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Thread: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

  1. #1

    Default Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    My son has a basic Eastman mandolin and plays in a couple of bands (one is a college band). He also has a 1940s Gibson that needs new frets (it was the first mando he played a lot) but he has worked hard to save up 5K specifically earmarked for the best mandolin he can find for performing mostly in bluegrass concerts (although he also plays some folk, jazz and Americana). He's a really good player (yes, I know I'm biased, but many others agree) and obviously wants to be able to play any instrument before buying it, but he is young and I think would benefit from the wisdom of some of the more experienced players in this group. Any advice on make, model or best places to look would be greatly appreciated. I know it's a personal choice in the end but I think it would help to know if there's a consensus. Thank you!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    There is a used Newson mandolin in the classifieds. The instrument is in West Virginia. Paul Newson builds top-notch instruments.
    If that's not within driving distance, see if there's a Collings anywhere near you.

    Gruhn Guitars in Nashville has a couple mandolins in stock in your price range, and will sell upon approval. If you don't like an instrument that they send, you have to pay the shipping costs both ways.

    Some other major dealers who will sell on approval are Gryphon Strings on the west coast, Elderly Instruments in Michigan, The Music Emporium in Massachusetts, and Carter Vintage in Nashville.

    I don't think you'll find a lot of consensus. Everyone has their pet brands. The two I have mentioned are instruments of consistent quality. Whether or not your son or anyone else will like or dislike them is up to personal tastes.

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  4. #3

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    Thanks for the comments. Collings is one that my son was lusting after at last year's IBMA but he didn't have the money. Perhaps it will be there again this year.

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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    Gruhn has four new Collings' in stock, $5200 to $5400. You could make an offer and see if they'll take $5000 even. Or perhaps Mom can help with the over-budget amount.

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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    These threads usually become a list of posters favorite builders, including comments like "get a ----- and pocket the extra $X000".
    There are many good mandolins in the $5000 price range. "Better" or "best" is impossible to pin down because in this price range they are more "different" than "better" or "worse", so it comes down to personal preference. Your son will have to know what he likes and grab it when he finds it. Brand or maker suggestion can be helpful, but only as a guide to what is available. Also, it is true that he can find equal quality for less in many cases, but once again he has to know what he wants and recognize it when he finds it.

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  9. #6

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    It's really hard to know how much Collings' instruments are worth. There are no prices on their website (just "Find a Dealer"). Here are two ads for the MF, at vastly different prices. The only difference appears to be the top. https://reverb.com/item/3203034-coll...used-excellent
    https://reverb.com/item/42120869-col...=119218510284_

  10. #7

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    If your son wants to try instruments, the best would be to go somewhere there's a good selection to sample from. Nashville is probably the most obvious choice.

    You don't say where you are, but insured shipping (at least by a private individual), i.e., to return something you decide against, can chew though a non-insignificant portion of your budget in a hurry, and depending on your credit card limit, getting a few instruments at the same time to actually compare might be a problem. So, really balance that against a short trip to a place that has several to sample from.

    But, FWIW, Morgan Music (the lower priced MF on Reverb) looks like a sponsor here, so I'd definitely call them if you are interested. The other one looks to be a special version MF, so may have had a higher starting price, and it looks like it might be a smaller shop. In any case, saying what a used instrument is "worth" always comes back to "it's worth what a willing buyer and seller agree on." In the mandolin world, used instruments, barring certain makers and vintages, are generally less than new ones, depending on wear and tear, but there's no 'blue book" for those things. Seller reputation is as important as any other factor once you get past entry models, IMHO.

    Whether you travel or have ones shipped to you, I'd probably want to play 3, at least. Like anything acoustic, they can vary a little or a lot, even between samples of the same model, especially if they were made at different times, and in a factory, likely by different people.
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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    Quote Originally Posted by annetteangela View Post
    It's really hard to know how much Collings' instruments are worth. There are no prices on their website (just "Find a Dealer"). Here are two ads for the MF, at vastly different prices. The only difference appears to be the top. https://reverb.com/item/3203034-coll...used-excellent
    https://reverb.com/item/42120869-col...=119218510284_
    One is a listing from 5 years ago, that is a difference other than just the price.
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  14. #9
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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    The majority of sellers on Reverb are either private individuals or small shops, and the prices they set for used instruments can vary from a bit below market value to ridiculously high.
    A loose rule of thumb for a fair market price for a modern used instrument in excellent condition is 60% to 70% of what a new one costs from a dealer.

    Using that as a guide, a fair price for a used standard issue Collings MF without a lot of wear might be $3250 to no more than $3750.
    Going by that, the $3295 mandolin was priced reasonably, but it appears to be sold.

    Although the $4900 mandolin has a custom finish, the price seems high to me. I don't know how much extra Collings charges for a blonde satin finish, but my guess is that $4000 to $4250 would be a more reasonable price for that instrument. If your son would like a blonde instrument, you could always make an offer. The seller is an established brick and mortar retail shop with a return policy. That might be a plus, but I have not done business with them, so I cannot say anything either positive or negative about how reputable they are.

    As far as instruments with custom appointments, there are some things that I might pay a little extra for, and some that I would not.
    I would give a little more for a nice gloss finish. I would not pay extra for a "torrefied" top. That's only personal opinion, though.

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  16. #10

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    Quote Originally Posted by MontanaMatt View Post
    One is a listing from 5 years ago, that is a difference other than just the price.
    Ha. I always miss that "Listing Ended" notice! Wish they'd use a bigger font or watermark the dang page!
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  18. #11

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    Yeah, I missed that too - also, that it was five years old. I need to scrutinize more carefully!

  19. #12

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    Does he have to have an F5 or is he ok with an A or 2 point? It would help to have a general idea of where you are located. There maybe some options to try out some different mandolins such as bluegrass/oldtime groups, festivals or a camp.

  20. #13

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    Quote Originally Posted by annetteangela View Post
    It's really hard to know how much Collings' instruments are worth. There are no prices on their website (just "Find a Dealer"). Here are two ads for the MF, at vastly different prices. The only difference appears to be the top. https://reverb.com/item/3203034-coll...used-excellent
    https://reverb.com/item/42120869-col...=119218510284_
    Collings is probably the easiest mandolin brand to price. They no longer allow discounts on new instruments so their list price is their price, regardless of dealer. Used pricing, in good condition is about 10% below new, right now. There are very few new Collings mandolins being shipped out of Austin.

    The first ad you reference is very old, and the instrument is long gone.

    A new MF like that is $5500 if you can find one. So $4900 for the other is more in line with a used price, currently on the market, especially with the pickguard.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

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  22. #14

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    His Gibson is an A but he prefers his F5. We are in NC. He is waiting for IBMA as there are a lot of vendors there and he thinks that will be his best bet. I thought I'd see if there was any better way to find something suitable - after all, this is an instrument he intends to keep for life.

  23. #15
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    As others have said, in your sons price range it would be best to be able play a selection of mandolins. In addition to Collings, I would look at the Northfield "Big Mon" mandolins. They are just under 5K and there are a few in the classifieds at the moment from various reputable dealers.

    Good hunting!
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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    If you're in northern NC, it might be worth your while to drive to Beckley W VA and look at the Newson. He's a very good builder.

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  27. #17

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    Quote Originally Posted by annetteangela View Post
    His Gibson is an A but he prefers his F5. We are in NC. He is waiting for IBMA as there are a lot of vendors there and he thinks that will be his best bet. I thought I'd see if there was any better way to find something suitable - after all, this is an instrument he intends to keep for life.
    I've never been to IBMA but the reality is that right now the supply of just about everything is very limited. There have been a couple articles here, in case you missed them.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/c...d-Demand-Story

    FWIW, I have been to music-related conventions and while there's usually a lot to look at, it's usually a terrible place to actually try and evaluate something. I'd still want to be able to take a couple home for some time alone and even record to get an objective view, once your ears stop ringing...
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    Registered User tree's Avatar
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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    For $5K, I believe he is more likely to find an A model "lifer" than an F model - or at least, don't rule out evaluating A model f-hole mandolins. This is from a guy who totally understands the allure of an F model (my first decent mandolin was a Gibson F5G), especially for a young man who wants to play bluegrass. I get that an F model projects "street cred" for bluegrass, especially for up-and-comers.

    I'm going on 63, and own 2 more A models (a 100 year old Gibson oval hole and a dynamite Hamlett A), and the Hamlett is cream of the crop, even though I paid less for it than I did for the F5G almost 20 years ago. I wasn't exactly a young man then but I was under the BG influence for sure.

    The most important thing he can do is to play and evaluate mandolins in person. IBMA is an opportunity, but it shouldn't be perceived as his last best chance. The quest is something to be savored and not rushed. Sooner or later an instrument is gonna speak to him and that what he needs to pay attention to, regardless of points or scrolls.
    Clark Beavans

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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    In North Carolina you might check out Ron's Pickin Parlor in Stanfield, NC, they are showing a few Collings on the web site. Also Lowe vintage and Mandomutt. Both located in the Burlington area, and both have web pages.

    Adam

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  33. #20
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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    I think you might find a used Mowry from Oregon. Heís a wonderful builder and occasionally his mandolins pop up here or at Carterís. I have a Newson that was just built and it is one of the most beautiful sounding instruments Iíve ever played. That A model is probably a great buy.

    Good luck!!

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  35. #21

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    Thanks - we haven't checked out Ron's Pickin' Parlor but we know Lowe Vintage very well (good jams there!). Not sure if my son knows about Mandomutt; I'll pass the info on. Thanks again!

    Quote Originally Posted by addamr View Post
    In North Carolina you might check out Ron's Pickin Parlor in Stanfield, NC, they are showing a few Collings on the web site. Also Lowe vintage and Mandomutt. Both located in the Burlington area, and both have web pages.

    Adam

  36. #22

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    To Clark Beavans: Good advice - thanks.

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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    Good luck to your son on his quest, if he can keep his ears and his mind open and muster some patience, he stands to learn a lot just from examining and playing lots of different instruments and talking about instruments with different people. The 2 main tricks are 1)recognizing when an instrument is speaking to you, and 2) recognizing when a person is not as well informed as they would have you believe.

    I still like to go to good music shops and browse, over the years I've come across several instruments that I wished I had found before I bought my F5G. I've also had the opportunity to play some world class instruments that were way above my pay grade, which is quite instructional in and of itself. The difference between a world class acoustic instrument and a fine acoustic instrument may not be nearly as great as you would imagine it to be. Certainly not in proportion to the difference in cost, in my experience.
    Clark Beavans

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  39. #24
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    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    Quote Originally Posted by tree View Post
    The difference between a world class acoustic instrument and a fine acoustic instrument may not be nearly as great as you would imagine it to be. Certainly not in proportion to the difference in cost, in my experience.
    Well, some of that depends on the instrument and the player.

    But the quality of some of our factory built instruments has improved dramatically in the last 20 years, and that makes the difference smaller.

    When I bought my first mandolin in 1979, there were no decent factory mandolins being made in the US, and the few imports that were available were mediocre at best. Gibson was building a handful of poor grade instruments.
    Flatiron was just getting started building flat-tops. There were only a few hand builders who were making good instruments, and most of us [then] young folks were not aware of them. Things have most definitely changed for the better since then.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I wish Annette and her son good luck in finding the right instrument. The only advice I will add is that he use his ears and his hands to evaluate the instruments, instead of his eyes. Tell him to pay special attention to the tone and the feel of the neck, and not worry too much about what brands are popular right now. Last year's favorite brand can be this year's unwanted instrument.

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  41. #25

    Default Re: Looking for advice on best mandolins around 5K

    I have f9 custom with a lot up grades i would like for him to look at and play. I'm in MONROE NC. This may fit needs.He would have money left over and great mandolin.

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