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Thread: First Mandolin

  1. #1

    Default First Mandolin

    Hi all... this is my first post, and I am glad I found this place. I play Tenor Sax and recently took up the banjo to learn to play some bluegrass. In doing that, I have been exposed to the mandolin and really love the sound of it. I know there are a ton of "what first mandolin should I get", so I will try and phrase this a bit differently as I was not able to find really what I was trying to hey in on.

    I know that the better quality instrument that you will buy, the better it will sound, play, usability, etc. I have a Sax that is quite expensive, and the fit, feel, seal on the pads, etc are just so much better than the sax I first had when I first started. It would have been nice to have my current sax then, but it was a major investment, and many years ago (40+) my parents didn't know if I would be serious with it or not. So it was a good investment for my parents to get me a beginner sax.

    I have two really nice banjo's (Deering Americana, and a Gold Tone OB-150, and they play really nice.

    I want to get a good mandolin, and I want to be able to play multiple styles of music on it. I would like to learn some bluegrass, but I also want to be able to play some Italian folk songs on the mandolin for my wife as well (as well as some other types of music possibly).

    I really like the F model bodies, but I also like the classic A style mandolin's. I thought I heard that the A style mandolins may not be made as well though (but I don't know how true that is... although, I guess any style can be made "cheaply").

    Two models I am looking at are the Kentucky KM-140 in the A style, and The Loar 310F in the F model body. The loar has a more appealing price point, but I hear some good things about the Kentucky.

    I would really like to buy a non-Asian made one, but just like the banjo, that's really hard to do without spending a ton of money, so I am hoping you can help steer me. Both of the models that I listed I really like the looks of, but I can't base this just on looks. Play ability has to be a major factor in this, and I don't want to go too far in to start, as who knows, maybe I will hate playing this.

    Anyhow, what are the pro's and cons of each, and are there other things I should consider in that same price range.

    Thanks so much.

  2. #2

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Hi and welcome.

    There is no difference in quality of construction between A and F style bodies, generally, and probabl6 no difference in sound and playing quality between an F-style body and an A-style if they both have F-holes. You get what you pay for and what you want with a limited budget and your interests suggest what you should start with is the best archtop A-body with f-holes you can swing.

    A Kentucky would usually be a better instrument than The Loar. Also have a look at an Eastman 305 or 505, and rest assured, you will spend more than you think you want to to get a better instrument, and if you do so, you will not regret it next year. The classifieds here are a good place to start, nothing wrong with a relatively new used instrument and most folks selling here are very pleasant to deal with.

    Have fun.
    2009 Eastman 505
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    Mandoline or Mandolin: Similar to the lute, but much less artistically valuable....for people who wish to play simple music without much trouble —The Oxford Companion to Music

  3. #3
    Registered User Pappyrich's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Mandolin

    I agree with Bill. As much as I prefer to buy American, it is had to find an American made entry level mandolin. I opted for an Eastman 305 (made in China) from The Mandolin Store (NFI) a couple of years ago, and Have been very satisfied. I would recommend that you reach out to them, and good luck on your mandolin journey.
    Richard

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  5. #4
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    Default Re: First Mandolin

    If I were buying a first mandolin from tthe two builders you list I would be more inclined to go with the Kentucky. However, I also recommend an Eastman as a great beginning mandolin that can become a real keeper. My first mandolin was a Eastman 515 and I really, really enjoyed it for many genres of music. That was my primary instrument for five years, until I was ready for the next step.

    Welcome to the Cafe and have fun!
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  7. #5

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Thanks all. I was not aware of Eastman, so I will check them out. Looking on a few sites, they all seem to be sold out. Hopefully that means that everyone wants them so they can’t keep them in stock, but it could also be supply issues. I’ll keep looking, but it is a handsome mandolin.

    When I do buy one, what else should I get to go with it? An assortment of different picks? Any thing else? Are there any good books for teaching yourself?

    Also, what kind of sound difference would I hear from the f holes vs the oval?

  8. #6
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Mandolin

    F holes versus oval hole does make a difference. The f hole instrument is usually a bit more focused, (i.e. the loudest for the person directly in front of it), a bitmore of a percussive sound. At least to my ears. Great for bluegrass of course, but also great for fast tunes with lots of little notes.

    Oval hole is somewhat more blendy, more sound in all directions, less percussive, great for slow aires and tunes with tremolo and long harmonies.

    The differences are subtle, and in truth, there are examples of either doing the other, but as a general statement something like what I have said is true.

    The quip to hang on:

    In response to a solo played on an f hole mandolin - "wow, killer playing dude, that was amazing"

    In response to a solo played on an oval hole mandolin - "wow, what a beautiful tune. I have always liked that tune but this time it really moved me"

    YMMV IMO etc.
    Life is short, play hard. Life is really really short, play really really hard.

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  10. #7
    Registered User cfantx's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Mandolin

    I just recently (2 weeks/guitar and bass background) started playing mandolin. I bought an Eastman MDA 315 Mandola and but I decided to swap it for the same make/model Eastman MD 315 mandolin. I swapped due to there being so much more learning info and I want to read treble clef and the mandola is written in alto clef. I'm very happy with mine.
    Eastman MD315 Mandolin
    Northfield Calhoun

  11. #8

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    F holes versus oval hole does make a difference. The f hole instrument is usually a bit more focused, (i.e. the loudest for the person directly in front of it), a bitmore of a percussive sound. At least to my ears. Great for bluegrass of course, but also great for fast tunes with lots of little notes.

    Oval hole is somewhat more blendy, more sound in all directions, less percussive, great for slow aires and tunes with tremolo and long harmonies.

    The differences are subtle, and in truth, there are examples of either doing the other, but as a general statement something like what I have said is true.

    The quip to hang on:

    In response to a solo played on an f hole mandolin - "wow, killer playing dude, that was amazing"

    In response to a solo played on an oval hole mandolin - "wow, what a beautiful tune. I have always liked that tune but this time it really moved me"

    YMMV IMO etc.
    Thanks JeffD, so it sounds like there is a difference but it's not so drastic (like the sound of a banjo vs a guitar) that it will be that noticeable. That helps as I might now look to see what I can find in either design (e.g. maybe I can find an Eastman MD-304 vs the 305). I've always done business with Banjo Ben's general store in the past, but they don't have anything under $1000 in the Eastman line, so I may have to wait a while if I buy from them. I'm just not that familiar with any of the other Mandolin sellers on the net, and unfortunately, none of the music shops in my area have mandolin's.

  12. #9
    bon vivant jaycat's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Mandolin

    The classifieds right here may be your best bet for an Eastman.
    "The paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculations, and often lose themselves in error and darkness!"
    --Leslie Daniel, "The Brain That Wouldn't Die."

    Some tunes: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa1...SV2qtug/videos

  13. #10
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Mandolin

    The Mandolin Store, one of the Cafe sponsors and great folks to deal with, list both the 304 and the 305 in stock. Buying from them would guarantee the mandolin would arrive well set up too:

    https://themandolinstore.com/product...el-a-mandolin/
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    my Youtube channel

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  15. #11

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    You will want a strap. Actually, for an A-style, you will NEED a strap. A styles with "points" can be held on the lap, sitting, and played without a strap. F styles have points, so ditto. But straight A styles can't be held securely. And even with points, most people want a strap even when sitting.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...a-strap-button

    There is another recent thread about strap buttons, which you should check out.

    You'll want a tuner of some sort. Most people these days use a phone app. The one I used and loved just changed to be annoying (I WISH I had not upgraded to the latest version!) It's DA-tuner. Of course, if you pay the small fee I bet it's still great. They just made it so now it's a minor nuisance if you're using the free version. Also, a lot of people use headstock-clamp tuners, like the Snark SNX5. My favorite is the D'Addario PW-CT-15 which fits in the soundhole, discreetly, so it doesn't spoil the appearance of my guitar and is always there, and needn't be removed to put the guitar in the case. But it would only work for round soundholes.

    For picks, you might want to start out with a variety pack. You'll find thin picks are easier, but IMHO it's a bit of a crutch. Most mando players use a good thick pick. I use the same for both guitar and mando, the Dunlop Tortex Blue (1.0 mm). The Tortex are easy to hold well, but slide nicely on the strings, and don't wear down unevenly (don't wear down much compared to the normal plastic ones.) A lot of players use a considerably thicker pick. A thick pick will give the clearest tone and most percussive sound. But there are applications for a thin pick too, for example soft strumming.

    I started out with thin picks, and fortunately, moving to thick ones when I learned better wasn't too big a job. It wasn't nearly as hard as re-learning how to hold the pick! I do remember a funny moment. When I was making the transition, I made a comment when I accidentally pulled out the wrong (thin) one while playing with a friend. "Ugh. Thin pick. These are terrible. Why the heck would anyone use these?" Then I tried to play something with a complex picking pattern (for me at the time.) I couldn't do it and pulled the thin pick back out, to the laughter of my friend. But I no longer have any thin picks. I might if I had a 12-string guitar.

    Be sure to learn the proper way to hold a pick. It's hell changing from a bad habit to a good one. There's more than one good way, but there are definitely really bad ways (like how I started, using two fingers and thumb.)

    You'll also want a case or gig bag, of course. Hopefully whatever you buy will come with one.

    Oh yeah: a simple string winder. I chuckle when I think of the number of times I'd changed strings before I even knew they existed. I'd like those hours back, please. One of my winders has a built-in wire cutter, which is helpful. I keep a winder in every case, plus one in my desk drawer where I usually play.

    Finally, be sure to get a copy of Rob Meldrum's e-book on mando setup. While the ones you're talking about should have a good setup to start with, knowing how to fine tune will be a bonus. There are things that are easy that anyone can do with little risk, and others that are risky, and it's pretty obvious which are which. Of course, it depends on your skills as a tinker/maker. https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...t-setup-e-book

  16. #12

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Thanks Jeff, that's a lot of info, but great to know. I wasn't planning on a strap, but point noted.

    I've seen a few Eastman MD305's on the classifieds that are slightly used for just a little under the retail price. Once has a nice hard case, the other I'm not sure what all it comes with.

    Is it worth considering those since they are private sellers? My big concern is will they pack it up well. I bought a banjo from someone once, and they shipped it just in the manufacturers box, and it was a miracle that it did not get damaged in shipping. They had the bridge in place and all, and that's risky with the banjo as it could rupture the head. Not sure if the same is an issue with a mandolin (I believe they have a floating bridge like the banjo, but wood vs a drum head for the head).

    The gig bad that comes with the Eastman 305 looks a bit flimsy, like it is just a padded backpack with no stiff foam or anything. Is that the case and if so, if I did buy from the Mandolin Store, I see they have an upgrade for about $50 for something that looks more like the Gator cases that I am familiar with.

  17. #13
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    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by kd8tzc View Post
    Thanks Jeff, that's a lot of info, but great to know. I wasn't planning on a strap, but point noted.

    I've seen a few Eastman MD305's on the classifieds that are slightly used for just a little under the retail price. Once has a nice hard case, the other I'm not sure what all it comes with.

    Is it worth considering those since they are private sellers? My big concern is will they pack it up well. I bought a banjo from someone once, and they shipped it just in the manufacturers box, and it was a miracle that it did not get damaged in shipping. They had the bridge in place and all, and that's risky with the banjo as it could rupture the head. Not sure if the same is an issue with a mandolin (I believe they have a floating bridge like the banjo, but wood vs a drum head for the head).

    The gig bad that comes with the Eastman 305 looks a bit flimsy, like it is just a padded backpack with no stiff foam or anything. Is that the case and if so, if I did buy from the Mandolin Store, I see they have an upgrade for about $50 for something that looks more like the Gator cases that I am familiar with.
    If it were me and I had to choose between new-condition used from a private seller vs brand new from a trusted retailer for not much more $$, I'd go new. Eastmans do have a warranty which you will not get if you are not the original purchaser.

    Also, I have one of the Eastman gig bags, and I quite like it. It's not stiff foam, but there is plenty of padding and it has really great backpack straps. That said, I also have hard cases too.

    And, as far as NEEDING a strap goes, I think that is true only if you plan on playing while standing up. I play my A style all the time w/o a strap while sitting in a chair.

    Good luck!

    Roib
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  18. #14

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Thanks... I heard the same thing about straps with my banjo when I first started, but in order to keep my banjo where it needs to be, the strap makes it so much easier to play. Being a strap doesn't have to cost a ton of money, I think I will get one. My big question though is if I get a basic leather one, I get where it attaches at the tailpiece, but where/how do you attach it at the neck/head section? I saw one guy who used shoe laces, but I would think there might be a better method than that (or maybe that is the accepted way). Sorry, this is all new to me.

    Thanks for pointing out the warranty issue I might potentially have if buying used.
    Last edited by kd8tzc; May-02-2022 at 10:16am. Reason: typo

  19. #15
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    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by kd8tzc View Post
    Thanks Jeff, that's a lot of info, but great to know. I wasn't planning on a strap, but point noted.

    I've seen a few Eastman MD305's on the classifieds that are slightly used for just a little under the retail price. Once has a nice hard case, the other I'm not sure what all it comes with.

    Is it worth considering those since they are private sellers? My big concern is will they pack it up well. I bought a banjo from someone once, and they shipped it just in the manufacturers box, and it was a miracle that it did not get damaged in shipping. They had the bridge in place and all, and that's risky with the banjo as it could rupture the head. Not sure if the same is an issue with a mandolin (I believe they have a floating bridge like the banjo, but wood vs a drum head for the head).

    The gig bad that comes with the Eastman 305 looks a bit flimsy, like it is just a padded backpack with no stiff foam or anything. Is that the case and if so, if I did buy from the Mandolin Store, I see they have an upgrade for about $50 for something that looks more like the Gator cases that I am familiar with.
    Welcome from a recovering tenor/alto sax player! (I sold them to buy my first banjo and still have a twinge of regret about that, but only a twinge).

    The classifieds here are policed amazingly by the site owner and the IT team, so it's a much safer environment, IMO, than, say, EBay or Craig's list. In general folks offer a 48 hour approval period, and I've bought at least 6 instruments via the classifieds here without issues over the years I've been a member. It's not risk free, but it's better than you typically find.

    I'll second Jill's suggestion to look at a 304 or 305 from TMS. I've also bought/traded several instruments with Dennis and it's been a great experience each time (NFI, just a happy customer). He does a great set-up and can upgrade the gig bag (which I agree is pretty minimal) for you as well. It will come well packed and ready to play! Also, the price difference you'll see between TMS, Elderly, The Music Emporium, etc, and big box stores like Guitar Center can be accounted for by the set-up work. So, if you find a deal at GC, you'll end up either spending the savings on the set up or have to invest some time yourself. Check out the Kentucky KM-150 as well. It's the all solid wood version of the 140 and generally gets better reviews, though it is a bit more expensive. FWIW, I think of Eastman and Kentucky like I do Goldtone in the banjo world. Consistently good instruments with the occasional awesome one they just get "right." Affordable quality...

    One last note regarding oval vs F hole instruments: if you're going to be playing bluegrass at home for fun, an oval hole instrument will be just fine. If you aspire to eventually jam with others, you'll want a F hole instrument for the focused projection and chop (ovals just get lost in that environment). Of course, there's no law stating you can't eventually get one of each . If you decide to go oval hole you can look at instruments like the Flatiron 1N and Big Muddy, which offer excellent mandolins at a cost savings since they're flat rather than carved top instruments.

    There are a lot of resources for beginner materials available (and I'm a bit removed from those now so am not sure about what's out there and good), but am taking Mike Marshall's mandolin course at Artistworks and am enjoying it (and progressing). Lots of good online options available (Peghead Nation, Mandolessons, BanjoBen).

    Good luck with your choice!
    Chuck

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  21. #16

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Thanks Chuck... I think my big concern with the F hole vs round was would traditional Italian folk music sound ridiculous with the f-holes. I heard someone on Y-tube playing Speak Softly love with the f holes and it sounded just fine, so no worries on that end.

    As far as the sax goes, I will never sell my Selmer of Paris. My parents bought it for me as I had at one time wanted to be a professional jazz musician (music was my first love so to speak). When I met the girl who became my wife, and the fact that she wanted to have a bunch of kids, I a dumped my first love for my future wife as I really didn't want to have my career saying to be "Do you want fries with that" because being a great musician is hard to do. I was good, but not awesome, so I went to business school instead.

    I never had the heart to sell the sax though as my parents spent a ton of money for them on it.

    Unfortunately, when I turned 30, I suffered a brain hemorrhage from an aneurysm, and ever since then, I have been too scared to play the sax. I want to again someday, but I started to get back into music with the banjo, and now the mandolin. I've forgotten how much I loved it. My only issue is my wife doesn't share the same level of love for bluegrass with my banjo as I do, so the mandolin is hopefully be something I can play all kinds of music on. One of her requests was for me to learn some traditional Sicilian style music where some of her family is from.

    I'm confused on what type of picks to get though. I see picks that look just like guitar picks, I see some that are more triangular with rounded points, and I see some others. I wish I could find a nice assortment pack, but I'm not having any luck.

  22. #17

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    [QUOTE=kd8tzc]that's a lot of info]Yeah, I'm a wordy bugger.

    Quote Originally Posted by RobP View Post
    I play my A style all the time w/o a strap while sitting in a chair.
    You know what, you're right.

    As a guitar player, I learned to hold the guitar so I can remove my left hand and the neck doesn't move. You can't do that with an A-style (or probably even an F). But a mando is so light, it's not really necessary.

    Still, I much prefer playing the mando with a strap, even when sitting. With guitars I only use a strap when standing.

    Regarding picks, I'll be interested to hear what the pundits have to say. I use a regular triangle-ish guitar pick. A lot of players (both mando and guitar) like the little teardrop picks; those never quite worked for me. There are a lot more shapes, but most are used for special purposes in various classical or historic/ethnic styles.

    Where to attach the strap? See the post I linked to above about strap buttons. Basically, you have two options: headstock and neck-body joint. The latter requires a button or else a looping method (see pic in my post there.) I've always hated headstock straps, but lots of good players use them, and they avoid a lot of issues.

  23. #18

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    The Mandolin Store, one of the Cafe sponsors and great folks to deal with, list both the 304 and the 305 in stock. Buying from them would guarantee the mandolin would arrive well set up too:

    https://themandolinstore.com/product...el-a-mandolin/
    I second this! I purchased an Eastman from them several years ago, and they were wonderful to deal with. The nice set up also made a HUGE difference in playability.

  24. #19

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Okay, well thank you all for your advice. I did buy the New Eastman MD305 from the Mandolin Store, who I understand is a sponsor of this site, so I'm glad about that. The one mandolin that I looked at used was hardly used, had a nice case, but the fact that the warranty would not be there since I didn't purchase it initially had me concerned. I'm sure I will be happy.

    I didn't upgrade the case/gig bag that comes with it as I will likely want a hard case anyhow, so I will wait until I see what protection the gig bag gives.

    I also just bought a boat load of various picks... hopefully one of them I will like.

    I also bought a few different D'Addario sets of strings. I like light strings, so I got two different versions (80/20 bronze, and Phosphor bronze). I believe the 305 comes with medium D'Addario strings, but not sure exactly which.

    I also did get a inexpensive leather strap just in case. I already have a few clip on tuners, so I should be good with that.

    Now the hard part... waiting for it to ship and arrive. . I remember when I was a little kid and my Mom would place an order with Sears mail order, and sometimes I would have toy or whatnot that would come to the local store... I could never wait until we got home before I tore the box open to get my stuff out. It used to drive my Mom nuts. Bless her soul for putting up with me. . All these years later, I'm still the same way, only the "toys" cost more.

    Edit: Can someone recommend a good beginner mandolin book to start learning from? A YouTube series? Thanks...
    Last edited by kd8tzc; May-02-2022 at 2:55pm.

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  26. #20
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by kd8tzc View Post
    Now the hard part... waiting for it to ship and arrive. . I remember when I was a little kid and my Mom would place an order with Sears mail order, and sometimes I would have toy or whatnot that would come to the local store... I could never wait until we got home before I tore the box open to get my stuff out. It used to drive my Mom nuts. Bless her soul for putting up with me. . All these years later, I'm still the same way, only the "toys" cost more.
    I know how you feel. I remember waiting for my first one, not all that long ago, really. The anticipation!

    While you're waiting, come join us at the Newbie Social Group
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  28. #21
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Baron Collins-Hill's MandoLessons YouTube channel is a great free resource:

    https://www.youtube.com/c/MandoLessons
    2018 Girouard Concert oval A
    2015 JP "Whitechapel" tenor banjo
    2018 Frank Tate tenor guitar
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    my Youtube channel

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  30. #22

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    @Jill, Awesome, thank you. Free is always good.

    @Sue, thanks for pointing me to the Newbie group... I didn't even know there were groups, so this is great. I joined it.

  31. #23
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    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Congrats on the purchase, and don’t worry, your Italian tunes will sound just fine on that mandolin!

    My tenor sax was just an upper beginner/intermediate Buescher, so I didn’t feel too badly about moving it along, as I hadn’t played it since I graduated college (sold it about 7 years after). Sold it to a kid I met with his band teacher in a grocery store parking lot on a Saturday afternoon, lol (to whom another kid in the band and friend of my kid had referred me).

    My wife vastly prefers everything I play to my banjo, so it doesn’t get much play these days except when she’s out of town…most mandolin players would consider both our spouses to have excellent taste 😹

  32. #24

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    Welcome to the Cafe and Forum, kd8tzc! I think you will like the Eastman. I have one I bought from TMS and like it. The Eastman has a lifetime guarantee, which I think is fantastic. The tailpiece broke on mine, and it was replaced free.

    Enjoy!

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  34. #25

    Default Re: First Mandolin

    I am a fan of Kentucky mandolins and Eastman makes a very good mandolin as well. I would not recommend a KM-140 because they have a solid top but laminate back and sides. The 150 and higher will have rosewood or ebony fretboards, not sure what wood they use on the 140 but not either of those.

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