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Thread: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

  1. #1

    Default Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Hi there,
    I've been playing guitar for a while and have a keen interest in bluegrass.
    Had a play on a mandolin a few weeks back and decided i liked it.

    Any recommendations on a solid bluegrass mandolin ?

    Some other considerations are, i cant abide gloss (especially gloss necks).

    Based in the UK and by the time i've driven to a store with some choice to look at i've probably spent enough to purchase one, so its online ordering only.

    Budget £$600; that would get me an Eastman MD305, which looks like a cracking instrument, but not sure its quite the sound i'm after. The Loar LM590 also looks good

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Some people will tell you that a bluegrass mandolin has to have a scroll. Eastman mandolins are probably one of your best bets if youíre on a limited budget (although I donít have one myself). Bear in mind that those parts of a matt finish which are touched regularly will end up shiny. I have a matt finish Collings mandola with a gloss top. After a few years playing, the neck is as shiny as the top.

    Which corner of the UK are you in?

  3. #3

    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Up in North Wales, Denbighshire.

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    Registered User Pappyrich's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    It's hard to go wrong with an Eastman.
    Richard

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Yamaholic View Post
    Up in North Wales, Denbighshire.
    If you can get the train into Manchester, Forsythes on Deansgate usually have a half decent selection of Eastman mandolins - check their website first. Their stringed instrument department is up the narrow staircase beyond the sea of expensive pianos on the first floor!

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Eastman or Kentucky tend to be the better bets in that price point. Some feel that Kentuckys have more of the "traditional" Gibsonesque sound and the Eastmans more "modern". Some Eastmans are described as more nasal. Horses for courses. Try as many as you can and pick the one you like best! Happy hunting.

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  8. #7

    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    If you can get the train into Manchester, Forsythes on Deansgate usually have a half decent selection of Eastman mandolins - check their website first. Their stringed instrument department is up the narrow staircase beyond the sea of expensive pianos on the first floor!
    Hmm I see Forsyths have an offer on an Eastman MD415 black. Tempted

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Go for it! Eagle music - a bit harer to get to from N Wales - has the same instrument at £1149 - https://www.eaglemusicshop.com/eastm...th-case-176999

    I’ve never regretted spending money on a decent instrument. I still have my first Martin guitar - cost me an eye watering £190.

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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    I have a couple of Eastmans (an MD315 mandolin and an MDA315 mandola). Both are good sounding, good playing, well-made instruments. I’ve played a lot of Eastman mandolins at various stores and they’ve always impressed me when compared to other mandolins. I know there’s some variation among models from any manufacturer, but Eastmans seemed to be more consistent than most.
    Doug Brock
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  11. #10

    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Brock View Post
    I have a couple of Eastmans (an MD315 mandolin and an MDA315 mandola). Both are good sounding, good playing, well-made instruments. Iíve played a lot of Eastman mandolins at various stores and theyíve always impressed me when compared to other mandolins. I know thereís some variation among models from any manufacturer, but Eastmans seemed to be more consistent than most.
    I know in the guitar world they are well thought of. I've never owned one being a Yamaha man myself.
    My main question is just if they are the right brand for Bluegrassing. Seems im stuck on either the MD305 or the MD415

  12. #11

    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Yamaholic View Post
    Hmm I see Forsyths have an offer on an Eastman MD415 black. Tempted
    The 415 has mahogany back and sides vs. the almost universal maple in other F models. All else being equal, it will (or should!) sound different from a 315.

    I haven't played one, but before an old friend's Eastman fell (ok, I had to whine a bit) in my lap last year, I called The Mandolin Store (aka TMS around here) about one of those. The person I talked to suggested that it might not be the sound I was looking for if bluegrass was where I was thinking of heading in my mandolin odyssey. Now, there are a *lot* of variables in how a specific mandolin sounds, including strings, pick, player, etc., so, by all means, go and try one and see what you think. I just wouldn't pick one of those over the other without playing first. My 2Ę.
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Hmm. Didn’t realise the back was mahogany. Traditionally, bluegrass mandolins tend to have a back, sides and neck in maple.

    I don’t remember ever playing a mahogany backed F hole mandolin so I can’t talk with any experience. I’m sure that there will be a diffrence - maple is likely to be brighter and mahogany warmer - but whether it’s anything you’d notice or need to worry about is another matter. You’re unlikely to be able to make a direct comparison between equivalent models in maple/mahogany anywhere and, ultimately, I think you should buy what appeals to you. I discovered many years ago that one well built instrument never sounds better than another, just different, and the instrument that really had the sound I wanted sounded much the same as the one I was already playing.

    How I wish I still had my old blue label FG180 - £37-10s in 1970!

  14. #13

    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    Hmm. Didn’t realise the back was mahogany. Traditionally, bluegrass mandolins tend to have a back, sides and neck in maple.

    I don’t remember ever playing a mahogany backed F hole mandolin so I can’t talk with any experience. I’m sure that there will be a diffrence - maple is likely to be brighter and mahogany warmer - but whether it’s anything you’d notice or need to worry about is another matter. You’re unlikely to be able to make a direct comparison between equivalent models in maple/mahogany anywhere and, ultimately, I think you should buy what appeals to you. I discovered many years ago that one well built instrument never sounds better than another, just different, and the instrument that really had the sound I wanted sounded much the same as the one I was already playing.

    How I wish I still had my old blue label FG180 - £37-10s in 1970!
    I have one of each of the new Red label mij Yamahas, fantastic Guitars and better than Martins 18 series imho.

    There is a good review online of the MD305 and the MD415 by the same guy (Comandolin). I asked him which he prefers, initially he said he loved them both but as time went on he fell out of love with the 415 then had a new bridge fitted and he loves it again. He still thinks the 305 is awesome and hasnt done a thing to it.
    Last edited by Yamaholic; Aug-02-2022 at 9:43am.

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    I once arrived early at a guitar show and the chap running the Yamaha stand was late. He was unpacking his stock which included a couple of hand built models with very low serial numbers - one was actually No.1 - and we helped him by tuning them up. Hand built specials, never apparently tuned since they left the factory, they sounded awful!

  16. #15

    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Mainer73 View Post
    Eastman or Kentucky tend to be the better bets in that price point. Some feel that Kentuckys have more of the "traditional" Gibsonesque sound and the Eastmans more "modern". Some Eastmans are described as more nasal. Horses for courses. Try as many as you can and pick the one you like best! Happy hunting.
    I had a look online at Kentuckys and seems there are quite a few stores selling the km252 at a discount and cheaper than the 150. A good starter bluegrasser?

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    I think things have changed. Even the Chinese built ones are excellent these days and they are so consistent. Every Yamaha I have bought has been spot on out of the box

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Yamaholic View Post
    I had a look online at Kentuckys and seems there are quite a few stores selling the km252 at a discount and cheaper than the 150. A good starter bluegrasser?
    It should definitely work. You may well outgrow it but my girlfriend has one of those and is happy with it. I've picked it a bunch and certainly would be fine with it if my pricier mandolins went away and that was our only one. Just make sure the action isn't too low. BG is played a little harder than some and they may have the lowest possible action set. You'll get fret buzz and a poor "chop".

  19. #18

    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Mainer73 View Post
    It should definitely work. You may well outgrow it but my girlfriend has one of those and is happy with it. I've picked it a bunch and certainly would be fine with it if my pricier mandolins went away and that was our only one. Just make sure the action isn't too low. BG is played a little harder than some and they may have the lowest possible action set. You'll get fret buzz and a poor "chop".
    UPDATE

    Ok so I found a bargain used Kentucky KM-250 from a reputable store that does setups. Quite a lot of buckle rash and a few dings (well used) on it but the store is saying she plays just fine. Ill probably go with that for now unless i can find a bargain used Eastman in the mean time...i do like the satin models.
    As far as i can see its the same as the 252 but in a colour i prefer, they are going to send me photos.
    Ill get them to put some new strings on it, but that opens a whole can of worms.
    What strings am i best starting with for bluegrassing ?
    On guitar i'm generally using PBs or Daddarios Nickel bronzes (the latter being my favourite)..then which gauge to start with...aargh!
    Last edited by Yamaholic; Aug-04-2022 at 5:26am.

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    You can’t go far wrong with D’addario EJ74 (they’re mediums)

  21. #20

    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    You can’t go far wrong with D’addario EJ74 (they’re mediums)
    +1 And, they're PB, and possibly the most common strings in use, though I have no data to back that up. But, you can almost always find a set in your big-box guitar shop, and they're cheap compared to some other options.

    IMO, the *pick* can have more impact on your instrument's tone than the strings. Be prepared to go down that crazy rabbit hole .
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  22. #21

    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by keith.rogers View Post
    +1 And, they're PB, and possibly the most common strings in use, though I have no data to back that up. But, you can almost always find a set in your big-box guitar shop, and they're cheap compared to some other options.

    IMO, the *pick* can have more impact on your instrument's tone than the strings. Be prepared to go down that crazy rabbit hole .

    Here's me naively thinking i can use a guitar pick.

  23. #22
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Yamaholic View Post
    Here's me naively thinking i can use a guitar pick.
    You can, but you might like added thickness to drive the dual courses on a shorter scale.
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    You can’t go far wrong with D’addario EJ74 (they’re mediums)
    Makes a great baseline string. Start with these and compare the other options to them.
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Yamaholic View Post
    Here's me naively thinking i can use a guitar pick.
    No reason why not but as your playing develops you’ll find that a heavier more rounded corner pick will float across the strings more easily. I generally find that the shorter the scale length, the heavier the pick I prefer.

    There are those who swear by picks costing £25 upwards (each!). I could easily afford those but there’s no way I’m going to spend that much - I’d rather have a decent bottle of malt! I generally use either Wegens or the brown Dunlop Primetones (the triangular ones with rounded corners - https://richtonemusic.co.uk/jim-dunl...mooth-12-pack/). They often crop up in the Richtone Music sale at around £17 for a packet of 12.

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  27. #25
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Mandolin for a Newbie

    Another vote for the Primetones. I use the 1.3's on my mando, bass, and sometimes guitar.
    "The paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculations, and often lose themselves in error and darkness!"
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