I bought a new, solid wood (mahogany, spruce top) Washburn M106SWK mandolin, again from eBay, because I was able to get it for $400 which was all I had to spend. I did a set up on it, and played it a great deal, and I liked it. But it doesn't get rave reviews, or much respect here, so I badly wanted an Eastman instead.

    Next, I sold the little Ibanez and bought a new Eastman MD315 from eBay for five or six hundred dollars, I think. My memory is not very reliable. I did a set up on it. I found it more difficult to play than any of the previous three, and determined it was the neck profile that made the difference, so for about six months I played nothing but the Eastman in order to get used to it. The Washburn stayed in its case.

    Next, I bought a Collings MT from a friend who is a pro musician for $1,500. It was a great mandolin. My thought was to sell the Washburn at that point. But after re-stringing and playing both the Eastman and the Washburn, I finally realized that the Eastman just didn't fit me. The neck didn't feel right to me. So I sold the Eastman and kept the Washburn and the Collings. They felt similar, so I played both quite a bit, but preferred the Collings.

    Finally, just about a year ago (January 2019) I sold my Collings along with a dozen guitars I owned. I kept only one guitar and one mandolin, the Washburn.

    I love the Washburn and play it for hours every day with few exceptions. So, in answer to one of your questions, yes, I am pleased with my choice.

    That's my mandolin history to date, but it really has nothing to do with your journey. Your budget can net you a great beginner instrument. I have some suggestions, this is what I would do if I were in your shoes, having no mandolin to start with, but not necessarily what you should do:

    1. Buy a used A model mandolin for the most bang to the buck.

    2. If I wanted to buy new, I'd buy the Kentucky KM500 I recently played at Fiddler's Green, and still have money for accessories and to save toward future purchases.
  6. HonketyHank
    My first mandolin was a The Loar A model. It was whatever was their cheapest A model with a carved top. It was new but it was a "blem", so relatively cheap. The "blem" turned out to be a small crack in the top which slowly grew, but it was OK as a learner instrument. In truth, the crack made no difference in the sound that my poor ears could discern at that stage of my development, so what me worry? After I moved up to something nicer, I used it to learn how to do a setup as described in Rob Meldrum's free ebook. Then I completely refinished it. Then I gave it to Goodwill with a smile. I think it served me well.

    I bought that The Loar on eBay from one of those sellers that has a bunch of blems and seconds. I have no idea which one. I think The Loar has slipped down in its relative ranking among the cheaper mandolins since then. But if you go into it with your eyes open, a cheaper mandolin to start with is not a bad investment if you use it to learn on.

    All that being said, you should be able to find a pretty decent mandolin for $750, especially if you go for a used A model.
  7. SOMorris
    I ended up purchasing an Eastman MD505 from the Mandolin Store. I was looking for a "better than sub $100" like you are. I wanted something that would sound nice, was easy to play, and that would last me for a while to prevent me from coming down with "Mandolin Acquisition Syndrome." The Eastman has so far fulfilled my needs very nicely.

    I purchased from The Mandolin Store. I had researched here on the forum, and Folk Musician and The Mandolin Store both were highly recommended. Some of the other vendors not as much. I was poised to pull the trigger when I received an e-mail from TMS saying they had some Eastman Blems on sale. That was the tipping point. The guys at TMS are great to deal with. They are moving to Nashville, TN, which won't be too awfully far from you. You could run over on a weekend. Not sure were Folk Musician is located, but likely pretty close as well.

    Good luck and enjoy the journey!
  8. SaludaGrade
    Thanks to everyone for the responses...
  9. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    My first one was an antique store find. Cool instrument, long story (below in the "My mandolin is in the hospital" thread halfway down the page). I still play it.

    My next purchase was an oval hole Kentucky 272, purchased sight unseen from The Mandolin Store. Mike Zito, who posted above, couldn't stop talking about how much he liked his so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. It's a nice instrument, well worth what I paid for it, and the guys at TMS were great to deal with.

    $750 is a nice budget for a starter instrument. You will have a number of choices.
  10. lefty1212

    Welcome! I used to work for a guide service in Saluda. Wonderful little town. There is a small shop called Area 51 Guitars in Brevard, just down the road from you that has a few mandolins in stock, if you want to put your hands on one before you purchase. It looks like they have an Eastman 315 which falls within/right at your budget.

    Hope that helps!
  11. Swimbob
    Hi SaludaGrade.

    I'm not far from you. I'm in Lexington SC not far from the Saluda River.

    Like Mark, I started with a cheap Ibenez that my wife bought me just over 3 years ago. It has a rich tone and is easy to play and only cost about $300.

    I then found a Kentucky KM620 in a pawn shop. They were asking $300 for it but took $200. I took it home and did a set up on it but it never played as well as the cheap Ibenez. The neck seems narrower or something.

    Then I was in a local shop here called Bill's Pickin' Parlor and there was this thing called a Pennco. I picked it up and played it and the setup was amazing. My teacher says that it is a Japanese Gibson knock off. Every time I went in I picked it up and played with it. That lasted about 6 weeks until I bought it. It's got some horribly ugly inlays on the fretboard but I still love it.
  12. Groundcoat
    The only analytics that you should be concerned with at this point are what sounds good to your ears and what looks good to your eyes. Manadolin shopping can be fun and quite educational. I suggest that you first take some road trips to your nearby music stores and pawn shops to see what they have. Test driving new instruments at any skill level is a blast and worth the effort to travel. You'll quickly learn what you like and don't like and that will translate into features that you want and don't want. The downside of that strategy however, is that you will probably not find a used mandolin that is set up properly or exhibits a decent set of strings. That's not the end of the world but just be aware that more effort and cost may be needed to get that mandolin into top shape. If you resort to buying on the Internet, then I would buy a new A-style mandolin from Loar, Kentucky or Eastman. Just about any offerings from those builders will be good. I'm very satisfied with my Eastman if that even matters. Happy hunting!
  13. Joel Osborne
    Joel Osborne
    I recommend visiting Harry and Jeanie West Fine Musical Instruments they are located in downtown Statesville NC. They can help you find a good mandolin in your price range.
  14. SaludaGrade
    Thanks for all the responses! Good feedback and advice!
  15. SaludaGrade
    Lefty1212... thanks for pointing me toward Area 22 Guitars in Brevard. I was very familiar with Brevard... really cool town... but had not heard of Area 22. Anyway, went over and hung out with Eddie, the owner, for a while and walked out with that Eastman 315 he had hanging on the wall. Beautiful instrument.

    So... we’ll see how it goes.
  16. cwilliamson
    My one thread is a bit down the page perhaps. I'm like you in all but the trumpet and spent a lot of time thinking on it. The Loar LM-310F that I received from The Mandolin Store is well set up and I enjoy playing it (when I have time) I had a dry spell there for a bit. I pulled it out of it's gig bag last night after not playing for a week and it was still in tune.

    Honestly, as others have said, get what looks good and sounds good and is in your budget. I would definitely take into account the expenses of a strap, a variety of picks and some books. Your budget cap being $750 leaves you a lot of leeway and selection to choose from.

    I went with The Loar from a known source realizing that while I could do a setup myself I would barely have time to practice much less do a proper setup and it would be disheartening.

    Good luck with your purchase. It's really a fun instrument.

  17. Chaya
    I'm coming in late, so hopefully I'm in time to provide a few tips.

    The Kentucky 150 is an unusually nice instrument for the price. Unfortunately, it's sold out at the Mandolin Store, but is still available at Elderly Instruments, which is a store I would buy from. That it has sold out tells you something about how nice this mandolin is! Look up "Kentucky 150 mandolin review" online to see some of the reviews for yourself.

    I wanted a cheaper mandolin that I could travel with this summer, so I bought a Kentucky 150 from Reverb, but honestly I regret it: it was used, and when I got it I was just delighted, but I didn't save a penny because the last owner had warped the neck by not controlling the humidity and I didn't even know it until I tried to play the 12th fret on the E-string. So a trip to a luthier to fix the neck ended up costing me as much as a new Kentucky 150 in the end. But now that it's fixed, I sure do like it a lot.

    Eastmans are incredibly good for the price. My first mandolin was an Eastman MD604, and I never regretted a penny. What a lovely instrument. I doubt I will ever want to buy a more expensive one.

    Here's the thing: you need to try the mandolin yourself. Even if a model is made in a factory in China, each one is different. So if you're buying mail-order, buy from a company with good exchange and return policies. A good mandolin store will work with you to make sure you have what you want.

    Another tip: if you want to play bluegrass, you want a mandolin with violin-type holes instead of an oval hole. And also one that has good "chop." (The Kentucky 150 does). But you don't need to buy an F-style, okay? The A-styles are always cheaper, because they don't require the extra fancy carving. So you can get the same good sound for maybe $100 less if you buy an A-style with violin-type holes.

    Make sure you get a good setup, whether from the seller or from a luthier after the sale. A good setup will include making sure the action is low enough that you aren't finding it difficult to play notes on the first fret.

    Final tip: buy something you've fallen in love with and is easy to play. Otherwise, you won't be motivated to keep playing it.
  18. SOMorris
    Hi Chaya. Can you elaborate a little more on how the previous owner abused the Kentucky? I keep mine in the house, in the case when not playing it, but that is about the extent of my humidity control. Some of the humidifiers that I have seen just look like a small sponge in a small container with holes. Was yours left in a garage or something?
  19. Chaya
    I couldn't tell you how he/she did that, only that the neck was incredibly warped and the truss rod nut was wound all the way down and just spinning, so that the luthier thought it might even be broken. I cannot believe the mandolin played as well as it did, given that.

    Generally this is what happens when you don't control heat and humidity. So for all I know, they were just in the habit of leaving it in their car with the windows up. Or maybe it ended up in a storage unit?

    When I got my first mandolin, nobody told me that I had to think about humidity or temperature. I think that probably happens with a lot of people, especially given some of the complaints I've seen from people who bought new mandolins and they "fell apart" or "cracked" after just a few months. It's a shame people aren't told. For a lot of people, that may well not be a problem because they live in place with great humidity and take good care of their instrument. For others it can be a problem.
  20. Groundcoat
    Chaya says: "Final tip: buy something you've fallen in love with and is easy to play. Otherwise, you won't be motivated to keep playing it."

    A lot of truth in this statement. If you get an instrument you are only lukewarm to, then your practice effort will only be lukewarm. You gotta love it or else this whole mandolin thing won't work. When my Eastman arrived, I couldn't put it down and my guitar playing time really suffered. LOL Now, two years later, i still smile every time I pick up the mandolin. It's that much fun.
  21. DocT
    I bought a Loar LM-370 because it was the best thing available around here. Everything else was Ammoon, Rogue, and etc. I’m not unhappy with it, but the next time I buy it will be something different...and a little more upscale.
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