Thinking about starting on the mandolin

  1. MartieChick09
    Hi everyone!

    (This same post I posted in the main forum, but I thought I'd try it here too to see what you all thought as newbies.)

    I'm a longtime country/bluegrass fan looking to maybe start playing the mandolin. Here's a little backstory on me: I played violin when I was pretty young, about 4th grade or so, and then kinda gave it up until 11th grade when I started again but never really stuck with it long enough to get really good. I've gotten back into guitar a little bit lately too (really only know some chords and simpler tunes that I like, but it's hard to follow stave when I don't know the notes very well on guitar), but I've known how to read music since I was little since I started with the violin and have been singing in school and church choirs since middle school (I'm in my 30s now) so the music never really went away.

    I was watching a livestream of a Irish bluegrass band I love called We Banjo 3 (maybe you've heard of them? They're amazing!) and when the fiddle player said the mandolin was tuned just like a fiddle I was hooked! Now for the past few days I've been looking up everything I can about the mando, and I think it would be a bit easier to play than fiddle and guitar but still have the fiddle feel... if that makes sense. My musical heroes are all fiddle players: Martie Maguire of The Chicks (the first country band I was obsessed with, and still am &#128513, Alison Krauss, Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek, and most recently Fergal Scahill of We Banjo 3. The mandolin seems like a fun middle ground and something different.

    I've looked around at some sites to see what would be a good starter mandolin and I found this link from Is that a good price? Should I wait to see if pricing goes down? I'd like to find something that was already setup and ready to play as I don't live by any music stores really except for maybe Guitar Center. (I'm in Minnesota.) So, what do you all recommend? Also, are there any lesson/tune books that you like that I could use to learn to play country/bluegrass/traditional songs?

    For those of you that play both guitar and mandolin, which do you like better? What are the benefits/disadvantages to each?

  2. NDO
    Welcome! You’ve come to the right place and a great instrument.
    The link didn’t work for me- it went to a defunct page at Elderly.
    I’m new to the mandolin myself (six months) but am having a blast learning to play, mostly chording country and rock songs. This is my first stringed instrument so I can’t offer judgment between learning it vs. guitar but I certainly sound better after six months than I did when I started learning harmonica

    As far as a starter mandolin, I’m super happy with my new Eastman I got at Christmas as an upgrade from a Rogue. I picked an MD605 because I wanted to be able to plug in with the band, but I’ve heard good things about the MD305s also.

    Pricing and setup seem good at all the Cafe sponsor stores (Elderly, The Mandolin Store, etc. )
    I bought mine at TMS and was very happy all around.

    Good luck and welcome!
  3. HonketyHank
    Hi, Martie, and welome. The link to elderly music doesn't work. But from time to time they do have a package deal on a Kentucky model 150 with gig bag and maybe a few extras and I know they have been a decent deal. Elderly is well known and respected. You could call them direct and talk to their people - they can help steer you to a good deal with no funny business. They are interested in repeat customers, not one-off ripoffs. Same could be said for The Mandolin Store, another of the cafe sponsors. Good folks in both places. Give them both a call. The big deal with both is that they will do a good setup on the mandolin before they pack it up and ship it. That is big. You won't find that at a Guitar Center.

    I see you have found A lot of us take advantage of his lessons. Frankly, I have not found a beginners' book of lessons that I think is worth the money with the exception of Mandolins For Dummies. I actually haven't used it but many here have and I trust their advice.

    The two brand names that I see recommended most for a beginner are Kentucky 150 and Eastman 315. You can get cheaper, but you'll be looking to move up real soon or be discouraged so bad you quit.
  4. MartieChick09
    Sorry the link didn't work. Here it is again:

    Is that a good price for all that is included? I'm still deciding if I want to spend that much but I do like that they set it up, as I've heard that can be somewhat difficult to do on your own.
  5. NDO
    That seems like a reasonable price. The going price for a new KM 150 is about $450 including a gig bag. If you donít already have a tuner youíll need one ($15-$50) and extra strings are about $6-$10. I donít use a string winder yet but it might be nice. And having a book and CD canít hurt. As Hank said the mandolin setup is really important and Elderly has a good reputation for doing it well.
    You might be able to save a bit by buying a used mandolin but I donít think youíd be going wrong with the package deal if you donít already have the necessities.

    Either way, even though itís already set up, email Rob Meldrum at for his excellent free e-book on how to set up a mandolin- youíll want to know how itís done and itís really not difficult.
  6. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    It's too bad, but there isn't much between this price and a $70 plywood mandolin unless you get really lucky on a used one. And, as NDO said, the items that come with it would all be useful. I doubt you would see a price drop on Elderly's outfit. They offer them regularly.
  7. SOMorris
    Welcome, Martie. The mandolin is the only stringed instrument that I have attempted to learn to play. Guitars are great also, but the mandolin just seems to be a better fit for me. Have fun!
  8. MartieChick09
    Thanks for the tips everyone! I haven't bought the outfit yet, but I've got it bookmarked on the computer so I'm thinking come summertime I'll pick it up. I'm a high school teacher and goodness knows this year's been hard enough. I can't wait to be done with school! So I'm looking forward to working on my mando skills over the summer!
  9. MartieChick09
    By the way, for those of you that have an A-style, do you have a strap? I noticed the one from Elderly doesn't really have a spot to attach it.
  10. phb256
    It looks like there might be a strap button on the bottom of the mandolin. You can get a strap that loops around the head above the nut and attaches to the button. As far as learning songs goes, I mostly use what I find linked on this site. Have fun!
  11. SOMorris
    I have my strap attached under the strings just above the nut. My mandolin had a "button" on the bottom for the strap.
  12. NDO
    I loop my strap on my “A” style over the top between the top tuning pegs, it works fine.
  13. MartieChick09
    Thanks everyone! Another question: Do you all have any recommendations for a gook book to learn scales in standard notation but still has actual songs in it (not like made up sings just to practice a skill)? I learned scales a little bit when I was playing violin and I can figure out the key from the time signature (thank you years of choir!) but as far what notes go with what key I'm a little rusty on.
  14. HonketyHank
    I would recommend just doing an internet search for "major scales" and picking an image. Like maybe this one:

    Use it for musical notation reference as you practice scales. Up, down, up, down, over and over ad nauseum. You can find all kinds of scale exercises on places like Again internet search is helpful -- try "major scale exercises" or "arpeggio exercises".

    Then you can pick a book with the tunes you like from the many thousands available.
  15. SOMorris
    Hi again Martie.

    I have recommended Marilynn Mair's book, "The Complete Mandolinist" several times It has scale exercises and songs. i'm not sure exactly what you are looking for, but it is a good book.
  16. NDO
    If you have any interest in an oval hole, this one in the classifieds looks like a good deal. Iím actually tempted to grab it so I can try a variety of sounds since I like my MD605 so much.
  17. MartieChick09
    Go for it NDO! I'm partial to the f-holes myself!
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