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Thread: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

  1. #1

    Default First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    Hi.

    I'm shopping for my first mandolin. I have played guitar for several years, but only picked up a mandolin a few times.

    I of course think that the big name players mostly sound great, but I'm not attached to a particular type of bluegrass tone in a mandolin. Actually, most of what I currently prefer to listen to and will probably start out trying to play (Irish/"celtic"/old time/folk) seems to be played on more of a variety of mandolin styles (at least as far as I can tell from videos online).

    I want a nice tone, but it doesn't have to necessarily be the loudest option or great for bluegrass. I also care much more about playability, overall build quality and reliability (intonation, quality tuners, etc.) than getting a particular look or style.

    So far I've been looking at the Kentucky KM272, Northfield Calhoun, something from Big Muddy, Sawchyn Beaver Tail, or something else along those lines. From some browsing through this forum it sounds like I can get a better level of quality in a flat top mandolin vs a carved top in the same price range. I don't have the experience to know whether I should be looking for oval or f holes, carved or flat top, radius or flat fingerboard (used to a radius on guitar), etc.

    I'd like to keep it under around $1k. I would consider used, but I'm not sure how to evaluate and since I have nothing now and would like to get started I don't want to wait around too long for something to pop up in the classifieds.

    Has anyone played more than one of the models mentioned (or similar that I should consider but am not aware of) that can offer any recommendation?

    Thanks in advance for sharing your opinions.

    Mark

    PS - I'm also interested in getting a tenor banjo to play Irish music if anybody can also make suggestions for a good one of those for a beginner.

  2. #2
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    With ITM and other Celtic musics, the style of mandolin doesn't matter, but I will say that sustain and volume really are something you should be looking for. Some of the newer "celtic" mandolins are designed with a deeper body to aid sustain and if you do any sessioning, your competition isn't another mandolin, it's a concertina, pipes and a slew of fiddles. If you have a quiet instrument, you won't be able to hear yourself. Just putting that out there.

    As for flat top or carved, f-hole or oval, a lot of that depends on the instrument itself. I have a lovely bandolim which you would think would be perfect for ITM because it has a bigger/deeper body, is flat top and oval holed. I can barely hear it when I'm sitting by myself in a quiet room. OTOH, my old Gibson -- carved top and relatively thin compared with some of the newer "celtic" instruments, can pretty much hold its own unless i'm sitting next to pipes. And before I got the snake, I had an old f-hole pressed/carved wood top Strad-o-Lin that had about the same power.

    I'd get the most versatile instrument you can afford; you can always change or branch out once you get a feel for where you'll be playing and what sound you like.
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    Welcome to the Forum. Lots of good folks here to give advice and insight to the mando world.
    Not wanting a bluegrass sound I would eliminate the f-hole option. Eliminate the fancy scroll strap hanger, which at the early entry level is spending money on looks instead of tonal quality. This leaves a round or oval hole A style instrument. In your price range there will be a lot of choices, some really good choices.
    I was fortunate to find a used MidMo (now Big Muddy) in the classifieds about three years ago and I really great like it for Irish music. Great mando, great value.
    Other than that I can't speak for the other brands you mentioned.
    Enjoy the journey, and let us know what you end up with.
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  5. #4

    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    I have a Big Muddy I think would be a great first mandolin that I havenít been playing much. I could show it on FaceTime (etc.) if you want. Not actively trying to sell it butÖPM me if interested. Itís also in your price range for Mike to make a custom one for you, which I recommend.

  6. #5
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    I think the ones you mentioned are all good potential first mandolins - I'd also add Eastman to that list. If you're able to play any in person that would help as far as figuring out if the neck shape works for you - I've played a few of the Kentucky KM272's and lots of Eastmans and find that the Kentucky necks are a wee bit chunkier than the Eastman ones. I think the Calhoun would be a great one to start out with as far as being well made and sounding good - all the ones I've heard have sounded nice. I really like the bang for the buck of the Big Muddy/Mid-Mo instruments though some might find the very plain looks a little uninspiring. Whether you go for carved or flat top, f-holes or oval hole, radius or flat fretboard are all personal preferences that may be based on comfort, availability and getting the most for your money.

    You'll hear lots of people claim that flat top instruments "suit" irish trad music best, and that is just their anecdotal opinion. I play irish trad music exclusively and prefer carved top instruments meself. While I also prefer oval hole instruments I've heard amazing trad players using mandolins with f-holes - here in Ireland you won't see folks making blanket statements about flat vs. carved or f-holes vs. oval holes - if the mandolin sounds good and has good playability for you then that's all that matters.

    Some people don't care whether a mandolin has a flat or radius fretboard as it doesn't impact their playing at all. Unfortunately I'm not one of them and I ended up selling a lovely old Gibson A-jr because I just couldn't get on with the flat fretboard.

    I'm allso a long time tenor banjo player - depending on your budget you've got choices regarding buying something new vs. getting a well set up vintage banjo. If going new there are the Goldtone banjos - the cheaper Cripple Creek tenor and then moving up the price ladder the IT-250 - my preference would be for the IT-250, but with the supply chain issues going on right now some shops may be low on stock. Once you're spending that kind of money though you could also start looking at decent vintage tenor banjos - I'd advise getting one of those from a knowledgable source that will set the banjo up for playing in GDAE, places like https://tradbanjo.com or Bob Smakula . There are also the Deering Goodtime tenor banjos. Their cheapest models don't have a tone ring, you'd have to bump up to their "Goodtime Special" to get a tone ring - I'm not a fan of the sound of their cheaper no tone ring models meself as they sound kind of plunky to my ears.


    Again you may read statements claiming that 17 fret tenor banjos are "best for playing irish music" - that is anecdotal and certainly not the case here in Ireland. The vast majority of tenor banjo players here (including young kids just starting out) play 19 fret tenor banjos. Some mandolin players like the fact that 17 fret tenors feel a little closer to mandolin scale as far as stretching to the high B note, but the key really is to not approach playing the tenor banjo from a mandolin viewpoint - there's no issue hitting the high B note if you use tenor banjo technique rather than mandolin technique. I played 17 fret tenors for awhile but much prefer 19 fret tenors.

    Open back vs. resonator is another choice based on preference - I've always played open back banjos, they're a wee bit lighter than ones with resonators and I prefer the sound of them. Of course if you get a banjo with a removable resonator then you have the best of both worlds!

    Welcome to the cafe and enjoy this new adventure!
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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    Of your own suggestions, they are all good. I don't play ITM, but have heard the Kentucky, Calhoun and different Big Muddy models over the years. And have owned a few Big Muddy/Mid Missouri instruments. (I have a habit of buying and selling over the years). My first two choices would be either the Calhoun or Big Muddy. Both are good and can easily be the only mandolin you'd ever need.

    Neither the Big Muddy nor the Calhoun have a case included. So you need to figure that in also.

    There's a lot of good advice here so far, so good luck in your search.

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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    When I was migrating over from guitar, with more of an interest in ITM than grass (as well as a limited budget), I felt like I had three options: a factory import (I tried The Loars); a vintage piece like a Martin A (that I was poorly equipped to evaluate); or a domestic flattop. I chose the latter in the form of a Mid-Missouri (now Big Muddy) and quickly went on to add others made by Gypsy (the late Walt Kuhlman), Flatiron, and Redline (2 Travelers in fact). Even now, my Poe Scout has pride of place as the finest flattop I’ve owned. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a Big Muddy to get started, and I personally would be interested in a Sawchyn since I prefer the pancake body style. Largely, I’d be looking for one offered used in excellent condition and appropriately depreciated, as from my experience, your first mandolin will likely not be your last.

    P.S. Edited to add this Red Valley that was just posted to the classifieds:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/177604#177604
    Last edited by pheffernan; Oct-16-2021 at 9:23am.
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    I don’t know if the OP is still monitoring this thread, and I’m sure others can post on the originality and condition of the linked, but there’s a good chance it’s a fine player for the stated applications and budget. They made some good ones in 1921.

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    Registered User J Mangio's Avatar
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    A tad under a grand will get you an Eastman 604; plenty of tone and bling.
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    Flat tops are wonderful, and should not be overlooked. I don't think a flat top is in and of itself less suited to Celtic, or any other style, except perhaps hardcore bluegrass, and that is because Bill Monroe's sound started the whole thing.

    My own preference for a flatty in Celtic, Old Time, and other non-bluegrass genres is that I find the iconic creamy bluegrassy sound of the carved top sticks out in other genres of music. It fits bluegrass so well, that it is hard to unhear the bluegrassiness when played in say Celtic.

    But certainly that is an individual decision for individual taste.

    You are right, you have every chance of getting more for your money with a flatty. There are many flat top builders to chose from https://www.mandolincafe.com/archive...s/flattop.html and I think you could find something in your budget, especially if you are willing to look beyond a new instrument.

    I personally like Fylde for Celtic music, because of its specific sound, and I like Big Muddy as a real quality all around for everything mandolin.
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    Exclamation Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    Got a 17 fret Gold Tone Tenor on sale, locally, (no case) for $200 .. fwiw..
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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    NFI on my part but nice price on this A-jr in the classifieds from Gryphon Strings:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/177932#177932
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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    There is a used Mid-Missouri (earlier name for Big Muddy Mandolins) on Reverb at a very good price. No connection to the seller or anything. This would be a great one to start on - https://reverb.com/item/45704608-mid...ber-5844-satin

  16. #14

    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    Thanks for all of the suggestions and tips, everyone.

    I went to a local music store this past weekend that had a couple of mandolins. It had been a long time since I even held one, and I had forgotten how small/narrow the neck feels (this one was 1-1/8 in). Do any of you who came to mandolin from guitar find that you need a wider neck with more room, or did you adjust to the small fingerboard well? I usually wear men's medium gloves, and have probably shorter than average fingers. So it's not a huge hand problem, I guess just the difference from a guitar neck.

    I have been trying to listen to a lot more clips online of different mandolins to try to get an idea of any pattern to the tones I like vs the ones I don't through all of the differences in player ability, recording setup, etc. It is challenging, but there's not really a store with anything I'm considering that I will be able to get to to compare models, and I can't play much of anything yet to judge them by anyway. I have noticed that in many of the videos and recordings I've heard that many of the mandolins have a sort of "metallic" "zing" to the notes sometimes, especially on the high strings. I can't tell if it's strings on frets, or what. I don't like that sound, so if anybody knows what I'm talking about with the "metallic" "zing", and whether it's more prevalent on certain types of mandolin, or if it's playing style, setup, whatever, and could let me know that would be great. I'd like to avoid that sound. It's not always there in every recording/video, so I don't think it's just mandolin.

    Based on the comments so far I'm currently leaning towards a Big Muddy, Sawchyn Beavertail, or Redline Traveler (if I decide to stretch the budget a bit). Still trying to decide without being able to play any of them.

    Anyway, I have been monitoring this thread and appreciate the suggestions. I was hoping to have my next comment be "Hey, Thanks! I got a _____", but I am still undecided.

    Thanks again.

    Mark


    PS - I did order a banjo from tradbanjo.com. For some reason that decision was easier. There was also less to choose from. Thank you for that suggestion, Jill.

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    I got to try out one of these at my luthier's (1917 Gibson Alrite). It was way cool. It was a good thing it wasn't available, as I was dropping off a new instrument for repair and would have been in trouble if I brought home another one.

    https://reverb.com/item/45835451-gib...17-natural-red

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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    Quote Originally Posted by mcm View Post
    . . . Do any of you who came to mandolin from guitar find that you need a wider neck with more room, or did you adjust to the small fingerboard well? I usually wear men's medium gloves, and have probably shorter than average fingers. So it's not a huge hand problem, I guess just the difference from a guitar neck. . . .
    I wear large men's gloves, and I played guitar for over forty years before trying mando. Neck width doesn't matter to me. I'm on my forth mando, and none has had a wide neck.

    I'd check out Adam's Big Muddy (post #4). They're all solid wood, they're born in the USA, they're loud, and they sound great. If you're not trying to look like Bill Monroe or Dave Grisman, a round-hole flattop will serve you admirably.

    The Gibson Sue posted (#15) looks like a cool option, too.
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  19. #17
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    Some information on the general character of different types of mandolins:

    Instruments with carved tops and f-holes tend to be more percussive, and have a quicker note decay.
    Instruments with carved tops and oval holes tend to be less percussive, and to sustain a note longer.
    Flat top instruments tend [with certain exceptions] to be less powerful than carved instruments, and have the best sustaining quality.

    The difference between carved and flat top mandolins is somewhat similar to the difference between carved and flat top guitars.

    The above statements should be considered to be generalizations only.

    I will add that Vega "cylinder back" instruments and Larson made flat tops tend to be quite a bit more powerful than Martin flat mandolins, but a Martin style A is in your price range, while the others will cost more. Vega flat back mandolins and the better Regal and Oscar Schmidt made flat tops can be good instruments that are in your price range. But-- all of these may need some work to get them into good playing condition, including a set of modern frets, except some of the Martins made after 1935 or so.

    Neck size, fingerboard width, and flat or radiused boards are a matter of individual preference.
    I prefer wider fingerboards, ample necks with sides that are not too steep, and on a mandolin, I don't care much whether a board is flat or gently radiused. I am not comfortable with necks which have a sharp V shape, but am comfortable with either a rounded profile or a mild V. Others will have their own preferences. Everyone must find what fits their hands and technique.

    Big Muddy, Eastman levels 500 and up, and the mid-line Kentucky's are well made. I have played a couple of the Big Muddy instruments, and thought they sounded pretty good. As far as Eastman and Kentucky are concerned, I have only played their f-hole mandolins, which usually sound reasonably good, but I have not played any of their oval hole instruments and cannot comment on their tone.

    If possible, you might want to consider playing as many different types of mandolins as you can get your hands on, and see if you can get a better idea of what your hands and ears like. If that is not practical, you might consider starting with a lower-end instrument that is well set up [if you can find such a thing] and save some of your money until you can get a better idea of what you like [???].

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

    As far as tenor banjos are concerned, pre-war Vega Little Wonders and Tubaphones can be found in good condition from $500 to $1000, and they are instruments of much higher quality than Goodtimes and Gold Tones in the same price range. Scale length and number of frets are again a matter of personal preference. There's nothing wrong with either 17 frets or 19 frets as long as it fits you. The same can be said of scale lengths. And although I do approach tenor banjo fingering more from a cellist's point of view rather than approaching it like a mandolin, I still prefer the shorter scales-- 21" is the longest that I am comfortable with. I can adjust my choice of string gauge to take care of any sloppiness that might otherwise result from slapping a store-bought set on a short scale banjo.

    If I have learned nothing else from 30 years of teaching, I have learned that each player has to find what fits their personal needs; and it will not necessarily be the same as what their teacher, or their favorite player prefers. And it does not have to match whatever the conventional standards of the moment might be.
    Last edited by rcc56; Oct-29-2021 at 1:23am.

  20. #18
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: First instrument(s) suggestions - mostly Irish/celtic/folk

    Quote Originally Posted by mcm View Post
    Thanks for all of the suggestions and tips, everyone.

    I went to a local music store this past weekend that had a couple of mandolins. It had been a long time since I even held one, and I had forgotten how small/narrow the neck feels (this one was 1-1/8 in). Do any of you who came to mandolin from guitar find that you need a wider neck with more room, or did you adjust to the small fingerboard well? I usually wear men's medium gloves, and have probably shorter than average fingers. So it's not a huge hand problem, I guess just the difference from a guitar neck.

    I have been trying to listen to a lot more clips online of different mandolins to try to get an idea of any pattern to the tones I like vs the ones I don't through all of the differences in player ability, recording setup, etc. It is challenging, but there's not really a store with anything I'm considering that I will be able to get to to compare models, and I can't play much of anything yet to judge them by anyway. I have noticed that in many of the videos and recordings I've heard that many of the mandolins have a sort of "metallic" "zing" to the notes sometimes, especially on the high strings. I can't tell if it's strings on frets, or what. I don't like that sound, so if anybody knows what I'm talking about with the "metallic" "zing", and whether it's more prevalent on certain types of mandolin, or if it's playing style, setup, whatever, and could let me know that would be great. I'd like to avoid that sound. It's not always there in every recording/video, so I don't think it's just mandolin.

    Based on the comments so far I'm currently leaning towards a Big Muddy, Sawchyn Beavertail, or Redline Traveler (if I decide to stretch the budget a bit). Still trying to decide without being able to play any of them.

    Anyway, I have been monitoring this thread and appreciate the suggestions. I was hoping to have my next comment be "Hey, Thanks! I got a _____", but I am still undecided.

    Thanks again.

    Mark


    PS - I did order a banjo from tradbanjo.com. For some reason that decision was easier. There was also less to choose from. Thank you for that suggestion, Jill.

    Glad to hear you found something at tradbanjo.com!

    Regarding mandolins and neck width, I too was a long time guitar player before picking up the mandolin. I actually prefer the standard 1 1/8th nut width vs. wider necks - I had a nice Collings MT-O with a wider nut width and I just wasn't as comfortable playing it as I am instruments with a 1 1/8th nut width. Other things to keep in mind would be neck shape and also your own left hand mechanics, which are also things that can affect comfort playing. The neck on my Girouard is a soft V shape and just perfect for me comfort-wise. The Webers I've owned in the past all had more C shaped necks and those were comfortable as well. The only neck shape I really dislike would be very distinct V shaped one.

    Regarding left hand mechanics I find that for myself if I'm playing without a strap then I end up supporting the mandolin with my left hand, which makes it more difficult/uncomfortable to move around the neck, vs. if I'm using a strap and my left hand as more range of motion. Thumb placement can affect comfort as well - on the guitar my thumb would shift around more depending on what chords I'm playing or whether I'm playing single notes, vs. on the mandolin where my thumb pretty much hangs out along the side of the neck.
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