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Thread: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    I did try doing an advanced forum search for new, rookie, newbee, ect, before posting, so you'll have to excuse the " another new player " thread and questions.

    Firstly, while I know a bit about various acoustic guitar brands and prices and what they are like, mandolin brands and what they go for is not in my knowledge base. It's always a surprise when I click on stuff in the classified section. So, who makes quality instruments that are a good bargain in the used market?

    I'm looking to keep it under $1000. I was referred to Big Muddy mandolins by a poster in the Lets Talk Guild forum, so I started there. the one I liked the tone of was just about that with a wider neck option, hard case, and pickup installed.

    They also profided a link to the classified section here, where I saw a cool Breedlove for under $700. Someone beat me to the punch. After I emailed the seller back , someone was already sending them money.

    I would now put my price range in the $600-$1000 range.

    What issues should I look out for in a used mandolin? Neck angles? Bridge issues? Intonation problems?

    Are the tone woods that a mandolin as much of a discussion as they are in guitars?

    I've browsed Reverb as well, and there seems no end of certain brands for sale, which is good for selecting one of those, but it makes me think a lot of people buy them, but then want to sell them. Eastwood, Kentucky, and Recording King, and Samick come to mind. I think I would like to try and get a keeper the first time rather than a stepping stone model.

    Do what strings you use make a big difference in the tone? They really can on guitars.

    What steps are in the basic setup of a mandolin? Nut filing? Bridge adjustments? I doubt there is a truss rod to work about.

  2. #2
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    Did you see that Big Muddy M4 in the classifieds https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/178177#178177

    Totally custom, the person bought the mando, a bc pick, the works. Played it once and decided mandolin's not for them.

    That mando is so cool I had a dream about it last night.

  3. #3
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnW63 View Post
    So, who makes quality instruments that are a good bargain in the used market? I'm looking to keep it under $1000.
    A lot depends on the kind of music youíre looking to play. If youíre drawn to bluegrass, then youíre going to want an archtop with f-holes. While you might find a domestic build like a Ratliff or a Flatiron (or Breedlove) in that range, youíre probably looking at an import from Kentucky or Eastman.

    Should grass not be your thing, then you have more options, including both archtops and flattops with oval holes. While Big Muddy is a good place to start (my first was its precursor Mid-Missouri), and Sueís recommendation attractive (if not attractively priced), there is a lot of value in other flattops like this one:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/177604#177604

    If youíre into vintage, and familiar brands, you can also find Martin (Style A) and occasionally Gibson (A Jr.) within your general price range.
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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    Ahem, yes, I paid a lot less for my Morris flattop (brand new), which is also a nice mandolin. As far as vintage, don't forget Strad-O-Lin. I paid under $300 for mine and it's a very nice good sounding instrument.

    I just thought that custom Big Muddy looks so cool that I had to mention it.

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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    To be clear, I think that the instrument is worth mentioning. I loved my Mid-Missouri and think it’s a great starter instrument for someone not intending to play bluegrass in public for a while. I just wanted to add a sense of relative value for the OP who is a newcomer to the mandolin market and has expressed some uncertainty about it. Very few flattops sell in the $900 range, and fine ones often traffic for half that amount.
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  8. #6

    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    *My comment below reflects arched/carved top style mandolins, not flat tops, and is generally geared towards a bluegrass oriented player.

    Regarding your questions about do woods, strings, etc. make as much of a difference on mandolin as guitar? The answer is as much or more so. My theory is because humans are actually more attuned to higher frequencies that tonal differences in mandolin are more apparent to the ear than a lower register instrument, just a theory. You might hear folks on here and elsewhere make a blanket statement that a mandolin at a given price point is equivalent in quality to a guitar at half that price point, and I also find that to be generally a fair gauge for a variety of reasons. Getting around to advice, an Eastman or Kentucky in your given price range will be a solid player, sufficient for learning and possibly as good as one would ever need. But for a professional level instrument, you're really only going to find those at above twice that, even used. I would highly recommend going with an A style if you're looking to keep cost down and still have a great sounding mando. Eastman MD505 is within your price range and a fantastic instrument under 1k.

    And yes, mandolins have trussrods (good newer ones do at least).

  9. #7
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnW63 View Post
    ...Firstly, while I know a bit about various acoustic guitar brands and prices and what they are like, mandolin brands and what they go for is not in my knowledge base. It's always a surprise when I click on stuff in the classified section. So, who makes quality instruments that are a good bargain in the used market?...I would now put my price range in the $600-$1000 range...I think I would like to try and get a keeper the first time rather than a stepping stone model.
    If you want to spend between $600 and $1000 on a used instrument, keep checking the classified ads. Not too many good US-made used mandolins in that range any more, unfortunately. You've got a couple suggestions of Strad-O-Lins, and they can be excellent; they can also be mediocre, since they were made for decades as entry-level instruments. Some are solid woods, some are laminated, and while there are Cafe Strad-nerds who can tell 'em apart, as a new buyer you would need their expertise. There are quite a few decent imports -- higher level Kentucky mandolins, mid-level Eastmans, e.g. -- which show up in your price range. You can find used Martin mandolins near the top of your range, and the occasional Gibson A-40; deciding on one of those might depend on what sound you want and what music you plan to play. Big Muddy mandolins get overall good reviews here, as do used Flatiron "pancake" models -- but you're dealing with flat-top oval-hole construction, which works less well for bluegrass, if that's where you're headed. You can learn on any decently playable instrument, but as you say, if you're spending over $500, you want one that you can keep for awhile after you get past beginner status. The Breedlove you saw woulda been a good choice, though they have wider necks, which some like and some don't.

    What issues should I look out for in a used mandolin? Neck angles? Bridge issues? Intonation problems?
    All of the above, though intonation problems are addressable since mandolin bridges are "floating," i.e. movable, held on by string tension. Main thing to look for is actual damage -- cracks, obvious repair work. Neck angle -- and neck "relief," acceptable but not excessive curvature to allow for proper fretting -- are important. String height -- "action" -- is also important, but many (not all) mandolin bridges are height-adjustable, facilitating set-up. Fret wear, tuner ease, tailpiece quality, all should be evaluated. If you're not buying from a dealer where you can "try before you buy," make every effort to buy from a seller who allows a tryout period, and will accept a return if you're not satisfied. I'm a strong advocate of patronizing local shops whenever possible, but realize there are lotsa places where that's not an option.

    Are the tone woods that a mandolin as much of a discussion as they are in guitars?
    Not so much. Spruce top, maple back and sides are pretty much standard, though you can find a fair number of mahogany B&S models. Main issue is solid woods vs. laminated; in your price range, you gotta get solid woods. Next issue -- if you get an "arched" top instrument -- is whether the top's carved and thickness-graduated, or heat-pressed into the arch. Carved is better, hand-carved is better than machine-carved -- that's the accepted ranking. Check specs whenever possible; if it doesn't say "solid," it's laminated (euphemisms like "select" mean nada). If it doesn't say "carved," it's heat-pressed; if it doesn't say "hand-carved," it's machine-carved. People have played lotsa good music on mandolins with heat-pressed solid tops and laminated back and sides, but if you're nearing a four-figure budget, you should go for better construction.

    Do what strings you use make a big difference in the tone? They really can on guitars.
    Yeah, they do; visit the "Equipment" forum for near-daily threads about strings. Many start with basic D'Addario bronze-wounds and go from there -- flat-wounds, Monel steel, coated sets, on and on. I'm no string nerd, but there are many on the Cafe.

    What steps are in the basic setup of a mandolin? Nut filing? Bridge adjustments? I doubt there is a truss rod to work about.
    Cafe member Rob Meldrum -- screen name "robster" -- is an amazing resource and benefactor; he'll send you a free e-book with all you need to know about setting up your own instrument, if you message him. You can search for some of his threads to get an idea of what's involved. As a coward, I rely on a trusted techie to do it for me, but even I will take a fling at adjusting bridge height and location (I mean, since the bridge comes off if the strings come off, and you're gonna be changing strings at some point...). And yes, many models of mandolin have adjustable truss rods.

    Hey, welcome to the Cafe, and good luck. You'll find no shortage of advice here -- but remember, it's [A] individuals' opinions, and [2] free, and worth every penny of it.

    Later: here's a current thread from Rob Meldrum, telling you how to get his book. Says he's sent out 12-13,000 copies of it already!!
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  11. #8

    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    Thanks to all for replying.

    I don't plan on going the bluegrass route. I'm trying to work on my jazz skills on guitar, and I've watched a number of jazz mandolin videos to know some folks pull jazz off well. I've heard enough Steve Winwood songs to get used to mandolin playing in pop music too. I think Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin used mandolins on occasion as well.

    I gave a listen to the collection of the Big Muddy mandolins and liked the M11 best.( I was going to pop for the wider neck and hard case and maybe the built in mic. ) All mahogany. It seemed to take a bit of the brightness away that I felt may make it more usable in the non bluegrass styles. However, if I can change strings to , say, flatwounds, I could make any bright instrument a little less so.

    I gave that Big Muddy M4 a look. Not really the look I would be after, but if it sounded flat out awesome, I wouldn't care! Maybe I should ask the seller what upgrades, besides the finish they got?

    I am somewhat concerned that like the above M4 owner, I may decide the mandolin just isn't my cup of tea and won't get played enough, so I have to keep my spending reasonable. I've been able to limit my guitar purchases to no more than $1000, so, getting a mandolin at the same price as my top end is a risk. If the formula mentioned above is a good rule of thumb, then my mando budget should really be up to $2000. That's a little scary. What I don't want to do is not give the mandolin a fair shake because I bought something that isn't a good representation of what the instrument can play like and sound like.

  12. #9

    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    $2K is about the price in any instrument though - for a "professional" level instrument. (Actually, in the 70s in my classical tutelage it was $1K for the "serious student" level instrument .. 40 or 50 years later, the prices seem roughly commensurate). It may not jump right out at you, but in a year or two or ten, you'll thank yourself every time you get the instrument out.

    OTOH, nothing wrong with starting out, then trading up as you go, but..

    I'm an advocate of getting the good one, as it reveals aspects of your playing of which you otherwise wouldn't be aware on the lesser instrument - tis why good ones are recommended to 'serious" students. For the obsessed cat who wants to get right at it, the choice is perspicuous.

  13. #10
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    OP,

    I'm a new guitar-to-mandolin guy myself. Having just bought my first (it arrived yesterday) here are my thoughts if you decide to go new:

    First, buy from a seller who includes a full setup as part of the purchase. I bought mine from Elderly Instruments, and my new mandolin sounds & feels wonderful.

    Second, go A-Style. F-Style, with the curly-q on the side, looks nice but it adds ~$200 to the purchase price of the mandolin. That's the difference between a nice A-Style in your price range or a really nice A-Style in your price range.

    Last, make the decision between F or oval sound holes. I went f holes, but on reflection I probably would have preferred an oval. Maybe next time.

    Based on your budget, I would recommend an Eastman MD505 Classic (A-Style, f holes, spruce top, maple back & sides, cordura hard foam case). $769 from Elderly Instruments, shipping & set up included.

    The Eastman 505 is a well respected mandolin, and the price leaves plenty of room for accessories like an arm rest, Tone Guard, extra strings, and other goodies.
    Kentucky KM-250 Mandolin

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    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    You can read dozens of threads here just like yours. Here's the TL;DR of virtually all of them:

    Buy an Eastman (or Kentucky) from one of the Cafe' sponsor shops. You'll get a decent mandolin with a good setup; and if you don't end up sticking with it, you'll get most of your investment back selling it in the Classifieds here.

    Lots of us came to mando from guitar and started that way.
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  16. #12

    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    I too am a guitar player who has taken up mandolin recently. The suggestion above to get one that's set up is vital. If not make sure you've got somebody experienced to do it. A guy who's good with floyd rose bridges won''t cut it. Wide necks seem to be a rage, and I thought I needed one at first, but the hand position is different and it works on that little neck with my fingers, which are probably bigger than average. My mandolin is an Eastman 404 blacktop, which is available at a reasonable price. Sounds great, plays well..I've thought about upgrading the tuners, but not yet.
    In the end..just go ahead and get one and start playing. That's more important than trying to find the perfect instrument before you know what you're looking for.

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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    I started out playing the guitar for years. Then I fell in with a bunch of good ole boys who wanted to start a band. Well, everyone played guitar so I got a mandolin. The first one was a cheap Auria, two point, and served as an introduction. Well, it went from the Auria to a Kentucky 1000. I finally bit the bullet, called Randy Wood and asked him to make me an F 5. That was back in '93 and since I have cured my MAS. Well not completely.......now I have three old Gibsons...A 2, A 3 and an F 4. Oh well,,...I hope i'm done but who knows. The point of this ramblin' is that if you think you might really get hooked on the mandolin, get something that will last you for a while. I will mean a larger investment than you initially planned but, if you get hooked, it will be worth it.

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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    With OP's budget he could get an Eastman 505, any Kentucky A Style, or if he wants an oval nearly any Big Muddy, new with setup, and have a good quality instrument he can be proud of for the rest of his life. Maybe not professional quality, but sure as hell "jamming with the Good Ol' Boys on a Saturday afternoon" quality.
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  20. #15

    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    I don't think you have to narrow your genre down completely before you buy. A decent A style with a carved top and f holes will give you a good starting point to learn the mandolin. Once you have gotten a good foundation on the mandolin you can decide if you want to narrow your focus on genre/style and perhaps buy a mandolin to serve that purpose. I think it's important to get the very best mandolin you can afford, one that is going to give you all the benefits of good construction and tone so you won't give up because of shortcomings in the instrument itself. A good set up is of primary importance before you start your journey to mandolin playing.

  21. #16

    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    Kevin,

    I was trying to find all the " I'm new, what should I buy " threads, but the advanced search needed more search terms than could think of. I think what I want more than an exact instrument suggestion is to learn what to look for in the specs and the price range I'm shooting for and be a knowledgeable shopper. I think the Breedlove I almost had would have been a good purchase. It would be even better to have a local store with a selection to try, but we only have one in my area, and given I don't live anywhere near " bluegrass country " it's unlikely they even have a mandolin to try.

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    Hey John, I don't know where you are, but there is another Breedlove on Providence RI Craigslist for $750.
    https://providence.craigslist.org/ms...392661316.html.

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  24. #18

    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    I'm about as far away from Road Island as you can get and still be in the original 48 states! I'm about 75 miles north east of Los Angeles. I did send the seller a few questions, just to start the conversation. So, thanks for the referral.

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    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    As long as you're heart isn't set on a bluegrass mando, your budget should get you a well-made solid-wood instrument. The Mid-Missouri (a.k.a. Big Muddy) I used to have was a great little axe. The old Gibson I'm sporting now was $500 — got it here about two years ago. It needed a lot of work, but in the end it cost well under a grand, including case and pickup.

    Mandolins are made in small batches, and they require more precise crafting than guitars, so even though they use less wood than a guitar, they can get expensive fast.

    So you're smart to get an affordable beginner axe now. Then you can start saving so that in a few years, when you know more about the litle rascals, you can get something a tad more swanky.

    Welcome to Mandoland! I'll always be a beginner, but it stays fun. And it's nothing like playing a guitar. It'll stretch your brain in a whole different direction.

    PS: Re the Breedlove Sue gave that link to: Notice that it's made in the USA. Those are the good ones. Lots of players recommend avoiding their imports.
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  26. #20

    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    I think I just made a mistake. I watched some Mandocello videos. Chris Thile and one with Mike Marshall. Cool stuff. But, those can cost too!

    Must stay focused on the task at hand!

  27. #21
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    To be clear, I think that the instrument is worth mentioning. I loved my Mid-Missouri and think it’s a great starter instrument for someone not intending to play bluegrass in public for a while. I just wanted to add a sense of relative value for the OP who is a newcomer to the mandolin market and has expressed some uncertainty about it. Very few flattops sell in the $900 range, and fine ones often traffic for half that amount.
    I disagree that a Mid-Missouri is a starter instrument. It is fully capable of being one's forever instrument. Yea it doesn't have the same sound as an arch top, but if bluegrass is not your main thing, that arch top sound may not be as important.

    I have a Mid-Mo M-11 all mahogany mandolin, which I dearly love, and which gets a lot of play time. The quality of the build and the intonation, as great as you could want. The tone is distinctly not bluegrassy, but that is one thing I love about it. I find it doesn't "stick out" as a chopping threat in an old time jam. It has a beautiful warm tone without sacrificing the high end, so its great for playing every genre except bluegrass. And the value (quality for the price) is amazing.

    I would put my M-11 up against anything for the fun I am having playing it at jams and open mics and various ensembles.
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    This is not just for the original poster but for all those reading the thread who may benefit. I think it important to decide whether or not an arch top or carved top is needed, as there is a premium to be paid. There are many good flat tops in the mando-world.

    I think far too often folks get recommended a carved top, or think a carved top is somehow better than a flat top, or more respectable or some how indicative of an experienced players choice, versus a beginners choice. The truth is flatties are different, not better, not worse, and should at least be considered. And they are just as pretty.

    Look, we all know the first mandolin you buy is not going to be the last mandolin you buy. So decide, and get on to the fun, the playing of your chosen (for now) mandolin.
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    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    . . . Look, we all know the first mandolin you buy is not going to be the last mandolin you buy. So decide, and get on to the fun, the playing of your chosen (for now) mandolin.
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  32. #24
    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnW63 View Post
    Kevin,

    I was trying to find all the " I'm new, what should I buy " threads, but the advanced search needed more search terms than could think of. I think what I want more than an exact instrument suggestion is to learn what to look for in the specs and the price range I'm shooting for and be a knowledgeable shopper. I think the Breedlove I almost had would have been a good purchase. It would be even better to have a local store with a selection to try, but we only have one in my area, and given I don't live anywhere near " bluegrass country " it's unlikely they even have a mandolin to try.
    Yup. Few people live near stores with great mando selections. The one music store in this town just carries Ibanez. There's a store with a better selection an hour or so away, but it mainly carries Asian brands, too.

    Music Emporium has New England's best selection, but it's no bargain basement, and it's over three hellish hours away. I'd rather take my chances online than with Boston traffic!
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  33. #25
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Decided to expand from just guitar to mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I disagree that a Mid-Missouri is a starter instrument. It is fully capable of being one's forever instrument.
    Would it have made you more comfortable if I had described a Mid-Missouri as a great instrument for a starter? I think itís pretty clear that I wasnít trying to denigrate the flattop, of which I think Iíve been one of the most vocal proponents on this forum.
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