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Thread: Newbie questions -- where to start?

  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2021

    Default Newbie questions -- where to start?

    Hi everyone!

    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 ), 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?


  2. #2
    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Forest Grove, Oregon

    Default Re: Newbie questions -- where to start?

    Buying from a reputable dealer like Elderly is a good first step. I would also recommend some good online instruction for beginning steps, like holding the instrument, hand positioning and pick grip.

    But if you could do some one on one online instruction, I think that would be great. You want to start on the right path.

    Best thing is to have fun and be patient. Good luck on on your journey.
    Play it like you mean it

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  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Southern Maine

    Default Re: Newbie questions -- where to start? is a useful resource. If you can read standard notation, you’re a step ahead. Mandolin for Dummies by Don Julin contains a wealth of information for anyone starting a mandolin adventure. And hang around the cafe; you’ll get answers to questions you’d never think to ask.
    Girouard A
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  5. #4
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2016
    Portland, OR

    Default Re: Newbie questions -- where to start?

    Prices on new mandolins don't vary much, with the exception that you may find some deals on lower-tier instruments at GC, but they likely won't be set up well, and setup is uber-crucial to the mandolin. Buying from a dealer like Elderly (or any of the Cafe sponsors) will ensure your instrument is set up properly. Generally, you'll get more for your money buying used (from those same dealers or from the Classifieds here), but the starter package you found is not a bad way to go. There are a zillion threads here on selecting first instruments, most end up by recommending a Kentucky or Eastman.

    And another vote for Lots of us started there. Tons of good videos on technique and lots of bluegrass fiddle tune lessons.
    "Keep your hat on, we may end up miles from here..." - Kurt Vonnegut

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Central Illinois

    Default Re: Newbie questions -- where to start?

    Yes, Elderly is up in your neck of the woods ! Elderly will have a good selection of starter mandolins and offer a good setup !

  7. #6

    Default Re: Newbie questions -- where to start?

    - You are currently standing at a fork in the road. I would suggest you first decide if you want to play the guitar or mandolin and pick one. If you noodle around on more than one instrument you may never progress to a reasonable level at either one. I am speaking from experience.
    - If Elderly is close go there and see what they have in person, stay away from Guitar Center. Have some one play a few for you and handle a few. See what feels comfortable and if there is something you like sound wise.
    - Once you choose get some in-person lessons. Bad habits are easier to brake or avoid than a few years in. Like building a house, if you don't have a good foundation anything else will not be right.
    Good luck in the journey.

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