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Thread: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin?

  1. #1

    Default What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin?

    It's not uncommon to think of mandolins and instruments in general as falling into different tiers or levels of quality.

    You will often hear people speak of "entry-level" mandolins or "intermediate-level" mandolins. For example my old 50 dollar Rogue is certainly a bottom-tier mandolin, and it would be sad if I never got anything better to play. Don't get me wrong, I've learned a lot with the Rogue and enjoyed it, but it's an instrument which cries out for an upgrade once you reach a certain level of skill and devotion to playing mandolin in general.

    My question is, assuming you're a serious player who cares about such things, at what price range or tier do you start getting "lifelong keeper" mandolins? In other words, around what price do you start dealing with mandolins which you would never feel the need to upgrade from in terms of sound, playability, and functionality?

    By analogy, with guitars, I have a custom Martin 00-15 which I never feel like I need to upgrade from. It stays in tune, has good intonation, and nothing I play in guitar stores sounds or plays significantly better to me than my 00-15.

    To be sure, there are lots of great guitars out there which sound wonderful, but they just sound "different" to my 00-15, and not much "better". So in my mind, my 00-15 is a "lifelong keeper" instrument. I feel no need to upgrade from it and I would probably only sell it if I needed money or my ear got really bored of it.

    Hope that makes sense.

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    Registered User urobouros's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I'd expect to spend in the same range as your Martin. I haven't found mandolins to differ from guitars in terms of how much my preferences are going to run me. To be fair, I'm an unabashed cork sniffer so YMMV

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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Ok...I'll bite.

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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    The answer is going to be different for each person because everyone has different hopes and expectations for the instruments they play.
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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I think "lifelong keeper" is down more to how the mandolin sounds and feels to play vs. a price range guaranteeing "keeper" status. Years ago I had a really great Weber Gallatin F that I got second hand for about $1200 - I STILL regret selling that thing to this day. Kind of like your 00-15, it just did all the things I needed it to do, not bling-y but well made and a joy to play.
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    I think "lifelong keeper" is down more to how the mandolin sounds and feels to play vs. a price range guaranteeing "keeper" status. Years ago I had a really great Weber Gallatin F that I got second hand for about $1200 - I STILL regret selling that thing to this day. Kind of like your 00-15, it just did all the things I needed it to do, not bling-y but well made and a joy to play.
    You are someone who has changed your instruments quite a lot, it seems to me Jill. However I get the impression you're fairly settled at the moment?
    David A. Gordon

  9. #7

    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    JR., I am like you in that I played a Rogue 50 dollar mandolin for a long time. I had owned and played various nice mandolins over the years, but life happened, needs for my daughters, wife, etc., so mandolins came and went.

    Recently I was able to buy a 1924 Gibson Snakehead A Junior for $800. I am very happy with this Gibson. I don't need anything more expensive. It plays great and sounds great. Everything I needed in a mandolin. Playing the Rogue for a long time really makes me appreciate the Gibson I have now.

    I would love to have some of the mandolins back that I had before, but I am grateful and satisfied to have the mandolin I have now.

  10. #8

    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I think for most people it is probably directly related to how much money they have to spend

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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    One of the oft repeated comparisons is that you should expect to pay twice as much for an archtop mandolin as you would for its equivalent flattop guitar. So if your Martin is $1300, then your number would be $2600.
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Hmmmm ..... your style your technique your ears .... all add up to your keeper. IMO a 0015 is a mid grade instrument. A mid grade instrument should play in tune up the neck, have good workmanship and materials, be reasonably priced and have or be able to have good playability. For you a keeper. A mandolin of the same level of quality will be an upper grade Eastman or Kentucky. Something in the neighborhood of 2000.00$ used. Good luck in your search.
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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by J.R. Jersey View Post

    My question is, assuming you're a serious player who cares about such things, at what price range or tier do you start getting "lifelong keeper" mandolins? In other words, around what price do you start dealing with mandolins which you would never feel the need to upgrade from in terms of sound, playability, and functionality?
    I feel you can probably get a “lifelong keeper” around the 2-3k range mentioned by others above, but if you keep looking at the classifieds you’ll always feel the need to upgrade!
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    You are someone who has changed your instruments quite a lot, it seems to me Jill. However I get the impression you're fairly settled at the moment?
    Aye, definitely settled on the Girouard, nothing turning my head at all now as it's got everything I want in a mandolin - playability and great sound in bucketloads, not to mention easy on the eye!
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Southern Man View Post
    I think for most people it is probably directly related to how much money they have to spend
    This rings true to me.

    If I ever was truly flush with cash I would buy a mandolin from a maker whose instruments regularly resell in the $4500-5500 range. If that day never comes I know that there are some very fine mandolins in the $2500-2800 bracket that would serve me just as well.
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  18. #15
    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I have an A5 from a builder who guarantees his instruments for the life of the builder. Since he's at least 20 years younger than me, it should last well beyond my lifetime.

  19. #16
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Southern Man View Post
    ... for most people it is ... related to how much money they have to spend
    While that's part of the equation, there's also how much money you feel comfortable spending.

    Realistically, any of us who can afford a new car every so often (I run 'em to 100K miles or so) can probably afford almost any quality of mandolin short of the top 1% (Gibson-type Loar or new, say, Dudenbostel). But HALF the price of that new Dudenbostel gets you a wide selection of incredibly high quality, and all you have to do is keep your old car going for an extra 3 or 4 years.

    Fortunately for me, even being sortta "comfortable" here in retirement, I'm also comfortable with the quality-but-moderate-bucks mandos that I have: '90s Flatiron F, '17 Gibson A-1, '50s Martin A, '20s Stromberg-Voisinet.

    Amusing coincidence, prior to mandolicity, is the '72 "pre-distressed" D-35 that I bought in '90 as a stopgap until I found the just-right HD-28. Eventually, with none of the issues that '72 Martins are supposed to have, it became firmly entrenched as my "lifetime" guitar... ya know, the ole "pry it from my cold dead hands" routine.

    So while I sort of might afford that Dude, it'll have to wait for the lottery winings!
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by EdHanrahan View Post
    While that's part of the equation, there's also how much money you feel comfortable spending.

    Realistically, any of us who can afford a new car every so often (I run 'em to 100K miles or so) can probably afford almost any quality of mandolin short of the top 1% (Gibson-type Loar or new, say, Dudenbostel). But HALF the price of that new Dudenbostel gets you a wide selection of incredibly high quality, and all you have to do is keep your old car going for an extra 3 or 4 years.

    Fortunately for me, even being sortta "comfortable" here in retirement, I'm also comfortable with the quality-but-moderate-bucks mandos that I have: '90s Flatiron F, '17 Gibson A-1, '50s Martin A, '20s Stromberg-Voisinet.

    Amusing coincidence, prior to mandolicity, is the '72 "pre-distressed" D-35 that I bought in '90 as a stopgap until I found the just-right HD-28. Eventually, with none of the issues that '72 Martins are supposed to have, it became firmly entrenched as my "lifetime" guitar... ya know, the ole "pry it from my cold dead hands" routine.

    So while I sort of might afford that Dude, it'll have to wait for the lottery winings!
    All correct. I'm probably looking at a lifetime mandolin somewhere in the 3k range. Which can get me a really great instrument. I have more money than that, but also house project and other items to spend it on. If I had a limitless supply of money, there are for sure some Duffs, Nuggets, or Gilchrest that might get my attention. Sure, I could technically afford one of those instruments, but it is not part of my overall financial picture.

  21. #18

    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    This is obviously a very subjective question, and there will always be some amazing deals out there that only occur "once in a lifetime" in the used market... That being said, I'd say in today's market you'd have to spend 2k+ to get a solid F style mandolin that you could play absolutely anywhere, in any situation, for the rest of your life.

    In that price range I'd be looking at a used Northfield F5S (which are incredible for their price), or an older Weber Bitterroot. I think either of those could be a solid lifetime instrument for a reasonable amount of money.

  22. #19
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I agree with those that say $2000-$3000 will get you a lifetime keeper. My Pava, Weber, and Collings were all the $2000 - $3000 range and will never be leaving.

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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I eventually upgraded from my Silverangel econo model, but it was mainly because I wanted something new and a little more balanced tone up the neck. But, it was a professional grade instrument that could absolutely be a keeper. They’re selling 1500-2000. I upgraded to a Kelley A5 that are selling 3K +/-. I haven’t played anything yet that made me want to trade it in, though with the pandemic I’ve only been to a couple of music stores in the past year…

    I’m not an instrument churner nor label snob. My 2 acoustic guitars are a Guild D40 Blem made the first year Fender bought them (with some lacquer issues, but great spruce/hog tone and volume to spare) and purchased in 2004, and a 1931 00-17 reissue, just for reference. The Guild could use a refret, but that’s probably more than the thing is actually worth now. That said, it’s cheaper than what I’d have to pay to get that tone in a new one, so we’ll see…

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  25. #21

    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Welcome JR
    I think it would be helpful to mentioned the types of music you like to play. This woukd enable members to give you more “streamlined” suggestions. Are you set on a new instrument or would you be open to a used mandolin?
    You may want to specify if your preference is an f hole or an oval hole. Do you want an f style or an a style mandolin (f style have the scrolls which are significantly more costly and in my opinion per dollar value do not necessarily give you a better tone or playability.

  26. #22
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    For me, a "keeper" will be an instrument that I truly believe in my heart will keep me happy the rest of my life. I've been retired for a number of years and can count my likely lifespan on my fingers and toes, with digits to spare. And, I think that way about violins as well. I already have my keeper violin, but the keeper mandolin isn't yet in my hands. What I want in a keeper is an instrument that is always likely to be better than my playing. Cost? Whatever it takes to reach that confidence.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    Since I seldom get rid of any instruments, I consider most of what I own "keepers." However, I recently traded in my '54 F-5 on a rare long-neck Stelling banjo (sorry, folks!), so I'd define "keeper" as one that fills a niche in my accumulation of instruments, that I enjoy playing (even if I don't play it that often), and that has a bit of a "story" about it -- rarity, unusual design (why else would I buy a four-foot-long "surfer uke?"), evident quality of build, personal history -- when and where I found it, why I bought it, etc.

    The evaluation has little to do with price, although price = quality to some extent. I kept for years, and used frequently, a Strad-O-Lin that cost me $50; I only relinquished it in a trade on a better Strad-O-Lin. Right now my most pricey instruments are a 10-string fanned-fret mandolin/dola I had built by a local luthier, a Stahl mandola built by the Larson brothers, a Stahl mando-bass ditto, a three-point F-2 from around 1910, and other oddities: Gibson and Waldo mandocelli, Weber "sopranolin," Sobell and Washburn mandolas, Gibson tenor lute, Dobro and National resonator mandolins.

    Most I've spend on any of these instruments is around $4K. As you can see from my decades of MAS, I don't believe in the one Holy Grail mandolin (or guitar, banjo, concertina) that will be "all I need." And I've played some of my cheaper instruments multi times more than any of my more expensive ones.

    You find the one (or the ones) that fit you, regardless of price. It may be a really sweet Eastman that cost you under a grand, or a '30's Fern F-5 that cost more than your car. It's what speaks to you -- and, "lifetime keeper" or not, that can change as your skill, music taste, or other circumstances change. So I'd say, go looking among the better-quality, pricier instruments, but remain open to the possibility that it could be that beat-up Strad-O-Lin; ya never know.
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  30. #24
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I'm just a newbie, and I've never played a high end mandolin, so you can take my input with a grain or two of salt.

    I've presently got 6 instruments, and haven't put more than $800 into any of them, including repairs and cases. It's been more about trying different things than moving up.

    I guess at this point I don't have any inclination to trade any of them, but the one I love the best, that I plan to keep forever is my Strad-O-Lin. I've been told it plays better than it should, and I like the way it looks, feels, and smells (somewhat weird, I know). It was second to the bottom in terms of how much I paid for it.

    Ha ha, and Allen, I was thinking about you and that "surfer uke" when that 6 foot long banjo was posted the other day.

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  32. #25
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    Default Re: What price level and up gets you a "lifelong keeper" mandolin

    I think there's as many answers as there are reasons for upgrading. When I went in search of my "forever mandolin", I was playing professional shows on an instrument that was holding me back. I spent the most I could, well in line with amounts tossed about above. I am under no impression this instrument will ever hold me back.

    To me, the question is "What amount of money gets an instrument you will never outgrow?" At the rate my skills improve, not a ton.
    It gets a little esoteric after that. What amount of money ensures your professional needs will never change? That your tastes, regarding sound and tone, will never change? That you won't hit it stupid-rich and be able to play a different mandolin every day?

    I'm no longer looking at the classifieds. I'd like to say I'm done, but 5 years ago the idea that I would be playing only mandolin was not anywhere near the foreground.
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