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Thread: New player - Mandolin

  1. #1
    Registered User Ash Telecaster's Avatar
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    Default New player - Mandolin

    Hi All,

    I was referred to Mandolin Cafe by folks on the Telecaster forum. I got some great advice from over there but lots of suggestions I get an account and ask for advice here.

    So here I am.

    I should start by saying that my timing in buying a Mandolin is based on me selling a guitar I have posted on eBay. Hopefully it will be soon.

    I have been playing guitar for 20+ years but am new to Mandolin. My current knowledge of the instrument is mostly based on "Ooo that looks nice" but I know that things like action, tone, and intonation are far more important. I will admit I like the look of that curly bit at the top.

    I am trying to cap my spending at less than $500 primarily because I'm not ready to go all in. Thanks to guitar I will be coordinated enough off the jump to not be an absolute beginner but at this point I am only thinking of it as something I will occasionally use for home recordings and for simply messing around for fun. Who knows what the future holds.

    Another benefit of capping my spending is it forces me to be thrifty and to get the most for my money.

    Some sage advice from TDPRI members is to buy from the Mandolin Store because their included setup. They also recommended avoiding guitar brands like Ibanez, although I'll admit their mandolins look nice in the pictures!

    Another question is oval vs ff. Listening to the demo's on The Mandolin Store the oval sounded richer and better to my ears but after reading some posts is seems that the the ff will deliver a brighter more punchy sound that cuts through better and sounds more traditional bluegrass.

    Here are a few I have been eyeballing for reference & thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts.

    Loar Lm-310

    Kentucky KM-150

    Kentucky KM-250

    Kentucky KM272

    Ibanez M522

  2. #2

    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    My advice would be to consider used. I found a KM-150 on Craigslist a few years back for like $150, had it set up by a reputable luthier and it is good to go for less than 1/2 your budget. I do like those KM150s and I'm sure the 250 is good too for the price.

    You may also consider a flat top mandolin like a Flatiron. These are sometimes called Pancake mandolins. Most are American made (all Flatiron pancakes are) Have decent playability and tone and tend to hold their value if you find them for the right price. They aren't quite "bluegrass tone" but won't hold you back at all at a jam or in any musical context.

    The classifieds here have some interesting instruments, many are very expensive but if you keep your eye on it you may find some used instruments near your price point.

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  4. #3
    Registered User J Mangio's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    I'd go for the "The Loar" LM 520that's being offered for $520. from Musicians Friend.
    https://youtu.be/RavUMQYgnK8
    Last edited by J Mangio; Jan-22-2021 at 3:49pm.
    2020 The Loar Supreme LM700 VS

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  6. #4
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Watch the Cafe classifieds. Yesterday I saw a used "as new" Eastman 305 for I think $375. Can't go wrong with that. As you stated, "you do not want to go all in", well that is the ticket for a very decent beginner/intermediate mandolin. If you find it is not for you, reselling it at that price would not be an issue. Nothing gained and nothing lost. Buying used on the Cafe classifieds should be done with a 48 hour return agreement. I have sold a few and bought several this way. I have not found any of my purchases to have been misrepresented by the seller, nor have I misrepresented those that I have sold.
    If you feel compelled to buy new, do so from a Cafe sponsor to insure a good set-up. Musicians Friend, Sweetwater, Guitar Center, and the like will not come with a good set-up and these stores do not return "turds" to the manufacturer but move them on to their unsuspecting customers. Stay a way from chain retail store name brands recognized or once recognized as having made decent guitars. Probably won't be true for mandolins.
    Last edited by Pittsburgh Bill; Jan-22-2021 at 5:57pm.
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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    I will admit I like the look of that curly bit at the top.
    Welcome to the Cafe. I gather from folks here that you pay a lot extra for that curly bit without getting any benefit in sound. My mandolins don't have a scroll.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  10. #6
    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Of the models you listed, I would rule out the Ibanez. I've never played a The Loar that rang my chimes but others like them. I used to have a KM-250 but I got it 20-some years ago, and they've changed a lot since then. The KM-150 is often recommended as a great starter instrument, especially if you want to play bluegrass. However, if you are interested in an oval hole mandolin, I can highly recommend the KM-272. The tone-to-price ratio is off the charts. I am astounded every time I play mine, which is often, at how good it sounds. And yes, the f-hole instruments are generally preferred for bluegrass, but you can play what you want on whatever you want, especially when you're starting out.

    Also, because you are new to mandolins, I think you should rule out eBay and the big-box stores that don't do setups. Buy from a Cafe sponsor that does a good setup or look for a deal in the classifieds here, as Pittsburgh Bill suggested.

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  12. #7
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    If you can forego the esthetic lure of the F-model scroll, many Cafe-ers have been quite satisfied with the Eastman MD305 A-model. Bernunzio has just received a case of them, priced at $509 each. They come with shop set-up and a gig bag; I assume as a guitarist you won't need to add a tuner -- maybe a strap (?).

    All solid woods, hand-carved, generally considered one of the best low-to-mid-priced instruments.

    I confess to doing a bit of a "ham sandwich" here, but last time I was in John B's, I was struck by the flock of MD305's out on the floor. I wondered if they procreated like bunnies, but was assured "the boat" had just come in from China.
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  14. #8
    Registered User Ash Telecaster's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Thanks for all the responses! I confess I've acquired a case of MAS for the km272. Even though it doesn't have the curly bit! Still trying to sell that guitar and that gives me time to cool a little. Looking at that MD305, lm520, and others. I really appreciate the benefit of your wisdom!
    Last edited by Ash Telecaster; Jan-23-2021 at 8:03pm.

  15. #9
    Registered User MrMoe's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    At your price point you might want to take a Look at Big Muddy or look for a used Mid Mo . No curly bit at the top, but there are 100% hand made of all solid tone woods in the good old USA by a human being. Best of luck, Maurice

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  17. #10
    Registered User Ash Telecaster's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by J Mangio View Post
    I'd go for the "The Loar" LM 520that's being offered for $520. from Musicians Friend.
    https://youtu.be/RavUMQYgnK8
    And it has the curly bit! Looks nice, thanks!

  18. #11
    Registered User Ash Telecaster's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by MrMoe View Post
    At your price point you might want to take a Look at Big Muddy or look for a used Mid Mo . No curly bit at the top, but there are 100% hand made of all solid tone woods in the good old USA by a human being. Best of luck, Maurice
    I like the idea of buying a Big Muddy but I would be looking at the MW-0 and even that is stretching the budget. Is that model a normal mandolin. Or is it short, shallow, etc. Thanks

  19. #12
    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    The "curly bit" is also known as the "$500 (or $1,000) strap hanger." There are exceptions, but in general you will get much more for your money if you can live without the scroll. The Big Muddy is a "normal mandolin," although it has a flat top, but you can get it in a jumbo body or wide neck. Mike Dulak, the maker, is a prince among men and if you are interested in one, you should contact him just for the experience. My first real mandolin (as opposed to a mandolin-shaped object) was a Mid-Missouri (Mike's old brand) M-0.

  20. #13
    Registered User Ash Telecaster's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Hilarious, somebody at Big Muddy posted a 7 mil price tag for the dog!

    Must be on sale!

    Arf arf!

  21. #14

    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    The Big Muddy is your best option in the long run. It will play and sound well, and retain resale value. It is American made.

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  23. #15
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by steve in tampa View Post
    It will play and sound well, and retain resale value.
    It will, if purchase used. It has been my observation that initial depreciation of flattops is greater than archtops, but then it stabilizes. And there have been some drivers, such as the Northfield Calhoun, that seem to be lifting the market as a whole.
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  25. #16
    Registered User Ash Telecaster's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    That guitar still hasn't sold. 17 watchers now. But I guess this is a good thing. It has really made me think this through. I have decided that the set up and play-ability are the most important thing for this first instrument. I could buy used and then try to adjust it myself but I don't really have a standard to shoot for. This is the primary factor driving my decision.

    There are some interesting alternatives that have been suggested here and on TDPRI, and I thank everybody for their suggestion, but the contest has come down to these three...

    Big Muddy MW-0: Out of budget but I like the idea of buying U.S. and I have no doubt they are high quality. Besides price, my only hang ups are the flat top (really don't know if this matters at all) and its not quite what I think of when I think mandolin. I could go with the "primitive model" to get the price point where I'm trying to be.

    Kentucky KM250: A wee bit out of budget but is exactly what I think of when I think mandolin. Flat fret board vs radiused. I honestly don't know if this matters or not on a neck as small as a mandolin neck. Supposed to be a wider neck than the Eastman but with the same string spacing so I'm not sure that matters either. I could go with the KM150 and save $50 bucks. The KM250 is supposed to be made out of better wood. The KM150 doesn't specify the nut material. The KM250 has a bone nut.

    Eastman MD305: A wee bit more than the KM250. Some people really seem to like the matte finish for its woolier sound. Others say the Kentucky sounds better. Some pictures on the Mandolin store show little pegs behind the bridge while others do not. Doesn't seem to have a truss rod like the KM250. It does have a radiused neck. I think, for me, the Kentucky would win but a lot of people seem to be really passionate about their Eastman that I keep looking at it.

  26. #17
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Even if you get a brand new mandolin, you should have a copy of Rob Meldrum's famous free setup E-book, just for reference

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...hlight=Meldrum

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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    I also came here from tele forum TDPRI I have been playing Mandolin maybe 1.5 years now, I had a $50.00 Rouge mandolin for a long time but never played it. I bought an Eastman MD515 with pro setup from the mandolin store it plays awesome makes you want to play it. I also bought a Kentucky KM252 from Guitar Center on sale it plays pretty good have not done a setup on it yet. Any mandolin with a good setup would be a good choice and make you want to play it more.
    Eastman MD515
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  30. #19

    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Ash Telecaster View Post
    And it has the curly bit! Looks nice, thanks!
    If you choose this, I would buy it from The Mandolin Store for $599. It is worth the bit of extra money for their excellent setup. And, it might not be all that much more because they didn't charge me sales tax on my January purchase since I live outside of Tennessee. Musicians Friend does charge me sales tax. On $520 dollars that would be $36.40 in taxes for my state.

    And, Musicians Friend sells the case separately, while The Mandolin Store includes it.

    One last thing. The Loar 520 appears to have the long fretboard extension that has frets and is not scooped. Some experienced players (I am not an experienced player) don't like the unscooped extension because they click their pick on it. Some go so far as to cut it off.
    Last edited by robhanesworth; Jan-25-2021 at 1:58pm.

  31. #20
    Registered User Ash Telecaster's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    Even if you get a brand new mandolin, you should have a copy of Rob Meldrum's famous free setup E-book, just for reference

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...hlight=Meldrum
    Thank you Sue,

    And thank you Rob Meldrum for the book and videos, I appreciate it!

  32. #21
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Ash Telecaster View Post
    I like the idea of buying a Big Muddy but I would be looking at the MW-0 and even that is stretching the budget. Is that model a normal mandolin. Or is it short, shallow, etc. Thanks
    The MW-0 is Mr. Dulaks standard Mandolin with a 1 1/4 inch nut rather than 1 1/8. They are on the short and shallow end of standard mandolin specs, 9 5/8 wide, 11 1/4 long body, 2 inches deep, 24 L.O.A. Weber list his standard measurements as; body width of 10 1/8th inches and an overall length of 27 1/4th inches.

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  34. #22
    Registered User Ash Telecaster's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by MrMoe View Post
    The MW-0 is Mr. Dulaks standard Mandolin with a 1 1/4 inch nut rather than 1 1/8. They are on the short and shallow end of standard mandolin specs, 9 5/8 wide, 11 1/4 long body, 2 inches deep, 24 L.O.A. Weber list his standard measurements as; body width of 10 1/8th inches and an overall length of 27 1/4th inches.
    Thank you for this information!!!

  35. #23
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    I almost always go with a used instrument. The depreciation has already been factored in, the sound is likely to have matured, and if/when you upgrade you can get out of the instrument what you put into it.

    Beyond that, I suggest you consider getting an instrument that is beyond your original budget. Quality does increase with price, generally, and mandolins of quality "X" will cost about double what a guitar of similar quality would run. A layaway enables the purchase of a better instrument, and teaches patience, and provides the benefit and pleasure of anticipation.

    The better the instrument, the greater the pleasure derived from playing it, and the result of increased playing/pleasure makes the playing improve faster. And of course, a better instrument is often easier to trade up from.

    As a rule of thumb, look for an instrument that plays at a higher level than your present skill.

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  37. #24
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Ash Telecaster View Post
    I am trying to cap my spending at less than $500 primarily because I'm not ready to go all in. Thanks to guitar I will be coordinated enough off the jump to not be an absolute beginner but at this point I am only thinking of it as something I will occasionally use for home recordings and for simply messing around for fun. Who knows what the future holds.
    Here is an idea. Rent or borrow an instrument, for a couple of weeks or a month, to see if you are going to fall in love with it. If not, you saved even the $500, and if you do fall in love, you may find that you are able to justify a bigger budget.

    As a guide to expectations, from a thousand miles away, with exceptions, a mandolin will cost about twice a guitar of similar quality. So, if you have a handle on what a $250 guitar will be like, that is what to expect from a $500 mandolin. Roughly, and with exceptions.

    Another question is oval vs ff. Listening to the demo's on The Mandolin Store the oval sounded richer and better to my ears but after reading some posts is seems that the the ff will deliver a brighter more punchy sound that cuts through better and sounds more traditional bluegrass.
    You have described the difference. If bluegrass is your genre, f holes would probably be more to your liking. If not, then it depends.

    I would characterize the difference this way. An F hole player might get complimented on the great sound of his instrument. An oval hole player might get complimented on the beauty of the tune played.
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  39. #25
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: New player - Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob A View Post
    I almost always go with a used instrument. The depreciation has already been factored in, the sound is likely to have matured, and if/when you upgrade you can get out of the instrument what you put into it.
    I have found that quality instruments bought new resell for approximately 70 to 75% of new price if in excellent condition, but are almost always a quick sale. I see Chain retail store mandolins not associated with those brands that responders here have been recommending depreciate considerably more than that. Worst of all tend to not easily resell.
    Buying used those recommended quality brands allow you to resell with little to no depreciation if you bought it right and will actually increase in value if kept long enough and well cared for.
    Stiver A style (MAS has stopped here)
    Kentucky KM-950
    Keith Edward Coleman A style, oval hole Mandola
    Weber Gallatin A Mandola "D hole"
    Rogue 100A (current campfire tool)
    Harley Benton A style (grandchildren's learner)

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